equity media enter tain ment & a r ts a l l ia n ce
W IN T E R 2010
BEYOND THE CRINGE MO-CAP, MO MONEY! ACTING BUSINESSLIKE AT BELVOIR
WOMEN IN UNIFORM:
UNDERBELLY 3 Up close and personal with Jacki Weaver, Kylie Farmer, Michael Hurst, Liz Burch and Jim Dunlop
Contact Directory Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance www.alliance.org.au www.actorsequity.org.nz Equity Federal President Simon Burke Federal Secretary Christopher Warren Equity Director Simon Whipp Equity President, NZ Jennifer Ward-Lealand Alliance Membership Centre 1300 656 513 (Australia only) Alliance Inquiry Desk 1300 656 512 (Australia only) Equity Foundation Director Suzanne Culph Ph: +61 2 9333 0922 SYDNEY 245 Chalmers Street REDFERN NSW 2016 PO BOX 723 STRAWBERRY HILLS NSW 2012 Ph: +61 2 9333 0999 MELBOURNE Level 3, 365 Queen Street MELBOURNE VIC 3000 Ph: +61 3 9691 7100 BRISBANE Level 4, TLC Building 16 Peel Street SOUTH BRISBANE QLD 4101 LOCKED BAG 526 SPRING HILL QLD 4004 Ph: 1300 656 513 ADELAIDE 241 Pirie Street ADELAIDE SA 5000 Ph: +61 8 8223 6055
True bromance: Brendan Cowell and Peter Helliar star in I Love, You Too. We ask how sustainable are Australian films given the epidemic of pirating? See page 22.
PERTH 123 Claisebrook St PERTH WA 6000 Ph: +61 8 9227 7924 HOBART 379 Elizabeth Street NORTH HOBART TAS 7000 PO BOX 128 NORTH HOBART TAS 7002 Ph: +61 3 6234 1622
supporters The Equity Foundation and the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance thank the following organisations for their generous support.
Patricia Amphlett, Caroline Craig, Monica Main, Simon Whipp, Simon Burke, Robyn Arthur, Roy Billing, Carol Burns, Mitchell Butel, Helen Dallimore, Jack Finsterer, Alan Fletcher, Kevin Harrington, Abbe Holmes, Lorna Lesley, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Jonathan Mill, Neil Pigot, Angela Punch-McGregor, Brooke Satchwell, Queenie Van de Zandt, Jeff Szusterman, Corinne Grant, Kerry Walker, Kym Ford, Paul Blackwell, Patrick Frost, Stuart Halusz, Tina Bursill, Chloe Dallimore, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand.
AUCKLAND 195 Ponsonby Rd, PONSONBY AUCKLAND 1011 Ph: +64 9 360 1980 MEDIA SUPER Locked Bag 1229 WOLLONGONG NSW 2500 Ph: 1800 640 886 Fax: 1800 246 707 Email: administration@media super.com.au AUSTRALIANSUPER Locked Bag 4 HAYMARKET NSW 1236 Ph: 1300 368 118 Fax: 1300 368 881 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org super.com
Photo: John Tsiavis.Thanks Village Roadshow
Members of your National Performersâ€™ Committee are:
CANBERRA 40 Brisbane Avenue BARTON ACT 2604 PO BOX 6065 KINGSTON ACT 2604 Ph: +61 2 6273 2528
Stealing our future Governments must stop piracy, Adrianne Pecotic
Good to be grumpy Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Pinky Agnew mellow with age
Message from the President
12 5 Message from the NZ President
news Industrial wrap up
6 Forecast stormy for TVNZ Tandi Wright on the threat to NZ’s public broadcaster
11 Performers’ Certified Agreement The latest from our negotiations
27 Someone to watch over you Roy Billing on actors’ benevolent funds
28 One from the heart Jonathan Mill on OzShowbiz Cares
features Flying Dutch Liz Burch’s excellent adventure
10 Labour of love Bill Young tries his hand at documentary making
21 We visit The Power of Yes to learn the power of money
POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE
Chloe Dallimore in Chicago and Seoul
20 Cover story: Women in Uniform Underbelly 3 brings golden roles for the women on The Golden Mile
AUNTY ACTOR The Doctor is IN!
A fresh breath from the west Meet new dance company, Ludwig
in the back
23 There’s poetry in motion capture writes Drew MacRae
LETTERS 26 EVENTS Equity’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented again this year by FOXTEL
Speaking in tongues Kylie Farmer presents Waabiny Time
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
So many roles Jacki Weaver on nearly five decades in the business
The Cringe Dwellers When is Australian not Australian? Drew MacRae
Making the day Michael Hurst on waiting with intent
31 THE LAST WORD Jim Dunlop brings circus skills to theatre
ON THE COVER Cheree Cassidy, Emma Booth, Sigrid Thornton, Natalie Bassingthwaite and Jess Tovey star in Network Nine’s Underbelly: The Golden Mile
editorial much-publicised win in the Copyright Tribunal, with respect to the fees payable by fitness clubs for the use of copyright music, once again highlights what performers in audio-visual production are missing out on: money. The decision found that fitness clubs using copyright music had to significantly increase the fees paid to copyright owners for its use. Almost 40 years ago, Equity began a campaign for performers to be recognised as copyright owners along with writers and producers. The legislation was drafted under the Whitlam Government but it never eventuated. Political parties of all persuasions have promised performers copyright ever since, but have never delivered. Now it seems the stars may be aligning. Last year Simon Burke, representing Australian performers, attended a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organisation and, along with other performer union representatives from around the world, urged the international community to reach an agreement protecting the rights of performers working in audio-visual production. Further meetings to discuss the issue are scheduled, and if successful they are expected to lead to a conference for the negotiation of a treaty. If Australian performers, Equity members, want to benefit from this treaty they must act collectively to ensure the Australian government becomes a party to the treaty and implements it in our domestic law. And we are not talking about small money here. In 2008/09 the Australian producers’ collecting society, Screenrights, collected $34 million dollars from Australia and overseas for a variety of uses permitted under compulsory licences pursuant to the Copyright Act. These include educational copying and cable re-transmission of freeto-air television. Other uses would include (as with the fitness club issue) fees payable for television broadcasts in doctor’s surgeries and the like. Performers in many jurisdictions, mostly within Europe, are already enjoying this money and it’s time Australian performers got their share too.
Copyright is never an easy issue to get your head around. But performers need to understand the issue and be involved in the campaign if we are to win. While campaigning for our own copyright, it is important to acknowledge the rights of others and acknowledge that (under our Equity negotiated agreements) when producers and distributors benefit, performers benefit also. This is why National Performers’ Committee has taken a strong stand against piracy. This is also why National Performers’ Committee has authorised an application by Equity, together with the Screen Actors’ Guild, to become a “friend of the court” in the internet piracy case, Roadshow v iiNet. In that case the Federal Court found that internet service provider, iiNet, had no responsibility to take action against its clients, who it knew were engaging in illegal file sharing and downloading. The case is being appealed and Equity has got involved to see whether the decision can be overturned, or whether the Australian government will take action to amend the copyright act. There is no doubt that performers are missing out on millions of dollars in residual payments each year as a result of internet piracy. With the advent of the National Broadband Network, downloading of audio-visual material will become even easier and, without action to prevent internet piracy, performer revenues will be further eroded. While it is incumbent on producers and distributors to learn the lessons of the music industry and find workable models for legal internet use of audio-visual material, arrangements must be put in place to prevent illegal uses. And I think performers need to take a personal stand on this issue as well. Illegal downloading and file sharing and the purchase of pirate dvds is not to be tolerated. It is theft from performers and those who hope to employ them in the future. Any copyright win performers are able to achieve will be meaningless unless adequate action is taken against piracy.
Simon Whipp Director, Equity
details EDITOR Suzanne Culph CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Jonathan Este SUBEDITOR Kate Johnston DESIGN AND PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT Gadfly Media
Photo: Alex Vaughan
COVER PHOTO Courtesy of the Nine Network ADDRESS Equity Foundation, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, 245 Chalmers Street, Redfern, NSW 2016 WEBSITE www.alliance.org.au ADVERTISE Call Melissa McAllister on 1300 656 513 or email email@example.com SUBSCRIBE email firstname.lastname@example.org DISCLAIMER The views expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of the Equity Foundation or the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance. equity is Australia’s major publication dedicated to Australian performers, about performers, for performers and by performers. To contribute email email@example.com EQUITY THANKS Pinky Agnew, Michelle Robin Anderson, Roy Billing, Liz Burch, Cheree Cassidy, Alida Chaney, Travis Cotton, Chloe Dallimore, Irene Doel, Jim Dunlop, Kylie Farmer, Michael Hurst, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Amber McMahon, Jonathan Mill, Adrianne Pecotic, Amanda Poulos, Lyndie-Jane Rutherford, Sam Strong, Sigrid Thornton, Jess Tovey, Jacki Weaver, Tandi Wright and Bill Young.
message from the president write to you from my dressing room in the Trafalgar Studios in London where I’ve just opened in the West End production of Tommy Murphy’s brilliant adaptation of Tim Conigrave’s beautiful memoir Holding the Man. I’ve used these pages more than once to wax lyrical about the general principal of telling “Australian stories with Australian voices”. But I would have to say that being part of the company that gets to tell this particular Australian story of this particular Australian theatre worker and activist, and to experience it being embraced every night by laughing, crying and standing ovation audiences on the other side of the world, is one of the greatest thrills I’ve ever had in my career. And the sweetest part for me is that the Brits get to experience the miraculous performances of Equity members Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes, both making their West End debuts recreating their roles as Tim and his lifelong partner John Caleo. Stay tuned for Matty’s take on the whole shebang in our next issue. While I’m away I’ve managed, as I always do, to keep my eye on the game at home in my role as your president. Because of the time difference it generally means a fair share of 2-3 hour meetings starting at midnight after a show, but this is a small price to pay for the enormous satisfaction I get from being involved with my union – and I guess the message in this message is about getting and staying involved with Equity. I know many of you now regularly put your Equity membership in your bios which is great, and that lots of us now enjoy perusing programs to see who of our colleagues has decided to be involved in this dead simple but effective campaign to raise Equity’s profile. A good measure of the success of this campaign is its acceptance by theatre producers, to the point where in the current negotiations they have agreed to sanction this practice of including Equity membership in our bios in the new performers’ certified agreement. It’s weird to think that this all came from me, as a tourist, checking out Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin’s bios in the Playbill for the Broadway production of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf back in 2005 and
proposing that we try it out here. It’s just one example of the buzz you can get from being involved. Over the past few years I’ve been proud to represent Equity at all manner of forums, from graduate days for acting students, to meeting with politicians of every persuasion, to the World Intellectual Property Organisation convention in Geneva where I advocated on behalf of performers around the world our persuasion on performers’ copyright. What I’m asking each of you to do is to think about what you could do. We’ve got negotiations on the go for both our feature film and theatre agreements. Have you considered coming along as part of the Equity negotiating team? If you’ve taken part in one of our Equity masterclasses, such as the hugely successful one with Ian McKellen, have you thought about writing about the experience for this magazine, or at least telling other performers about the Equity professional program and how great it is? We’re thrilled to have FOXTEL back on board again for the Equity Lifetime Achievement Award. Did you vote for your outstanding performer last time? Why not nominate who you think is most deserving this time round? Read in this issue about shaking a bucket for Oz Showbiz Cares and putting your hand in your pocket for the Actors’ Benevolent Funds, which are even more fundamental examples of performers helping each other and making our profession a community as well as an industry. So take that step, get active, and, you know, do stuff. Thanks for reading
Simon Burke Equity President firstname.lastname@example.org
message from the NZ president ’m very pleased to announce that Creative NZ has come on board with funding to support Equity’s professional program in 2010. This year’s program includes four acting masterclasses with acclaimed theatre directors, workshops on practical skills, graduate days and forums on themes as varied as Breaking Down the Script, Playing Beckett, and The Agent and the Performer. It is exciting that our proposal to offer skills training and professional development has been enthusiastically recognised by government. The program kicks off on June 18 with Get the Skinny on Casting, a workshop for actors and directors with Australian-based, US casting director Tom McSweeney. NZ Equity is fortunate to have an increasing number of young members and by the time you read this we’ll also have held a workshop on auditioning for the kids. Keep checking your Equity e-bulletins for information on our plans for the rest of the year. Remember, all these professional program events are free for members with places allocated by ballot. So, you’ve got to be in it to win it! Keep in mind that it’s your program, so let us know what you’d like to see included in the future. We’re getting close to launching our first Equity poster. We’d love you to put it up at every place you work – in green rooms, theatre foyers, your agent’s office, even on your fridge! Special thanks to Charlie McDermott and the Basement for organising printing and to all the
Photo: Gary Baildon
performers who feature on the poster. I hope you love it as much as I do! Much of the work we do revolves around fighting for respect. Respect in how we’re treated when a television commercial or film is being cast; respect to ensure NZ performers get a shot at roles in every production shot in NZ. We were very happy to be asked by casting directors for our views on their recently drafted casting guidelines. Performers responded with wide-ranging and thoughtful feedback. We also took part in an industry forum on the Television NZ Amendment Bill, with Equity vicepresident Tandi Wright putting the case for performers. Progress is made when we stand up and stand together. Which brings me to the happy task of welcoming the members of our new National Performers’ Committee – Sara Wiseman, Greg Hall, Glen Pickering, Sam Snedden, Natalie Beran and Sia Trockenheim. Shake their hand or buy them a drink next time you see them in a theatre foyer, because they are committed to working for respect for all performers in NZ.
Jennifer Ward-Lealand Equity NZ President
industrial wrap up
King Lear on the ABC Equity has been in negotiation with Bell Shakespeare for the recording of King Lear for ABC television. Performers need to be protected when they appear in front of a camera and Equity has been working to ensure performers receive superannuation payments for the filming and that usage rights for the recording are appropriately contained.
Webisodes alert The Alliance is currently negotiating with the producers of Dance Academy with respect to webisodes. Equity asks that any performers who are requested to perform in webisodes, or any other material outside the core television program, contact their agent and/or Equity. Performers need to keep in mind that such additional material falls outside of the standard tv agreement and appropriate remuneration must be sought.
Tomorrow When the War Began
Baz and the Bard: Luhrmann's production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Opera Australia
New Performers’ Collective Agreement Equity is negotiating the new Performers’ Collective Agreement with Live Performance Australia. The negotiations cover live theatre performers’ pay and conditions. Equity’s log of claims represents 12 months of consultation with Equity members about what changes they want to see in their working conditions. Equity is fighting for pay increases, an increase in superannuation and the introduction of non-traditional casting, among other important changes to the PCA. Matters already agreed to by producers are: the end of trial relocation provisions; an increase of the cab fare cap; and for performers’ luggage (up to 40kgs) to be transported from their homes to the first venue and from the last venue to home, meaning no more excess luggage costs for performers. Already these represent some great wins for members! The PCA should be finalised soon and Equity will continue to communicate with members about the progress of negotiations.
Jersey Boys can say ‘Bye Bye Baby’
Opera outlook improving Equity and Opera Australia have agreed to meet on a regular basis to monitor the company’s progress and ensure that when finances improve performers get the wage increases they deserve. This follows a reduction in wage increases, agreed to by performers last year, on the grounds that the company was struggling financially. The current outlook for the company is positive, with last year’s deficit significantly less than expected. OS is expected to remain in deficit in 2010, but beyond that its fortunes should improve and performers should receive their increases.
