The first responses to the AFI industry consultation process

Introductory statement from Alan Finney (AFI Chair) and Damian Trewhella (AFI CEO):

To the many and valued members of our screen community, the AFI is delighted with the flood of constructive responses (via email, phone, in person and the survey) since launching our industry consultation around the proposal of an “Australian Academy” last Wednesday.  

It’s clear that many people share the view that Australia’s best and brightest screen talents and professionals are not just large in number and growing, but could benefit substantially from the advantages inherent in the Academy structure proposed.

Along with many other forms of response/discussion which we’ll attempt to summarise shortly, we have had about 150 direct responses already to the “Australian Academy” survey.  Whilst the key questions asked were very general in nature (and need to be understood as such – they aim to build engagement re ‘big picture’) we have been very pleased with all the responses.

In summary, over 70% of all respondents agree that the key elements of the proposal must be considered (about half these respondents ‘strongly agree’).  Notable is the low level of responses that disagree with the key principles proposed – disagreement across all survey questions is running at less than 5%. Around 20% of responses to particular questions were neutral – i.e. neither agree or disagree. We are pleased that many people have felt comfortable making comments on the key elements proposed.  We are also grateful for all other comments provided at this time and all will be considered by the AFI Board and Executive. 

Without being able to respond to all comments in detail at this point, we make the following responses to key elements:

  •  We certainly concur with David Sargeant, Amalgamated Holdings (AHL), who has written “…we strongly support the recomendations and move to an academy style structure, however  need to ensure that the academy structure is not seen as elitist and that the views of everyday frequent moviegoers are sought and engaged with – particularly the youth market – and through active involvement in social network communities.”  An “Australian Academy” certainly needs to be relevant, understood and useful to all key constituencies – particularly future generations.   
  • John Kirby, of Village Roadshow also provided the very helpful comment: “this mature vision will no doubt create a stronger platform for the Australian film industry going forward.  You should consider establishing a Digital chapter.  We must be ever mindful of new technologies and the contribution they make to our entertainment form.” We agree.
  •  To confirm, the proposed “Australian Academy” certainly requires the engagement of key industry executives (including distribution, exhibition, networks and all other key areas) and this is presently catered for with the proposed Executives chapter.  
  • Additionally, and to reiterate, the proposal is not about the AFI changing its name. The AFI has long maintained various screen culture and professional activities and will continue with screen culture activities.  The proposal is about considering improvements to the professional membership programs with a view to transformation towards an ‘Australian Academy’ that suitably caters for our best and brightest, and importantly, informs and inspires both industry and the public, nationally and internationally.
  •  Whilst relatively modest at this time, existing AFI screen culture activities (available to AFI General Members) will continue. These include the AFI working with distributors to promote upcoming Australian releases via: regular AFI e-news; AFI Website; AFI editorial, promotions and ‘word of mouth’ screenings (this month these include new release films Blame and Sleeping Beauty); the AFI Research Collection (presently in partnership with RMIT); AFI TV (Australia’s finest short films available for member viewing whenever/wherever they like); and AFI social media initiatives (Facebook, Twitter and this blog).  The AFI has several thousand General Members, plenty of whom have been committed supporters for many decades.  Whilst not always working directly in the industry, AFI General Members form a critical component of our screen culture fabric – many of these people have quite possibly seen more Australian films than anyone else.  Such behaviors need to be supported however we can.

Thank you to everyone who has engaged with this proposal. We certainly believe it can deliver great value and we appreciate all views provided.  Our consultation continues through June and we are likely to have industry forums in Melbourne and Sydney in the last week of June – details to be provided shortly. 

