Monday, October 14, 2013

Final letter to outgoing Screen Australia Chief Executive, Ruth Harley

Ruth Harley
CEO, Screen Australia
Level 4, 150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                    

14th  Oct 2013

Dear Ruth

Screen Australia’s announcement of a new fund to help develop global, high-end TV drama is good news indeed.

However, as any screenwriter (or screenwriting team) will tell you, there is a lot of work involved in the conception and development of a 13 part series. No international broadcaster or major internet streaming company is going to invest in a concept. They will be looking for a ‘bible’ at least – the result of many months work.

I believe that Screen Australia should seriously consider looking at potential TV series aimed at an international market at a very early stage – with a view to providing development  funding from concept onwards. Even the best and most experienced of screenwriters earn very little and to devote months to researching a concept can place an enormous financial burden on them. Once a screenwriter has a solid concept, Screen Australia should, I believe, pay him/her a reasonable sum to develop it through to the stage where there is a ‘bible’ that can be presented to an international broadcaster.

During the period of my Screen Australia ban – placed by yourself and ratified by the Board - I have been busy developing three such 13 part series:

(1) An outback ‘cowboy’ series set in the 1840s in Queensland with a cast of characters equally mixed between Aboriginals (including Native Police) and white pastoralists. This has involved many hundred of hours of research to date.

(2) A contemporary thriller set in and around ‘people smuggling’, focusing on one refugee family in particular, ‘people smugglers’ and the politicians who become involved for a variety of reasons – some good and some not so good. Again, hundreds of hours of research before even putting pen to paper.

(3) A low budget drama series (contemporary) about a team of multi-cultural taxi drivers working in and around Sydney. SHIPS IN THE NIGHT  began as a series idea, became for a brief time a low budget feature but has returned to its roots as a series that would appeal to an international audience.

I  want to make two points:

(1) It is in these initial conceptual stages that even the most experienced screenwriters require financial assistance if they have a terrific concept.

(2) I have had to develop all three of these ideas (along with other  projects) without being able to access Screen Australia funding as a result of the ban placed on me.

For 17 months I have been asking you and members of the Screen Australia Board to provide me with one paragraph, one sentence or even one phrase that bears witness to the crime that led to my being banned – namely that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. You refuse to provide evidence of my crime for the simple reason that I have committed none. Your decision to ban me was a spiteful response to my being a critic of the way you ran Screen Australia and the lack of accountability and transparency that you not only condoned in your staff but which you encouraged and endorsed.

This coming Friday will be, I presume, the last of the Board meetings you attend as Chief Executive. I ask you, yet again, one last time, to present me with evidence of the crimes for which I have been charged and found guilty or for you to recommend to the Board that the ban be lifted immediately.

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc Members of the Screen Australia Board
The Hon George Brandis, Minister for the Arts

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