Airheads with gadgets have hijacked real storytelling
We were due to start shooting at 8:00am. Legendary actor Bill Hunter, Billy to his mates, looked at me with one eye open, the other squinting and with a wry smile made it clear he wouldn’t be moving until I relaxed, sat with him and had a beer or two. He hadn’t said a word. His was a face that told a story.
Four other well known Aussie actors were there too. We were shooting a self-funded pilot for a TV series (that was rejected by the networks). For once I didn’t babble. I watched and listened and learned. I can’t say I knew Bill Hunter, but I was pleased to my core as we sat back and opened a second beer before shooting, that I shared a few golden moments with a man who knew how to tell a story.
Bill Hunter had a knack of picking the right Aussie films to be in. He knew what a good story was. So many Australian feature films are a flop nowadays because we lack the ability to tell a good story on-screen. For all the modern gadgets, the hand-held video cameras, the hard-drives; the instant play-back generation simply doesn’t know how to tell a story on-screen anymore.
On the commuter train last week I was listening to senior school boys talking about their school project. They were all shooting videos. I had hoped years ago that the craft of telling stories on screen would flourish with the gadgets that have spread like plague.
Even Trop-Fest finalists, despite being in the world’s biggest short film festival, the works are missing the clever-ness they once had.
Perhaps back when we had to shoot experimental films on Super 8 on a 3 minute film roll, that was sent to the city for processing, then had to borrow a friends projector to play it back…perhaps that gave us a discipline to plan shots, calculate every move, every line; because in those days nothing could be wasted. Film was costly and tempestuous.
The reason feature films are nicknamed the “silver screen” is due to the chemical reactions of the silver halides, the film emulsion - a sensitive beast. If you didn’t handle your film-roll correctly she simply would turn out wrong.
The Australian film industry and its off-shoots in many respects have been taken over by what I like to call the ‘Bondi-cafe-latte-set’. The people who are so fast to tell you about the ‘amaaaazing’ film project they’re working on; and how one of the choreographers on Moulin Rouge is such a good friend they’re choreographing their bridal waltz.
These are the people who literally make a living from grants handed out by Screen Australia. You’ll see many of them loudly leaving Sydney now that the Writers Festival has wrapped up. Yet for all the noise, there’s hardly a decent script between them. Sure, plenty of scripts have a great premise but it doesn’t mean it’s a great story on-screen.
So many Australian films start off well, but simply don’t have a third act. The three act structure worked well for Shakespeare and a gazillion American films, but for some reason we still rarely get it right here.
The big problem with telling stories on the Australian screen is we don’t value script editors and good writers in this country. There are probably less than five serious successful script editors in Australia.
The other decent Australian script editors are working overseas. There’s an industry joke about the actor who was so dumb he wanted to sleep his way to the top but slept with the writer. If we had a screen writer’s strike in this country it wouldn’t stop production, and nobody would care.
Australian audiences loved Bill Hunter because he was like them. He saw through the bull. He took time to observe and understand people. He shunned the red carpet brigade. He told a good story.
A colleague of mine often quotes great Australian film maker George Miller who said “If we don’t promote the idea that writers are sexy, we face a purgatory of underwritten sludge.”
The passing of a legend like Bill Hunter, on the very weekend that the world was supposed to end, makes this quote all the more salient.
We should take stock of the importance of creating great stories for our actors and not simply rely on modern technology to fill gaps when our talents lacks.
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