Monthly Archives: November 2009

Budgie Euthanasia

So Long Krusty

One of the budgies in our household has been sick for some time.  She’s always been a little idiosyncratic, but more recently she lost the ability to fly and put on weight. Then, she started to totter instead of walk, then limp and then stopped walking. Eventually, she started to lift her left leg in pain and not hold onto the perch anymore. We thought she’d broken her leg, so we waited to see if she would heal a bit, but she kept getting worse.

We took her to the vet this last weekend and found out it wasn’t a broken leg. She was riddled with cancer and was in great pain. The degree of her cancer was breath taking. The Avian specialist vet said he was shocked to see a bird so sick – that in 20years of practice he had never seen a bird so ill. We tried giving her antibiotics to rule out an infection but she did not respond to the treatment, thus confirming our worst suspicions.

This morning the vet ordered me to bring in the budgie where upon he explained that she had to be put down. An animal can be lame in his view, but it could not and should not be in pain, he said. I concurred, and that pretty much was that. I had a weird flashback to my days as a medical student doing the rounds at Royal North Shore Hospital – but felt a squeamishness about death I actually treasure. There are more ins and outs to it, but the details would bore you all. The main point was that the bird doctor felt compelled to summon me and the bird so he could put her down. She was that ill.

I am on the whole, a supporter of euthanasia. It was definitely the right choice for poor Krusty. However my instincts as the carer of Krusty were to see if we could keep going with treatments. That maybe there was hope. It’s hard to reconcile these things on the spur of the moment. Not everything we do or choose to do can be ruled by reason. What we feel is so much more complicated than the straight lines of what we think.

In the last moments before the vet took her away, we said out goodbyes to the little bird. She was eating from a seed stick. It was her favorite thing to do – eat – and it seemed terribly ironic that whatever life-affirming thing that was going on with her eating, it was going to be futile in a matter of minutes. I watched as she nibbled on and I pondered about death and religion and our inability to understand death itself. I thought of a lot of things in that long moment as the bird doctor prepared the anesthetic for Krusty’s overdose but it essentially came down to the fact that her moment had arrived.

She passed away at 10:30AM. She was roughly 3 and a half years old. She is already missed.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 28/11/09

Turmoil In The Liberal Party

The week saw a full tilt in-fighting imbroglio on the Liberal Party over the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation. It’s providing a lot of fun for those of us who totally loathed John Howard and his patrician, (b)latently racist, fascist-class-warrior legacy. Not enough bad things can happen to the Liberal Party of Australia.

The really strange thing is that the Party of illiberality has been trying to come to terms with the Emissions Trading Scheme even against it’s worst instincts, if you will. Yes, why make deals when not all of you don’t wholly believe in the rationale of the scheme?

The people doing the revolting are those of the “Climate Change isn’t true” persuasion. The leader of the opposition Malcolm Turnbull, used to be the minister for the Environment and so has sought to bring some kind of ETS legislation into place when the Liberals were in power. The Labor Party appear to have incorporated almost all of the Liberal Party’s amendments, so the rebellious  Libs are of the climate change denier variety – like Nick Minchin.

On some level, that portion of the Liberal Party has allowed itself to become the party of anti-scientific opinion. Doubtless those ranks include believers of ‘Intelligent Design’ and ‘Flat Earth’ and anti-abortion legislation and other medieval outlooks like that. Let’s not beat about the bush, it’s the motley crew of un-enlightenment and irresponsible irrationalists – religious nutjobs included.

So now it appears Malcolm Turnbull’s goose is nearly cooked thanks to his agreeing to pass the ETS legislation and working out a deal. He’s got to be wondering just how deep the medieval-stupid runs in his party room. If/when he gets dumped by his own party, he might even consider swapping sides of politics like Winston Churchill.

Malcolm Turnbull As Bad Guy

This is where it’s at as of this writing.

Mr Turnbull said he has the support of Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey to remain as opposition leader.

“He and I have been at one on this,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“I believe we should honour our agreement with the government, the emissions trading scheme should be passed with the amendments we secured.

“Having got that issue behind us, we should focus on unity and working together and holding the Labor Government to account.”

Mr Turnbull is refusing to stand down from the Liberal leadership despite a growing belief his position is untenable following a mass revolt over emissions trading.

The issue is likely to come to a head at a party room meeting on Tuesday morning, where Tony Abbott or – potentially – Mr Hockey could stand for the leadership.