Co-op contract now available! A standard Equity co-op contract has been finalised, following 12 months of consultation with performers around Australia. Equity will now meet with companies including Company B and Griffin to discuss endorsing the agreement, which seeks to protect performers who are involved in co-op productions. We also encourage all performers to use the contract. If you would like a copy contact the Alliance Inquiry Desk on 1300 65 65 12.
Thumbs up for Budweiser The Alliance has come to an acceptable arrangement (using the Offshore TVC agreement as the basis) with the producers Plaza Films for the engagement of performers on a new offshore TVC for Budweiser to be screened worldwide.
Underhand screen tests The Alliance has contacted the casting agent and producer of Underbelly who have been linked to the charging of performers for screen tests. The Alliance has been assured that there will be genuine screen tests undertaken in Melbourne in the usual course of casting for the production – free from any charges. The Alliance does not support any so-called “screen test opportunities” where a performer is charged. We refer you to the Equity Foundation’s continuing program of casting director hothouses – all of which are free for members.
Dancers’ final deal WA Ballet dancers are putting together their claim for a new agreement. They seek an increase in pay of 10 per cent for the final year of a four-year handshake deal made in 2007. Under the deal, a 10 per cent increase each year for four years was agreed. The company provided the first three increases over two agreements and dancers are now pursuing the final increase. So far the company has resisted paying the final 10 per cent and is seeking to roll over the existing agreement for 12 months. Discussions continue.
Photo: Edwina Pickles. Fairfax Photos
Jersey Boys, the runaway success that has broken box office records and ensured its cast of talented performers work for more than a year, will move from Melbourne to Sydney later this year. Questions have arisen about how provisions of the Performers’ Collective Agreement will operate in relation to performers being able to hand in their four weeks’ notice after 14 months from opening night, a date that is fast approaching. Concerns that performers would leave the show just as it was starting its Sydney run, have led producers to ask the cast to commit to new contracts, locking them in for a further 14 months,
threatening that anyone who didn’t sign up would be terminated. Equity’s advice to the cast was that terminating a performer for anything other than a serious misconduct or performance issue could amount to unfair dismissal. The producers eventually obtained legal advice that supported that stance. The matter is now clear – performers can hand in their four weeks’ notice after 14 months from opening night, and producers cannot terminate a performer simply because they won’t be locked into a new contract.
The Alliance has reached an in-principle agreement with Omnilab, producers of Tomorrow When the War Began, for all productions to which the Screen Actors’ Guild has not signed. If SAG signs, this would trigger Equity’s better rates policy and SAG residuals. This will be discussed with the cast of TWTWB and National Performers’ Committee.
Dreamweaver After 47 years, eight films and hundreds of plays, Jacki Weaver says she still has plenty of roles up her sleeve
HETHER on screen or in real life, Australia has given the world some of its best criminal women. Who could forget Bea Smith, Franky Doyle and the girls of Cell Block H. And the matriarchal mobsters have been fairly hip of late, what with Judy Moran and the Melbourne underworld feud that cost so many lives and, more recently, Roberta Williams, who both made for spellbinding viewing whether on Underbelly or the television news. Due for release later this year, Animal Kingdom, a debut film for writer David Michod, recently won the World Cinema Jury Prize for drama at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Jacki Weaver stars as just such a mob matriarch, opposite a roll call of Australian talent including Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford and Sullivan Stapleton. Empiremovies.com called it “badass” while another reviewer said the most chilling performance came from Weaver as Smurf, who “spends much of the film's first half being quietly creepy and, at times, even Gothic, but proves merely to be biding her time before unleashing a flood of evil in scene after scene, leading up to the film's haunting conclusion”. “It is all fiction and not based on any particular person,” explains Weaver. “It is a drama about the criminal underworld of Melbourne in the 1980s, but David wrote the script way back before the current preoccupation with true crime. I was sent the script more than three years ago and thought it was great.” Sony Classics will release the film later this year on screens across America, where fans of crime drama are already licking their lips. “Audiences are pretty similar – generally speaking we are all the same tribe. We all love being told stories about ourselves, no matter what culture we come from,” Weaver says. “Australians love Australian stories because every culture wants to see and to hear its own culture. “The performer’s instinct is to story tell, to inform, to entertain, to shock and to entrance us with their storytelling. Pretending to be other people is very good fun. And it can be anguish as well.” Weaver, who has clocked up an astonishing 47 years as a performer, spoke to equity before going onstage for an evening performance of David Williamson’s Let the Sunshine In at QPAC. She plays Ros, a publisher who has moved to Noosa from Sydney with her filmmaking partner. “There’s been a good response in Brisbane – you can’t get a seat, it is sold
Photo: Thanks Madmen Entertainment
out and audiences love it,” she says. She is clearly enjoying working with the Sunshine cast, which includes Andrea Moor, John Wood and Robert Coleby. “I first worked with John and Robert more than 30 years ago. There is a bit of a trick to working with people who know you so well! “Paul Ashcroft and Rachel Gordon [who play young couple Rick and Anna in the piece] are also fabulous young actors,” she adds. Weaver says she particularly enjoys working with young actors: “They are so stimulating, their enthusiasm is infectious. Even though I’ve been acting for 47 years – it looks like a lot on paper, although it doesn’t feel like it – they remind me of things I had forgotten.” Jumping from a film set in the 1980s underworld, to Williamson’s domestic drama, in which a middle class couple explores the spectrum of being in love/hate, may seem a stretch, but Weaver has spent her career moving between film, television and theatre. “They are very different media. I’ve done so much theatre, I’ve only done about 12 films, but I’ve done hundreds of plays,” Weaver says. “It all comes down to how the character is defined and that helps you work out how to approach the role. “Film and theatre are different disciplines. With theatre you have to conserve your energy all day so that you have optimum energy at night. With film you have to hurry for a possible 5am start and then give little bursts of energy for up to 12 hours. Both require enormous focus and, I think, a main requirement for an actor is the skill to maintain focus.” Weaver’s stage and screen achievements are long and accomplished. She won AFI awards for the films Caddie and Stork, and a Logie and a Variety Club Heart award for They’re Playing Our Song in which she starred with John Waters. “I have had some fantastic roles – The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead was a one-woman play that toured 60 venues; it was very fulfilling, very enriching. Of course there are roles I always wanted to play, but I am fatalistic; there are a lot of roles now that I will never play,” she says. Yet there are new roles to play and different stories to tell. Following the sell-out season of Let the SunshineIn, Weaver was heading to Adelaide for a production of Entertaining Mr Sloan, with her husband Sean Taylor, and then on to a production of Uncle Vanya at the Sydney Theatre Company with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, John Bell and Richard Roxburgh. Suzanne Culph EQUITY 7
Making the day Michael Hurst advocates “active waiting” for actors on set
to anticipate what is required, when it will be required and how much of it will be required. Time is always of the essence and, in a very real sense, time is money. More often than not, there is no possibility of overtime. Every second waiting for anything at all is a cost. It is brutal. Watching actors saunter from their tent, half dressed and sipping coffee, when others have been racing to set up a shot, is probably the most frustrating thing for any director in this fast-turnaround world. I believe that actors should lead from the front, pay attention and be ready when they are needed. Recently, I had the pleasure of working with John Rhys-Davies, a senior actor of immense and richly varied experience, whose grasp of the mechanics of shooting was fabulous. Once the scene was underway, he asked for his chair to be brought close to the action so that he could absolutely be there when required – fully dressed and on his mark. No waiting. If he could see that he was due in the next shot, he would go to the stand-by wardrobe person and get them to make sure he was ready. No waiting. If we were changing lenses or discussing a different camera move, he would remain where he was, listen to what was being said and, as a result, have firsthand knowledge of what he needed to do. No waiting. And he knew his lines. No waiting. I learned to do this on Hercules – The Legendary Journeys, in which I costarred for six years. I could see how valuable it was to the directors that we be match fit and ready, every time. This is our job, as actors. This is what we love. Spencer Tracy considered it the thing he did for free – it was the waiting around they paid him for. My view is that the waiting should always be active – “waiting with intent” – as much of a process in the day as the rest of it. While we sit in our trailers, or in the cast tent, or just to the side of the set, let’s keep our balls in the air! Michael Hurst is a performer, director and writer based in Auckland
Photo: Kirsty Griffin
id you make your day? It’s the first question they ask. And really it’s redundant, because if you haven’t made your day, they already know. In fact, even a whiff of not making it brings them onto the set where they stand, silently, watching from the edge of the action, or conversing in hushed, urgent tones with the 1st assistant director, alerting you to the fact that you’d better pull your finger out of your arse or very soon the excreta will make contact at high velocity with the electronic air-circulating apparatus. I am, of course, talking about producers. Don’t get me wrong; some of my best friends know people who have friends who are producers. And they have a job to do (the producers, not my friends) which is to bring the show in on time, on budget and on schedule. This is no mean feat. To achieve this requires the focused commitment of a team of people, from the producer down, moving in a complex pattern of shifting demands and timeframes, within a tightly structured edifice. No one can drop the ball. There is a saying in this kind of television: “We make Gone With The Wind in the morning and Dukes of Hazzard in the afternoon.” Everything depends on the schedule. It is, for me, the ultimate document – meticulous, informative and completely essential to “making the day”. It attempts to anticipate absolutely everything and producing it focuses the mind like nothing else – except, perhaps, attempting to achieve it. In order to do this everyone must come to the anticipatory party knowing what is required, when it is required, how much of it is required and what we will do if things go sideways and something else is required. This goes for the acting department too. Usually the last people to step onto the set, it is vital that actors pay attention to the director’s plan for the scene. This may seem self-evident, but in my experience it is common for actors to have no idea of what the shots are when they come to do a scene. Knowing exactly what is happening allows the actor
he stage show Grumpy Old Women was a hit in the UK and Australia and televised versions of it have screened as a series. This stage show is a three-hander that toured Australia with the original British cast. In New Zealand, local performers Lyndee-Jan Rutherford and Pinky Agnew share the stage with feted fellow performer, Geraldine Brophy. “It took about five minutes for us to establish that we actually are grumpy old women,” says Rutherford. “You’re a grumpy old woman if you ever take your shopping back to the shop. Or you count your change at the counter …” “Or you need reading glasses to read and you wear them on a string around your neck,” adds Agnew. “The script is so clever – and that was a clincher for us,” says Rutherford. “Every time we’d open our mouths we’d say something that was already in the script.” Written by Judith Holder and Jenny Éclair, who performed in the original British production, Grumpy Old Women is a show about the universal themes that concern women of a certain age; things like health, hot flushes and making lists. The NZ cast, however, was committed to making the show unique. “We’ve localised it, ” says Agnew. “We cut to the essence of what a NZ audience would get. They say ‘… and then you are going down to the pissing Tescos’ and we say ‘and then you go down to the friggin’ Pack and Save’. “We didn’t really realise how important this was until we sat down with the script. We were doing a riff on cheese on toast and the Brits would say Branston Pickle and an Australian would say Vegemite and we’d say Marmite.” “There was lots of this kind of tweaking. The thing is, we are exposed to a lot of English [production] but if it is Kiwis talking to Kiwis then it has to be in Kiwi language,” adds Rutherford. Agnew comes to the show from a background doing corporate work and as an experienced author: “I’ve been self-employed since 1990,” she says. “I started out as a singing telegraph girl with a sharp tongue and a bit of confidence. One of the great things about working with Lyndee and Geraldine is that I keep learning so much from them.” Rutherford’s career has combined theatre and television work, including the pioneering Skitz: “Skitz had such a fast turnaround you just had to get up and be funny. I love the fact that as an actor you can do such different
Photo: Ben McDonald Productions
NOT SUCH GRUMPY OLD WOMEN As grumpy old women go, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Pinky Agnew are anything but, writes Suzanne Culph
“WHEN I SEE HOW MANY YOUNG ACTORS ARE INVOLVED IN BUILDING EQUITY RIGHT NOW, I AM REALLY ENCOURAGED”
things. I love doing telly – it is such an interesting medium – but I love theatre too.” On the eve of an NZ-wide tour, Rutherford and Agnew said they were expecting audiences with “big groups of women and maybe the odd husband”. Both say they love performing for audiences in small regional towns – and not just for the baskets of homemade muffins and bar fridges full of beer. “It is amazing how passionate people in regional areas are about performance,” says Rutherford. “Women will have driven for three hours to see your performance. It is extraordinary. And you have to be there on time; there are always people queued up early; ready to go, waiting to laugh. In bigger towns like Auckland and Wellington there is a different vibe. “Regional audiences are real and true. They’re not there to criticise and break it apart; they are there for a good time. You really notice it. If it is funny they will laugh. And I can tell you after half a day of rehearsal, it is funny!” All three performers spend most of the show on stage and unpack, pack up and play in a spectrum of venues across the country. “It all comes down to carpet,” explains Rutherford. “In every venue we are creating a show on a piece of carpet, so we do the show around that bit of carpet. The only difference is where we exit and enter. Ben McDonald, our producer, has done shows on the same circuit and his experience is awesome. “Actually we asked Ben for a discount for Equity members to see the show in its return season in September and he said yes, which is fantastic,” she adds. Both Rutherford and Agnew are rusted-on Equity members and have been on various committees and campaigns since the 1990s. “I have always been optimistic about Equity and when I see how many young actors are involved in building Equity right now, I am really encouraged,” says Agnew. “It’s good to see young performers picking it up and running with it.” “As performers we’ve got a long way to go – it’s all about respect for performers, not least from our own industry,” says Rutherford. “Acting wages are a bit pathetic, rates have gone down as the cost of living has gone up. Even when you work full-time as a performer it can be hugely difficult. “But we’re all the same – you just do it because you can and because you have to.” EQUITY 9
she’d already approached to be involved, draft shooting dates, segment ideas and formats, and she had also begun using the right channels to source the relevant elders and community members, to assist with the language and cultural aspects of the show. Pretty moorditj ay! A few months had passed, I returned from a holiday in Europe, and it was time to shoot this little gem. I kept in touch with Cath while overseas, and I was djoorapiny (happy) to hear that Aunty Iris Woods and Aunty Roma Winmar were on board as language consultants, Jim Frater was mentoring Todd Walsh on camera, and Lee West would be doing the Rap It Up segment with me. All of these people are family and friends – very talented ones too – so I knew that shooting Waabiny Time was going to be unique, special and full of spirit. There are 13 episodes in the series, each focusing on a particular topic such as Seasons, Animals and Tracks or Traditional Tools. The first segment I shot with the team was called Sand Yarning, teaching kids about telling stories in the sand with simple ways of drawing, as well as introducing some traditional illustrations. We Having a moorditj time on Waabini Time: then shot the Made It segments, focusing on The new children’s show featurers of art, arts and crafts, and finally Rap It Up – my craft, loads of colour and lots of kids favourite – it recaps all the Noongar words learnt in the episode to wrap up the show. And then there’s the Waabiny Time Band, Candice, Lee and Jonah, who do a marvellous job with the musical element of the show. The songs are catchy and repetitive, enabling the language to immerse itself into your thinking. So just by singing a catchy tune, you’ve learnt a new word and its meaning. But, we can’t forget magine a television show for the very young, the koorlungas – kids. They’re the real stars of in Noongar language. A fresh new approach the show. They demonstrate all the activities to – catchy segments, stories in the sand, cool music videos, a bit of art and craft, tales of old, help our viewers understand the language – loads of colour and out-door adventures, oh, and kids love to see other kids having fun. and kids, lots of kids! Waabiny Time has been on air on NITV This imaginary tv show recently came to life (National Indigenous Television) for less than a and was given the title Waabiny Time, which month and already people are asking if they means “playing time” in our (Noongar) can purchase the series on dvd. They language. Only a few nights before receiving a absolutely love it. Their kids are singing songs phone call from the producer asking if I’d be and learning the language at a rapid speed. interested in presenting this show, I dreamt I Noongar people are djoorapiny – they are thoroughly proud of it. The feedback has been was telling stories on Play School. I immediately wonderful – full of appreciation and pride – and said: “Yes, of course I’m interested.” Let’s just audiences are hoping another series will follow. say, I believe in the power of the Dreaming. I love my culture, I love my language, I love kids My name is Kylie Farmer (Kaarljilba Kaardn). and I have fallen in love with what Waabiny Time I’m from Noongar country in the south-west of has created. An exciting new pathway of education for the very young (3-6 Western Australia and I’ve been performing for 13 years. I’m currently year olds), now given the chance to learn an ancient language, to hear playing the role of Kay in The Sapphires for Company B and Black Swan words that had almost disappeared, never to be heard again. State Theatre Company, and I’m now also the presenter for Waabiny Time. So there I was in April last year, back in Perth, fresh from a tour I wouldn’t hesitate to sign another Waabiny Time contract. I can honestly performing in a Yirra Yaakin theatre show, and about to meet this yorga say it’s the project I’m most proud of in my experience of being a (woman) who called me about Waabiny Time. Her name was Cath presenter. But for now, I’ll continue to celebrate this series with the rest Trimboli. She was moorditj (solid/good). of Australia and tune into NITV for each and every episode. She had everything set out and organised. She had plans, lists of people Kylie Farmer is a performer based in New South Wales
Waabiny time is moorditj time A new television series is bringing an ancient language to life for young children, says Kylie Farmer
BEFORE ASKING IF I’D BE INTERESTED IN THIS SHOW I DREAMT I WAS TELLING STORIES ON PLAY SCHOOL.
