EDITORIAL – 20/11/2008: BETTER, BRAVER FILM IDEAS NEEDED
Incoming president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, Tony
Ginnane, started another bout of analysis of Australian filmmaking failures with
his comments (which we publish in full) at the opening of producers’ annual
conference on the Gold Coast last week. Just not good enough to put bums on
seats, he said. The day after Ginnane’s speech, visiting American entrepreneur
Chris Adams (due to move and make films here next year) narrowed it down to the
writing (for feature films): mostly shocking, he said. We also publish his
remarks, made in his interview with editor Andrew L. Urban.
The Australian weighed in with a long leader on Friday (the last day of the
conference), repeating the criticisms and expanding on them. And strangely
enough, The Australian mentions a few films to make its points, including what
it calls “The grim, small budget Oyster Farmer ...” This is curious for two
reasons: the Oyster Farmer we saw and reviewed is anything but grim. Secondly,
Chris Adams (speaking the day before this editorial was published) happened to
pick Oyster Farmer as his favourite, quintessential Australian film. Which just
goes to show how subjective this business of film commentary is.
Also odd that The Australian refers to tax breaks and their “current impact” being debatable. “Perhaps the authorities should question whether the incentives are facilitating – primarily for tax purposes – the making of films that otherwise might never see the light of day.” This is rather out of date; the 10BA tax concessions have ceased with the introduction of the Producer Offset in the last budget.
"let’s move on to the bigger picture"
But let’s move on to the bigger picture, as it were. Chris Adams is moving
here to make films – not Australian films, he points out. His disdain for
feature screenplays doesn’t dent his enthusiasm for Australian filmmaking
creativity, which he intends to ‘celebrate’. The problems that are being lumped
together can be divided into three main areas:
1 – lack of development resources, which the whole industry knows and has been
pleading with Government agencies about for years. You can’t expect to get a
decent screenplay without significant investment of time, both by the writer and
the producer, as well as the director, perhaps. Time = $$. Tellingly, Adams is
raising money for the development of feature scripts, not for the production,
which he will finance through his usual avenues, probably the studios.
2 - lack of imaginative story selection; there are countless gripping, powerful,
funny and compelling stories to be put on screen, but feature film projects have
managed to avoid many of them. Starting with factual stories that are waiting to
be dramatised, we could pick up any newspaper and by page 5 have a list of ideas
to work with. Go into the biopic genre and you’ll be flooded with stories about
Australians, and non-Australians. Renee Rivkin, Kerry Packer, medical and
artistic profiles are available in abundance – with a built in marketing
advantage. Television is doing it better. Adventures in the outback or on the
enormous coastline are notable by their absence, with the exception of genre
films like Rogue or Black Water and Wolf Creek.
"We need braver, riskier, bigger ideas on which to
base our film stories."
But what about the endless possibilities around the hopefuls trying their
luck at finding opals in the creeks; or the hunt for shark poachers by a group
of motivated ex-wildlife rangers; or the stories that abound in real or imagined
races across the continent; or the adventures of a family that survives an
outback small plane crash and comes across a band of secret refugees living in a
remote village, aided by a friendly local, at some risk of being discovered ……
These off-the-cuff ideas are intended to suggest that a search should and could
be undertaken by producers and writers. We do have the writing and producing
talent, as everyone acknowledges, and many TV shows and docos are testament to
that. We need braver, riskier, bigger ideas on which to base our film stories.
And we need the agencies and the policies to encourage & support that.
3 – lack of continuity for writers and producers; this is the bane of any small
filmmaking community before it becomes an industry. Government policies and
agencies are finally grappling with it, but it needs to be fast tracked.
But there is one other factor to consider: audiences have so much choice and are
so easily seduced by the shiny baubles of cinema that distributors and
exhibitors need to find innovative ways of selling films that deserve it.
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Editor Andrew L. Urban
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Oyster Farmer - reviews
Antony I. Ginnane