Mr Turnbull said he had a message to all Australians and the Liberal Party: “We have a duty to our country, to our planet, to our children to take effective action on climate change.”

“I respect the views of those who believe we don’t need to … but it is not responsible to proceed on the basis that there is nothing to be concerned about.”

Mr Turnbull said he understood the government’s frustration given an agreement had been reached on the ETS and negotiations conducted in good faith.

“What does it say about the character of the Liberal Party if, having entered into an agreement, we were to simply say we have changed our mind, we are going to renege on that deal. How could you trust us?”

The criticism of Malcolm Turnbull by those on his side of politics, if leaks are to believed is that He’s arrogant, he’s autocratic, and he just won’t listen. One would have thought that this is entirely the sort of leader one would get and deserve to get given the patriarchal instincts of the Liberal Party. In some ways, one wonders, aren’t they complaining about getting exactly the sort of guy they want? – just that he believes something a little bit different from the rest of the bogans and Vogon-poets of the Right? That maybe he actually *is* as brilliant as the self-appointed elite needs must be?

There have been some interesting moments in Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, including the rather tawdry ‘Utegate’ fake e-mail fiasco. The current repercussions seem to be a delayed response to the manner in which he took that non-lead and drove the party’s fortunes into a ditch of polling. The ETS deal-making is another case where it seems some kind of deep pragmatist seems to be operating against a very stark ideologue’s war in the ranks.

I know some people who swear black and blue that Malcolm Turnbull is a crook, and the day he becomes PM of Australia is the end. But then I kind of feel the same way about most of the Conservative side of politics so maybe  it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Who’s to say Australia isn’t already in the pits?

But that aside, Malcolm Turnbull as leader of opposition sure has been an interesting spectacle to date. When it’s all said and done and he bows out of politics, we might find that his views on the environment get vindicated by history – and that would be ironic for all.

Who’s Next? Joe The Gen-X Fratboy?

One of the leading candidates to replace Turnbull is Joe Hockey. I’ll be honest – I have a soft spot for Joe in spite of the vast, vast, vast gulf that lies between my world view and his political credo, so there’ a side of me that wouldn’t mind seeing Joe rise to the Leader of Opposition. He’s actually likable when you meet him.

Here’s the thing though. Joe was born in 1965 which makes him Gen-X. Not even Kevin 24/7 is a Gen-Xer. The last Federal leader to be vaguely closer to Gen-X was Mark Latham. Of course Barack Obama is half a year younger than Mark Latham and got elected in America 4 years on from the 2004 Australian Federal election, but the point is demographically speaking Joe is going to appeal to a whole lot fewer people than Malcolm or more importantly Kevin Rudd.

It’s one of those funny things in demographics that Baby Boomers just didn’t want to vote for a guy born in the 1960s in 2004, and were willing to switch in 2007 because let’s face it, the Silver-haired Rudd was born in 1957 and therefore a Baby Boomer. Talk about vanity, but the Baby Boomers can be counted on to be persuaded through flattery – and they are a powerful voting block.

It’s hard to say if this factor will come into play again. On the one hand, Joe is going to have to front for those backward-looking forces of un-reason, and un-enlightenment as the political leader of the intellectually medievalist Party. Then, he’s going to have to drag the party to the middle and convince the swinging voters that such baggage is the way forward into the future.

On the other hand, they’re meant to be dying off ever so gradually, so maybe the younger constituency of the Liberal Party may not be so hostile to having some kind of policy to control emissions. It’s a juggling act. But if Malcolm Turnbull’s current strife as well as Brendan Nelson’s abject failure showed anything, sometimes it’s not just a political problem. It’s about the physical reality in which we live.

Why The Old Fogeys Deny Climate Change

This is a cool article. It gets really good around the middle:

In 1973 the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the fear of death drives us to protect ourselves with ”vital lies” or ”the armour of character”. We defend ourselves from the ultimate terror by engaging in immortality projects, which boost our self-esteem and grant us meaning that extends beyond death.

More than 300 studies conducted in 15 countries appear to confirm Becker’s thesis. When people are confronted with images or words or questions that remind them of death they respond by shoring up their world view, rejecting people and ideas that threaten it, and increasing their striving for self-esteem.

One of the most arresting findings is that immortality projects can bring death closer. In seeking to defend the symbolic, heroic self that we create to suppress thoughts of death, we might expose the physical self to greater danger. For example, researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that people who reported that driving boosted their self-esteem drove faster and took greater risks after they had been exposed to reminders of death.