Photo: Thanks Lunica Productions
recently took part in an industry forum in Auckland to discuss the Television NZ Amendment Bill, and what was so heartening was that so many of Equity’s industry partners attended. The Screen Directors’ Guild had organised the forum and galvinised everyone to take part, but also there were representatives from Nga Aho Whakaari, WIFT (Women in Film and Television), SPADA (the Screen Production and Development Association) and the Documentary Trust NZ. By the end of the talkfest we had committed to working together. What was much less uplifting were the circumstances that provoked this unity. In March, the TVNZ Amendment Bill received its first reading in parliament. Its implications are alarming for performers, for the local screen industry and for citizens of this country. Under the Bill the TVNZ Charter will be scrapped. Since 2003, the charter has committed the state service broadcaster to: “support and promote the talents and creative resources of New Zealanders and of the independent film and television
Forecast stormy at TVNZ
A Bill introduced to the New Zealand parliament threatens to bring the axe down on public service broadcasting, writes Tandi Wright industry”; “feature New Zealand films, drama, comedy and documentary programs”; and “provide shared experiences that contribute to a sense of citizenship and national identity”. Although TVNZ has been operating with an uncomfortable – some would say impossible – dual mandate (to fulfil its charter obligations while delivering a profit to its shareholder, the government), at least the charter made it clear TVNZ was expected to perform as a public broadcaster and to serve the public interest. And while the charter is a somewhat hazy document, and TVNZ has been accused of stretching interpretation as to what qualifies to be funded under charter money (case in point, Dancing with the Stars), the TVNZ Amendment Bill scales new heights of ambiguity. It replaces the charter with a lean, vague clause (clause 12 for girly-swots) that essentially absolves TVNZ of its current responsibility to the local production industry and to all minority groups (including children) apart from Maori. The only resoundingly unambiguous requirement is that TVNZ must remain commercially viable. In short, the Bill lays out a statement of functions for TVNZ to conduct “a successful national television and digital media company” while “maintaining its commercial performance”. It is the weasel-worded nature of the Bill that drew comment from many at the forum, Geoff Lealand for one. Lealand, who is associate professor of screen and media studies at the University of Waikato, noted that, if passed into legislation, the Bill could be interpreted to mean whatever anybody wants it to mean. Lealand barracked for more specifics; any future legislation needed to address precisely what kind of programming, as well as what kind of innovations, New Zealanders could expect to get for their broadcasting buck, he said. In addition, the TVNZ Amendment Bill aims to open up TVNZ’s archives and make access easier for NZ audiences. Sounds great in theory. But the minefield looms. For one, how would we protect the
archive should TVNZ be sold? (And this may well be the underlying hidden agenda; the Bill itself, it was felt, was a step in preparing TVNZ for sale.) Secondly, how do we equitably compensate the people who made and appeared in those programs? Other speakers referenced arguments presented by the Greens MP Sue Kedgley in her recent parliamentary speech against the Bill, and they are worth repeating here: New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world with no local content quota. As a result we have the lowest amount of local programming on television of any OECD country; most European countries have approximately 90 per cent local content; Australia has one of the lowest rates, with only 55 per cent mandatory local content; in New Zealand, on Televison One, we have 10 to 20 per cent local content, and there is a diminishing percentage of local content on TV2. And finally, if the TVNZ Amendment Bill goes through, we will be the only country in the OECD that does not have a public service broadcaster. The forum wound up with an undertaking that unions, guilds and associations write a combined submission on the Bill. We also agreed to create a user-friendly submission form to be distributed to all our members and posted on websites. Keep a look out. We’ll also be flagging any updates in Equity e-bulletins. It’s vital that we encourage every single member of our industry to get writing and get involved. Our livelihoods are at stake. In conclusion, I quote Sam Snedden, my fellow National Performers’ Committee member, who also attended the forum: “A nakedly commercial TVNZ is, in effect, a message from on high that what we make is not worth making. That the only thing that distinguishes New Zealand stories from American, English, Australian, etc, is that they are less cost-effective to make. TVNZ turns 50 this year. Will we celebrate her Golden Jubilee by tacitly admitting to the nation that setting her up in the first place was a waste of time?” Tandi Wright is NZ Equity vice-president and a performer based in Auckland
AT LEAST THE CHARTER MADE IT CLEAR TVNZ WAS EXPECTED TO PERFORM AS A PUBLIC BROADCASTER AND SERVE THE PUBLIC INTEREST.
E Q U I T Y 11
TUESDAY n 1986, while I was filming The Flying Doctors in the country town of Minyip, a young girl in the Netherlands was waiting for a response to her fan letter. It never arrived. Now, 23 years later, I am in Amsterdam for the premiere of the film she has made about her obsession with my character, Dr Chris Randell. Her name is Nienke Eijsink. Her film is called Fan – and it has been accepted into the Netherlands film festival. I first met Nienke eight years ago when she hunted me down in Sydney. Now, after 27 hours in a jet, I’m on her territory. Nienke is tall and blonde with sea-blue eyes and a wide, pretty smile. She takes me to Utrecht where we have dinner; I have goose leg and mash, feel sick and fall into bed.
WEDNESDAY Tonight is the opening of the film festival. I’m told Fan is getting more publicity than the opening film about the flooding of the dikes, which
the movie Nienke has made, this is a brilliant film.” Saved by my ingenuity. Sometimes I surprise myself! Nienke is asked a question in Dutch. I watch her as she answers, looking fresh and young. All of a sudden I realise this is a huge moment for her. This is HER film and it is in the Netherlands Film Festival! But I have no time for her as my name is being tossed around like a cricket ball at a Christmas match. Yes, it’s Liz Burch, she was in the Flying Doctors, it’s Liz Burch, Liz Burch, Flying Doctors. Liz Burch. I spin on my magic red shoes feeling radiant. Another bulb flashes. I grab Nienke and put my arm around her and we pose. I’m overcome with stardom. All I can do is grin. I keep thinking: “This is hysterical.” I’m smiling so much I must look like a loony. Those poor photographers tomorrow morning, when they start printing the hundreds of photos, will look at this woman with the grin plastered on her face, and say, who the fuck IS this person? The film opening the festival is in Spanish with Dutch subtitles. Not sure how much I'm going to enjoy this. Still, I'm sitting next to a very
Flying Dutch An avid fan leads Liz Burch on an unexpected adventure
handsome chap who translates. The comedian doing the warm up, I gather, is hugely amusing as everyone is falling in the aisles. She says: “Yabba, yabba, (this being Dutch) … Flying Doctors … yabba, yabba … Miss Liz Burch!!!! Where are you Liz?” Yikes! The audience applauds enthusiastically, turning around and staring. Oh God, should I stand? What would Nicole do? I look humble, and wave. This seems correct. I am applauded. I wave again. More clapping.
THURSDAY I can hardly get my head out of the door the next morning I’m so puffed up with how brilliant and exceptional I am. I’m also really jet lagged. I sit in a café and get a paper – sure enough, not one photo of the brilliant actress from Australia. Tonight Nienke and I are to be on the most famous chat show in the Netherlands. Called The World Turns On and On, it is hosted by Matthijs van Nieuwkerk. I meet Matthijs, who is tanned, with very white teeth and long gleaming black hair. He has a cheeky grin and flirts with me. He has a shiny suit and even shinier shoes. I am given an earpiece and told a man in my ear will translate. The show begins with a professor who has written a book about VARA, which is the socialist broadcast system. I am a little confused, as the man in my ear is slow. I laugh after the audience and nod when the point is over. Still it’s better than just listening to gobbledygook!
Photos courtesy of Nieke Eijsink
had millions spent on it. It seems this small bizarre film is turning into the hit of the festival. The red carpet is crowded, so we wait. Nienke asks me what we do on the red carpet. (Like I would know!) She is excited, her eyes sparkling. “Oh just look beautiful and pretend you’re famous,” I tell her. I silently pray. I hope someone knows who I am. This could be very awkward. It’s our turn; we strut onto the red carpet, looking radiant. One photographer starts calling to us, we turn, and he snaps his camera. Suddenly the rest follow suit, clicking, yelling and snapping. There seem to be about 50 men all calling my name. Hey, this is good! I pose, hands on hips, lips pouty. The lights are blinding. A girl wearing ripped jeans and holding a microphone and tv camera, calls: “Liz , can I ask you what is like to be a star?” Once again, like I would know? I smile sheepishly, laugh and toss my head in a beguiling way: “Oh I’m not a star you dear girl, I was never a star, though I wouldn’t have minded …” She looks impressed with my modesty. Yes, modesty is cool. Another blonde lovely calls me over: “Can I ask you what you think of Dutch movies?” Oh Yikes! I wish I had done some homework. “Er ...” I stutter. “Well ... umm ... I’ve not seen many, but they are all fantastic.” Suddenly I remember Nienke’s film, the reason I’m here! “Oh but Fan,
Nienke is on next; Matthijs tells her he loves Fan and says she is a “shoo in” for the Golden Calf Award. And Liz: “What did you think when Nienke told you she wanted to be you and what did you think when she knocked on your door in Sydney?” I answer intelligently, saying I was gobsmacked and thought she was a real weirdo!
Nienke is delighted and beams. Such is the power of television. I could get used to this fame game Nienke says. “Does this happen to you all the time in Australia?” “Er … no.”
SUNDAY FRIDAY Tonight is the debut of Fan. Nienke’s family is taking me to dinner. Nienke has two sisters who are so tall I crick my neck greeting them. Her family is blonde, warm, good looking, demonstrative and so excited for Nienke and her film. No sibling rivalry here. The theatre seats 300. The foyer is full of very sturdy women, all staring at me. I would like to disappear. The producer introduces the film and when they mention my name the audience claps and yells! I stand and wave feeling really silly. The film begins. I’ve never actually seen this film so it’s new for me too. As The Flying Doctor music swells, I experience strange emotions; feelings
Today is the Meet and Greet. This is where the fans of me – yes ME – pay to meet me and tell me how talented I am! Or this is what I hope it means. I’m driven to the theatre where we are to watch Fan again. This time it’s not so cringe-making. It’s a fascinating idea, but I cannot be objective. After the showing I am ushered to the Meet and Greet. It’s in a bar and there are 18 woman and two men. All have paid €100. All are aged in their 30s, meaning they were watching Flying Doctors when they were between 12 and 17. Some have gifts for me. And all have CAMERAS! Some have two or three cameras. Out come the presents … One gives me a book full of photos, all of me, and yes, it’s from the
Decent Obsession: (l–r) Nienke Eijsink, the poster for Fan, Eijsink’s bedroom wall, Liz Burch tries on a clog, Burch and Eijsink
from a time long ago, when I was thin and pretty with mad curly hair. Oh what a time of joy, the time of my life. It’s also rather sad. I wish I had realised how lucky I was. The shoulder pads alone are enough to make you weep. The film itself is close to the bone and confusing. To have someone think you’re so special, when you’ve never met them, is perplexing. Nienke is in love with a character that was pretend. In her film she says my character changed her life. She says she fell for Dr Chris and decided she wanted to be a doctor. Then she fell for me and wanted to be me! She found she was a lesbian because of me. I squirm when I watch how immature I was as an actor. I did improve but, truly that first scene, that acting … oh, sack the bitch! Nienke watches me throughout the film. I try to keep my face passive. The film finishes to thunderous applause and we are invited on to the stage, where I stand awkwardly, feeling like a monkey in a cage. Cameras are flashing. I see a woman in the front row snapping away. Oh God, she is taking low shots, shots below my feet. Oh no, don't do that! Oh please, don't take that shot! Remember the double chin!