Best regards,

Alan Finney (AFI Chair) & Damian Trewhella (AFI CEO)

 

Some of the comments received so far:

“Both individually and as a company we strongly support the recommendations and move to an Academy style structure however need to ensure that the Academy structure is not seen as elitist and that the views of every day frequent movie goers are sought and engaged with – particularly the youth market – and through active involvement in social network communities.” David Seargeant              

“The current Australian Film Institute has struggled over recent years to find a central role other than promoting the AFI Awards and organising the domiciling of its film library. The AFI current structure of a small elected board is perhaps too vague and disconnnected to the general membership to relate specifically to the various professional groups who work in the film and television industry. Shifting to a model more akin to the United States (ie Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) or the United Kingdom Academy may assist, but the question will remain as to how effective a new model would be, unless it is strongly supported by the various professional groups and existing bodies. SPAA and the Australian Directors Guild in particular would need to support the new body as well as the AWG. The real measure will be what can the new body achieve where the AFI has not been successful.” Charles Latimer

“I have always strongly felt that we need to model our awards system along the same lines of that occurs with the Oscars. We have highly skilled and talented people working behind the scenes that contribute to the success of a film. Our producers and directors are well aware of this and select heads of departments because of past relationships or employ because of areas of expertise that will be suited to the film they wish to make.  The idea of leading industry professionals in their given craft areas selecting nominations makes perfect sense and I fully support this idea. I do however believe that the Television and Film categories/presentations should be separated. The AFI awards should be just that – the Australian FILM institute awards. I understand this may affect broadcast attractiveness to television networks. Perhaps the Television awards should be held on the night before.” Brent Crockett ACS                   

“This mature vision will no doubt create a stronger platform for the Australian film industry going forward.  You should consider establishing a Digital chapter. We must be ever mindful of new technologies and the contribution they make to our entertainment form.” John Kirby, Village Roadshow

“This evolution of the AFI could be a great idea. My support is only partial because I’m not sure what the alternative is in real terms. While I think our industry should have international recognition, I don’t think that pandering to it will necessarily improve things. International/universal stories are important and so is making money – but telling our own wee stories in our own strange voice is more important.” Laurence Coy      

“BAFTA is an excellent example of how an Academy could function.  Having a membership of 6,500 provides BAFTA with a strong budget to provide facilities, seminars and events which are focused on elevating the screen industry’s skill base, craft standards, networking opportunities, culture of self-assessment, critique and value.  Some of these functions are currently undertaken in Australia on a regional basis by State Government film bodies as well as unions and associations.  An Academy will provide an opportunity to unify these functions on a non-regional or agenda-driven basis. Ewan Burnett

“I feel this is a long overdue initiative and the AFI is to be commended for taking on the challenge.  I can see how an Academy could play a major role in reinstating the profile of the AFI’s and be influential in honing government and industry policy. Most importantly I can also see how an Academy would create an environment where the interaction by the various chapters would enable the opportunity to present an inclusive, non partisan, industry position on national issues both real and perceived.” Colin South

“I would say: THANK YOU FOR A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE A VOICE. You can see where I am putting my strokes  1. There has been a fountain of visible, high-profile actors [and] some directors, who have been making credits with some awards over four years now.  Observation:  Please recognise these when they appear in British Media,  American movies, any damn thing.  Think of ways to PROMOTE THESE AND THEIR TEAMS. I was gob-smacked, not only at Avatar, they’re showing up in X-Men, TV and they have their base/career arc, in some cases abroad.  But incorporate all these (Persuade, be cogent.) Plus these high-tech teams, really give it the Woomera. 2. I am abroad, sorry it’s from this p.o.v.  that I recommend linking to Asian cinema, and talent-cultivation abroad.  To America so long as we stand our ground. Please have very visible presence in Beijing, Hong Kong, Japan,  offering them benefits as well. (Come to the table with possibilities – business sense.)    On writing, I have no access and cannot apply for support since I reside offshore.  There are important steps to be taken about the residency rule, and I candidly name the SA Film Corp.  There is no basis on which I can promote an Australian movie with Australian talent, for which I had  nominations at Festivals, because I can’t make money there in my own place. Many also have bases in LA or similar and are excluded.  I meet them and everyone else – non-Aussie – recognises their roots, except Australian Institutions in the backbone of the Film Industry!  There appears to be also major support talent, sfx and even directors who cannot enjoy their own country’s industry  because mainly of this.  Because of business mitigations the number of regulations in Film Australia or SAFC applications is positively baroque, OK I’ll get a Lawyer but do the sub-clauses have to drive one insane?    I don’t waffle on, this is what I experience. If it’s a lot to read, it’s an effort to write and I battled on since 2002 alone while getting twice into well-known film fests.    A Third Thing is –  consider DESIGNING a Course for secondary public school official curricula. Link it to NIDA and Tech Colleges.  Provide a Gala Event to which ordinary Aussies are invited, meet them, show off. Peter Desmond Nelson    