A recent paper by the biologist Janis L. Dickinson, published in the journal Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult to repress thoughts of death, and that people might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armour but diminish our chances of survival.

There is already experimental evidence that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency, as well as raising antagonism towards scientists and environmentalists. Our message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of Western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.

If Dickinson is correct, is it fanciful to suppose that those who are closer to the end of their lives might react more strongly against reminders of death? I haven’t been able to find any experiments testing this proposition, but it is surely worth investigating. And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the past two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

This exactly echoes my contention why Joe Hockey won’t be the best choice.

Windies Really Suck

Australia aren’t this good.

Still hurting over their Ashes defeat, Australia vented their frustration by beating up the hapless West Indies in the first Test in Brisbane within three days.

The wilting Windies lost 15 wickets in all today to lose by an innings and 65 runs, as Australia rumbled to their sixth straight win at the Gabba dating back to 2004.

It extended their 21-year unbeaten run at the ground in Tests.

But it also added another sorry chapter in the tourists’ recent history – the once mighty Windies have now suffered nine straight Test losses in Australia.

At least first-timer Adrian Barath, 19, could hold his head high after becoming the youngest West Indian to score a Test century on debut.

But when he fell for a magnificent 104 – including 20 boundaries – in the final session, the end was nigh for the tourists.

Man-of-the-match Ben Hilfenhaus (3-20), spinner Nathan Hauritz (2-40) and Shane Watson (2-44) helped bowl out the Windies for 187 in their second dig after Ricky Ponting enforced a surprise follow-on earlier today.

As he did in the first innings when he took 2-50, Hilfenhaus tore the heart out of the top order in the second dig.

He claimed the prize scalps of Chris Gayle (one) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (two), as well as first-innings anchorman Travis Dowlin (four).

It endorsed Ponting’s decision to make the Windies bat again.

The only real stand of note in the Windies’ second dig came from Barath and Dwayne Bravo (23) who compiled 66 for the fourth wicket before the latter was inexplicably caught hooking minutes before tea to leave the tourists reeling at 4-106 at the break.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was specialist batsman Mike Hussey claiming Bravo’s wicket.

Golly. It’s enough to make you think Australia are at the top of the tree again, but I seriously doubt it. The logical corollary is that the Windies really suck these days. It’s tragic.

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SPAA Stuff

Dr Ruth Harley Answers Critics

This is an extract from ScreenHub’s reportage of SPAA.

Screen Australia and SPAA are clearly in agreement that the Producers Offset is working for television production and large scale feature film, with the agency producing figures that showed there was a robust percentage of Australian television production occurring with Offset-only subsidy. This was not true for documentary, and also not true for mid- and low-budget feature films, both of which continued to be dependent on both the Offset and direct Screen Australia investment.

The figures showed that final certificates under the Offset had been issued to 46 documentaries ($7.14 million), 25 television projects ($91.27 million) and 19 features ($91.27 million), making the total amount claimed by producers under the Offset $123.44 million.

It was the feature film number that provoked the exchange between Harley and Daniel Scharf.

Scharf (Daniel Scharf Productions) asked what proportion of the feature film claim was made up by Baz Luhrman’s high budget Australia, prompting Harley to ask whether he was trying to be a comedian, as any she could be gaoled for revealing the numbers [the Offset is a tax act].

A fairly unrepentant Scharf replied that he could work it out for himself.

[With a budget in the realm of $130 million, the Offset payment (40%) on Australia would be somewhere between $50-60 million, depending on how much of the budget counted as qualified australian production expenditure (QAPE). This would leave $31 – $41 million to be shared across the remaining 18 feature films, Ed].

Harley also released a Screen Australia analysis of historical box office earnings (2005-09), and what it would take to lift Australian share of box office from its current five year average of 4.4% to 7.%. (7% of films released are Australian).

Harley said that an analysis of the numbers showed that it would be very difficult for Australian films to reach 7% of box office, and that to do so, more films would need to go to wider release, especially to “mainstream release” (100-199 prints).

A copy of the analysis “Australian Films In The Marketplace” which Screen Australia provided to Screen Hub revealed that the median box office for Australian films on limited release was $59,000 (slightly below US – $62,000 and UK $69,000); on speciality release was $580,000 (US films $437,000 and UK $785,000), while mainstream median box office was $855,000 (against UK $3.1 million and US $2.4 million).