SATURDAY Nienke and her girlfriend Harma are taking me to Amsterdam for the day. We pop into a bottle shop and the redhead selling us the voddy gapes and stutters: “Wow! I saw you on tv.”
premiere night of Fan and OH GOD. She is the one who was in the front row. These are the below waist shots, some of the ugliest ever. How could she actually print these? The chicken-skin-neck-ofwrinkles, it’s truly so depressing. From feeling like a superstar to a frillnecked lizard. I smile at her and through gritted teeth say: “Oh! How did you get such realistic photos?” Another gives me a candle and a wooden tulip. She’s written: “I’m giving you these presents to thank you for playing in The Flying Doctors – that show made it possible for me to escape reality for one hour a week, in a period when both my parents died. You helped me cope with that loss.” Tears well in my eyes. I turn my back, pretending to put the present on the table and take a big breath. Liz, for goodness sake don’t cry! I gather myself and turn back, smiling. As I’m “oohing” they take photos of photos being taken. I sit down for questions. What was my favourite episode? What were some funny things that happened while filming? And a real doozy, Who did I like kissing the most?! I refuse to answer that one. There is lots of laughing and chatter. Then Nienke gets to shine. The Meet and Greets all tell her how they love her film. She is a lovely person this girl who fell in love with a doctor in a tv series all that long time ago. And how lucky I am that it was me she fell in love with. What an adventure I’ve had. Liz Burch is a performer based in New South Wales E Q U I T Y 13
The cringe dwellers With the introduction of the Producer Offset tax rebate there has been an increase in Australian films – not that you would know, writes Drew MacRae
government support changed so that funds would be delivered via direct subsidy. What followed was a drought – two decades of low levels of film and television production. Fast-forward 25 years and it seems that everything old is new again. The tax breaks are back, but this time producers are not only seeking to use non-Australian actors in Australian productions to get that “star quality” (and the insult that implies), producers are now setting their Australian films in the US with US accents, believing this will give them a better chance at breaking into the US market. So, whereas in the 1980s we produced the thriller Dead Calm, set in Australian waters with Australian accents and an American character played by Billy Zane, we now produce the thriller/horror film Triangle, set in US waters with Australian actors speaking with US accents. Whereas in the 1980s we would have constructed a script around an American travelling to Australia, we now just set it in America. “The problem with Triangle is not that it's unentertaining or badly made,” wrote David Stratton in The Australian recently. “But that it suffers from the same symptoms of cultural cringe we saw in Accidents Happen. Both films were made in this country, but both try to pass themselves off as being set in the US. There seems to be no reason – apart from the crassest box-office considerations – why this should be so; both stories could perfectly well take place in this country but,
Photo: Lisa Wiltse.Thanks Fairfax Photos
number of new Australian films have hit our screens this year. There was the family drama Accidents Happen, set in 1980s Connecticut, the horror film Triangle, set off the coast of Florida, the sci-fi film Knowing, set in Massachusetts, and the vampire sci-fi film Daybreakers, also set in the US. So what’s the story? Are these Australian films or what? First, cast your mind to the 1980s – the last big boom in Australian film production. This was the decade that produced great Australian films such as Crocodile Dundee, Mad Max and Young Einstein. But it also produced some of the worst moments of cultural cringe in Australian screen history; the dubbing of Mad Max into an American accent, Kirk Douglas in The Man from Snowy River, Meryl Streep’s accent in Evil Angels, Linda Evans in The Last Frontier, Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Stacey Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis in Roadgames, Christopher Atkins in The Pirate Movie, Tom Selleck in Quigley Down Under. Many of these film and television productions were brought to life thanks to the 10BA tax incentive, which created a boom in film investment and boosted the number of productions. It was also during this period that many producers and investors, seeking to guarantee commercial success, felt that the answer was to put a recognisable US actor, no matter how illfitted, inappropriate or cringe worthy, into a lead role. After much exploitation and abuse the 10BA system was wound up and rules of
presumably in the hope of conning American audiences who, it is apparently believed, would reject an Australian production, into thinking these are American films, some fine Australian actors are forced, with mixed success, to adopt American accents. I thought this sort of nonsense was buried in the past about the same time that Mel Gibson's Aussie accent was re-dubbed for the release of the original Mad Max in the US but, again, I'm obviously wrong.” Of Accidents Happen, a film dramatising the childhood of its US-born Australian author, Herald Sun reviewer Leigh Paatsch said: “Picky punters will sense something is ‘off’ with Accidents Happen right from the get-go. … The elephant blocking entry to the room for most viewers of Accidents Happen will be the major concessions this Australian production has made to find some minor traction in the international marketplace. Having secured the services of Hollywood star Geena Davis in the lead role, Accidents Happen self-consciously tries to pass itself off as an American (or at the very least, very American-friendly) film. The desired effect is rarely achieved for long. A production design meant to transport viewers to the suburbs of 1980s Connecticut only gets you wondering how many vintage right-hand-drive gasguzzlers must have been available for hire in Sydney at the time of shooting.” Even the film’s lead Geena Davis pointed out the curious nature of the film pretending to be shot in the US. She was quoted on the US website moviehole.net as saying: “We Geena Davis on the set of assumed it’d be shooting in Connecticut – Accidents Happen at Fox Studios since that’s where the movie takes place … But it turns out there was this great financing available if we shot it in Australia. But still, I was like: ‘Really!? Sure we don’t want to shoot it in Connecticut?’” And there’s the rub – there is great financing available in Australia. It is the new 40 per cent Producer Offset, directed at supporting producers to create sustainable businesses and therefore produce more Australian films. However it seems, on early evidence, to have given producers the licence to dive headfirst back into the crudest of cultural cringes. US producers and creatives are seeing how they can produce their stories in Australia using the 40 per cent rebate – massaging the production to meet the Producer Offset’s Significant Australian Content rules. These are supposed to ensure that funding is provided to genuinely Australian films that culturally resonate as Australian, at home and internationally. But the Significant Australian Content test, as it currently stands, passes films that have barely any connection to the country in which they were made. The sci-fi film Knowing was supported by taxpayers via the 40 per cent Producer Offset as an Australian film, despite being set in the US, featuring American accents, being written by US citizens based on an underlying work by a US writer and having, culturally speaking, no connection to Australia. Those films that succeed are those that are seen as unique and different, not the same. Because Accidents Happen has not succeeded on its own terms, that is, as an American story and
an American film, Australian taxpayers, through Screen Australia, are being asked to pay for screenings in New York, meaning less money is made available to support genuinely Australian films. This is not to argue that Australians should not make genre films like sci-fi or horror, nor should it be taken as a judgment of the work of the many Australians on the production. But the question I ask is, why does an Australian sci-fi film have to feature US accents? If British sci-fi films like Children of Men or Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy can use British accents, French sci-fi films such as Delicatessen can use French accents, and South African sci-fi films such as District 9 can use South African accents, why can’t Australian sci-fi films do the same? Why do we have to pretend to be American? The simple answer, in the case of Knowing, is that it never really was an Australian film. This was clearly a runaway production that should have received the 15 per cent Location Offset. Indeed the production went ahead without a provisional certificate as Australian. Screen Australia later deemed it Australian for reasons that are unclear and which we will legally never be able to know. Then there are the made-for-television productions Beauty and the Beast, with US actress Estella Warren, and Sinbad and the Minotaur. Both have received Australian certification as Australian films and therefore can access the 40 per cent Producer Offset. Both were clearly made for the US cable television provider SyFy Channel and while asserting an Australian cinema release, never received one. Both feature US accents set in an undefined fantasy world. The Producer Offset is first and foremost a cultural policy tool – a support measure to assist Australians to tell Australian stories. This is clear from statements made by the former minister for the arts, George Brandis. He said the offset would enable us to “make blockbuster Australian stories that can showcase our culture to the world.” And this is indeed happening. For example there is Omnilab’s Tomorrow When the War Began – based on the Australian book series, featuring a young Australian cast and accents. And then there is Legend of the Guardians an Australian animation, using Australian accents, based on an American book. The fundamental reason the government supports the screen industry is to ensure that Australians get to hear Australian voices and see Australian stories and faces. The market economies are such that the expense of producing Australian films in Australia, for a market as small as ours, is almost impossible. Particularly when they must compete against a flood of US films already recouping their budgets within their own domestic market. Assistance is therefore necessary to give Australians a look-in to what has become the dominant form of culture in our society. This is why there is a co-production program between nations getting together to support their filmmakers to make films relevant to both their countries, against the might of the US production industry. And this is why there is a Significant Australian Content test under the Producer Offset – to ensure that taxpayer money is directed towards Australian productions that speak to us as Australians. The truth is though, the cultural cringe is alive and well – be it hiring US stars for Australian stories, such as the relatively unknown US actor Josh Lucas in Red Dog¸ or forcing Australian performers to pretend to be American in the insulting hope that the film will resonate with US audiences. Without changes to the content test to ensure that Australian taxpayer money is being directed to productions that resonate culturally with Australians, we can expect a whole lot more of these productions on our screens. The risk is that the Producer Offset will be wound back and we will return to low levels of production that followed the 10BA years. And that will mean less genuine Australian films being made – something none of us wants. Drew MacRae is the Alliance’s federal policy officer E Q U I T Y 15
Staging a crisis Jonathan Este came away richer from Company B’s version of David Hare’s The Power of Yes
cast and creative team to understand that world.” It seems to have worked a treat. The day after seeing the play, this writer attended a business lunch at which we were given a briefing on the crisis by three very senior business journalists. They were knowledgeable and coherent, yet I felt I already knew more than they could tell me about the meltdown of the banking sector, thanks to the way Strong and his cast had brought the crisis to life so brilliantly the night before. One criticism of mainstream journalism has been that it failed to warn us the world was about to go through the largest upheaval since the Great Depression – and this applied equally in Australia as in the major financial sectors of London and New York – and has been unable to make any sense of what it meant to the average person, except in terms of house prices and unemployment. And here in Australia, where the housing bubble merely blipped before continuing to rise and unemployment remains at manageable levels, we probably struggle harder to appreciate the dramatic possibilities of the GFC story. All the more reason to appreciate the miraculous transubstantiation that takes place on the Belvoir stage as a 100-minute dissertation about the world of big business and the philosophy of money, delivered in English accents by a cast of mainly middle-aged men, turns into a riveting, dramatic narrative. David Hare is fast becoming the best known living British playwright in this country – The Power of Yes is the final in his latest trilogy to be staged at the Belvoir and follows Stuff Happens and Gethsemane in its attempt to explain the power players of the new millennium. Stuff Happens, first performed in London in September 2004 and presented a year later by Neil Armfield and Company B at the Belvoir, takes as its text the lead-up to the Iraq War, skewering the main players, Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld, Cheney et al and satisfying the public hunger for realistic
Photos courtesy of Company B
ho’d have thought it – getting a lecture in finance from a bunch of actors? But that’s what you get when you talk to the likes of Tony Llewellyn-Jones and Amber McMahon, two of the stars of David Hare’s play The Power of Yes at Belvoir St in Sydney. The pair told equity that the cast had a lot of homework to do on the workings of the world of banking before rehearsals began. As a result they know more about credit-swap defaults, derivatives and sub-prime mortgages than the average business journalist. Says McMahon: “Before starting work on the play I knew next to nothing about the global financial crisis – I knew there had been a crisis, because I read the paper, but in terms of the details I knew practically nothing and the first two weeks was just homework and getting up to speed with the business world.” For Llewellyn-Jones the play represented “a primer in basic economics – whether you are a performer on stage or in the audience, you come away feeling you have learned something.” The play’s director, Sam Strong, says he made the actors each prepare a short presentation on one aspect or another of the crisis and the arcane financial instruments that played so intrinsic a part in bringing it on. The cast also read transcripts of Hare’s own interviews with senior bankers and economists and watched YouTube footage of the main characters portrayed in the play. “We needed to bring the material to life theatrically, which meant we had to understand what the various terms meant, not just in ourselves, but we needed to understand how to convey this to the audience in a dynamic fashion,” Strong reflects. “There are some dangerous potential traps – we knew that we couldn’t hope to bluff our way through it – we needed to know what we were doing. “The material is particularly complex, so it was very important for the
speculation about the motives and machinations behind the invasion. Gethsemane, presented at the National Theatre in 2008 and brought to the Belvoir St by Neil Armfield last year, follows the public’s disenchantment with the New Labour experiment, an experiment that was collapsing in characteristically British farce during the first few weeks of The Power of Yes. These – and others of Hare’s oeuvre – have become known as Hare’s “history plays” and are referred to variously as “instant history” or “verbatim drama”. But none is so verbatim, perhaps, as The Power of Yes, which begins with the words: “This is not a play – it is a story”. The line is delivered by a character called The Author (Brian Lipsom) representing Hare himself who starts “from a point of almost total ignorance” and develops – like us, the audience – through a range of emotions as he comes to understand the greed, arrogance and disregard that brought the church of modern capitalism to its knees for an alltoo-brief period in 2008. Strong says the play “seizes upon the ability of theatre to be responsive – The Power of Yes was turned around very quickly if you were to compare it to a tv documentary or a book on the subject”. Hare, he continues, had some distinct advantages in writing the play – his fame, which gave him access to some of the major players in the crisis including global super-financier George Soros; his ability to write at a remove from the subject compared to a journalist; and his supreme ability as a master craftsman. “He is at the height of his powers as a playwright,” says Strong. It was nevertheless a daunting project to bring to the stage. Strong has artfully adapted the production, shrinking the National Theatre’s cast of 25 to 12 players, with several doubling up their roles (somewhat reminiscent of the artifice with which, in American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis allows one faceless banker-wanker to morph into another). In order to guide him through the arcane world of sub-prime mortgages, derivatives, et al, Hare provided himself with the services of Masa Serdarevic (played by McMahon). Serdarevic was a Financial Times reporter and herself a victim of the GFC as a former staff member of Lehman Brothers, whose collapse in September 2008 provided the world with its most memorable image of the disaster; a parade of former “masters of the universe” leaving their former citadel toting cardboard boxes containing their belongings. Or so we thought. As Serdarevic explained, most of those boxes contained looted lollies as the sacked staff took advantage of their credit at the candy bar to claw back some value from that bleak day. “All I knew about Masa was that she had lost her job at Lehmans and she’d been on the front page of the paper that day,” says McMahon. “I knew nothing really intrinsic to her personality, although there was this one little gem where she wrote about being out for dinner with her boyfriend and he’d been shocked at the way she’d been so impatient with the waiters – it seemed to me to such a great illustration of what she was like and the way in which work and the business culture was infiltrating her personal life.” In real life Serdarevic was Hare’s guide through the business world, suggesting people he should speak with and helping him to understand what he was hearing. As a player on a stage, McMahon sees huge symbolic parallels: “There is this strange and lovely correlation between our world, which is an imaginary one, and their world which is all about these imaginary numbers,” she says. Llewellyn-Jones, who juggles several parts as interchangeable business mavens, says the whole cast worked very hard at their research. “We talked about the title for hours,” he recalls. “It’s about that moment before two parties do a deal, that intimate moment, that dream which comes with belief: ‘yes, you can own your own home’, ‘yes, you will make an enormous profit’. “And as with so many dreams, it can all turn sour.” Llewellyn-Jones
Money talks: director Sam Strong left, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, middle, Amber McMahon, this picture
“IT’S A PRIMER IN BASIC ECONOMICS – YOU COME AWAY FEELING YOU HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING.” says that by happy coincidence the play was running as all eyes were turned to Britain, where the now famously tight election result was playing itself out. “I think despite the fact that there is not one mention of Australia in the whole play, the Australian audience finds it fascinating. There are mentions of Gordon Brown dotted through the play, and Nick Clegg and David Cameron … and of course we’re all watching them in real life at the moment. It’s absolutely fascinating.” The play makes very neat use of the Belvoir’s intimate atmosphere: a stage littered with deflated balloons (some obvious but effective symbolism going on here), a screen on which information and big names are projected, players taking turns to sit with the audience as if, they too, are spectators to the unfolding events. This is a key, says McMahon: “The play takes a different approach, which is fairly liberating as a performer – your responsibility is to convey ideas rather than get caught up in your own character. To the audience it presents all these ideas but it doesn’t hit you with a stick or push any particular point of view. Some people come away thinking it’s about greed, others about the failure of deregulation – the author is presenting you with an overview and the audience can take different things away from it.” “It’s theatre as education as well as theatre as entertainment,” agrees Strong. “It’s a form that can be traced back to Brecht – as well as his notion that theatre should have this element of social commentary. I think David Hare was clearly very influenced by that.” Jonathan Este is a journalist with the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance E Q U I T Y 17
Top cop: Sigrid Thornton had never played a police officer before Underbelly
Golden roles on the Golden Mile The latest series of Underbelly has a swag of fantastic female roles, of the bent and straight variety, writes Jonathan Este Sigrid Thornton plays Gerry Lloyd
Photos courtesy of Nine Network
Sigrid Thornton has never played a cop before. She’s as surprised as I am when she reveals this little nugget of trivia about her career on stage and screen, a career that has placed her front and centre in the ranks of Australian performers. Thornton plays tough federal copper, Gerry Lloyd, in the third series of Underbelly: The Golden Mile, now screening across the country. The closest thing she has to personal reference material for the role would probably be the time she and her mother, Merle, were thrown in the slammer for taking part in an anti-Vietnam War protest in the 70s. However the show’s producers gave her a lot of research material to read. “It’s a tough character to portray,” she reflects. “Gerry is essentially an authority figure who is one of these people you think of as a uniformed personage – even if they are out of uniform. “For the actor it is quite hard as you have to move beyond the uniform to get a sense of the character.” Underbelly’s production notes describe Gerry Lloyd as a mix of Julia Gillard, Annie Lennox and Erin Brokovich, strong women who’ve made their mark in different ways. Thornton says she doesn’t know how much of this description she has taken on to the set with her, but rejoices in the fact that Underbelly is creating strong female roles. “There was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald recently that said women had taken a backward step in society,” she reflects. “I don’t think this is a true picture. There’s still an awfully long way to go for women
but I think there are some notable exceptions to the rule that men dominate in society – and those exceptions tend to be of increasing significance. “There is something of a chicken-egg thing going on: the more that women in strong leadership roles are seen in tv dramas, the more comfortable society as a whole becomes with the idea of women taking leadership roles in real life. We’ve always known women are front and centre in society, but to see them in the sorts of roles normally played by men is really great.” Thornton said Australian television had a long way to go to catch up to the UK and the US: “Particularly the UK – one of the things I’ve always admired about British tv is that it is not so obsessed with perceptions of beauty in its casting of women. It makes it a much more genuine portrayal of society.” The star of The Man from Snowy River, Seachange and The Far Country is hoping that Australia can emulate British success with quality drama and is ecstatic about the Rudd Government’s decision to fund more Australian drama through increased funds to the ABC (a funding increase that owes more than a little to an Alliance lobbying campaign). “Four or five years ago me and my colleagues thought Australian drama was dead in the water – it looked to be in a really parlous state,” she reflects. “To say the Underbelly series has saved the day would be a little over the top, but the series have certainly enhanced the landscape. Audiences have embraced it so thoroughly that it has given the networks
more confidence when it comes to risk-taking – and that’s the way it works: it often only takes one or two successes to turn things around. “Australian audiences are so behind having Australian drama on our tv screens – if you went into the mall and did a vox pop on what people want to watch, you wouldn’t find one person saying they didn’t want quality home-grown drama. “Minimum content levels need to be legislated – it’s clear that unless they are then the cheapest option will always win out. It’s what happens when art meets commerce, which is the constant tension in our business.”