“An awards night, even though peered reviewed, should have a connection with the mainstream audience, at the same time making them aware of the Australian Film industry talent at large.  As it stands there are well crafted Australian films released in a year but the Australian mainstream to a fair degree would not have seen these films. In order to change these negative aspects, including and promoting the television side of things, would enhance the awards and make them more relevant to a wider audience as people easily identify as to who they see on TV. Using that power would make the “Academy”  night a halo event alongside the Logie Awards.” Barry Kotze

“I believe an opportunity exists that has not been sufficiently exploited to raise awareness at grass roots level, by developing, in co-operation with the Dept. of Education and the Teachers Federation, a comprehensive package for the teaching of Australian film as a module in the high school syllabus.  Such a package could be designed with the flexibility to provide teaching materials to serve a range of elective subjects, most obviously Media, but also Drama, English, Society and Culture and even Business Studies.  An approach such as this, essentially utilising resources and materials already available to the AFI and the unparalleled distribution network afforded by high schools, could generate a breadth and depth of understanding of the achievements, challenges and issues of film in Australia amongst a very broad population base and specifically (and perhaps even more importantly) among the sector of the population that represents our future audience, and future practitioners.” Steven Vidler   

“It is vitally important for the Australian film industry in particular to have an awards program that is not only supported, recognised and admired by the people within its industry but by that of the public too.  The fact that the awards shows such as the IF Awards and Logies have a larger following than the professional awards is detrimental to the creative communities. These awards shows are voted on by the general public and have little bearing on talent and creativity and more on popularity.  While the popularity of a particular film, technician or artist is important the award they are receiving needs to carry weight.  I strongly feel, and have felt for some time that the Australian film and television industry needs to add power to its award season. It needs to become part of the international awards stage. These proposed changes are a big step toward that goal.  I look forward to the opportunity to vote in an awards show, in Australia, for the Australian community that adds weight and prestige in the international stage.  Kindest regards and strongest support. Rowan Maher

“With all the proliferation of awards, guilds, associations, production companies, TV networks, etc etc,  it is a great time to bring them all together. The AFI has been at the forefront of the industry for decades. I have been involved with the AFI since almost the beginning. We have seen the awards evolve from a relatively simple process, where features, shorts, animation and the other categories would do the circuit of Australia for judging by members. Now it’s a vastly different process…..Much greater numbers of entries…in all categories  ie ..2 years ago there was over 60 feature length docos to judge….I know …I was one of the 9 judges chosen to go through the process that took over a month !!!!  I see a great number of movies , both Australian and OS….some through the invites from the AFI for the OZ flics….and the others, I’m fortunate to be on the mailing list of distributors and some of the exhibitors here in town.  I’ve been a founder member of the Australian Cinematographer’s Society, President, and Treasurer for some years. It saddens me a great deal that most people that work in the industry, don’t get out to see the movies.  For me it’s been a passion of a lifetime.  Anything that can bring all the disparate groups together would be a wonderful thing.  I love the idea of an Australian Academy…  Kindest regards.”  Peter Goodall, Lesmurdie WA.

