Thursday, April 24, 2014

# 2 letter to Graeme Mason, 19th Nov 2013

Graeme Mason
Chief Executive
Screen Australia
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007                                                                                                   

19th Nov 2013

Dear Graeme

I was pleased to read that you wish to bring to an end the ‘us’ and ‘them’ element that has crept into filmmakers dealings with Screen Australia. There is only ‘we’  - united by a common desire to make films that resonate with Australian audiences and which also, by virtue of their dealing with universal characters and themes, appeal to overseas audiences also. If Screen Australia becomes, in reality, the transparent and accountable organization it purports to be, I am sure that relations between SA and the film community will improve enormously.

Over the next few weeks I imagine that every Tom, Dick and Harriet with an idea of what should change at Screen Australia will be bending your ear and burdening your desk with letters such as this. My own thoughts on what can and should change can be summed up very briefly: Keep key staff in senior creative decision-making positions moving in and out of the ‘industry’ to that there is a continuous flow of fresh ideas from practitioners and not re-heated old ideas from career film bureaucrats.

Oh, and one other idea – phase out use of the word ‘industry’. No one talks about the ‘opera industry’, the ‘ballet industry’ or the ‘novel industry’. We are not an ‘industry’.

As for the ban on me, this is not only unfair, unbacked up as it is by any evidence that I have intimidated or placed anyone at risk, it is also just plain stupid. If I were a psychotic axe-murderer who had written a brilliant screenplay in jail would Screen Australia refuse to read it on the grounds that I was a thoroughly unpleasant person? Surely what matters is whether a screenplay is good or not, or has the potential to become one. Given that good screenplays are as rare as hen’s teeth to not read a screenplay for any reason at all makes no sense.

Being a ‘banned filmmaker’, has not stopped me writing screenplays, of course. Screenwriting is a time and not a capital intensive activity. Whilst I can afford to support my screenwriting with non-film work (I strongly recommend taxi-driving for aspiring young screenwriters), I have not been able to afford to employ a script editor for any of the half dozen screenplays I have been working on. And I need one. I suspect that most screenwriters need one – someone who understands the craft, who is able to point out not only where the screenwriter is erring but to suggest ways of solving problems.

PLAYING GOD (Act One enclosed) has been developed to the point it is at with not one cent of development money from any source and without, alas, the input of a script editor. The bulk of it was written in my head as I drove a taxi to support myself. This is what real screenwriters do, as you know – we take on any job that will pay our rent so that we can pursue our art, our craft. Very few of us are in it for the money – of which, as you know, there is very little. We do what we do out of love and with the hope that one day one of our screenplays will be so undeniably good that it will attract the talent required for it to be produced and wind up on a screen – be it a big screen or a small one.

Having read thousands of screenplays it is my belief that a good (or potentially good) screenplay will announce itself by page 10. If it hasn’t, if the reader does not feel compelled to keep turning pages, chances are it is not that great a screenplay – bearing in mind, of course, that viewers and assessor/readers’ tastes vary and that the judgment of one person should not be sufficient to kill a project. The reality, however, for a screenwriter who believes in what s/he is doing, who is passionate about her art, her craft, no number of knocks backs is going to stop her. S/he will keep on writing draft after draft regardless or her financial circumstances, regardless of the knockbacks and regardless, in my case, of being  a ‘banned’ filmmaker. (I wonder if there has ever been a time since Joe McCarthy when a screenwriter has been banned – other than in in communist and fascist regimes!)

For a screenwriter with no income the photocopying, binding and postage of screenplays is a very expensive business and certainly not a process that I wish to embark on, with PLAYING GOD, if my materials are simply sent back to me – unread, as a result of my ban. So, the question remains: Am I still a ‘banned filmmaker’ or (a) can the ban be lifted or (b) can I please be presented with evidence of my crimes!

When and if my ban is lifted I have half a dozen screenplays to submit. PLAYING GOD is one. If anyone within Screen Australia who might read it gets to page 10 and has little or no desire to turn to page 11, fair enough. If they get to page and are keen to find out what happens next, they will only be able to find out when my ban is lifted and I can make an application for, if nothing else, funds to employ a script editor.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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