Jess Tovey plays Wendy Jones Jess Tovey, known to many for her role as Belle in Home and Away, is also playing a cop, but unlike the characters of Gerry Lloyd and Debbie Webb, Constable Wendy Jones is in uniform (most of the time anyway). Tovey says that unlike many of her character’s male counterparts, Jones performs her duties in an ethical manner: “But in Kings Cross, being ethical is not the same as being ethical anywhere else,” she adds. The plot, which features a passionate affair between the rookie Jones and
“I don’t remember ever seeing so many Australian dramas on television or as many Australian movies being made,” she enthuses. “I think Underbelly changed everyone’s perceptions of Australian drama and now networks are more willing to take risks. “In any case, a couple more series and every Australian actor will have had a job on Underbelly!”
Cheree Cassidy plays Debbie Webb Unlike Sigrid Thornton and Jess Tovey, Cheree Cassidy plays a real life character, former Kings Cross detective and whistleblower, Debbie Webb. Webb, now Deborah Locke following her marriage to a colleague, gave evidence to the Wood Royal Commission after witnessing corruption among her former colleagues. Her story is among the more harrowing aspects of The Golden Mile as she tries to battle corruption by going through Internal Affairs, who appear more concerned with preventing bad publicity and protecting senior policemen than reforming the service. We watch in horror as Webb, one of the few honest cops in the rotten
Role models: Underbelly has created some strong parts for women
charismatic nightclub owner and Golden Mile “identity” John Ibrahim, involves several sex scenes calling on Tovey to work nude, a challenge she never had to face in her Home and Away days: “[It] is PG, so obviously you wouldn’t have dealt with adult themes in the same way,” she says. “Underbelly goes to the other extreme, but I never felt it was unnecessary – it’s a show about Kings Cross, populated with strippers and prostitutes.” Just 21 when she started work on Underbelly: The Golden Mile, Tovey says she felt it was a real challenge walking on to a set alongside Australian screen legends of the calibre of Sigrid Thornton. “But that’s one of the reasons I wanted to take the role – and I learned a great deal from some of the people I worked with. Another big challenge was working on location in Kings Cross rather than a closed set: “I had people coming up to me, in my uniform, and asking for directions and I had to politely tell them that we were filming,” she laughs, adding that the show’s producers made a real effort to accentuate the “rawness” of the story by aiming for a slick but pacey look to the finished product. “A lot of what we did was improvisation and I had to wing it,” she says. “There’s such a feeling of pace to it – and when you watch it, the series feels very raw – you wouldn’t get that if it was over-rehearsed and planned.” Tovey believes the three Underbelly series have provided a significant boost to Australian drama, both by raising Australia’s profile overseas and giving local producers more confidence in the popularity of Australian storylines.
Kings Cross station house, is undermined, belittled, ostracised and threatened, with shocking consequences for her health. “Debbie was one of the first intake of female detectives to go into the NSW Police Service – very few made it through in the 1980s and 90s because they tended to be harassed and abused,” says Cassidy. “I’ve tried to bring that to life in the series … you watch her as she unravels; she’s fighting for her life. That’s the dark part of the story. The remarkable thing about her is that she fought for so long and so hard.” It’s a challenging role for Cassidy who says she relied a great deal on advice from her real-life counterpart to tackle playing someone known to the public from recent history. “The challenge of portraying someone from real life is that you have to try and be like them, while at the same time you have to know you have ownership of the character. Because she is still in the public eye I guess I could be open to criticisms of accuracy from other people, but I’m still in touch with her and she is comfortable with the way I am playing her.” The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) graduate was working as a cashier in a cinema when she heard she had landed the part. She has a couple of small appearances to her name, including a bit part in Packed to the Rafters, but The Golden Mile is Cassidy’s tv breakthrough. “Now I’m really relieved that the show is up. I was quite anxious, it was my first big job and I was plagued by those fears – would anyone employ me? It sounds silly, but you do think like that.” Jonathan Este is a journalist with the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance E Q U I T Y 19
postcard from the edge
BILLY’S GOT SEOUL Chloe Dallimore hits Chicago (the city, not the show) to help take Billy Elliot to Korea
due to begin. Yes, a Korean cast and yes, performed in Korean. How will Koreans relate to a story set in a northern England mining town, on strike, in the 1980s? I don’t know, but from our audition visits I can tell you that listening to petite Korean boys singing the signature song, “Electricity”, in Korean, I am just as moved as when it is sung in English. So, Chicago had become the Holy Grail of Billy Elliot, where the original team of Peter Darling (choreographer) and Stephen Daldry (director) were chipping away at the blueprint for all future touring productions. The creative energy in the building was palpable – in every corner, backstage and front-of-house, skills were being honed and perfected; dialect calls in the lower foyer; a ballet girl clean-up call in the upper foyer; Billies being drilled in the studios; principals’ soaring voices in the conductor’s suite. Bodies and brains were exhausted but no one wanted to be the first to admit it. And this is what I love about the world of Billy Elliot – the unswerving and unrelenting pursuit of perfection. As a young dancer I was taught that as hard as one works, there will always be more to learn. And this musical pays daily homage to that mantra. We certainly lived it in the Australian production and are very proud that two of our Billies, Dayton Tavares and Michael Dameski, are now performing the role on Broadway. I know we can sometimes overuse the cliché “it’s a small world”, but in this industry it constantly astounds and thrills me just how true it is. As excited as I was to get my hands dirty, working on the show again, I was also eager to reconnect with old friends. Firstly Justin Martin our
resident director on Billy Elliot (Australia), who is now an associate director to Stephen Daldry for the US productions; Adam Jackson, who I’ve known for so long I can’t remember when we first met (though it may have been Chicago, the show, in 1998) is now deputy company manager of Billy Elliot (Chicago); and a reunion, 14 years in the making, was with Ellen Kane, Peter Darling’s assistant who I attended college with in London in the 1990s. I celebrated a birthday while I was in Chicago, an occasion that, these days, has me reflecting on where I have travelled and where I might like to be heading in the coming year. A year ago, the last place I expected to be spending my birthday was Chicago. And the birthday before that, I had no idea I would be working on Billy Elliot let alone trotting the globe with it. A question I’m often asked these days is: “What do you prefer, performing or working as a creative team member?”
Constantly leaping backwards and forwards across the footlights keeps me (almost literally) on my toes, but what I love most is that each time I return to the stage I have new approaches to my own performing work, thanks to the actors who challenge and inspire me when I work with them as a creative team member. And my work as an actor influences the next time I work as a choreographer or director. The learning never stops. And thanks to open-minded producers like Louise Withers I am able to keep yo-yoing between those worlds. Yes, we have a smaller industry in Australia than the USA or UK. But if you are willing to take a leap of faith and turn your hand to whatever comes your way, the rewards can be endless. As I type this it is a balmy spring evening in Seoul. I wonder how and where I will spend my birthday next year? Chloe Dallimore is a performer based in New South Wales
HOW WILL KOREANS RELATE TO A STORY SET IN A NORTHERN ENGLAND MINING TOWN, ON STRIKE, IN THE 1980S?
f only I had a dollar for every conversation I had earlier in the year that invariably went like this – Friend: So what’s coming up for you this year? Chloe: I’m off to Chicago...(cut off midsentence) F: Oh you’re joining Chicago? That’s fantastic! I had no idea ... C: (butting in before confusion continues) No, Chicago the CITY, not the show. F: (without a pause) Will you get to meet Oprah? Oprah may be the Queen of Chicago but the Prince-in-Waiting (or should I say “rehearsal”) is Billy Elliot. I flew into Chicago in the midst of a snow storm, leaving Sydney’s deliciously hot autumn temperatures of around 28ºc. My body went into shock but my heart soared as I drank in my extraordinary surroundings. I had been told it was a beautiful city but this art deco feast was beyond all expectation. However, before I could explore, there was work to be done and I hit the ground running. Upon landing I headed straight to the Oriental Theatre to catch Act Two of a preview of Billy Elliot. Every moment counted because at the end of the ensuing 12 days I had to have a renotated and remapped version of the show. Chicago’s Billy Elliot is the first incarnation of a new design that no longer requires the use of traps. It features a more portable set, fewer adult cast members and ballet girls, adjusted musical arrangements and, of course, another opportunity to refine and enrich the choreography and direction. So why was I here? This journey would ultimately lead me to Seoul, Korea, where rehearsals for the Korean production were
t was an idea that had been kicking around in my head since the mid-1980s. This uncle I’d never met – born on Christmas Day, 1911 – designed and built his first aeroplane in a garage on Military Road, Cremorne, in Sydney, at the age of 19. He formed an aerial circus and barnstormed western New South Wales; initiated the first series production of Australian designed and built aircraft; became a pilot on the luxurious Empire Flying Boats; and lost his life when shot down in a Sunderland warplane over Oslo on April 9, 1940, the day Germany invaded Norway and the “phoney war” came to an abrupt end. He was 28. There had to be a story there. After watching an Anzac Day documentary on the ABC in 2008 it became clear to me that this story sat beautifully within the documentary format. I called my sister Susan, who had started researching the story with a book in mind, and convinced her to change tack and take on the enormous task of unleashing the 55min story hidden within the above facts. Next stop, a production company. Two WAAPA graduates, one of whom I had shared the stage with at the Ensemble Theatre, came to the rescue. Myles and Karl Conti (former Alliance members) had moved into the production side of our industry and set up Conti Bros Films. After an enthusiastic pitching session over the bonnet of my car they ran with the idea. So where to next? Funding! And this was where the momentum slowed. Screen Australia liked the idea but could only assist once we had a broadcaster attached. Numerous networks expressed interest, had a think, got us back in again, had another think, proffered suggestions (“ummm ... could you see it as a sitcom?”, “ ...does he have to be an aviator?”), and eventually passed on the project. This process chewed up many months (why don’t people reply to emails or phone calls promptly?) and we had a deadline looming that involved filming in Norway, Wales and London by mid-May 2009. What to do? Bugger it, I thought, it’s only bloody money – and in a moment of great clarity (some might say rank stupidity) wrote a rather large cheque. The decision was made for our small team of four to head overseas to record 10 interviews, shoot commemorative ceremonies and capture location footage. I can happily say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Once the ball got rolling, and folk recognised we weren’t “a bunch of muppets” (as my producer succinctly put it), they climbed on board. Screen Australia topped up our finances with some time-critical funding and after an arduous 24-hour flight (arduous = economy) we arrived in Oslo. A quick two-hour sleep (could have slept for a week, but ...) and off to a reception laid on by the wonderful people of Sylling, the village where my uncle is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave along with his eight fellow crewmen. It was an intensive five days and included a deeply emotional trek up a large mountain to the crash site, where all but one of the aircrew died and pieces of the plane still lie today. Our Norwegian stay culminated in a meeting with NRK, Norway’s national broadcaster, during which we successfully negotiated a pre-sale. We celebrated with an afternoon amble around the amazing Gustav Vigeland Park in Oslo (a must-see on your next trip to Norway) before leaping on a plane for London and more interviews. Then it was off to the most westerly point of South Wales, to the village of Pembroke Dock, where my uncle was based with 210 Squadron during the war. We came back to Australia with 10 hours of
Bill Young lays flowers the grave of his uncle Cliff Carpenter, pictured right. Below, Cliff's single wing aircraft
A very short war
Photo: Thanks Conti Bros Films
Inspired to tell the story of an aviator uncle, Bill Young got the ball rolling by writing out the first cheque fantastic footage that provided the foundation of our documentary. After that things started to move a little easier. Karl, our producer, enticed The History Channel to come on board with a pre-sale; Screen Australia match funded it and we suddenly had a budget – okay, half what we had hoped for, but a budget nonetheless. Myles, my co-director and editor, started to cut the pictures and Take 2’s Greg Crittenden proceeded to create a stunning sound design, supplemented with Peter Kaldor’s beautiful and evocative score. This small group of wonderful professionals bent over backwards to ensure that my sister’s script got the very best. Coming from an acting background enables one to be resilient and roll with the punches when times get tough. An actor’s life revolves around peaks and troughs, wealth and poverty, confidence and doubt, acceptance and rejection – and as long as you can handle that and keep looking for the glass that’s half full, you’ll get there. There were plenty of times on this project when we could have called it a day, but we didn’t. I think we all thought, “bugger them!” For me it was wonderful to be teamed up with folk who embraced that attitude and refused to let the knockbacks get in the way of getting the job done. I am proud to say that, as I write this, our documentary has just been completed and shall be going to air on The History Channel on Anzac Day in the primetime slot of 8.30pm. Of course, as you read this, that date has passed (I was too busy in post-production to write something for the last issue!) and judgement has been delivered. If you missed A Very Short War, give the History Channel a ring and badger them to get it back on. Rest assured, their contract allows for plenty of runs! Bill Young is a performer based in New South Wales E Q U I T Y 21
Going back home: Cast of Bran Nue Dae
Stealing our future
he issue of online film and television program piracy, and the damage it is causing our industry, is escalating here and overseas. Recently a news.com.au survey of 7000 people found that 95 per cent of respondents had illegally downloaded or streamed a television show in the past 12 months. Of these, 86.8 per cent said they did so regularly. More than 84 per cent said they had illegally downloaded or streamed a movie in the past 12 months and 72.7 per cent of those said they did so regularly. The really worrying finding was that more than a third of those who said they downloaded content illegally, also said they wouldn’t pay for the content even if it was available to be downloaded legally (news.com.au and CoreData survey, May 6, 2010). Most illegal online film and television content transfer occurs through a process called peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, where many people share one large file at the same time through P2P software such as Bit Torrent, making download speeds much quicker. To give you an idea of the widespread use of this technology, in the recent court case on the issue of online piracy between 34 film companies and internet service provider iiNet, iiNet CEO Michael Malone admitted that more than 50 per cent of the traffic on his network was peer-topeer file sharing via Bit Torrent. The emergence of the Rudd Government’s National Broadband Network makes this issue even more pressing. As broadband speeds increase and more people gain access to high-speed internet connections, large files like television shows and movies will be transported across the internet superhighway at even greater speed. The increasing ease of downloading and willingness of people to effectively steal online content raises serious concerns for the long-term sustainability of the Australian film and television industry, particularly in the absence of government action to stem the shift of viewers to illegal content sources. Put simply, what will be the business case for investing in Australian film
and television content if the investment can’t be recouped, because of the availability of an illegal, free alternative online? As actor Roy Billing recently said in these pages: “We work in an industry that requires, like all business enterprises, for costs to be recovered, wages paid and, hopefully, profit made to be invested back into further ventures.” Overseas, many of our trading partners are tackling these issues and taking action. Britain, France, South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand have each introduced varying forms of legislation to prevent online copyright theft and introduce penalties for those who repeatedly engage in the illegal activity. They each place some level of responsibility on internet service providers (ISPs) to be part of the solution – mostly in the form of compelling them to forward notifications to customers who have been illegally downloading via their network. The Australian government’s response has been to encourage parties to talk. Rights holder groups are interested in negotiating a code with ISPs to address online piracy and transition customers to legitimate online business models. Unfortunately, the ISP industry body the Internet Industry Association (IIA) has been unwilling to negotiate. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) believes there is already a legal obligation contained in the Copyright Act in Australia for internet service providers to prevent repeat online copyright infringements. That’s why its members and the Seven Network sued iiNet, alleging the company had authorised the copyright infringements of its users by failing to prevent repeat infringements by its customers on its network. Unfortunately, the film industry lost the case but an appeal before the full Federal Court is set down for August of this year. Losing the case was disappointing but AFACT believes that its members have good grounds for appeal against a judgment that has left an unworkable online environment for content creators and content providers. In AFACT’s view, the judgment was out of step with well-established copyright law in Australia. By allowing internet companies like iiNet to turn a blind eye to copyright theft, the court’s decision harms not just the film and television companies that produce and distribute movies but also Australia’s creative community and all those whose livelihoods depend on a vibrant entertainment industry. As a result of the iiNet court decision the current state of the law puts Australia out of step with the rest of the world, with a legal framework that does not address the growing issue of online copyright theft. We are confident the government will not support an outcome that allows copyright theft to continue unabated and that jeopardises the sustainability of creative communities in Australia. If you want to know more about this issue, or be involved in working to ensure a safe online environment for Australian content, please call AFACT: 1800 251 996 or visit www.afact.com.au Adrianne Pecotic is executive director, Australasia, of AFACT
Australia risks falling behind the rest of the world in preventing online piracy, writes Adrianne Pecotic
“AS BROADBAND SPEEDS INCREASE ... LARGE FILES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS THE INTERNET SUPERHIGHWAY AT EVEN GREATER SPEED.”