“The name ‘AFI’ is, in my opinion, the reason the AFI still exists after 50 years. Any changes should not lose the AFI name, which is recognised strongly nationally and internationally.” Lisa French

“As a result of monopolisation of exhibition by international multinationals, Australian film is largely exhibited only by independents in city locations, with short runs. It is difficult therefore for mainstream Australian audiences to have the opportunity to view many Australian films let alone hear about them.  Promotion of Australian film and filmmakers is essential to ensuring that the wider Australian community recognizes the quality and importance of Australian film and talent of our filmmakers working both locally and internationally.” Lisa Duff

“I have been an AFI member for a number of years. I have enjoyed the variety of films that I have been introduced to through the AFI. It is disappointing that the awards are moving to Sydney. I hope they will be sharing with Melbourne in future. I would like to feel that we will still get access to the films and the voting as that has been a highlight each year. Thankyou.” Deirdre Loveless

“A model based on BAFTA is a step in the right direction.” Robert Licuria   

“The proposed academy model apparently lacks representation for the people who do a lot of the work promoting the industry nationally and internationally: screen professionals working as distributors, exhibitors, programmers, critics, academics.  Althought these groups largely founded the AFI and shaped it for its first three decades, they have struggled to be recognised in recent years as the people whose job it is to articulate and contextualise acheivement and success – far more so than “Public Relations”.  As [they are] amongst the industry’s opinion leaders and makers, these groups needs at least one – or more – representative places in the new structure.” Quentin Turnour             

“I resigned my AFI membership at the same time as the AFI decided it would no longer hold the “craft awards” with the “celebrity awards”. That was when I realised the AFI cared not for me or the other hard working members of the industry that actually make the films against incredible odds and often under dreadful pay and conditions. That they were making it so clear that they were selling out to the idea of ratings and celebrity by putting all our top technicians in one lesser basket and soapie stars and sportspeople in a far higher one made my stomach turn. We have the Logie awards to satisfy that criteria and I had always held the AFI’s in far higher esteem. If these changes mean we can claw back some of our integrity I am all for it – and all for a proper system of peer voting that actually requires the judges to have seen the nominated films.” Libby Pashley    

“I think I am AFI member number 200-something – so have been involved with the AFI for quite some time in all its various permutations. I also received a Byron Kennedy Award – which has meant that now that I am retired, I can survive because,  directly as a consequence of that award, I have a roof over my head. So I am always grateful to the AFI – very consciously – for that.  Recently, I  let my membership lapse. The AFI Awards were, well for a long time, as we know, most practitioners didn’t go to the screenings and so didn’t vote and  it all seemed quite phony. Then too, there seemed to be nothing else that I found relevant happening (this may not have been true – only a perception). The  library was gone. The days of AFI distribution (so useful to me once) were long gone.  The cinemas were gone. That feeling of collectivity and comradeship at the screenings was gone (as society and the film business changed not the fault of the AFI), etc., etc.  And indeed a new model was clearly needed for a new era.  The energy that now seems to have been brought to the AFI  (Alan Finney has always been terrific in my view) encourage me greatly. I will renew my membership and thoroughly support the changes – as I have tried to support the AFI in the past until I simply gave up. I think that the new energy and the new advisory board has the best possible hope of attracting  greater participation. Participation IS THE KEY.   So congratulations. And best wishes to us all.  (I’ll include myself in the AFI again too…)”  Martha Ansara, lapsed member now encouraged to rejoin.

“Encourage wider cinema screen distribution and promote cheaper tickets for Aussie Films to encourage movie goers and get bums on seats.” Robyn Kosidlo 

“The AFI is the hallmark of Australian cinema and these new changes only consolidate its excellent reputation.” Veronica Sywak             

“We need more publicity for Australian films and productions so the public are more aware and want to see them. Example:…. films like The Matrix and Mission Impossible were made in Australia but the public did not know that they were made by us. Docos get lost in all this as they are not high profile or promoted well.” Malcolm Ludgate ACS

“There needs to be a bigger attempt to promote Australian film and talent through education at both a school and tertiary level.” David Michael George Smith      

“The introduction of an Academy would go far in promoting Australian cinema abroad. It would also be great to see media/critics be able to join as professional members of such an organisation (currently limited to those that “have screen credits in either feature film, documentary, television, short fiction or animation”), as this would open the industry up to a world of social media links that would better serve to promote the industry.” Richard Gray     

“I have been a member of AFI for more than 20 years. I am now a Film Pioneer. I notice that there is no ‘Chapter’ for my membership, or a chapter for General Members. Does this mean that I will no longer be able to participate in the voting process and lose my benefits?” Jacqueline Love              

