Australian directors are looking to their peers for inspiration on how to consolidate a first film into a career.
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25 Feb 2011 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:09 PM

A small group of first-time Australian filmmakers embraced and rejuvenated traditional genres in 2010. David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) and Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow, When The War Began) enjoyed enormous success with their works. Less commercially successful, though stylish and promising, were the films of Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones), Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City), Daina Reid (I Love You Too) and Belinda Chayko (Lou).

According to Kay Pavlou, Chair of the Australian Directors Guild (ADG) and organiser of the group's national conference which unspools this weekend in Adelaide, these filmmakers now face one of the great challenges in Australian film culture – the follow-up film.

“The next move is quite tricky,” she says, “How to sustain a long-standing professional career. We know that the second act of your career is a challenging time; it is a time that you are looking to be inspired by your peers.”

Peers on hand at the ADG conference, to bolster the confidence of young Australian filmmakers with their tales of establishing a reputation and choosing their early films wisely include Fred Schepisi and Paul Greengrass (the latter will beam in via Skype for a 90 minute chat with the foreboding title, 'Juggling the Juggernaut').

To further ease the transition into one's sophomore career step, Pavlou has programmed an extensive workshop agenda that affords local filmmakers access to some of the industry's most experienced figures. “We didn't want panels,” says Pavlou, “People aren't inspired both those anymore.” Instead, attendees will have access to some of Australia's most respected craftsmen.

Legendary stuntman Grant Page, character actress Kim Krejus, the country's premier AD Toby Pease, directors Tony Tilse and Rob Marchand and producer Stephen Cleary will offer insights into a broad spectrum of skills about which most first- and second-time directors have scant knowledge. Pavlou pulled off a major coup by securing the wisdom of Mr Independent Hollywood himself, John Sayles, for a 'Directing The Actor' workshop, in which he will demonstrate his on-set methods with local stars Leeanna Walsman and Russel Dykstra.

Topics covered in some of the other 20-odd workshops currently scheduled include producer/director Mario Andreacchio on his experiences co-producing The Dragon's Pearl with the Chinese industry; Beached Az writer Jarob Green and Danger 5 creator Dario Russo on online marketing; a 'Working with Non-Actors' theme, to be explored in discussions led by director-of-the-moment, Mad Bastards' Brendan Fletcher (pictured), and Justin Kurzel, director of the eagerly-awaited Snowtown; Amiel Courtin-Wilson (whose latest film, Hail, premieres at the concurrently-running Adelaide Film Festival) on the process of crafting the docudrama; and Dr Karen Pearlman, Head of Screen Studies at AFTRS, on crafting inventive genre titles.

Though overseeing a conference aimed at the directing community, the line-up of workshop contributors comes from all sectors of the industry. Kay Pavlou feels bound to honour the collaborative process that is modern filmmaking. “For many years, the focus was on the vision of the director. Moreso, as television has become more successful, producers have taken the lead in that arena. The true filmmaking process (should) reflect the 'Holy Trinity' – the producer, the writer and the director team. And if those three (jobs) are different people then their contributions need to be recognised equally within the industry,” she says. “Presently, directors aren't recognised for their contribution to story but that balance can shift at any time within the industry.”

Understanding the complexities of each creative participant's role and honouring their input is the key, according to Pavlou (herself a director with credits that include the feature Mary and extensive documentary and episodic television work).“It's not about taking the lead; it's about the three of us having equal recognition, in terms of rights and access to funding. Auteurism is not really the way to go.”

Also central to the event are several sessions that aim to provide a degree of business acumen to the young filmmaker. Protecting one's creative output from misuse and theft will be the focus of the Masterclass session that is sure to be a lively one, given the combined experience of those involved – Jane Cameron, Greg Duffy, Richard Harris, Needeya Islam, Mark Patterson, Nadia Tass and ADG President Ray Argall (of whom Pavlou effuses “The ADG would not exist today without Ray Argall; I call him El Presidente!”).

Kay Pavlou is determined that the Conference bear fruit in the field of copyright protection with regard to filmmakers rights. “The big political issue is intellectual property and moral rights. Together with Greg Duffy at Frankel Lawyers, we (have constructed) a model contract that directors can take to the table that protects their rights.”

One of the real risks of getting a huge section of the Australian industry together under one roof over several days is that the whole event may become a whinge-a-thon – a bemoaning of how tough getting a film made can be, how badly 'they' marketed 'that' film, of the unwillingness of the exhibition sector to give Aussie films more than 6 days to find an audience.

That won't happen under Kay Pavlou's watch; she wants the three-day event to be a celebration of the role that the director plays in the modern Australian film industry. “This year, I suggested we do a lovefest for directors and the craft of directing,” she says with a laugh, though the conviction with which she has taken on responsibilities of her role is ever-present. “Get inspired, go home, become the director you always envisaged that you wanted to be.”