Thursday, October 30, 2014
Filmmaking team with 120 years of experience ineligible to apply for script development funds!
The Hon. Troy Grant, MP
Minister for the Arts
52 Martin Place
Sydney, NSW 2000
Can you please address a problem relating to Screen NSW guidelines. In brief:
I have been producing and directing films (both documentary and drama) for 43 years and yet am not eligible to apply for Early Stage Development funds from Screen NSW.
Even if I team up with a script editor with 40 years experience I am still not eligible to apply. Add a producer with 40 years experience to the team - who has not produced a feature film in 10 years - and I am still unable to apply.
So, a filmmaking team with, between them, 120 years of experience, is not eligible to apply for funds to develop a germinal idea from synopsis/treatment stage through to a first draft.
This is nonsense.
My attempts to enter into a dialogue with Screen NSW about this matter have failed utterly. Maureen Barron does not believe that she needs to justify such guidelines to either myself or to the Australian Writers Guild.
My experience is merely symptomatic of a significant problem. It is absurd that Screen NSW should formulate policies and guidelines such as the one that excludes me in a vacuum. And it is inappropriate that it should do so without proper consultation with filmmakers who are affected by their policies and the organizations that represent them – in this case, the Australian Writer’s Guild.
Whilst Screen NSW's exclusionary policy clearly has an adverse effect on me and other experienced screenwriters it is, I believe, the younger and inexperienced screenwriters that will be most affected. And in a deleterious way from a creative point of view. Why should young screenwriters, at the conceptual stage in the development of a screenplay, be saddled with a producer whose field of expertise is not screenwriting? Or saddled with a director who, though s/he may have had a film open on five screens in the past decade, has demonstrated a lack of talent by producing or directing a film that audiences stayed away from in droves? To insist that a screenwriter team up with a producer at treatment/synopsis stage is akin to insisting that an architect, submitting his or her first rough plans, team up with a builder - well before there is any guarantee that that the building will be built.
Given that most screenplays do not become films why hang an albatross around screenwriters' necks in the form of an unwanted producer. And an unneeded producer. A producer may be brilliant at putting together deals, at understanding tax laws, at drawing up schedules and budgets and so on but that does not mean that s/he necessarily has any skill at all when it comes to the development of a high quality screenplay. In my experience there are very few producers who understand the craft of screenwriting. Yes, they may be able to recognize a good screenplay when they read one but this does not necessarily mean that they can be of much value shepherding an idea through treatment/synopsis to first, second third and fourth drafts.
Just as an architect has no need for a builder until his or her plans are well developed, not does a screenwriter require a producer until his or her screenplay is developed to the point where it looks as though it has a very good chance of going into production. And at this point, given how few truly great screenplays there are floating around, the screenwriter is then in a position to choose the producer and director he or she thinks is most appropriate for the project.
An experienced script editor or script consultant, on the other hand, can be invaluable to a screenwriter during these development stages – from synopsis/treatment through to a draft that captures the attention of producers.
In accordance with the current guidelines, there are half a dozen experienced senior script editors/screenwriters who would not qualify to be my script editor/script adviser - even of they had written a screenplay that had been produced as a feature film in the past decade.
This is absurd.
Please ask Maureen Barron to consult with filmmakers before formulating policy and guidelines. Such consultation should not happen merely with organizations such as the Australian Writers Guild or the Australian Directors Guild or SPAA but with the whole film and TV community. There needs to be an open forum in which the pros and cons of different policy and guideline options are discussed, debated. The current handing down of policies and guidelines without consultation, and then acting at though they are biblical commandments writ in stone, is out of sync with the realities inherent in the way in which germinal ideas are developed into screenplay.
My most recent attempt to enter into a dialogue with Maureen Barron is to be found at: