Tag Archives: Australian Film Industry

Coming Out Of Hibernation

Salman Rushdie Speaks At Opera House

It’s not everyday you get to see and hear Salman Rushdie speak live, so I went along to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. I’m not so convinced these ideas at the festival are so dangerous – they seem more like ideas that would make great clickbait on Facebook, but I’m not really certain they’re so damn dangerous. Mr. Rushdie was speaking to the notion whether Television was the New Novel. He spoke at great length of his experience in development hell for 18months but said “No, it’s not.”

The conversation could have been more interesting but the panel seemed to favour talking about the process whereby television writers are commissioned to write scripts and whether novelists were good at adapting to that challenge or not. Mr. Rushdie indicated he was surprised to find he was more resistant to it than he initially thought. Hardly earth-shattering. I could’ve told him that at the front end before he went into development hell.

He did say a couple of interesting things. One of them was that the bigger a TV series gets, the less likely it would end on a satisfying note. All such series should be finished with a comma and not a full stop, was his observation. The other notable tidbit was that novel writing is entirely processed internally, but script writing for television drags that process out into the open so that it can be shared with other parties. That much is true.

He also told a joke featuring two goats.

Short Film Screening

I attended the screening of a short film up at the Chauvel tonight. My good friend Guillermo managed to finish the film we shot last year. All I did was sound record it, but it was kind of gratifying to see my name in the credits. I hadn’t seen that in a few years.

Anyway, the DOP and I got into a conversation with one of the producers about film funding in this country and I was surprised to find that there is a widespread belief that the funding system in this country is rigged so the same people keep getting grants, and that the better thing would be to stop the government doing direct funding and go back to a 10BA tax driven thing. Everybody’s thinking it. The system is rigged, and it’s part of the problem and not the solution. The belief is so widespread that nobody trusts the government to do the right thing. Now, this is just film making – not medical or legal policy. However, if the government was to screw up the medical and legal industries like they have screwed up the film industry, there would be picket lines and molotov cocktails on our streets. The fact that it doesn’t happen is merely a reflection of how dejected the film industry is about how the government keeps working to make the business smaller in this country – even if it is inadvertent – and how small the business has become.

I’m just reporting this here because others in the business would want to know. And yes, it is always a bitch-fest when filmies get together.

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I’ve Been Slack, Yeah

The writers’ guild called me on my mobile today wondering if it was their administrative error or my lapse that I hadn’t paid for my membership this year. I told the lady it was a bit of both – that I decided to let the thing slide while I thought about it. She asked what I had to think about and so I asked her if she wanted the short version or the long version. She said I should try the short one first.

The short version is that I made all of $1000.00 writing a draft for a screenplay this year. This $1000.00 is an advance against if-and-when the film gets up. The rest will be paid if and when the film gets up. Out of which if I paid my GST, and then full guild membership, I’d be left with about $550. Which makes me wonder why I’m handing over so much for my only writing income. Especially when they did nothing to help me negotiate my contract. I wouldn’t have and couldn’t have called upon them because their standard contract would have been laughed out of the room.

Besides which, the producer was my friend from Film School. I had to help him get the script sorted before he footed a bill to fly to Cannes to try and raise finance, another process in which the guild would prove utterly useless. Thus, it’s really hard to justify the guild membership when there’s so little to show for it; and a bunch of workshops and discussion groups and a newsletter and a glossy book each year where screenwriters get interviewed about writing… simply isn’t much value. For that money I could head to the pub and hang out with people of my choosing, and the ensuing conversation might actually be more interesting.

The industry has changed greatly. It’s not the bustling hive it once was where development led to things. Only a handful of films get made – and none of them get made without the government funding production costs. It’s really hard to conceive of a guild in the context of an industry that’s only there as an extension of the government.

I then asked her if she wanted the long version and she declined. I can’t say I blame her much. I told her it’s not something I hold the guild responsible for, but really it couldn’t be just me, and the industry couldn’t be supporting so many writers to call the writers guild a guild. And hence I told her I was thinking whether I should stump up the money for the membership or just spend it on my dentist – which, would have literally palatable results compared to a membership in a clan of writers equally hungry, disenfranchised, and broke as I.