Photo: Thanks Village Roadshow
n spite of Australia’s relatively small population – and the fact that most Australian culture is found on a sports field – we have always had a strong dance culture. Since the 1940s and 1950s, when a number of professional ballet companies were founded, Australian companies and dancers have been internationally recognised for their talents. Companies like Bangarra Dance Theatre, Chunky Move, Force Majeure and Sydney Dance Company have flourished here and internationally, along with classically driven companies like the Australian Ballet, the West Australian Ballet and Queensland Ballet. Now, three dancers from Western Australia, Cass Mortimer Eipper, Emma Sandall and Timothy O’Donnell have formed Ludwig, a new dance company that wants to move audiences with their “movement and musicality, expertise and expression, honesty and humour”. “We’re really inspired by physically intelligent dancers who have the ability to take choreography further than just steps,” says Sandall. “Ideally we would love to become recognised as an important and vital new Australian company. We hope to be working with other wonderful creative people – artists, engineers and innovators – and making work for all areas of the entertainment industry.” Sandall trained at the Australian Ballet School and the Royal Ballet School in the UK and later danced with the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland, the Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet. Mortimer Eipper and O’Donnell also graduated from the Australian Ballet School though it was while dancing the largely traditional repertoire at West Australian Ballet that the three met. And it soon became clear to them that their ambitions lay outside of the traditional ballet company career trajectory. Mortimer Eipper, as well achieving great success as a dancer, had choreographed a number of works for West Australian Ballet. His work Adaptation was performed at the Lincoln Centre in New York. Also a keen filmmaker and editor, Mortimer Eipper co-created Sandall’s dance film titled Verticality. O’Donnell’s talent became apparent at the tender age of 16, when he won first place in the Australian Institute of Classical Dance choreographic competition. In 2009, he won first prize and the Audience Choice Award at Milwaukee Ballet’s International Choreographic Competition. With the realisation that they complemented each other artistically and shared inspiration from other artistic mediums such as photography, film and design, they decided to explore new ventures together. With the choreographic flair of Mortimer Eipper and O’Donnell, and Sandall’s background as a dancer in various companies, the trio teamed up with fellow West Australian Ballet dancer, Joseph Simons, who was named Outstanding Emerging Artist at the 2009 West Australian Dance Awards. The foursome shared the same vision and, elated by the creative process and the feedback received from their choreographic explorations thus far, Ludwig was born. Mortimer Eipper, Sandall and O’Donnell now make up the core of Ludwig, with Simons involved as guest artist. While it is early days for the fledgling company they are looking forward to two appearances in Melbourne later this year and have been invited to perform in Noumea in November. The team is also working on choreographic commissions for performances and music videos, and planning a full evening performance in 2011. O’Donnell cites companies and
choreographers La La La Human Steps, the LXD, William Forsyth and Sasha Waltz and Guests as influences: “These are groups and individuals who are constantly breaking new ground and evolving the art form in different ways.” A major driver of the Ludwig vision is its website, ludwig.com.au. “We see it as our stage,” says Sandall. It is the trio’s work in progress and showcases the diversity of their talents – with animated dance films, a gallery exhibiting their photography and a place to post their thoughts, ideas, articles and interviews on a variety of dance-related and other topics. The website has links to YouTube videos of everything from masterful French ballerina Sylvie Guillem, to a distinctly non-balletic contestant on US So You Think You Can Dance demonstrating “popping”, a dance style that grew out of funk dancing in 1970s California. It is clear that Ludwig takes its influences and interests from a wide range of dance styles and indeed on the website they promise to “release dance from the shackles of misconception”. With the success that Australian dance companies are having at the
A fresh breath from the west
A new dance company from Western Australia wants to dispel the notion that you need to wear a tiara or a tuxedo to take in a dance performance moment – Sydney Dance Company heads to Venice for this year’s Dance Biennale, the Australian Ballet will tour Japan, Chunky Move is off to Toronto and Hong Kong among other places, and there are record crowds attending dance events in Australia, not to mention the success of television shows like So You Think You Can Dance – Ludwig have chosen the right time to start something new. And if the energy, passion and talent that emanates from the group is anything to go by, we’ll be seeing more from these exciting and creative dancers. Victoria Houston is Equity’s national live performance industrial officer
Movement and musicality: Emma Sandall and Timothy O’Donnell E Q U I T Y 23
t this year’s Oscars Best Actor recipient Jeff Bridges posed a rather scary scenario for actors in the face of the juggernaut Avatar and what more generally seems to be a shift towards animation and performance capture technologies. “Actors will kind of be a thing of the past … we’ll be turned into combinations. A director will be able to say ‘I want 60 per cent Clooney; give me 10 per cent Bridges; and throw some Charles Bronson in there. They’ll come up with a new guy who will look like nobody who has ever lived and that person or thing will be huge.” Our screens are awash with digital filmmaking. Everything seemingly has to be 3D and animated. From the rise of Pixar’s computer-animated films such as Toy Story, Wall-E and Up, to the introduction of a new form of digitally-created star – Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Jake Sully in Avatar. At least on the surface, it seems real-life actors are being left out of the picture. Films like Avatar, Lord of the Rings, and The Polar Express used a technology collectively known as Motion Capture or Performance Capture, which, generally speaking, involves artists wearing special suits containing markers recognisable by a computer. Their performance is “captured” through the use of precisely aligned, digital cameras that transmit the performance to a computer, which in turn translates the images into a three-dimensional computerised rendering of the performer. This rendering appears as a series of “dots” that correspond to the markers on the performers’ suits. The computer connects the dots to form animated “stick figures” which are then altered to produce animated characters, be it a person, a space creature or a robot. Traditionally, producers have used the term Motion Capture or the shorthand MoCap. This term suggests a lack of creative input from the actor, implying they merely provide naturalistic movements to animate characters making the animation easier and the end result more life-like. However, if animators are simply capturing motion: “It begs the question, why does the producer choose to use an actor?” asks Caroline Kaspar, who worked on the
Poetry in motion
Behind every avatar there is a real-life actor writes Drew MacRae
Seeing stars: Tech-heavy films such as Avatar rely on strong performances from flesh-and-blood actors
Australian blockbuster Happy Feet and the upcoming Happy Feet II, both directed by George Miller. “They could just animate it.” The term Performance Capture is favoured by the acting community as it evokes the essence of the art – that the actor is providing a true performance. “Sure anyone could jump in the suit and drive it [the character] but as actors [in Happy Feet] we based our performance on the behaviour patterns of penguins as much as we could, to provide a more appropriate performance. Yeah anyone could just grab the suit, but the performance would be third-rate. We as performers draw upon every facet of our training.” Indeed it could be argued that the performance is even more complex then usual. Kaspar describes the groundbreaking process behind Happy Feet: “The voice track is created first and then we put the scenes on their feet and block them out as you would in a live-action sequence. As the performer you have to act to their speech and their rhythms. You are acting as a penguin and their rhythms and merging that with say Robin William’s speech rhythms – that’s incredibly challenging.” The issue of whether performance capture is in fact “performance” is at the heart of an ongoing dispute between performers and producers in the US, over whether such work falls within the standard performers’ agreement. In an early arbitration between the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and a production using performance capture, it was decided that: “… although their voices are not used in the final version of the picture, the entire performance given by all the characters in [the production] results from acting and stunts done by the performers. Rather than constituting a series of simple, random and independent actions, the performance capture involves the complex interplay of stance-bearing body language and motion and require[s] the performers to co-ordinate those elements with each other so that joint performances were realistic.” But producers in the US are refusing to accept that performance capture is a true performance. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers does not currently recognise performance capture work as being covered by SAG’s Master Contract, and therefore can set the conditions under which performers are engaged. This has led to the creation of a Performance Capture Committee within SAG to fight for the rights of actors working within performance capture. The committee is headed by performance capture “veteran” Woody Schultz, who worked on The Polar Express, Avatar and the new Spielberg film The Adventures of Tin Tin. Schultz was quoted recently in Variety as saying that the aim of the committee “will be to eradicate some myths surrounding performance capture; the idea that this technology will somehow replace actors couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, it not only preserves every nuance of the rich and complex character an actor creates, it is completely reliant on that performance to drive the process.” Kaspar wholeheartedly agrees: “On Happy Feet we were creating and developing the characters at the same time as we were discovering the process of this particular mode of movie-making. “They were capturing our life force and an essence – otherwise you’d just animate it. What we found was that when there was an element in the film that was pure animation it just stuck out like a sore thumb – it had lost the essence of what was being captured by the performers. George [Miller] would bring it all back and start again with the performers.” James Cameron, director of Avatar, also sees the process as more than animation. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune Cameron said: “I’m not interested in being an animator … That’s what Pixar does. What I do is talk to actors. ‘Here’s a scene. Let’s see what you can come up with,’
and when I walk away at the end of the day it’s done, in my mind. In the actor’s mind, it’s done. There may be a whole team of animators to make sure what we’ve done is preserved, but that’s their problem. Their job is to use the actor’s performance as an absolute template without variance for what comes out the other end.” Steven Spielberg has a different take: “I like to think of it as digital make-up, not augmented animation,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s basically actual performance of the actual actor and what you’re simply experiencing is make-up. “Motion capture brings the director back to a kind of intimacy that actors and directors only know when they’re working in live theatre.” Kaspar on the other hand likens the collaborative experience to another scenario familiar to actors. “Working with the director and animators on Happy Feet was exactly like rehearsing in a rehearsal room over two-and-a-half years. With live action film you don’t get an indication from the audience until well down the track. With performance capture you can see the result of your performance in half-an-hour with the character in the environment. You can then go back and make adjustments to your performance.” At a recent Academy forum in the US, performance capture legend Andy Serkis, the talent behind Gollum in Lord of the Rings and King Kong in the Peter Jackson film of the same name, said: “One of the first things that you do when you play a CG (computer graphics) character using performance capture [is], you get the chance to learn how to puppeteer the marionette that you’re playing. You get to look in the magic mirror and you get to calibrate your movements and physicality. … But also you’re getting to know the character, you’re getting to know the costume, which is what you are looking at on a screen, and now with the modern virtual production set-up it’s getting to the point where the director is looking at a completely lit and rendered set and the actors could see themselves, with very high resolution, moving around as their avatars. … Facial capture is soon going to be a part of that with real time facial playback so you can see your mouth talking – then I’ll be able to see the character that I’m playing at the same time.” The process of performance capture is becoming so popular that Serkis has recently established his own performance capture facility, Imaginarium. He told the BBC: “Part of the idea of the Imaginarium is to allay fears – across lots of different communities, not just the acting community who have in the past wondered if they are going to be replaced by CG characters or robots or whatever. [Imaginarium] aims to be an academy for training and educating young and aspiring filmmakers and independent films that this is an art form that isn't just niche and applicable to the larger-budget movies. It's about seeing the creative possibilities of visual effects for the lower-budget films.” While the debate rages in the US to ensure that actors’ performances are given the basic recognition they deserve, in Australia there is no dispute. Performance capture is deemed a performance under the agreement between Equity and the producers of Happy Feet. With this comes all the same terms and conditions that come with any performance, including residuals. Ultimately, it is clear that actors will never be made redundant. “At the end of the day,” says Andy Serkis, “acting is acting and this is a kind of a chapter and a development that belongs to the same tradition of any other form of acting through the ages. It broadens the actors potential and ability to play anything really.” “Nothing will replace the joy and complexity of the actor’s craft,” says Kaspar. “Performance capture is just a different form of expression.” Drew MacRae is Equity’s federal policy officer
Photo: Dallas Kilponen.Thanks Fairfax Photos
ANYONE COULD JUMP IN THE SUIT AND DRIVE IT, BUT THE PERFORMANCE WOULD BE THIRD-RATE.
