The rhetorical question addressed by a panel at the Australian Directors Guild conference in Sydney on Thursday was: Do We Really Need Directors?
Aside from the obvious affirmation of the directors’ pivotal role in the creative process, there were some telling observations from the panellists.
Veteran filmmaker Fred Schepisi asserted the director’s power is at its peak from the first day of the shoot until the last day, but after that the producers or US studio can assert control. The director can fire any cast member in the first three weeks, he said, but any attempt to do so after that would probably result in the director getting the bullet.
He recalled that half the $US9 million budget for Last Orders, his 2001 drama about a bunch of guys mourning the death of their mate of 50 years, promised from a German film fund never materialised.
In the final week of shooting Schepisi had not received a cent. The cast and crew threatened to sue the producer who was supposed to access the German fund and, said Fred, “I sort of got paid.”
In a discussion about the difficulties of being both a producer and distributor, Schepisi fired a broadside at Screen Australia, noting tartly that a recent application for funding was rejected because he applied as a producer and the agency did not regard him as a producer.
Schepisi said he reminded the agency he had both produced and directed a large slate of films including The Devil’s Playground, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Last Orders, Six Degrees of Separation and The Russia House.
Schepisi urged the ADG to emulate its US counterpart Directors Guild of America by negotiating royalties for its members and giving directors first and second cut and the preview cut before the producer or studio gets involved. The ADG is seeking to be registered as a union with Fair Work Australia which would enable it to negotiate better terms and conditions.
Transmedia director/producer and ADG board member Michaela Ledwidge suggested the guild open its ranks to directors who work outside the system in areas such as interactive media and installations and reality games.
ADG executive director Kingston Anderson repeated his lament that many TV directors feel they are not respected and are earning the same money as five years ago.
Producer Brian Rosen, whose latest film is Sarah Spillane's Around the Block, said, “Directors are here to stay forever; you have to have someone who has a central vision.”
Rosen said the biggest problem facing the film industry is that most budgets make no provision for reshoots which the director discovers are warranted during post production. Reshoots can cost $20,000-$30,000 or up to $100,000 but there is no money left for that.
Veteran filmmaker Mike Thornhill accused the funding bodies of favouring producers, claiming, “It sets them up and it tears them down.”