Tim Ferguson on what’s missing in Australian screenwriting

According to Tim Ferguson, there is a massive issue with the screenwriting practices in Australia today.

“My focus at the moment is the change the way scripts are written in Australia,” the comedian/television presenter/author tells IF. “There’s something missing, and that thing is narrative comedy.” 

Author of comedy screenwriting manual ‘The Cheeky Monkey,’ as well as a teacher of screenwriting practices, Ferguson is on a mission to get Aussie audiences laughing. 

“At the moment, I am the only teacher for narrative comedy writing for TV, film, book and stage in the country,” he says. “[That’s] more than crazy; it explains why virtually every letter about Australian film to the newspapers are lamenting the state of Australian film industry, saying ‘Australians don’t go to Australian films.’ That’s not true. Australians go to comedies, they go to The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla and more recently Red Dog.Seventeen of the 20 Aussie box office hits have been comedies. But Australians do not ever, and never will, want to go and see miserable, suicidal, preaching Australian tragedies.” 

This is not to say Ferguson is dismissing Australian drama – quite the opposite.

“My job now to remind screenwriters of the simple principle of drama,” he says. “And drama is symbolised, as you know, as everyone knows, by the two masks. One is crying and one is laughing – that’s the drama symbol. But until now Australian screenwriting courses and culture has only been generally obsessed with learning about the crying mask.

“Everyone assumes comedy is something you’re a natural at and it can’t be learnt. This is bogus,” he continues. “Not only is it nonsense but it flies in the face of two thousand years of comedy writing. Only in Australia are people entirely ignorant that comedy is a craft. And the number of people who I meet in the screenwriting industry who will tell me that they won’t do comedy because they want to talk about something important is bizarre. Is Life of Brian not important? Is Priscilla not talking about anything important? Is Muriel’s Wedding all fluff and nonsense and cotton wool?

“Comedy is vital for all screenwriters. It is not a genre. It is the other half of writing. It is the other mask.”

Tim Ferguson lectures at RMIT in comedy and screenwriting. 

  1. Well-said, Tim. There is no shortage of smoking hot directors (and actors and craft) in Oz but you can count the top writers; especially comedy– on two hands…with a couple fingers amputated.

    ~80% of top box office films and Golden Globe / Emmy / Academy Award films are separate writer & director. The same % of films from Oz in reverse applies to writer-director. Hence the problem that the director thinks his/her idea can be painted on screen even though he has no tools, brushes or brushstrokes worth communicating.

    A mediocre director can take a great script and run with it. Even a great director can’t save a lousy script. There are enough bad scripts and pathetic non-comedies going out that you could tie them all together and have a flotilla big enough to keep every boat person afloat through eternity and thus solve that problem, too…so perhaps that is the upside.

    Take the majority of writers and esp comedy (sic) writers and send them to a symposium in Christmas Island. Tiger Airways supplies one-way tickets.

    Two problems solved.


  2. What a refreshing perspective.

    My friends have been complaining about being bludgeoned by the majority of Oz films for years now.

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