She said she would relay back to management my concerns. I have no idea how ‘management’ is going to respond to my feedback. I doubt they would have anything to say. I’m not expecting anything, but at least they got a piece of my fucking mind.

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How Did We Get Here?

Vicariously, Cannes

It’s a weird sort of thing, but I have a project headed for Cannes to look for financing this year. It doesn’t happen every year and it’s been a while since I’ve had a script doing the rounds so it feels strange. The producer-director is an Australian citizen, a fellow graduate from AFTRS but he is a migrant from Lithuania, way back when it was a communist satellite state. He is, however, also a member of the European Film Academy. He’s somebody in Europe, as opposed to a struggling borderline unemployable middle aged person back here in Australia; and this owes no small thanks to the complete retreat of the Australian government from supporting the Australian Film Industry.

We have approached Screen Australia for support but the answer we got was that the project was not going to be Australian content so we had no chance of getting any such support. We pointed out that ‘The Great Gatsby’ was hardly Australian content but received millions in investment from  Screen Australia, all on the back of its creatives being Australian and it being shot in New South Wales. The answer we got was “that was Baz and his team. You’re not Baz.”

In other words, Screen Australia supports only that which is already successful and doesn’t need support. No surprises there. Who wants risks in the film industry? Crazier still, the institutional narrowness of having such a selection ‘criterion’ – while well known and understandable – can be a big filter that weeds out successful projects. It seems to be the negative imprint that matches the tremendously unsuccessful commerce that is the Australian Film Industry. Honestly, on some simple level my producer-director ought to be getting more support than he is, just as other producers I’ve worked with ought to have received more support, from their own government agency.

Frankly, it’s a disgrace.

I’ve been wondering about how things came to this path for him and I. Obviously, I am neither European or the sort of screenwriter that aspires to the kinds of art house fare that is being planned with this project, but it still seems to me quite absurd that people properly credentialed as  Australian film makers should have to go look for funding overseas. I will point out that this is the third project in my life that the principal money would have to come from overseas before an Australian bodies would look to support it.

This is my blog, so I’m just registering my bubbling discontent right here. But really, I ought to be happy that my producer-director has hocked his whole life to get to Cannes on his own to look for funding. No? Instead, all I feel is a desire to kick Screen Australia in he crotch.

I guess if my producer-director does get his film up on the back of his trip to Cannes, that would be a kick in the crotch enough.

AUD At US 90c

As David Byrne famously sang “How did I get here?” Here’s a random bit of information. Fox Studios in Sydney still has 22years left on its 40 year lease. For the last 18years it has been going, the second half has been marred by the high Australian dollar. In other words, the service subsector of the Australian Film Industry that faced America, has been knocked out by the mining boom and the subsequent high Australian Dollar. Screen Australia had to pay Baz Luhrman to shoot in Fox Studios in Sydney. The structure of investment right there is “good money after bad”, without even getting into the quality of the project or the returns. In fact Julia Gillard as Prime Minister put money into ‘The Wolverine’ from her office to secure the shoot in Australia.

The irony might be compounded by the fact that the NSW Government gave 20th Century Fox a very favourable deal in that 40yar lease in the hopes that it would lead to a constant churn of projects at the Fox lot in the middle of Sydney, transforming the service sector and infrastructure. Back then, nobody thought the Australian Dollar would rise to parity or that it would stay over US 90cents for so long. The back of the envelope calculations that made it competitive and viable had the Australian Dollar between US45c and 55c.

It’s easy to see that one of the most well equipped studios in the Southern Hemisphere is actually a bit of a white elephant infrastructure; a bit like an expensive Rolls Royce that only gets taken out on a rare Sunday. The Australian Film Industry’s service subsector servicing Hollywood will not get viable again until the Australian Dollar practically halves in buying power again. There’s really no other solution to the structural problem there.


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Body Without Organs Part 2

Thunderous Objections Continue

You know a document has hit some kind of mark if the people against it are lining up to make their views heard. One gets the feeling the journalists covering this document were all pretty aghast at what was being presented, straight-faced and brazen, to a greatly sceptical audience.

