Roy Billing’s plea to his union Actors’ Equity to ease the restrictions on importing actors for Australian films has triggered a wave of support from producers, directors, writers and other industry figures.
Some believe Equity should have no role in vetoing foreign actors and that producers and directors should be free to cast whoever they think is right for particular roles.
Odin’s Eye Entertainment’s Michael Favelle says, “There should not be any kind of arbiter in respect of who a director, producer and financier need in their movie to make it financially viable and audience friendly.”
In a similar vein, producer-distributor Antony I. Ginnane contends, “The industry push should be to take Equity out of the mix completely and leave casting decisions to the producers and investors who are taking the entrepreneurial and financial risks.”
Hoodlum Entertainment’s Tracey Robertson, who is in the US producing the remake of Secrets & Lies for Disney’s ABC network, was among many who expressed support for Billing.
“We are working in LA right now and getting a very good understanding of the international business,” she says. “We are trying very hard to bring production back to Australia and one of my biggest fears is that this will not work if we do not allow the studios we are working with to have a level of comfort by allowing the actors they want to cast.
“Australian talent is hot on the lips of everyone internationally. It is so important, if we are to grow our business in Australia by encouraging international production that we look at these issues now and become a lot more in tune with the marketplace.”
In an op-ed article for IF, Billing asserts that allowing more foreign actors to work here would lead to a spurt in production, creating more work for actors, crew, directors, writers, directors and others.
The veteran actor is critical of Equity’s national performers committee (NPC), which determines whether exceptional circumstances apply when producers want to cast foreign actors in government-funded film and TV productions.
“Producers who apply for imports under exceptional cases on financing grounds are often knocked back by the union,”says Billing, who resigned from the NPC in June in protest at the removal of Sue McCreadie as director of Actors' Equity.
“A local actor must be cast, but the film may then not have the same commercial viability it would have had with an internationally known actor. Or, another scenario …the film may not go ahead and years of work will be wasted.”
While Billing suggests decisions on importing actors should be made collectively by representatives of all industry guilds and organisations, some believe Equity and government should have no role in that process.
“There is no reason for the granting of work permits to foreign actors for feature films to be reviewed by the Arts Department under any special criteria; general immigration visa guidelines provide an appropriate process,” says Ginnane, who was incensed when the NPC rejected his bid to have Gena Rowlands play the lead in Last Dance; that role went to Julia Blake.
“Over the years and under different Equity leaders/organisers MEAA’s attitudes to imported actors have been driven by an ultra-nationalistic protectionist approach with a strong anti-US bias.”
Ginnane says the veto on Rowlands “turned a theatrical opportunity into a TV movie with consequent financial damage to the private – and public- investors in that production.”
Favelle says, “MEAA's antiquated and myopic approach to import of talent needs to be completely overhauled.
“At the point where Australian acting talent becomes financially viable to carry a film they typically are working within the Hollywood stories or working on big budget independent films in countries that do not have such restrictive rulings over the import of talent.
The Reckoning director John V Soto opined, “I absolutely agree 100% [with Billing]. About time someone stood up and told the MEAA actor base the truth. Ultimately, more bankable cast = more films financed = more work for actors in Australia.”
Sophie Hyde, director of 52 Tuesdays, concurs, "If we can finance more films more Australian actors will get work. Everyone is losing when a film falls over because it doesn't have a financeable package – including the actors who would have been supported."
Producer Robyn Kershaw tells IF, “The guidelines were introduced in the 1980s during the 10BA era. The whole financing regime has changed and the guidelines need to be reviewed.”
Some comments posted on Facebook were succinct.
Kate Croser, who produced with Sandy Cameron Hugh Sullivan’s time travelling pic The Infinite Man, which opens in cinemas today, says, “Go Roy!”
Director Murali K. Thalluri, who made 2:37 and is preparing post-Apocalyptic adventure One, says simply, “Correct!!!!”
Actors' Equity Director Zoe Angus has responded with her op ed.