This, she said, was the basis for her comments to the Australian Financial Review that Screen Australia had a bias towards funding more films with the potential for mainstream release, as it would be necessary to have more films in mainstream release to achieve 7% box office share. With 44 films on release in 2008-09, this was the best year for Australian film in ten years, and box office had still only risen to 5% of the national total, meaning that it would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve 7%, with the 44% being the last Film Finance Corporation slate, and having benefited from a blend of 10BA and Producer Offset regimes.

She later clarified that 7% of box office was not an official target.

One would ave to figure that this is the obvious strategy.

On Co-Productions

Co-Productions are really hard to get up. In he day of the FFC, you could be guaranteed of one thing: They fucking hated you for even trying. So with that I’m presenting this extract:

The session on co-productions started with a question posed by panel chair Lynden Barber, a Freelance Film Writer and Curator of the National Film and Sound Archive – has Australia been a bit slow to realise the opportunities available through co-productions.

The answer from the panel consisting of Richard Cohen, Manager, Co-productions Screen Australia; Bryce Menzies, Partner, Marshalls and Dent; Sharon Menzies, Managing Director, Fulcrum Media, NZ; and Jonathan Shteinman, Producer Bluewater Pictures was yes, it has been a bit slow.

Richard, in particular, noted that nearly all feature films made in Europe are co-productions. This is obviously assisted by geographic proximity compared with Australia which suffers from the tyranny of distance. He opined that a dating service connecting potential overseas co-production partners with Australian producers through Ausfilm or other such agency might be useful. This prompted a representative from Screen NSW to say that such systems were already in place in some organisations including his own.

Bryce noted that the FFC tended to frown upon co-productions, but times have changed. Jonathan added to that saying that the 40% producers rebate certainly opens doors overseas. But an example of just how hard it can be to get Australian filmmakers to think about co-productions was mentioned by Lynden who observed that the topic was not raised once by the panel at the recent Metro Finding An Audience evening.

While co-productions can cause more paperwork this is not always the case. In France documentation can be as short as 1-2 pages, and lawyers need not be involved. Part of this is due to familiarity, part to do with the type of funding. Obviously larger project involving more players such as banks leads to greater complexity.

Cultural considerations need to be taken into account. In some countries, such as China, the signing of a co-production is just the start of negotiations. Accounting practices also differ. Other countries do not have the points system used by Australia and this can take some explaining. Then there are language difficulties, time zones and so on.

It’s pretty funny though. If you’re trying to work with, say Japan, you find there is no co-production treaty with Japan. And this automatically sets you on a really weird trip through film bureaucracies and the Taxation Office trying to explain that you’re not trying to stage some kind of tax rort, an that you’re trying to make a film with some respected people in their industry even if the Tax office or film bureaucracies have never heard of them.

It’s a painful exercise and I’m in no hurry to go and revisit that nutshell.

Development Through Screen Australia

There’s also this bit on the ScreenHub newsletter:

At Screen Australia, they are focused on training good developers, with Coleman believing that good developers require a mixture of intuition, experience, and a lack or arrogance. These are skills which can then be enhanced by further training.

The Script Factory, where much of the developer training will take place, has been refining its courses for 12 years. In time, Coleman hopes that all developers working with writers will have access to such knowledge.

She is very keen for the Australian box office to have at least two or three Australian films in the top ten, and is convinced that Australian audiences are keen to see Australian product. She also wanted to see have Australia continue to make products such as Beautiful Kate, Samson and Delilah and Mao’s Last Dancer.

Coleman stated that Screen Australia is very keen to look at craft, genre and development constructively, and stated that they were also keen to look at projects sourced from books, blogs and other sources which have big screen potential.

She believes that in the past, there has been a reticence towards genre in the industry, but asserted that genre rules must be understood and followed to achieve box office success, citing Daybreakers as an example.

With 6 month Film4 internships on offer to emerging producers, and a short film fund for teams wanting to make a feature film after gaining experience on a short, she believes that strong filmmaking futures will be created.

Coleman describes herself as very excited and optimistic about the industry, and claimed that Screen Australia respects and understands the needs of filmmakers.

Development Manager Veronica Gleeson, coming from a background which includes working for the FTO and AWG, stated that Screen Australia is open to all good scripts with something to say, along with sound evidence of where the script is going. She stressed the importance of structure as related to story and genre, and there needs to be an awareness of what occurs when and why.

They don’t expect the script to be working perfectly when it enters the process, but they do expect writers to know what’s under the bonnet of the car, so to speak.

The process, according to Gleeson, is not intended to infantalise or box in writers, and they don’t want to create a process where writers are “trampled to death by cheerleaders” (as described by the writer of Sister Act).