E Q U I T Y 25
Dear Equity Loved the article by Noel Hodda, What are you worth? in the Autumn issue. He hit the nail on the head. Short films are an admirable way for people in our industry to explore and showcase their talents; particularly those up and coming filmmakers who may turn out to be the new Baz Lurhmann, or the new Warwick Thornton, or the new Jane Campion or the new whatever. Unfortunately, most of them jjjjjust ffffade away. WHO were they anyway? (Anyone alive from the 60s here? Google THE WHO.) So why do we performers and crew have to underwrite these aspiring auteurs? I can guarantee you, dear Alliance members, none of you is going to get a role, or a crew gig, on an American feature directed by an Australian director who made a freebie short film that you were involved in. Absolutely guaranteed! I do lots of short films, but now always on an Alliance contract and mostly at the award rate, which is peanuts, or on the deferred payment option which costs the producer nothing up front. If a producer/director doesn’t want to employ you on this basis (the deferred payment option costs nothing upfront remember) the alarm bells should go off. It is a pretty fair arrangement, I reckon. We all like to encourage new filmmakers so they should be fair to us. Don’t be so stupid, in this age of multimedia platforms, as to give away your talent for nothing. If you don’t have a contract your performance can be used, without dispute, for literally anything. Roy Billing 26 E Q U I T Y
Dear Equity I would like to thank both you and Marcelle for the very informative masterclass. I did not get a chance to really thank Marcelle for her professional input into our interpretations of the pieces that we chose to perform. The very fact that the class overran considerably was testament to the dedication and commitment she has for the theatre and its actors. I not only found her direction and views of my performance extremely beneficial, but gained much from watching each piece performed and then directed in a really concise and clear way. The difference this made to each performer and performance was truly wonderful. The Shakespearean monologue that was chosen, and duly performed, by three very different actors was a real eye opener. Each time it was improved upon, after careful thought and direction from Marcelle, and I enjoyed it in a different way with each performance. Not one performer was criticised or “pulled apart” in any of the pieces. Each person was allowed the freedom of their own expression and interpretation. Which was very generous. Thank you to all involved in making this a truly wonderful event. Kind regards Alida Chaney The Working on Theatre Scripts Masterclass with Marcelle Schmidt was held in Perth in April.
Dear Equity I just wanted to say a massive thanks for providing the TVC workshop. Working predominantly as a theatre actor the world of television commercials is quite unknown to me. Thankfully, Gabriella demystified the process and was incredibly frank and open about what is involved in nailing a TVC. Her experience on both sides of the fence, as an actor and a casting agent, meant she had great insight into what casting agents are looking for and what you can do to maximise your chances. She was well aware of the nerves of an audition and what you can do to calm your nerves and be in the moment. Going step-by-step through the process of a TVC casting was very helpful and the emphasis on really playing with the material you are given made it possible to see the casting process as a lot more fun than I previously thought. I really appreciated the opportunity to work on an actual script, film a few takes, and watch them back. This meant that everything we had been talking about was put into practice. It was immediately clear what Gabriella was talking about in regards to stillness and being relaxed. Gabriella was incredibly generous with her time and a great teacher. Thank you! Michelle Robin Anderson The How to Get a TV Commercial Workshop with Gabriella Maselli was held in Sydney in March.
New performers’ collective agreement After meetings around the country to discuss working conditions in live theatre, Equity has taken performers’ concerns to the negotiating table very three years Equity meets with producers to negotiate the Performers’ Collective Agreement (PCA). The document sets out such things as minimum wages, hours of work and travelling provisions. It is critical that the PCA reflects what rights performers want to have in their workplaces. Both parties bring to the table their log of claims – a wish-list of what they want included in the document. Following many hours of meetings between Equity officials, performers and producers, where tempers have been tested and emotions have, at times, run high, we are close to reaching agreement about what should be in the new PCA. Negotiations commenced in early 2010 and listed to the right are some of the issues under discussion. The producers have so far agreed to the following:
That the cab fare cap be increased to correctly reflect the costs of taxis That payment equivalent to superannuation be made to performers aged over 70
Photo: Pat Scala.Thanks Fairfax Photos
That the trial relocation arrangement be removed. Any relocation proposed between 6 and 12 months can be discussed between the producer and Equity
Fame The Musical: one of the productions covered by the live theatre negotiations
A pay increase that reflects the increasing cost of living
Producers don’t like the fact that performers can hand in four weeks notice 14 months from opening night – they want to be able to lock people in to contracts
The end of the relocation trial
Cutting sick leave to 10 days per year
A four-week bond to protect performers when a show unexpectedly closes
Extending the school tour provisions so that up to 10 shows can be done per week
Improvements in Occupational Health and Safety
Adding an extra production week, meaning there would be two weeks where up to 48 hours of work would be allowable
A new clause to encourage non-traditional casting
Introducing a daily casual rate for small companies that would allow for three performances of 20 to 45 minutes in one day
An increase in the cab fare cap, to reflect the true cost of travel between airports and cities
Introducing a flat rate of $75 for a second Sunday performance, to be phased out by 2014
That performers be free to include industry-relevant information in their biographies. For example: “Proud Equity member since ...” That the 11-hour break between finishing one day of work and starting another can only be decreased for travel where it is interstate travel by air. Performers travelling by car cannot have less than the 11-hour break.
These reflect some great wins for Equity members. In the coming weeks there will be further discussion, particularly around the important issue of pay increases. The final PCA will only be as good as the members who get behind it. At Equity, we’re lucky to have members who are vocal and involved and it has been wonderful to see some familiar and not-so-familiar faces at the negotiating table. Performers are used to being in the spotlight, yet it can still be challenging to sit across the table from a producer and tell them that not having cooking facilities for five months has a detrimental effect on a performer’s health, or that finding accommodation in Sydney while performing eight shows a week in Melbourne is simply not do-able, or that Indigenous performers often don’t get to audition for roles unless they are for Indigenous characters and that this is not ok. We have been fortunate to have performers like Amanda Bishop, Helen Dallimore, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Tina Bursill and Alan Flower come to the negotiations to speak on behalf of their fellow performers. Entitlements like paid rehearsals and overtime have been hard fought for and won in the past few decades by performers at the negotiating table. No good conditions can be taken for granted. The final document that comes out of these negotiations will be another step on the road to improving the rights of performers at work. The PCA is all about performers, so watch this space to find out what your working conditions will be for the next three years!
Superannuation contributions for performers aged over 70 Allowing performers to include information that is industry-relevant in their bios Transportation of luggage to and from tours (not just theatre to theatre) so performers aren’t charged excess baggage
“We were privileged to be able to attend one of the latest PCA negotiations. It was excellent to be part of a conversation helping to determine the rights of performers.” Amanda Bishop “Recently I sat in on a meeting between our MEAA reps and some theatre producers and the head of their guild … Every little negotiation is a minefield of determined resistance and compromise. I walked away appreciating what supreme effort had gone in to any improvement in our conditions and I was appreciative of the fact that I was represented by a strong union and in particular our very capable, informed, and passionate reps.” Alan Flower E Q U I T Y 27
Caring hearts, giving hands A huge cheque or a drop in the bucket – every bit helps ometimes the difference between our status and income can seem greater than what binds us together as performers. But when it comes down to it we all seem prepared to pitch in for a good cause. Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (OSC/EFA) is Equity’s response to the worldwide disaster that is HIV/AIDS – and it keeps going from strength to strength. In the past six months OSC/EFA has provided more than $140,000 in support for HIV projects throughout Australia and in South Africa and Papua New Guinea. Alliance members who volunteered their time and talent for the cause raised all of this money. While rehearsals for this year’s Sydney Hats Off! concert were underway, choreographer Veronica Beattie was approached by some of her hip-hop street performers wanting to explore Broadway dance styles. They ended up joining Wayne Scott Kermond in the opening number rendition of “Sit Down, You’re
Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls – and brought the house down. The theme of the concert was The History of the Showstopper and, thanks to director Margi de Ferannti and MD Anne-Maree McDonald, the show delivered in spades. The young hip-hop performers not only had a ball, they helped raise more than $40,000 on the night. To commemorate World AIDS Day (December 1) last year, bucket drives were held at Wicked, Mamma Mia, Chicago, Cabaret and Jersey Boys, thanks to all the companies and volunteers. Again more than $40,000 was raised. As the OSC/EFA board was discussing how to get this hard-earned cash out to the various HIV/AIDS charities and projects, an email arrived from New York. $75,000 had been raised by Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig during the run of their play A Steady Rain and passed on by our sister organisation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This is not the first time Hugh has helped.
It doesn’t, in the end, matter if it is a glorious big cheque, or the desire to learn a new style of choreography, or just the ability to rattle a bucket in a foyer – it is the combination of hundreds of efforts that keeps the money flowing. As one volunteer said: “That is the easiest thing I have ever done – I just smiled and said ‘thank you’ and people threw their money into my bucket. It made me feel so good.” In the past six months OSC/EFA has distributed funds to: the Tasmanian Council on AIDS, Hepatitis and Related Diseases, Australia, AIDS South Africa, Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS, Straight Arrows, Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council, Hope Fund, AIDS Council of South Australia, Pediatric HIV Service, Far North Queensland Arts/Health Project, WA AIDS Council, APHEDA Union Aid Abroad, AIDS Council of New South Wales and Victorian AIDS Council. If you feel like rattling a bucket, or learning a new style of choreography or giving a cheque for $75,000, drop us a line at www.oscefa.org.au Jonathan Mill, president of Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, is a performer based in New South Wales
Help for actors – old and young It is not only older actors who receive help from the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, writes Roy Billing
he Actors’ Benevolent Fund? Oh yeah, they help out old actors.” This is the usual response I get when I tell people I am treasurer of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund in NSW. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Most states have a Benevolent Fund whose membership is made up of financial members of the Alliance in that state, with elected boards or management committees to administer them. The function of the funds is to provide assistance to professional performers, both young and old who due to injury or illness are unable to work, temporarily or in some cases for the rest of their lives. Assistance is offered in many forms. Beneficiaries may receive financial gifts, interest free loans or monthly grants. Alternatively, medical expenses may be directly met by the fund, pharmaceutical bills settled or essential items purchased. In some cases, there may also be provision available for the care of children or family dependants of performers in need.
A bond of confidentiality exists within the funds. The identity of recipients is never disclosed. But many are, or have been, household names who have devoted their lives to the entertainment of others. The generosity of performers, as everyone knows, is legendary. Over the years, actors, singers, dancers, comedians and variety entertainers have willingly offered their services free of charge at telethons, charity concerts, and every conceivable form of fundraising event. The Benevolent Funds aim to redress the balance. They are about performers helping performers. Not all grant recipients are older members of our profession, as is commonly thought. In New South Wales for example, we helped out a young actor who couldn’t work for a time due to injuries received in a motorcycle accident; and we made a loan to a young actress who had broken her leg, helping her to pay her rent while she was unable to work. With members of the baby boomer generation moving into their later years, and an increasing number of new performers
entering the profession, the demands on our resources are increasing. However, our incomes are slipping and donations are becoming less frequent. Money comes from investments, direct donations, bequests from estates and fundraising activities like charity performances and “bucketing” theatre audiences for donations. We have various fundraising schemes in the planning stage, but require help from our members. You never know when you or your friends may need to call on us for help in the near or distant future. So how about helping out your less fortunate fellow performers right now? If you can’t afford it now, how about the next time you get a residual or rollover payment? No donation is too small, all donations are tax deductible and we will be eternally grateful for your generosity. To make a donation, volunteer to help us in our fundraising activities, or apply for help, see the contact details for your state. Roy Billing is a performer based in New South Wales
NEW SOUTH WALES Actors’ Benevolent Fund of NSW Inc www.actorsbenevolentfund.org.au c/- 245 Chalmers St Redfern NSW 2016 02 9333 0915 VICTORIA Victorian Actors’ Benevolent Trust www.vabt.com.au PO Box 327 Northcote VIC 3070 0411 524 929 QUEENSLAND Actors’ and Entertainers’ Benevolent Fund of Queensland Inc www.abfqld.com.au c/- MEAA, Locked Bag 526 Spring Hill QLD 4004 07 3846 0044 WESTERN AUSTRALIA Equity Benevolent Guild of WA http://equityguild.org.au Michael O'Rourke Room, Upstairs, 123 Claisebrook Road (Use the Somerville Street entrance) Perth WA 6000
Photo: Broadway Cares/Equity Flights AIDS
$75,000 WAS RAISED BY DANIEL CRAIG AND HUGH JACKMAN DURING THE RUN OF THEIR PLAY A STEADY RAIN.
E Q U I T Y 29
Dear Aunty Actor, I am a 23-year-old actor and am thrilled to be working in a restoration comedy being produced by our state theatre company. Unfortunately, budgets being what they are, we are required to all “muck in” and share a dressing room. That would be okay except one of my cast members has the most odoriferous shoes. Frankly they reek. It is really putting me off. In the interests of cast harmony how should I deal with this? Should I tell him to do something about his smelly shoes? Or should I just light some incense? Fretful
Go ask Aunty Angst? Anxiety? Needing kind, actorly advice? Ask Aunty Actor
Dear Aunty Actor, I have been given a big break! I have been cast as a voiceover performer in an animated feature film. I have always been recognised as a method actor. So I am a little apprehensive about this role and wonder if you have any tips on how I might find my inner penguin? Method-in-the Madness For anyone who is not in the business, a method actor is the type who has to experience something before they can act it. Or they have to experience something of the like, before they are able to cry over the loss of a loved one or a pet or (insert emotionally stimulating situation here).