Peter Martin slammed it saying the underlying assumption is that the only way Australia can get back to surplus was through cuts while leaving the current tax system untouched, while it even answered questions it was not asked like drastically cutting the minimum wage.

Michael Pascoe was just as pointed describing its approach as “casual brutality”. He also pointed out the notion that if the states ought to compete with one another, it would result in putting the states falling behind now in a worse position, not better; and that those states would end up having to pay more. Australia is – last we checked – still a ‘commonwealth’ and not a ‘competition of states’.

Steve Keen was more in a demolition derby mood as he pointed out the fundamental stupidity of Australia worrying about getting back to a surplus now, given the context of the world economy. The fundamental assumptions underlying the very exercise seems to be dodgy, while the preconceptions going in were just as misguided.

I know from Pleiades that the AFR s not happy either calling it ‘illogical hostility’ and decidedly critical of the notion of abolishing key industry support programs. The AFR is also reporting that customers are taking action, protesting the four major banks for their support of fossil fuel investments. Some of these are major funds looking to allocate funds to companies and projects that are genuinely eco friendly. The Federal Government is flying into a storm with its contrarian position on Climate Change, and its stated desire to shut down all these green initiatives.

Basically there has been a loud chorus of boos from the press gallery, which probably doesn’t mean much to the man in the high office.  But it’s interesting to note some of this is spreading out to the world and will have consequences for Australia’s economy. If you look at the document it appears it is not that different to the sort of position statement that might come from the US Tea Party, and it would certainly be interesting to see how this document looks when lined up with the Tea Party’s position statement. After all, as Michael Pascoe points out, it appears Tony Abbott really wants to turn Australia in to a facsimile of America.

Gen-X Will Retire At 70

In amidst all the brouhaha about the Commission of Audit and its audaciously hostile report, was the gem that Joe Hockey announced that the pension eligibility will be raised to 70.

The line he drew in the sand?People born after 1965. That’s pretty much saying Gen-X onwards. I was going to lambast him for being born in 1964, but it turns out he was born 1965. So if you’re an old school mate of Joe’s you can thank him for that gift. He’ll be drawing on his generous Parliamentarian superannuation as soon as he leaves Parliament while some of his mates might never reach the age of drawing a pension. If there is such a thing as poetic injustice, it might just be in there somewhere.

If you thought demographics was crap, and that distinctions like Baby Boomers and Generation X and Generation Y and Millennials were just marketing brackets then the line in the sand drawn by the Treasurer might just give you pause. I’ve pointed out before that Generation-X were the first to get hit with HECS after the Baby Boomer generation went by on free Tertiary Education. It’s really no mistake that the boom is falling on the queue just in front of Generation X, because the Baby Boomers are fitting up the social cost of their lives and their education and their retirement on to Generation X.

I don’t know if this is going to work. 2035 is 21 years away, and there’s a lot of politics to be played out between then and now. It’s long enough for another generation to grow into maturity and look at all the social costs being passed on to the latter generations and tip the balance the other way. I’ve pointed this out before but the ALP is already coming into the next Federal election with a front bench dominated by Generation X, headed up by Bill Shorten. The script might be written, but this movie is far from shot, cut and mixed. 🙂

Oh, Let’s Cut All of It!

One of things that got put on the table for cuts was Screen Australia. Naturally there was an outcry from the usual voices.

“Culturally it would put us back in the stone age,” said John L Simpson, producer and founder of the film distribution company Titan View of the Commission of Audit’s recommendation. “I thought that Australians had got over the cultural cringe, the idea that the only culture engaging with is the culture imported into this country, but that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll be a cultural backwater if we don’t invest.”

“It would have a devastating effect on the Australian film industry,” said film producer and director Sophie Hyde. “It’s already a very underfunded industry. We do so much with the small amount that we get, but I think that would effectively decapitate it.”

Robert Connolly, a filmmaker and former board member of Screen Australia described the recommendation as “catastrophic”. He said that Screen Australia receives around $100m a year and has funded some of the most successful homegrown television of recent times. On 9 February, he said, “there was the INXS biopic and the Schappelle Corby one and there were almost five million Australians watching drama that Screen Australia had invested in.