This fills me with a certain kin of dread. I can see myself going to these people and being told I don’t understand anything about my craft, even though 1) I got my full membership with the AWG now, so my new professional peers might disagree and 2)  I might have written way more words professionally than these people.

See what I mean? It reminds me of Film School and Film School was a process where I was having to pretend I was being educated (in an ideological position I might add) while I busily educated myself to what was truly necessary to make a film. I can well imagine these people are going to be pretty ideological about the films that *ought* to be developed even if they wont admit it – and when I canvas around at my writing colleagues, this paranoia is widely shared.

But it’s interesting to see that Screen Australia ants to be in on larger films by more proven people and then develop things through a British model which has equally landed British writers in a quandary. We may not have seen the bottom yet.

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Australian Chamber Of Commerce And Industry

White Middle Aged Dudes In Denial

I know a lot of green types can be divided into two categories: Cucumbers and Watermelons. Cucumbers are green on the outside and green on the inside, but Watermelons a re only green on the outside and Commie-Red on the inside. I wish there were equivalents in describing the various shades of Climate Change Sceptics. I guess we have to find out what colour climate change denial actually is, before we find the simile.

In the mean time, there’s this little article to ponder in the SMH.

In its timing and language, the statement could not have been better targeted to sink the carbon pollution reduction scheme, described as the ”world’s toughest”. Similar tactics have caused a serious split in the US Chamber of Commerce. Companies including Apple, Nike, Johnson & Johnson and GE quit or broke ranks over a hardline position on climate change, which polls suggest is not representative of business or the community at large.

No such issues in the wide brown land. The chamber’s board is thoroughly representative … of Australian boards in general. It is older, whiter, overwhelmingly male and consensus-driven.

Stepping down after a two-year term as its president on Thursday was Tony Howarth AO (awarded in 2002 for services to banking and finance, and the community), who says if there is a skew on the council it is ”skewed by experience”. Among other things, Howarth is a director of AWB (climate risk: drought) and Wesfarmers (climate risk: burn less coal) and chaired the West Australian gas company Alinta as it went on an acquisition spree in the bull market, leading to a controversial, failed management buyout.

Born in 1951, the father of two sons spoke to Gbiz in his personal capacity about climate change, the carbon pollution reduction scheme and the statement on Thursday. He says the chamber’s general council – including, but not influenced by, the board – was united in its position on the scheme.

”There was a lot of discussion, but there was consensus and strong support.”

He believes Australia should wait and see what happens in Copenhagen, until we know what the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters do. ”There’s no rush,” he says.

Howarth says he is no climate sceptic and will not debate the science of climate change. ”I believe the climate is constantly changing, because the world is a living organism. The world is in a warming period. Human begins are a fantastically adaptable species and will adapt.”

Are humans causing climate change, in his view? ”That requires me to make a scientific judgment. I’m happy to rely on the science that’s produced. Something I do have trouble with is saying the science is settled. The nature of science is it is never settled.”

Does he worry about the environment his children will inherit? ”It’s one of a number of factors that I worry about for my children. I certainly worry about world population. I’m quite fascinated how this debate seems to be around carbon and not population. The world will only cope with so many people.”

Howarth sees possible benefits in a form of constraint on carbon, such as the carbon pollution reduction scheme – but only in theory. Any government decision results in winners, losers and opportunities. ”But I think on a net benefit basis for Australia, by acting early and unilaterally, it has more opportunity to make industry less competitive.”

That whole bit sums up where the so-called captains of industry are seated. They’re not denying they’re climate-change deniers. They just don’t ant to be taxed on their vested positions. A few weeks back, Ross Gittins pointed out how ridiculous their position is, given how modes of business change through time and nobody compensated buggy makers and hate blockers and wicker-chair weavers or Kodak or that matter when the world went about changing the way it did its thing.

So, if you were in the energy business or automotive business or any damn business that burnt fossil fuels to get by, the impact of burning th carbon has been on the agenda for along time. And they’ve gone a good 20-40 years saying, “it’s only theoretical” or “the science isn’t conclusive” through to, “who will we get compensated?”- all the while the science had been in. And yes, it is in.

Yeah, of course, it’s ‘theory’, not ‘fact’. So as I sit here in un-seasonally boiling temperatures, I have to concede ground that theory is not fact while these guys get to go with the status quo until further notice an they’re trying to stave off the ‘further notice’. Yes, I’ve been told  ‘theory’ means it’s not ‘fact’ and no theory ever becomes fact, so why don’t we pretend the abstraction is merely an abstraction with no correlation to reality?