Dear Aunty Actor, I went to this year’s Logies and truth to tell I had a wow of a time, although I can’t remember all that much after I left the Channel Seven party. But one thing really bugged me. When they got up to the bit about who had “gone to their great reward” I noticed that some performers got a song and a line-up of fellow performers paying tribute, while others only rated a quick photo. Who decides that Don Lane needs a bigger tribute than Bud Tingwell? Sorry, but this has really got my goat. What do you think? Tired and Emotional Dear Tired and Emotional, Well, I got a Logies’ question. There was a little bet in the office and it looks like I lost. I thought a respectable type of person read this magazine. I imagined Fringe Theatre Rats might peruse it in the dole queue, or short film directors might slip a look in between shots on their “unique” call centre movie. But I was wrong. There are Fame Hounds amongst us. You call yourself “tired and emotional” and that is because you think too much about the niceties of award presentation. If you continue down this path too much further you will become the type of person everyone hates. Or, as other people label them, a producer. If you’re at the Logies you’re probably a working actor. And if you’re at the Channel Seven party it probably means you’re a presenter. My advice is to concentrate on diction, posture, and pronunciation. I hope I haven’t thrown you here, darling – I’m just trying to keep it real. Aunty
If you have an acting problem, please send your letters addressed to Aunty Actor, c/o: email@example.com
Illustration: Tom Jellett
I have been involved in the industry for nearly 40 years. I have met all sorts of actors from the A-listers to the painfully obscure fringe theatre veterans who’ve never made the jump to the main stage. I have witnessed top-notch breakdowns, from both sexes, after casting agents who are having bad mornings tell them that they are too fat, or too thin, or their type of face is simply uncastable. I have had enough and I want to make a difference. I am Aunty Actor
Dear Fretful, Firstly, I have to say that I love restoration comedies. They happened at a time of history when puritans ridded England of theatre altogether. They labelled its practitioners heathens and ungodly, and, although they were right, it was a sin on the puritan’s part to try and put an end to it. In 1660, after an 18year ban, theatres reopened. If you thought plays were sexy prior to 1642 you were well wrong. Restoration comedies, to this day, remain raunchy, fast-paced and good, oldfashioned romps. My question is: Why haven’t you done your time in the fringe theatre? If you had, you would understand “mucking in”. Once, in a show at the Old Fitzroy, we had an egg that went missing for a week. It took us most of the season to realise what the ungodly smell in the toilet we used as a dressing room was. If you had done time in theatres such as the Old Fitzroy then you would’ve reacted how we did. We laughed about it over a couple of beers after the show. Toughen up Fretful. Welcome to the boards. Aunty
Back in my day, when I was getting jobs over Robin Nevin and the like, I never understood these curiosities. But then I got it. They lack empathy. They are incapable of intellectualising what it might feel like to go through an emotionally difficult situation, so they have to create their own. These types tend to sully the name of hard-working actors who enjoy the play of acting not the agonising process itself. Therefore Method-in-the-madness, my advice is: move to Antarctica, wear a tuxedo, eat fish, and try to fit in. Aunty
ast year Equity honoured performer Peter Carroll with its inaugural Equity Lifetime Achievement Award presented by FOXTEL. It was a memorable night at The Mint in Sydney, celebrating the achievements of one of our most distinguished performers. Peter drew an enormous crowd of family, friends, fellow performers and many others who had worked with and been influenced and inspired by him. There were speeches, including video messages from Mitchell Butel in Perth and daughter and fellow performer Tamsin Carroll from London. The champagne flowed, the frocks sparkled and everyone agreed that Peter was an outstanding choice to inaugurate the award. He’s a hard act to follow – but once more Equity is getting together with FOXTEL to present the Equity Lifetime Achievement Award 2010. We want to make this a staple on Equity’s calendar – an opportunity for performers to honour one of their own. So, which Australian performer do you most admire? Who do you look up to? Who has inspired you with their lifelong contribution to other performers and to the industry? Keep in mind that this is an award by performers for performers, celebrating the achievements of one of our peers. It is an opportunity to give due recognition to one of our own – not only for what they have achieved during their career as a performer, but also someone who has, by their own example, demonstrated great leadership and provided mentorship to their colleagues. Someone who is a performer’s performer.
Stalwarts of stage and screen: Peter Carroll, top, Barry Crocker with Gia and Zoe Carides, middle, Hugo Weaving, Geoff Morrell and Gale Edwards, bottom
Who will we honour this year? Equity Foundation and FOXTEL once more join together to present the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award
Photos: Thanks Barry Crocker
All Equity members are invited to nominate a candidate, with the winner selected by the National Performers’ Committee (NPC). You can nominate an actor, an opera singer, or a dancer – in fact, any sort of performer. You decide. It could be a performer from the big screen, someone from television or someone known for treading the boards across the country. It’s your call. When nominations have closed NPC will consider all those nominated and chose the recipient. This year the winner of the Equity Lifetime Achievement Award presented by FOXTEL will be honoured at a ceremony in Melbourne in late November/December. The Equity Lifetime Achievement Award presented by FOXTEL grew from a discussion at NPC about the dearth of peer-specific nominated awards for performers. NPC agreed that the award should recognise the outstanding achievements of a performer over the course of their career, thanking them for their lifetime contribution to the industry. The Equity Foundation joined with FOXTEL to bring the idea to life. The Equity Lifetime Achievement Award presented by FOXTEL statuette, designed and handmade by sculptor Sallie Portnoy, is kept under lock and key until the ceremony. Nominations opened on Monday June 28 and will close on Monday September 6, 2010. To register your nomination or to download a nomination form, go to: www.alliance.org.au/equity_lifetime_achievement_nomination/ For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
STOP PRESS: Pssssst!!! Equity is close to announcing two more awards that celebrate the achievements of an ensemble of performers. Keep reading your magazine and e-bulletin for more news.
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Future strategies for our union The future direction of our union was one of the hot topics of discussion at the December 2009 meeting of the Alliance’s Federal Council. Federal Council is an important process that is central to building power at work for the people who inform and entertain Australia and New Zealand. Our industries – and as a result, our union – face enormous challenges. We must get our strategies right to equip us to deal with these challenges. Some of the key questions identified at the December meeting were: • Are we too small to continue to achieve all the things our members expect of us? And do the changes in our industry mean that we are only going to get smaller? • Should we look at partnering or merging with other organisations to create a new, larger union? If so, how should we structure a new union and which union or unions should we seek to partner with? The consensus of the Council was to recognise that we need to be a part of something bigger 32
– change is inevitable and should be embraced if we are to build power in our industries. The principles that underpin this are: • Having strong integrated national (or indeed trans-national) structures. • A focus on campaigning across both industrial and professional/policy concerns. • Being able to adapt to the changing nature of work including growing casualisation and contracts work. • Building real communication about matters that are important to members. • Having a profound understanding of the rights of groups of members to make their own decisions about industrial and professional matters. As a result, the Council unanimously carried the following resolution: That the Alliance recognise the immense challenges we face in shaping our future and commit to a continuing process of change to entrench unionism in the media and entertainment industries and position the union to grow and build power at work.
That we authorise the federal secretary to draft a set of principles and philosophies that would underpin any partnership arrangements and circulate these to members of Federal Council for comment. Once these comments are considered, the federal secretary will prepare a report incorporating information on the challenges we face with these principles. We commit to continued discussion on potential partnership arrangements and authorise Federal Management Committee to continue to coordinate these talks and to co-opt additional members to assist in this process. This expanded committee will oversee appropriate due diligence on potential models and partners and report to Federal Council. Federal Management Committee has nominated a group of members from across the breadth of the union who were due to meet early in June to drive the issue forward. A full update of their discussions will be included in the next edition of equity.
Contemporary music plan The Federal Government is fulfilling a 2007 election promise to develop and implement a strategic plan for Australia’s contemporary music industry. It is seeking to focus government support on priority areas including increasing the exposure of Australian music and live performance, boosting Australian music exports, improving training and skills development and supporting business innovation.
Fairness in fitness The Copyright Tribunal has awarded improved rates paid for licensed music when used in fitness classes. The Copyright Tribunal explicitly acknowledged the critical role music plays in the business model of fitness classes. It found that: “[Recorded] music is an essential accompaniment to [fitness] classes. Without it the classes would not function in the manner in which they are presently conducted and which fitness class attendees have come to expect…. In the tribunal’s view, the amount currently
Photo: Jim Rice.Thanks Fairfax Phtotos
Funding boost for Belvoir: outgoing artistic director Neil Armfield at the box office
Under scrutiny: music played in fitness classes
that acknowledges the value of the work being exploited.”
Changes to Location Offset
being paid does not reflect this essential nature of music in classes. The tribunal believes that it is appropriate that users of recordings in fitness classes should pay an amount that reflects the value of music to such classes. ” “This is a fair decision, that recognises the true worth of performers’ work,” said Alliance president Patricia Amphlett. “Fitness businesses make money out of using Australian performers’ works – it is only right that these companies should properly recognise the work of performers and their role in supporting those businesses.” In response to calls from the fitness industry to use Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) free music Equity federal director Simon Whipp said that this was not the concern of Australian performers. “Whether fitness classes use PPCA material or not is a matter for them. However the Copyright Tribunal has made it clear that if they do choose to use the material, which is generally speaking the more popular material, then at least they will be paying a fair price
The government has announced small changes to the Location Offset to make Australia a more attractive destination for significant filmmaking. The current requirement under the Location Offset for productions valued between $15 million and $50 million to spend a minimum of 70 per cent of their production budgets in Australia will be removed. The Post, Digital and Visual Effects Production (PDV) threshold will also be reduced, from $5 million to $500,000. Both changes will take effect from 1 July 2010.
Consumer laws threaten actors New consumer protection laws being proposed by the Rudd Government could have the unintended consequence of actors being fined for not using the products they endorse. The Alliance will write to the government to ensure this does not occur. The Alliance will also push the Government to introduce Right of Personality legislation – protection to ensure that a performers’ image or likeness can not be appropriated in connection with the sale of goods or services without their consent.
Canberra film boost The ACT government will invest $1.8 million in local film, television and digital media production during the next three years. ACT Chief Minister and Minister for the Arts, Jon Stanhope, unveiled a new ACT Film Investment Fund, which is expected to support up to six significant feature films and a number of
smaller documentary, television and animation projects over three years. Up to $400,000 will be available in 2010-11, followed by $600,000 and then $800,000 during the next two financial years.
Bit more for Belvoir The Arts Minister, Peter Garrett, announced $320,000 in additional Australian government support for Company B in 2010. He said the additional one-off funding would support Company B as they implement essential reforms to their remuneration structure in order to better reflect the marketplace.
Good news from Canada Canadian performer unions are cheering their parliament's approval of a motion calling for the extension of the private copying levy to digital music recorders. The motion, and a Private Members’ Bill, have brought the issue of private copying into the spotlight. “We hope this debate will help Canadians understand the levy and see what's at stake,” said Ferne Downey, ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) national president. “Contrary to Conservative rhetoric, the levy is not a tax. It is an important source of income for thousands of musicians, most of whom are struggling to make ends meet, so they can keep creating the music Canadians love.” The private copying levy has put more than C$180 million in the pockets of roughly 97,000 composers, musicians and other rights holders. However, with very few people still using audio cassettes and blank CDs, the money flowing to artists from the levy is heading for extinction. Without this important change to include
digital music recorders, the careers of many recording artists could come to an end.
Serious piracy From The Guardian in the UK comes a report that a quarter of a million British jobs in the music, film, television, software and other creative industries could be lost over the next five years if online piracy continues at its current rate. According to a study backed by European unions and the Trade Union Council (TUC), as many as 1.2 million jobs across the EU are in jeopardy as piracy looks set to strip more than €240bn ($A340bn) in revenues from the creative industries by 2015, unless regulators can stem the flow. The report, Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries, says that in 2008 the creative industries most hit by piracy – film, television series, recorded music and software – lost €10bn ($A14bn) in retail revenues, contributing to the loss of more than 185,000 jobs. In the UK, retail revenues lost to piracy last year topped €1.4bn ($A1.9bn) with creative industries shedding 39,000 jobs. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said the study stressed that “the growth of unauthorised downloading and streaming of copyrighted works was a major threat to the creative industries in terms of loss of employment and revenues. The scale of the problem is truly frightening.” For the full story go to: www.guardian.co.uk/business /2010/mar/17/filesharing-music-creativeindustries-jobs-eu E Q U I T Y 33
the last word
WE WENT DOWN WELL IN SWITZERLAND BECAUSE OUR SHOWS WERE LATER AND THEY’D JUST DECRIMINALISED ABSINTHE. Hot stuff: Jim Dunlop in performance
Audiences ain’t audiences Some clichés for audience behaviour hold true, writes Jim Dunlop – just don’t diss the drummer when in Korea mong the many jobs I’ve had to do to pay the bills since leaving Circus Oz in 2007, my staple has been performing in a circus/music/comedy show, Gadgets. It’s a small company – just the three of us – and we’ve toured all over Australia, parts of Europe and Asia. It’s a good show and reasonably successful too, and is always well received no matter who we play to or where. Our show has no clear narrative. It’s a series of comedy sketches and circus tricks that can be chopped and changed according to the perceived needs of the audience and venue – a bit like a modular lounge. Recently we returned form a short tour in NZ. New Zealanders being renowned for their laid-backness, we found that our opening act (fine for the big summer music festivals in Australia), which involves ping pong ball juggling, exaggerated cruelty and overt “penis mime”, didn’t earn the trust of the audience quick enough for them to laugh with us from the outset. So we swapped it for a more musical, quieter and skillsbased act, to show them we weren’t just another bunch of arrogant Aussies, there to freak the living bejesus out of them. Hey presto! We had them with us in no time. There are certainly theatrical techniques that work across different cultures and clichés that are recognised worldwide; such as that the drummer should be (and will be) the butt of many musical jokes (i.e: How do you know when the stage is level? The drummer drools evenly from both sides of his mouth). As the drummer in our show I’ve used this conceit as a starting point for a lot of our humour. However, we
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unwittingly discovered an exception to this cliché while in the small Korean town of Keochang, host to an annual theatre festival. There’s a part of our show when I fail to notice a particular act has ended and keep pounding away on the kit, “oblivious” to my colleagues’ consternation, and they have to beat me quite severely to stop the racket. Believe me, this is funnier than it sounds on paper, unless you are Korean. In their traditional music drummers are held in the same esteem as first violinists in orchestras are in ours. It was a turning point in our performance. It was like being in a school holiday panto, with the audience openly booing Joel (Salom, the brains behind the show) as if he were one of the ugly sisters in Cinderella. I loved that moment – for once I was a champion! Last year we were in Holland for around six weeks, performing in a sweet little touring festival in the north, broken up by a quick visit to a small festival in Portugal, then on to Germany and Switzerland. After playing to Dutch audiences I would like to issue this warning: Never get into a serious game of poker with anyone from Holland. They’re too difficult to read. I don’t know whether it was because we were playing in tiny villages, or if it was part of the stoic Dutch nature, but generally there would be polite smiles and smatterings of applause during the shows. Afterwards, people would come up to us, firmly shake our hands and, holding us in their steely blue gaze, tell us it was one of the best things they’d ever seen. Kind of like personal applause. Contrast that with Portugal and the French bit of Switzerland where people would (how do I
put this delicately?) LOSE THEIR SHIT! We’d been to Portugal before and knew what to expect – they are among the warmest and most giving audiences I’ve found. I think we went down well in Switzerland because our shows were later in the evening and they’d just decriminalised absinthe (they were a little nuts – but in a good way). So, back to Oz. We don’t perform here as much as we would like, but that’s a gripe for another article. In 2008, we embarked on a four-month regional tour of Australia and, as a general rule, Aussie audiences although slightly stand-offish really let you know when they like something. There are, however, areas of this country I like to call the “woo-hoo” zones. These are generally places with a leaning toward the alternative lifestyle but with practices firmly rooted in traditional pastimes such as procreation. These audiences are LOUD! You know who you are. I’m talking places like Northern Rivers down to Cygnet in Tassie and, surprisingly enough, Woy Woy (once described by Spike Milligan as the world’s largest above ground cemetery). There are many more variables that lead to how our performances have gone over, not just the location of the show. Time of day, suitability of venue, licensed or unlicensed, age of audience, enough sleep, too much travel and illness can all be contributing factors. That coupled with the fact that no two shows are identical and, as there’s a degree of improvisation to our show, some gags are definitely for one night only. Off to Singapore next, then a break when I’ll probably have to get a “real” job for a bit, then Europe for their summer, volcano permitting. What a life! Jim Dunlop is a freelance musician and performer currently touring with Joel Salom and Marko Simec in Gadgets. He has been an Equity member since 2003