You mean it would upset your gravy train perhaps?.

The people most vocal about it are the people who have received the most support from the funding bodies over their careers. Honestly I’d like to see all of it abolished just to see what would happen. I’ve got no love for film making in Australia any more, so I really don’t care if it goes to the dogs. Heck, if I can’t have it, let them not have it, is how I feel. Screw the bastards with their mouths firmly attached to the government teat and above all, screw the film bureaucrats. They can go find a job in another industry and work until they’re 70.

Yeah, don’t cut it in half, cut the whole damn lot.

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RIP – Toshi Shioya

1956 -2013

On the 5th of June, Toshi Shioya passed away of an Aortic Dissociation. He was 56. Toshi Shioya was the actor who played Lt. Tanaka in ‘Blood Oath’.

I’d been put in touch with him through Brian A. Williams who produced and wrote ‘Blood Oath’. It must have been around 1998 because I was directing educational videos up in Queensland on a regular basis and I recall being on the phone to him around that time. I finally met him in Tokyo around 2000. He was  a vibrant, driven, headstrong sort of man.  I remember he spoke very quickly in a kind of hail fellow well met sort of vernacular in Japanese as he explained where he was up to with convincing Daiei studios and the Tokuma Group into putting money in to ‘Giants At Dawn’ a film with which I was involved.

At that point in time I wasn’t a co-writer or anything – I was more a kind of interpreting intermediary trying to make sense of Toshi’s missives out of Tokyo. His missives in Japanese were quite truncated fragments of things he’d said and done with names that had no context outside of Japan. The Film business in Japan back then was insular and atrophied. The great explosion of production that happened in the 2000s was still not quite on the drawing board. Yet, Toshi was definitely part of that wave and wanted to be a producer, a director, a studio executive, a drama school convenor and probably a few other things I hadn’t even thought of as being viable.

His enthusiasm had a weird edge to it – like a gauntlet being thrown at your feet – he talked as if he was daring you to join in with his scattergun quest to be this kind of multifaceted movie mogul.  It was clear he hadn’t watched my show reel or read my CV or understood that I was in Tokyo to try and figure out just what he was doing. He was, to put it gently – more than a little self-obsessed; and in a way that I find a little awkward with actors.  I don’t know if he took kindly to my verbal prodding to figure out just where he thought the project was going to go. He had the “hey kid, let me set you straight” tone, and gave me the kind of self-narrative that had my eyes spinning.

All the same, the good news was that Toshi was infused with a kind of man-on-a-mission sort of energy about ‘Giants at Dawn’. He felt it was some kind of providence and destiny that his birthday – 5th of August – was the same day as the Cowra Breakout. He was meant to be part of the production, and he kept saying he was very close to getting it up. You hear that a lot in the business. “we’re close”. What we get taught is that nothing is on until the money’s in the bank, ready to go. Still, there’s close and then there’s close.

As it turned out, Toshi was really close. He was so very close he could smell the success  he thought was his due, waiting for him in the next room. He was talking to Mr. Tokuma, who controlled the Tokuma publishing empire in tandem with Daiei Studios, and had him just about to commit to ‘Giants at Dawn’.  And then Mr. Tokuma died. And just like that the whole thing folded. Daiei Studios got absorbed into another entity. The project files got lost in the transition and never made it to their new offices.

About a year later, I wrote a draft for ‘Giants at Dawn’, on spec. I think we went around once more, this time trying to get an answer out of the Yomiuri group who own the Tokyo Yomirui Giants. And of course Tsuneo Watanabe turned it down and that was that for Toshi. After that Toshi drifted away from the project. He went on to produce ‘Ichigensan’ directed by Isao Morimoto and after that he started directing films.

I only got to see one of his directorial efforts. I wasn’t impressed, but then, I probably wasn’t in a forgiving kind of mood. The last time I conversed with him must have been around 2005 or so when that film came out. In 2006, the ‘Giants at Dawn’ project made one more tilt at getting investment from Japan. On that occasion Toshi was not involved.