Personally I think it gives too much credit to the epistemological doubt and not enough to science itself, but what the hey? It’s not fact, right? *ugh*

Gittins pointed out you had to be stupid to think ETS legislation wasn’t coming to pass. The amazing thing is the Australian Chamber of Commerce And Industry is still insisting on being stupid. I can only hope the Federal Government shows spine and properly accords carbon credits the prices they should have. They probably won’t because they’re spineless, but that’s another rant for another day.

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Anthony Ginanne Speech Extract

I grabbed this hot off Screenhub. It’s not the whole thing, but the important bit:

In 1988 Australian films took 18% of the box office. The figure hasn’t been above 10% since and lately has been floundering between 3% and 4%.

When I focused on this in my address last year, warning that continued government support for the industry at around $100 million per year could not be simply assumed as a given if we failed to raise our game, some called me a ‘Cassandra’; but as classical scholars know, Cassandra accurately foretold the real purpose of the wooden horse the Greeks left behind outside the walls of Troy. No one believed her until it was too late and Troy fell.

How can the feature film industry change? How can we emulate the success of our TV colleagues?

The first question is, “Do we want to change”?

Hitchcock once said: “Film is life with the boring bits cut out”.

But, unfortunately, our feature film industry (significantly writer-director led) revels in the boring bits.

Writers talk about truth, but truth is for television. Truth is for documentary. Cinema is about magic, dreams, imagination and artifice. It draws on itself and has no reality beyond its own language; immediately understood by all who love it.

We have spent over $1 billion on our film industry since the 1970s but we have never stood together and said “This is an industry. This is a business. It’s not about art. It’s not for dilettantes”.

In most other business, government intervenes in the marketplace via subsidy to correct an imbalance. It’s cheaper to make cars in Korea – so government intervenes in the automobile industry to enable Australian autos to sell. But the intervention is to help a car that conforms to marketplace needs get sold – not to force a 3-wheeled pink variant into the market.

In the film industry, government intervention has been consistently used to assist in the creation of product the market does not want and the market tells us that year in, year out by rejecting it en masse. But we don’t listen and we don’t want government to notice.

We purport to clamber for commercial success but when it eludes us (not surprisingly given the content of much of our output) we fall back on the circular and incestuous praise of a troika of critics, film festivals and cultural commissars for our justification. We confuse Americanism with internationalism and then chant the “Australian voices” mantra like some warped reverse playback of the Red Flag.

No wonder we struggle to get to 5% of the Gross Box Office, let alone the 10% we should easily be obtaining to justify the continued subsidy support.

We need to resolve once and for all the 40 year push/pull between art and commerce. Industry and government need to accept that this is a business, not a culture fest.

Of course there is a place and a role for government to fund culture (including cinema) but it should be separate from and funded and judged quite differently to the sustainable commercial industry we need to create.

We have forgotten that, at heart, we are program suppliers and we only exist to make broadcasters and distributors more profitable.

But many of us resist, with a passion, any attempt to integrate distribution with production; forgetting the glory days of Cinesound & Union Theatres and Hexagon & Village.

With vision and that $1 billion we should have had half-a-dozen Luc Besson’s and a world wide industry – or at least 2 or 3 Peter Jackson’s. Of course we have George Miller and, from a different perspective, Baz Luhrmann – but apart from George and Baz, as an industry, we could have achieved so much more and performed so much better without the straight jacket of cultural protectionism we enveloped ourselves in.

Are we frightened? Is that the answer? We’re not frightened in sport, or music and our exhibitors like Village and, to a lesser extent, Hoyts and GUO, blazed world wide trails. But the feature film production industry, with a couple of exceptions, hasn’t.

“We can’t compete”. “They have bigger budgets”. But CSI’s budget is many times that of “Underbelly”. The budget for “30 Rock” is many times that of “Packed to the Rafters”. This budget thing is, frankly, a cop out.

Perhaps collectively our ability to read the marketplace and audience appetite has been so dulled by the subsidy drug that we have completely forgotten what audiences want.

There is no formula for what works; but we know what doesn’t work. Our job is to feed the food chain of distribution and to develop and produce what buyers want; take local concepts and develop them for a global market. Genre is key and it’s bizarre to me that when literally hundreds of social realist Australian films fail, we keep making them; and when a few horror thrillers fail after “Wolf Creek”, its time to shut that genre down again.

