Monday, March 27, 2017

The undignified silence of the Australian Director's Guild

As I re-write the story of Australia’s most famous eccentric, Bea Miles, as a 6 part US TV series (Bea, now a New York bag lady), as I remove Australian characters from “Nest of Vipers” and other screenplays that cannot, as a result of Screen Australia’ s ban on me, be Australian films or TV programmes, the Australian Director’s Guild maintains its undignified silence!

Members of the Australian Director’s Guild board

21st March 2017

Dear Samantha Lang, Ray Argall, Nadia Tass, Michela Ledwidge, Jennifer Peedom, Stephen Wallace, Jonathan Brough and Jeffrey Walker

It is more than 3 months since my last letter to you; four months since the letter before that. You have not acknowledged receipt of either.

I guess it is safe to assume that you have taken a vote and decided that the best way to respond to a fellow filmmaker, banned by Screen Australia, is to ignore him.

I wonder how each of you would feel, how you would respond, if you were in my position – losing your ability to make films in the country of your birth? Would you just accept it (“Shit happens!”) or would you fight, as individuals and as members of a union (ADG) - one of whose tasks is to see to it that this kind of bureaucratic bullying by a government film funding body does not go unchallenged?

You might argue, “But James, you are not a member!” To which I would reply, “I would be a member of you would accept me as one and question the legitimacy of Screen Australia’s ban but you have made it clear that you will not.” (See previous correspondence.)

Just as you have decided that it is not in the ADG’s best interests to even report the banning of a fellow filmmaker in the ADG newsletter (after close to 5 years!), so too do other Australian filmmakers (producers, directors or screenwriters) feel reticent to enter into a collaborative relationship with a banned filmmaker. I appreciate their dilemma. Take “Nest of Vipers” as an example of theirs (and my) dilemma.

Imagine that producers, screenwriters and directors, having read early drafts of ‘Vipers’ had thought, “Yes, this is a series I would be interested in being involved with.”

Their initial enthusiasm for the project would have been tempered by their knowledge that they were, in a creative sense, getting into bed with a filmmaker who had been banned by Screen Australia. Even if they had thought that the ban was bureaucratic bullying of the worst kind they would be intelligent enough to know of the risks involved for them in entering into a collaborative relationship with me. Thoughts such as the following would necessarily occur to them:

“If I were to become a member of the ‘Vipers’ team, we would unable to apply to Screen Australia for development money of any kind if James is attached to the project! Given that it is his baby, his idea, that he is the main writer, SA development monies will never, can never, be forthcoming because SA would refuse to meet with us. Am I prepared, can I afford, to work on the development of ‘Vipers’ for nothing?”

If I were such a producer, director or screenwriter (with a mortgage, with kids in school, with bills to pay and dependent in so many ways on Screen Australia)  I would definitely think twice about getting involved in a project with a filmmaker who, according to Jane Supit, engages in “highly offensive conduct”. I might know or suspect that Jane Supit is speaking nonsense but, “Hey, I have to survive in this difficult filmmaking environment and the last thing I want to do is alienate an organization that has made it clear it will ban filmmakers who stand up to it in any way; filmmakers who want, expect, demand that Screen Australia be accountable.”

If any fellow producers, directors or screenwriters were prepared to work for nothing to develop 10 hours of “Nest of Vipers” over a period of  couple of years the next question my potential collaborators would have had to ask themselves is:

“How can we go through the consultation process with Screen Australia required to access the Producer Offset if James cannot be present?”

The answer is, we could not. Screen Australia owes its staff a duty of care and asking them to be in the same room with me would place them at risk! At risk of what has never been made clear. And there is a good reason for this – namely that I have never given any member of Screen Australia staff, past or present, a reason to feel that they were at risk. This is Jane Supit, Graeme Mason and the Screen Australia board (including filmmakers Al Clarke and Claudia Karvan) clutching at straws. Indeed, clutching at the only straw they have left to clutch – propagating the lie that I pose a risk and thereby presenting themselves as saviours of sorts; protecting their staff from me.

Do any of you ADG board members really believe that I am guilty of intimidating members of Screen Australia staff? Of placing them at risk? Or, as Jane Supit refers to it, of “highly offensive conduct”? If so, do you have any evidence upon which to base your assessment? Or are you so terrified of alienating Screen Australia (a source of vital funding for the ADG and for each of you personally in your own film careers) that you have decided it best to keep your mouths shut, to ask no questions and not even risk the possibility of annoying Screen Australia by reporting that an Australian filmmaker, a founder of the ADG, has been banned?

If the ADG wished, at this very late stage, to play a useful role in ending this dispute without the need to resolve it in the courts, here’s what you could do:

Request a meeting with Graeme Mason, Fiona Cameron and any other member of Screen Australia who feels that they would be at risk being in the same room as me, any SA staff member who feels intimidated. Ask them to provide you with whatever evidence they have of my intimidation, placing at risk, highly offensive conduct. If you are satisfied that Screen Australia’s ban on me is fair, given the evidence you have been provided with, this could be an end of the matter.

Of course, ideally I should be present at this meeting. If Jane Supit and Graeme Mason really do believe that my presence would pose a risk to SA staff, hire a Security Guard!

Please do have the professional courtesy to both acknowledge receipt of this letter and to respond to it as you see fit.



I have received no response to this letter.

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