“I think this is a wonderful move and long overdue. Well done AFI!!!” John Edwards 

“We have strong brand awareness. All Australians know we make good films, know our international reputation, know the quality and rating of our films both domestic and internationally. Our issues are with visibility and access!  Our films are classically on narrow release, after wide promotion. For the greater part, even if we wanted to see Australian films we can’t because they are not playing local! We need to embrace the IFC Midnight/Magnolia (et al) model for closed premium VOD and theatrical windows for Australian cinema, in particular films releasing on less that 20 screens. We need to fight a different battle, not the highly expensive one for screen real estate, but the much more sensible one for monetized eye-balls. We have the capacity in new platforms and new consumption models to develop new distribution, exhibition, recoupement and so financing models. These are at our finger tips. We will have the NBN! The industry itself – ICAA, MPDAA, AIDA, SPAA et al need to drive this. The State and Federal screen agencies need to be informed, but not involved.  They are followers not leaders in this area of the industry. We need leaders and the Academy could well fill that roll. Onward and upward..but more importantly away!” Peter A Castaldi

“The Academy idea is terrific!  It will aid in the elevation of the AFI Awards to something more than a celebration of unpopular, politically correct social-realism-tragedy films.  Importantly, efforts must be taken to include all the strata of creatives in the Honorary Council, especially those who write and produce genre films.” Tim Ferguson    

“As a long time industry craft practitioner and winner of several AFI awards I felt that the AFI had become disconnected in part from the actual working community within the industry and had developed more along the academic “film culture” path.  I hope that this initiative will support the filmmakers in a more practical sense than it has been doing over the last twenty years.” Gary Allen Wilkins  

“I’m all for it, I feel that any change that is geared towards trying to improve the respect towards our screen culture within the greater public by changing the way we view it ourselves, and becoming more proactive about it, is good in the long term. Naturally there may be some opposition to it, but attitudes need to change. Thus we need to lead the way in this respect. There’s nothing wrong with showing pride towards all those who work in our industry and celebrating it. We as Australians and industry professionals need to grow up and get over our habit of falling towards ‘tall poppy syndrome’ when somebody achieves success locally and/or abroad, and welcome a more encouraging frame of mind among all our peers in this industry. This is where it can begin. It’s the perfect opportunity to make it happen.  Nobody ever ruined their eyesight by looking at the brighter side of things.” Clayton Moss   

“When watching an Australian film and seeing how poorly it is represented in cinemas and in the media, it seems like there is a lot to be done about promoting and finding ways for the larger audience to know that those films are available to be seen and are of great quality. And this doesn’t only mean give more money to promote a film, but make a better use of this money to find the targeted audience.  The poor level of efficiency of marketing campaigns and the power of distributors shifted the Australian filmmaking into neutral, if not reverse in some cases, when we have the most creative and practitioners in the world here. It is a good time to react and I am pleased that the AFI and its proposed Australian Academy tackles the problem at last.” Laurent Auclair 

“As a working editor, who specialises mainly in television I have supported and been a member of the AFI for many years. News of this major review is encouraging and I hope it will make some headway in an area were I have personally felt unrecognised by the AFI. My role, along with other key creatives such as DOPS, Production and Costume Designers as well as Sound Post, are not given individual craft based recognition at the AFI Awards.  Since the introduction of the Open Craft in Television Award (the criteria of which appears very broad), many years have now passed where the individual behind-the-scenes efforts of our key creatives on some of our greatest television productions, have gone unnoticed. I fail to understand how the AFI can celebrate such work in documentary and feature film each year but not reintroduce the craft categories for television particularly now that the Awards are held over two nights. Even more so, surely this would be seen as yet another step towards broadening recognition and appreciation of screen practitioners. I would hope that this welcomed review will take my concern under consideration. Regards and thank you for the opportunity to comment.  Deborah Peart, Editor