That’s very sad. But, fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom.

And then he went on to say stuff about what SPAA is doing. Yeah. Whatever, I thought, but the above bit hasn’t really qualitatively changed, has it? Not in the last year, not in the last decade. People are seriously, seriously sick of it all. I’m not saying why bother, but realistically, how the hell is this mindset going to change when the whole funding body driven structure of the industry is pickled with the culture test mindset?

It’s nice he’s saying it and saying it loud where it can be heard. It’s going to take a lot more than that to shake up the way things are done in Australia. There’s such an entrenched culture of  not letting commercial projects get up it’s absurd. It’s equally absurd that the same people are probably making government submissions saying projects ought to be more commercially oriented. There’ s something fundamentally fucked about all that.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 16/11/09

Making Bigger Movies

The banter and ballyhoo in the last week is the cat that was let out by Dr Harley’s bag about putting Screen Australia money into bigger budget films that open in more than 100 screens.

The film financing organisation’s chief executive, Ruth Harley, has indicated she wants Screen Australia to support more mainstream films with the potential to be released on more than 100 screens nationally. The organisation recently provided finance for the more commercial films Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos and Tomorrow When the War Began.

But with a maximum of $28 million to invest over the coming year, local filmmakers are concerned that more money for larger budget films will mean less money for lower budget projects. SA budgets typically range from $2 million to $6 million.

SA Film Corporation CEO Richard Harris said low-budget Australian success stories included Wolf Creek, Samson & Delilah and all of director Rolf de Heer’s films.

“That style of filmmaking would become an endangered species if they thought they had to start making bigger budget films going out on more than 100 screens,” he said. “It will have a major cultural impact.”

Mr Harris said the industry was worried about the implications.

“”If she’s seriously saying the focus will be on big-budget films a lot of the films we’re doing would be impacted,” he said.

The producer of SA-made features Boxing Day and Lucky Country, Kristian Moliere, said Screen Australia should support smaller and edgier films.

“Do we really want to go back to the days of ‘mainstream’ films being funded like Boytown, Takeaway, The Extra, The Wannabees and You and Your Stupid Mate?” he asked. “Will that really help our film culture and the position of Australian films on the world stage?”

Ms Harley told The Advertiser she wants to support a more diverse range of projects, including some larger budget films with mainstream appeal.

“It is true we are looking to have some films with that level of ambition, but it isn’t the case we’re not still going to be in the business of small cultural films and first-time filmmakers,” she said. “It’s not the case of out with the bathwater and the baby or anything like that.”

A move towards supporting more larger budget films will be seen by some as a tacit admission the producer offset scheme – which provides a 40 per cent rebate for Australian films – isn’t working.

The obvious conclusion at the end seems to matter a bit more than the fact that they’re shifting focus, I would ave thought.

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There Will Be Blood

Misleading Teasers

I so wanted to see this film at the cinemas, but before I could get around to it, it was gone.

Having seen it, I will say one thing. The film had very little to do with what seemed to be peddled in the trailers. All I went on was Daniel Day-Lewis reprising a scary bastard in the mold of his Bill the Butcher from ‘Gangs of New York’, meeting the incendiary topic of how the oil barons came to be. The film is partially about that, but a surprising amount of it is a picaresque where you find yourself rooting for this bastard of a hateful man to be able to drill his wells and make his pipeline and beat the big bad Standard Oil and so forth, all on the account of his seeming humanity of adopting the baby son of one of his companions. But more on that later.

What’s Good About It

You can spend a long time looking for a film that’s deeply satisfying to watch. It doesn’t come along regularly and when it does, you’re always taken by surprise. I expected the film to be more grim, but it is more darkly funny than grim. The film oozes with good craft and good writing, and there are moments in it that you know you won’t forget.

Even the much parodied “I drink your milkshake” scene at the end is full of surprise and invention. There is something deeply baroque about the narrative and the story’s concern that you don’t quite expect the turn of events. In the end, we are faced with a main character who is at once a protagonist for the forces of industrialisation come full circle to venting his fury at the humiliation once exacted from him. It’s morally complex and deeply thought-provoking, and any film that leaves you with a cathartic resonance like that is great.

What’s Bad About It

Not much. It’s a trifle long and you’re never sure which part of the plot the central conflict is meant to hang upon, but then it’s fun to sit there and wonder where all the drama and fracas is going. It’s a great film. Picking faults with this one is picking nits and not worth the time. Go watch this thing if you haven’t seen it.

