Friday, October 3, 2014

The Times They Are a Changing! For Mark Hamlyn, Screen NSW

James Ricketson
Europe Guest House
# 51, Street 136 Phnom Penh
+855 17 898 361

Mark Hamlyn
Manager, Development and Production
Screen NSW

22nd September 2014

Dear Mark

How many filmmakers are there in Australia who have made three feature films, dozens of hours of TV documentary, who shoot their own documentaries and record sound and who have written more than a dozen feature screenplays?
My guess is that you could count them on two hands. Maybe one. I am one such filmmaker and yet, with my 43 years of experiences in most areas of filmmaking, you have shifted the goalposts in such a way as to render me ineligible to even apply for Early Stage script development! ANGKOR, a TV series to be shot, documentary style, on the streets of Phnom Penh, is a series unlike any that has ever been shot in Cambodia!  Maybe anywhere!
So secure are you in the wisdom of Screen NWS’s policy of exclusion, you feel no need for anyone at Screen NSW to read my 30 page submission(not even the one page synopsis, it seems!) to see if ANGKOR is potentially brilliant or second rate and unworthy of funding! This exercise would take all of half an hour. No, the to priority for you, as Manager for Development and Production, is having ticks in all the right boxes. If I had made a feature film 10 years and one month ago I would not qualify to apply! If I had made a feature film 9 years and 11 months ago, I would qualify to apply!
What an extraordinary state of affairs. And one that you know, I know, any and everyone in the industry knows, will not apply to those filmmakers whose careers you wish to help. It will apply only to those to whom you wish to thwart.
If you had bothered to ask me who my script editor for ANGKOR was going to be you would have learnt that, with close to 40 years experience, he more than qualifies to be a producer in accordance with the guidelines that render me ineligible. If you had bothered to ask I would have also told you that one of the directors I want to work with on the series is likewise more than qualified under your guidelines. ANGKOR is much too big a project to do by myself. It requires a team, as was evident in the cover letter for my application. But no, the leader of the team, the ‘showrunner’ if you like, does not qualify so that’s that!
Nothing in my application, Mark, has elicited even the mildest of curiosity on your part, despite the ‘careful consideration’ you applied to rejecting my application outright, unread. The reason why you refuse to read or assess ANGKOR has, of course, little or nothing at all to do with your guidelines  - the operative word being ‘guide’.  It has to do with your falling into line behind the Screen Australia ban on me – a ban based on a lie.
C’est la vie!
Screen Australia and Screen NSW agree that the Australian film industry does not need ‘trouble-makers’ such as myself; does not want filmmakers who are not cowed into silence by film bureaucrats who, more concerned with their own jobs than with Australian film, intimidate critics who suggest in public that they may lack qualifications to perform their jobs efficiently or be outright incompetent.
It is perfectly OK (indeed it is expected) that filmmakers be judged, in public, for the work they produce. David Michod copped a public serving recently for THE ROVER and this must have been, I imagine, painful for him. However, it goes with the territory and we filmmakers have to cop it sweet when criticized in public.  (David is a talented filmmaker. He will recover.)
Say anything unpleasant about the performance of thin-skinned Australia film bureaucrats, however, and you stand a very good chance of being blackballed – as I have been by both Screen Australia and Screen NSW. I can live with this. I will still be making films (albeit with the help of a zimmer frame on set) when the current lot of film bureaucrats have been put out to pasture, including yourself.
The saddest aspect of the proliferation of guidelines that serve no creative purpose other than to act as albratrosses about filmmaker’s necks, is the impact your rules and regulations will have on a new generation of filmmakers for whom there should be no rules at all other than to elicit in their audiences, in whatever way they can, a ‘wow’ reaction. Your ‘guidelines’ are so many buckets of cold water thrown over the imaginations of these youngsters.
I know that answering questions is not your forte, Mark (indeed the very asking of questions of a film bureaucrat seems evidence enough for a filmmaker to be banned!) but here are a few:
If I have a script editor/screenwriter/producer on my team who meets the Screen NSW guidelines, will you accept my application for Early Development for ANGKOR?
Given that ANGKOR will require an international cast, does a producer with the requisite qualifications have to be an Australian citizen?
In relation to SHIPS IN THE NIGHT, the first draft funded by Screen NSW, what funds am I qualified to apply for with this project? I would like to know, in advance, where the goalposts are. I do not wish to make an application only to find that the goalposts have shifted or that you have found, somewhere in your guidelines, some reason to knock my application back.
At the risk of repeating myself, this exclusionary policy of Screen NSW’s is plain stupid.  Other than being used as a way to punish persona non grata filmmakers such as myself, it serves no purpose. I presented Graeme Mason with an alternative way of assessing projects some months ago. It is to be found at:
Graham never did respond to my suggestions. Whilst I have never met him, Graham seems to have brought into the idea that communicating with me would place him at risk – the proposition presented by Ruth Harley to the board (and accepted by its members) as one of the reasons for the ban placed on me.
Here is another set of thoughts re screenwriting and the ways in which funding bodies can, perhaps, start to relate to screenwriters in a more productive way.
What I am suggesting by way of a change in the assessment system would save on paperwork and consume much less time on the part of film bureaucrats. With such a system in place a barely literate 14 year old with a great idea could have his or her idea read by someone.  There is a high likelihood that the next ‘big thing’ will be created by teenagers with no formal filmmaking experience. If Screen NSW (and Screen Australia) does not have in place structures that can accommodate such a 14 year old and his/her mates you will miss the boat and be playing catch-up once you realize that the times they are a changing.
If you are prepared to take the risk that reading my 30 pages may not, in fact, place you at any risk at all, read them Mark, or get some other daring person within Screen NSW to do so.
best wishes
James Ricketson

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