Film Vic’s Mindshift Conference Reviewed

May 20, 2008

Film Victoria held a conference a few weeks back called Mindshift, as a kind of official response to the on going Australian Film Industry Crisis, that we have long harped on about here at Idea Fix, and through my own prosetylising at MUFF. I have been biding my time to see other articles or discussions of the event, so as to respond to them, but so far I have found none! Yes, a conference on change in the Oz film industry that receives no media coverage. So, I thought I’d better publish my own humble thoughts before the whole event receives no review on the Internet.

I was a little sceptical about such events, i.e. as it is often organised by the very people who have made our industry so mediocre for the past while. But anyways I’m usually up for a bit of debate and that is always healthy. I bumped in to Steve Jennings, from Nothing But The Struth, who was brave enough to sit next to me, the Oz film Industry gadfly, at the forum.

Here was the guest list of official speakers at Mindshift:

* Robert Connolly, Director of Arenafilm and author of the excellent white paper Embracing Innovation.
* Joel Pearlman, Managing Director of Roadshow Films.
* Debra Allanson, Managing Director of Ishmedia.

Also:

* Pete Wilson – Director of Movie Measure. Pete works with investors, filmmakers and distributors to gather market research on the way audiences respond to films.
* Patrick McIntyre – Acting Executive Director of the Australian Ballet.
* Debi Enker – Chief TV Journalist for The Age Green Guide.
* Michael Padden – General Manager of BigPond Mobile Network.
* Paul Wiegard, Madman Films
* And others

The event was well attended with about 300 people from all aspects of the industry.

Robert Connolly was clearly the most interesting speaker, as he addressed issues raised by his extremely important paper, “Embracing Innovation”. See here. His main points are that the film industry in Australia is stagnating and going nowhere, unlike other Oz creative industries like the music industry, that all readily adapt to innovation and change. Connolly says the industry does not embrace new ideas, ways of making films cheaper, for example, and is stuck in a cumbersome mode of production and infrastructure at both Industry and Government funding levels. Basically, he contends that our beloved industry is outdated, incestuous with non-innovators and retrograde. Not only that, Connolly says the system is also corrupt! He says that it encourages established producers to raise their budgets into the millions to justify their producing fees. He says he has done so himself on Three Dollars that cost 6 million, but he admits should have and could have been made for much less! He calls this inflation of budgets ‘perverse incentives’ i.e. for producers to get a reasonable fee they have to inflate their budgets, thus creating vast wastage, excess and over spending in the industry. Gov bodies approve all this and turn a blind eye to the lot. Connolly suggests establishing decent Producers and Directors fees based on track record, innovation and talent and not related to budget. A brilliant idea! So even on a low budget film, the producer can still be well paid and fairly compensated for her time. This ‘perverse incentive’ he describes sounds more to me like official corruption in the Australian Film Industry…

That is why at the drinks afterwards I heard Connolly’s name being sullied by various anonymous sources as a ‘light weight’ and an ‘up start’, all because he had the guts and honesty to blow the whistle on the gravy train, that could easily be fixed with some common sense and lateral thinking. I spoke to Connolly after the event and gave him a copy of my own contribution to Oz film industry criticism “The 1st MUFF Manifesto”. I said that we are the only two people in this decade or more, from the industry, to have created an official paper or manifesto that had the guts to stand up and constructively criticise our local film landscape. Connolly is a wry chap and probably thought, ‘Who is this guy?’… but the point stands.

Back to the conference. I must say I felt many speakers had their heads firmly planted up their asses, talking in industry double speak about “creating critical mass” (whatever that is) and similar jargon that is totally meaningless and unproductive. It was clear that 80% of the speakers and audience had no clue about how to fix the film industry.

The exceptions were Joel Pearlman from Village, who espoused a theory of genre, especially Comedy. Paul Wiegard’s comments on finding niche markets and about there being no formula for success and that it comes from fragmentation, multiplicity and many different approaches to film making .i.e true diversity in movie making. The film tester and market researcher Pete Wilson also had some good points about content, that he gleaned from his research. And Bobby Galinsky’s questions concerning the quality of script writing, that has been so poor in recent examples of OZ cinema, like Esther Blueberger, et al. A Victorian College of the Arts Professor also asked why large corporations don’t contribute something back to the film industry in the development arena, which sounds a fair idea. There were other good speakers, but too few. What the head of The Australian Ballet was doing there as a guest, I don’t think even Socrates could enlighten me on?