You meet all kinds of people in the film business; you work with them intensely for a while, and then part ways. It’s a tremendously sad thing that the final reminders are when you hear that they have passed away. When I think back on the man, I can still picture his over-aged boy-ish looks and the staccato, machine-gun Japanese, while he talked about his plans with a wild look in his eyes. All it does is remind me how fragile and ephemeral, is each living moment – and time just keeps flowing along.

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20 Million Dollars Over The Budget

The Teeth They Are A Gnashing

Julia Gillard is star-struck. Having had a jolly time on set with Hugh Jackman and his Wolverine sequel, she’s decided she’s going to spend 20million (need to point pinky at the corner of your mouth, lady) to bring Disney’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ down under. It allegedly stars Mr. Brad Pitt, though it’s not really clear how this is in anyway Australian.

As you can imagine, the Australian Film Industry is upset that some American Blockbuster production gets 20million from the Prime Minster while Screen Australia’s own production budget is $30million per year and scheduled to shrink even more. I mean, really! How could the Prime Minster be spending that much money to bring Brad Pitt and the Disney production to Australian shores?

Julia Gillard’s position is that the money spent on Wolverine turned into $80 million spent on Australian soil so it was well worth the investment.It was tenuous at the time, but Hugh Jackman’s name sort of kept the appearance up of the Australian Film Industry getting something out of it. With this vehicle, it’s clear that the pretense is gone. it’s just about harpooning themselves a big fish and landing it down under.

Which, in my books is fine. It’s an odd choice, but if the Prime Minister wants to keep the infrastructure end of the Film Industry going (and believe me, it does need a leg up, what with the high dollar), then this is entirely acceptable. I imagine the cultural nationalists and the xenophobic elements together with the traditionally anti-American Leftists would argue otherwise, but sometimes it’s just freaking business.

It’s not the most commendable move, but it’s not the complaint-worthy move it looks like at first glance. That 20million dollars would easily be misspent on politcally correct and ‘worthy’ docudramas about something miserable and awful that nobody wants to see.

Then There’s Ed Husic

Ed Husic, member of Chifley would prefer the Prime Minster bought an MRI machine for the hospital in his electorate. That’s Mr. Husic doing his bets to look like he’s fighting for his electorate at the expense of his Prime Minster.

Mr Husic said he had been trying to get an MRI machine for his local hospital at Mount Druitt ”for ages”.

”I don’t need 20,000 leagues of sea [sic]; I need an MRI at Mount Druitt Hospital,” he said.

Oh boy. There you have it. The reason why this country never can get out of the cultural cringe. Its own politicians don’t want to spend money on culture at all if they can shore up their own votes.

Comparing that expenditure to special expenditures by the Prime Minster’s office is comparing apples and oranges at the best of times. here, we have a politician who is trying  to maximise the parochial angle. What Mr. Husic should be trying to extract is a visitation out at Mount Druitt by Brad Pitt.

Speaking Of Which…

This isn’t exactly the first time ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ is getting shot in Australia. back in the late 1990s, Rod Hardy directed a version for TV starring Michael Caine and Mia Sara.

Something tells me this new version is going to be a dog, even with Brad Pitt’s involvement.

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Pleiades Mailbag 13/Jul/2012

Gimme Some Truth, Part 101

Back in 2009, a film was shown at the Sydney Film Festival to what amounts to a storm of criticism for its dodgy contention that there were slaves where there were not. I wrote about it at the time  here, here, and here.The film’s director’s aunt came over to these pages to contend that what her nephew had done was totally acceptable and honorable – which, patently was not true, no in the least bit – and the brouhaha spilled over even on to this little blog.

In some ways, the whole episode contributed to my feeling that Screen Australia were ethically compromised from within to allow such a film to be made and furthered the impression by washing their hands of the business. The inside information I got at the time was that once the film was made, what was there to be said or done? They were simply going to let that film ride out into the sunset, but whatever acclaim that came to it, they would take credit (as is the way with Australian Film Institutions in general – but that’s another discussion altogether).

