Monday, September 15, 2014

Open letter to Mark Hamlyn, Manager, Development and Production at Screen NSW

Mark Hamlyn
Development and Production
Screen NSW

15th Sept 2014

Dear Mark
In response to your letter of 4th August which only reached me this morning in Cambodia.
Screen NSW’s new script development guidelines stipulate that an applicant must be a member of a team that includes either a Producer, Writer, Director or Writer/Director with at least ONE credit in that role in the last 10 years. I am thereby excluded from making applications for script development funding as the producer/writer/director I have been this past 43 years. 
ANGKOR might have great potential as a series or it might not. You will never know, no-one at Screen NSW will ever know, because you cannot/will not read my submission!
Does this make any sense in an ‘industry’ in which it has been acknowledged time and time again, and has been for many years, that what we lack most in Australian film is good quality screenplays! The expression ‘shooting yourself in the foot; comes to mind.  
If there is a young Australian screenwriter with a brilliant ground-breaking screenplay in development who does not want to work with an ‘experienced’ director, an ’experienced’ producer you will not read his or her submission. Really, Mark, can you not see what nonsense this is!
Is the presumption that the screenplays of inexperienced writers will be any better as a result of their being forced to work with ‘experienced’ filmmakers based on any empirical evidence?

In an age in which it is now possible to shoot drama on an iPhone, to raise production money through crowd-funding, does it make any sense at all to exclude from script development funding young and inexperienced filmmakers, regardless of how brilliant their ideas might be?

Does it make any sense at all to force these young men and women to leap into bed, creatively speaking, only with ‘experienced’ filmmakers and not with peers who share their passion and vision for whatever crazy idea they may have?

It is ‘crazy’ ideas that you should be looking for – the kinds of ideas most often found in the young – if Screen NSW wishes to be on the crest of a the next creative wave  that will probably hit when young filmmakers realize that they can create drama anywhere in the world with the new iPhone 6 and whatever other similar devices come onto the market in the next 12 months.

It is from the fertile imaginations of a new generation of young filmmakers that exciting new screen story-telling possibilities will emerge. Forcing these young filmmakers to work with established filmmakers, is a step backwards for an industry that needs to make steps forward if it is to regain any of the credibility it once had.

The forced marriage of young filmmakers with ‘experienced’ filmmakers will not only have the effect of cramping their young imaginations but also see that yet more financial resources than are already made available to the ‘experienced’ producers.

Whether these ‘experienced’ producers have created drama that audiences want to see, whether their films have achieved either box office success or critical acclaim is not relevant. If an ‘experienced’ (but failed) producer has had a feature film on 5 screens in the last 10 years s/he is eligible to take one of these young filmmakers under his/her wing and ‘guide’ them in the right direction. This is an innovation-stifling recipe for creative conservatism – the last thing that Australian film needs!

All that Screen NSW should be concerned with is the quality of the ideas being presented to it – regardless of the experience of the applicants. There is no guarantee that a good idea (or one deemed to be good by a funding body) will result in a compelling screenplay but why not give screenwriters the opportunity to write a first draft before forcing them into a team?

I would go one step further. If an inexperienced screenwriter can write a ‘wow’ screenplay and wants to work with an inexperienced director and an inexperienced producer, why not give them the opportunity to do so at a budget that is appropriate to their experience?

Is there any evidence to suggest that drama created by ‘experienced’ teams has, in the past, achieved greater box office success or critical acclaim than drama created by ‘inexperienced’ teams? This is not a rhetorical question. It would, perhaps, be doing all of us who toil in the business of screen story-telling to see some stats on this.  

Quite apart from the absurdity of rending an experienced filmmaker such as myself ineligible to apply for script development funds, your new application criteria also renders me ineligible, after 43 years of filmmaking, to act as a mentor/producer for young filmmakers! Is this good policy, Mark?


  1. You are being totally unreasonable, James. If Screen NSW were to give you money there would be less to give to great Australian movies like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' :-)

  2. Screen NSW has joined forces with Screen Australia to destroy your career, Ricketson, for speaking inconvenient truths. Forget about them. Make your series without them. Fuck them. They are a pox on the industry.

  3. Yes, Anonymous # 1, the poor Disney company needs all the help it can get from the Australian tax-payer to keep afloat! Anonymous # 2, yes, I will make ANGKOR regardless of the doubt-barelled ban now placed on me by the only two funding bodies in a position to provide me with assistance. I feel for young filmmakers who, having made their first crowd-funded film and met with some success, then have to deal with the bureaucratic mind-set revealed by both Screen Australia and Screen NSW in their banning of me. It is a pity that both of you feel the need to write anonymously but such is the trepidation that has crept over the years into the business of filmic story-telling as a result of thin-skinned film bureaucrats' thin skins.

  4. Remeber Ronni Reagan's 'trickle down' economics? Give money to rich people and it will trickle down to the poor? It didn't work out that way. In the Australian film Industry the reverse is the case. The money, controlled by a cabal of self-interested rent-seekers arrange for an much money as possible to trickle upwards - into their own pockets. Screens Australia and NSW now have in place policies that guarantee that a substantial part of whatever money they may get from either body will trickle upwards into the pockets of this cabal.

  5. I am Anonymous # 2. I am a filmmaker but first and foremost I am a pragmatist. I have a young family and a mortgage and cannot afford to be blackballed by either Screen Australia or Screen NSW. I have projects before both and will have others in the future. Like many of my film fiends I have to eat shit sandwiches to stay in the running for money. The system sucks but thats the way it is and its not going to change. Its too late for you to play the game now but I hope things work out alreight for you.

  6. I understand your dilemma.It is the dilemma confronting any individual filmmaker. It was precisely this kind of dilemma that cause myself and other filmmakers to form what is now known as The Australian Director's Guild - to fight battles on behalf of all directors in such a way that no one filmmaker could be treated in the way that I have been or in the way you (and many others) fear you may be if you speak out. Unfortunately, the ADG no longer wishes to fight any battles at all on behalf of members who have been mistreated by bodies such as Screen is for this reason that I am no longer a member of the organisation I played a significant role in forming and must fight my own battles solo. Good luck with your projects and finding a way to juggle being a family man and being involved in this crazy profession