You know me, I’ve more front than Myers, so I had no trouble asking/telling the panel about Genre being the main road out of our industry doldrums, about the fact everyone in the room but a few is over 45 or so and where is fresh new film making talent? I also stated that Australia needs to move away from the condescending PC story lines of most Oz films of late, and to (sometimes) allow a darkness to enter Australian cinema. When questioned by the clueless host as to how I came by this information? I used examples of recent OS hits No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood being very dark and immoral hits and also pointed out local TV hits like Underbelly, as proof of my ‘theory of darkness’ in Oz cinema. The question was met by silence, as was Bobby Galinsky’s re: scripts, no one had the nerve to address any of these raised issues. The host quickly moved to the next question of a more non-threatening nature

This is one of the things that most sickens me about the Australian industry. The head in the sand approach. Just ignore the problem, if you hold a privileged position in the industry, and eventually it will go away. But it hasn’t and it never will. That is the problem, that is why we are at Mindshift. Its about ‘mind shift’, people, not a ‘head in the sand box’ meeting! This denial and repression of the problem is not Connolly’s innovation! Many have applauded Connolly’s paper and well they should. We need questions and more importantly answers, yes, and debate. Then decisions, real change and difference with lateral thinking, I can go on, and on. We are the most exciting wing of the creative arts bloc but the stuffiness, closed naturedness and ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude is stifling, unproductive and destructive in our Industry. Until someone with real power makes change happen through innovation… its Esther Blueberger city, let’s be honest…

As Connolly said, “Innovation is what the industry should be about”. And he’s 100% right! He produced the excellent “The Boys”, one of my favourite Oz films of the last decade and he seemed to have his head firmly screwed on in relationship to the Film Industry Crisis. Journalists like Craig Mathieson from The Age and Bulletin were there and asked questions, but as far as I can tell, no official story from The Age has been published on this event? I hope I’m wrong…

Film Victoria should be congratulated for at least holding this event and acknowledging the problem. But the worry is, are the good ideas canvassed at Mindshift, going to be actioned upon? Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it.

The after party drinks sickened me a little, as I heard so many contrasting views from the usual suspects, the same ship of fools, who collectively have no idea about what to do about the industry. They have eked out their position in the industry and score big grants occasionally and they defend these ‘perverse incentives’ like rabid seagulls, from any criticism. The suggestion that the industry should be based on ideas like success, innovation, track record and performance made them all go pale, as many would be unemployed in two years. Not all obviously, but some.

From this multiplicity of contrasting opinion and double speak; will some equally clueless committee act on change? Even if they do, will it be the answer?

People like Robert Connolly need to be given Executive Power to make actual change in the industry. The new ‘Screen Australia’ amalgamate was raised. Connolly suggested seeing some filmmakers on the board of the FFC. This surely makes sense.

There are many other dynamic ideas that could be swiftly implemented.

Will ‘Screen Australia’ be just another name change to hide the fact that the Australian film industry is going down the toilet? Or will it give real power, not to clueless committees, but to a range of sensible innovative individuals at various levels of the industry, who can make varied executive decisions for change, vitality and innovation. This is the solution.

If this could be done, within a year or two this industry could be as dynamic, innovative and vital as it should be! Thoughts from the stalls?

3 Responses to “Film Vic’s Mindshift Conference Reviewed”

  1. I would argue Three Dollars should not have been made at all.

  2. Great analysis RW. Sad to see that some of the old dogs didn’t see the point of the event. I guess the Screen Australia washout will be even more welcome, that is, if it does actually try and go in a new direction and change rigid methods and structures.

  3. RW a great entry. A word from the stalls? I am shouting and throwing my fists in the air for you (that is if you were at the charge of this much needed stampede towards innovation and diversity).

    Maybe its time the underground came above ground? Food for thought.

    Pete Wilson? Any idea how to contact him? His research interests me.

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