It was all very messy. My own take away message was that if one were to value one’s own integrity as a film maker, one could do much better than associate with the likes of Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Tom Zubrycki; that one could do better than to open conversations with Screen Australia on anything that remotely involved public ethics; and that the so-called undecidability of authorial intent over a text had reached an apotheosis of stupidity where people were stating bare-faced lies and then denying they stated their lies.

“There’s no reason slaves can’t fly overseas”, said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. “Slavery is a state of mind.”

“Slavery can be mental”, Violeta Ayala said. “I never said Fetim is a slave”, Dan said. “Other people in the film do.”

A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? “I never said she was a slave”, Dan said.”The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind.”

But no-one is shown shackled in the film. No-one is shown being spoken to harshly. No-one is shown being humiliated in any way. The only person (and he is treated as a person) who is humiliated in the film is the camel, whom the directors paid the villagers to humiliate and murder in front of the camera.

That was three years go now, and discussing the issues *surrounding* the film was an experience I found on the whole disgusting, nauseating and heartbreaking to say the least. Yes, it broke me. I decided I wanted out from the Film Industry if this was the tenor of the debate. I mean, why would anybody want to stay after that?

Today, Pleiades sent me this link where Bob Ellis discusses the new film made by the cinematographer of ‘Stolen’ denounces the film and its filmmakers.

And so it was that in this mood Carlos’s film was shown to a mixed and mutinous audience at AFTRS, and a chairperson, xxx, announced at 8.10 that we had to be out of there by 9.05 and she would interview Carlos for forty minutes and then take questions — OR STATEMENTS — from the audience and from the perspiring, embattled Dan and Violetta endlessly waiting up on skype, and then favoured us with her own heroic autobiography for a couple of minutes while we looked at our watches apprehensively.

Her redundant conversation with Carlos then took place — what is your film about, she asked him, and we had just seen it — for, amazingly, only twenty minutes, and a logjam of multidirectional fury in the audience vented garrulously all over the occasion BEFORE Dan and Violetta, screaming in their turn on skype, were allowed to talk over the chairperson, who kept yelling back at their giant images up on the screen, shut up, she said, shut up, and it got to be twenty past nine and a woman kept asking will you all please leave now and I’ve rarely had a lousier time in my life. I and Philippe and Meredith Burgmann co-starred in the film, and it would have been nice to discover how it might have gone down with an unbiased audience but this was not, alas, to be.

I will write more about this after viewing the response to it which Matt Peacock, who was I think as angry as me, is going to put on 7.30 tonight.

I hate to be writing this entry only a couple of weeks after going back to AFTRS for a wonderful evening and rekindling my passion for film making, but I guess at some point we all have to confront this ridiculous evil somehow.

Bob Ellis says he was in the minority but the opinions I had found at the time were firmly on his side – the side that demanded nothing buy the truth – and I would contend to this day that those who support the Ayala and Fallshaw positions are philosophically bankrupt munchkins undeserving of whatever public forum they possess to expound their idiotic views. If AFTRS is essentially going to be a little haven of ideologically motivated moral relativists then I guess that’s one tragedy.

But it also goes to core of what can be such a dogy area of epistemology in this part of history: the context-compromised documentary presenting itself as a depiction of reality or truth.The amazing thing is how these people insist on the veracity of their content while denying they made any false claims, claiming it is our fault for interpreting the presented information as saying they are claiming there is slavery. If that’s not the most pernicious kind of sophistry, I don’t know, maybe they should make films in praise of good Nazis who tried to protect us from evil Jewish Bankers – because that’s the level of context-denial that’s running through the defense of the film.

And what gets me is that some people are worried about ‘Ted‘ or ‘Human Centipede II‘. Jeebus. If you really want to get up in arms with your pitchforks, line up outside AFTRS and where Dan and Violeta live. That’s where the rot is setting in our public discourse.

As I’ve always contended on this topic, I’d like some truth from those people defending the film makers. Oh, and I will necessarily delete all comments of those defending ‘Stolen’ on this entry so you’ve all been warned.


Here’s a link to a Matt Peacock interview with Carlos Gonzales who made the film denouncing ‘Stolen’ and its makers.

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