“Firstly, I disagree with the plans to move to a two-step system.  A large number of the general public who are members look forward to the judging and seeing the wide range of movies produced. In a few weeks you can see the health of our movie business. It makes sense in large markets to focus the voters onto a small number of movies but in our market we have too few to view in the first place. You may lose members. Secondly, there was a time when we voted and awarded on movies before their release.  This allowed the movies to win prior to release which gave them a large amount of free publicity, I can recall movies such as Proof and The Interview. There is also such a delay from voting and the awards.  Movies now need to be screened commercially months before voting starts and by the time the awards are announced the movies are long forgotten in the cinema and are on DVD.  It is nice to have a statue but many would surely appreciate better box-office.” Michael Keenan             

“The AMPAS model for feature film voting appears to be a good step, though the added layer of expense / bureaucracy makes me a little concerned about fund-usage. The Honorary Council is a nice idea, but I am not sure what they would be achieving – although as ambassadors for the industry, perhaps so (depending on whom they are and their connections to the industry/profile. To continue to support short films in this country must be a given, due to it being a proving ground for the industry’s future feature/TV professionals. I might suggest having other short film festivals gaining accreditation to submit to AFI Short Film Awards (as part of the larger Awards) may be a stream to look at (if in fact it already does not already exist).” Craig Walker

“I like the idea of the Academy, but I note a major omission of a key category: Film Critics. They are an essential component of the industry and deserve similar status to all other screen professionals.” Peter Krausz   

“SOME OF YOUR QUESTIONS PRE-SUPPOSE THAT OZ FILMS ARE SUCCESSES AND THAT SOME OF THE PEOPLE YOU’RE REFERRING TO ARE TALENTED. We’ve seen enough films targeting a VERY marginalised demographic and ugly stories based on hookers and junkie films and crap funded via the significant Australian content category. Hey Hey it’s Esther Blueburger, The Jammed, Em 4 Jay, Red Hillare a waste of time and money and do nothing to promote what Oz films are known for overseas (where I’ve done the bulk of my work) – namely thrills and spills. Road movies like Mad Max ,the Outback and films like Wolf Creek are what gets Oz films noticed. It’s no surprise that the franchise that became Saw and spawned several films had to go offshore to be made. The film funding bodies, both state and national do little to encourage and support young and upcoming talent [and are] run by bureaucrats with little or no industry experience. Andra Brockett 

“I am in great support of the AFI’s intent to establish an ‘Australian Academy’. This is a great idea to bring all the Guilds and others together with the formation of an HONARARY COUNCIL.”    Brendan Campbell, Co President Victorian Screen Technicians Association

“Voting needs to be more inclusive and include the wider non film community, otherwise growth opportunities will remain constrained to within our current foot print.” Michael Memmolo

“This is a very welcome initiative and your approach is a model of consultation. I have had an almost 40 year connection with the AFI as former director of the organisation and as a Producer. There have been times when the organisation has exasperated me with knee-jerk responses to criticism and clumsy attempts to curry favour. I feel proud that I have continued my association and would like to support you in any way that I can.” Richard John Maxwell Brennan

“Our industry is in dire need of aid and as a future writer/director in my second year at the VCA I’d like to think I’d be able to stay in this country, my home country, to make my career. Right now that option is not as viable or realistic as going overseas and, although I may not have the answer, I believe this is taking a step in the right direction. Finally some people with their heads screwed on right.” Tom Wilson       

More to come soon….

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4 thoughts on “The first responses to the AFI industry consultation process

  1. In response to David Sargeant’s Comment; We need to ensure that the academy structure is not seen as elitist.
    We all know what is the elephant in the room.

  2. Pingback: Have your say – “Australian Academy” Industry Forums Announced | AFI blog

  3. I support the general idea of an ‘Academy’ as proposed – however as part of that change i would like to see the film ‘Industry’ Awards – editors, cinematographers, designers, documentary film makers and others reunited with the ‘celebrity’ awards – our directors, actors, writers, as they should be. We all know making movies is a very collaborative effort and it’s a shame this is not respected with the current separated AFI Awards presentations.

    • Toby, Industry input into our proposed changes is critical, and we thank you for your comments. The proposed “Australian Academy” aims to increase the profile of all industry crafts, and we look forward providing updates regarding our future direction once our Industry Consultation period concludes on 30 June 2011.

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