What’s Interesting About It

The character of Daniel played by Day-Lewis adopts an orphan who he then uses to pitch his image as a family man. Several times in the film, he makes the explicit point that the adopted son is there for show, but goes on to show great passion as a father. Daniel’s ploy works in most parts of the film as he pitches his deals to land owners and sets forth to dramatic effect.

We see many scenes where Daniel shows love and care for his adopted son H.W. (whose real name we never learn), that we as audience are also sucked in by Daniel’s apparent humanity. His rage at Tilford in defense of how he runs his own family and how he accepts Henry as his half-brother (until he finds out he’s not his brother) all build towards our understanding of the man that allows us to root for his interests in the story. In other words, we as the audience are just as big dupes as the people who buy his “me and my son H.W.” routine. It’s an interesting construct.

What’s also interesting is the dogged exploration of the physicality of drilling for oil. We see a progression of skills and apparatus applied to the task as we visually understand the difficulty of drilling for oil. In as much as oil has underpinned our modern civilisation, it is this very technology that has underpinned the oil business itself and it is a fascinating view. It’s a film that goes to the core of materialist dialectic as it plays out in American soil.

By the way, I own shares in a company that makes drill bits for these things. Howard Hughes’ immense wealth started from making such drill bits. It’s a good business to be in as we exhaust oil reserves, hunting ever more for the final reserves. I’m oddly comforted by this film.

I Drink Your Milkshake

This is the scene that leads up to the milkshake analogy:

Eli Sunday: Daniel, I’m asking if you’d like to have business with the Church of the Third Revelation in developing this lease on young Bandy’s thousand acre tract. I’m offering you to drill on one of the great undeveloped fields of Little Boston!
Plainview: I’d be happy to work with you.
Eli Sunday: You would? Yes, yes, of course. Wonderful.
Plainview: But there is one condition for this work.
Eli Sunday: Alright.
Plainview: I’d like you to tell me that you are a false prophet… I’d like you to tell me that you are, and have been, a false prophet… and that God is a superstition.
Eli Sunday: …but that’s a lie… it’s a lie, I cannot say it.
[long pause]
Eli Sunday: When can we begin to drill?
Plainview: Right away.
Eli Sunday: How long will it take to bring in the well?
Plainview: Should be very quick.
Eli Sunday: I would like a one hundred thousand dollar signing bonus plus the five that is owed with interest.
Plainview: That’s only fair.
Eli Sunday: I am a false prophet and God is a superstition. If that’s what you believe, then I will say it.
Plainview: Say it like you mean it.
Eli Sunday: Daniel…
Plainview: Say it like it’s your sermon.
Eli Sunday: This is foolish.
[long pause]
Eli Sunday: I am a false prophet! God is a superstition! I am a false prophet! God is a superstition! I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!
Eli Sunday: Is that fine?
Plainview: Those areas have been drilled.
Eli Sunday: What?
Plainview: Those areas have been drilled.
Eli Sunday: …no they haven’t…
Plainview: It’s called drainage. I own everything around it… so I get everything underneath it.
Eli Sunday: But there are no derricks there. This is the Bandy tract. Do you understand?
Plainview: Do you? I drink your water, Eli. I drink it up. Everyday. I drink the blood of lamb from Bandy’s tract.

It’s a fantastic scene, and it’s surprising to see that this is actually what the central conflict in the film is about. While the narrative meanders over the vast tracts of Daniel’s Oil empire, it comes down to a single pipeline, and the pipeline must be built through the land of a man who asks Daniel to join the church. The event is clearly the greatest humiliation visited upon a proud man and it happens so close to the end of Act 2 that we just don’t see it as the turning point.

That Daniel doesn’t and will not find succor from the baptism is obvious. What is not is the amount of seething hate he harbors for 20 odd years to visit upon Eli with vengeance; and it is a brutal, nasty, blood-curdling, dark, volcanic fury of vengeance. Daniel Day-Lewis is even scarier than Bill the Butcher; there is absolutely no ‘give’ in the most emotionally sadistic scene I’ve seen. And the thing is that it’s so breath-taking because it is during this very scene we are shown what very matter for which we’ve been watching the film.

I don’t know how many films or scripts that can pull this sort of thing off where they keep the audience sucked in for 140minutes without actually giving away which shell the pea of dramatic concern is sitting under, and then unloading with a furious finish. It’s a remarkable achievement.  I’m hard pressed to think of another film that does the same thing.

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