THE EARLY DAYS OF ASDA/ADG 1981-87
Although ineffective in stopping the English director Claude Whatham from directing the fully government funded HOODWINK the press outburst over HOODWINK created by directors in 1981 ensured that no other overseas director ever directed in Australia again without bringing significant money to the project. Producer Errol Sullivan himself commented later that he had been wrong, that it wasn’t common sense to employ Whatham without him bringing finance from overseas. The film, in any case, had no great success.
After the protest most local producers, in order to avoid trouble, actually asked ASDA’s support when they intended to bring in overseas directors, for whatever reason. This was an immediate effect of the press furore of HOODWINK.
In these early days a lot of time was taken up by directors in getting the Articles of Association ready and then changing them to include television and other directors. It was thought the term “Australian Screen Directors Association” (rather than “Australian Feature Film Directors Association”) would include any directors who directed for film or television, but even so the organization was restricted to drama directors.
Having spent the most part of 1981 and the early part of 1982 setting up ASDA, which was formally and finally incorporated on 15/01/82, the members and President Gilliam Armstrong then got on with immediate business that concerned the organization.
The issues that came up in the first year that Gillian was president were mainly about overseas directors and keeping them out. It was a year for slow political development and small increases in membership.
In those very early days (1981-2) meetings were held at people’s houses and at the 729 Club In Falcon Street North Sydney. Sometimes meetings were held at the Trades Hall in Goulburn Street, Sydney and sometimes at a Chinese restaurant at the end of Dixon Street. In those early days the AT&AEA seemed helpful to the organization because most ASDA members retained their membership of the AT&AEA then. The AT&AEA knew that the issues we were dealing with were beyond their scope so they were happy to let us use their rooms.
Phillip Noyce was elected President after one year (Gillian had stood down) and has stated (on film) that he tried mainly to do two things as President. One was to find an office for the organization, a place from which to work, and the other was to create a standard director’s contract. The contract was especially important because no such contract had ever been created by the AT&AEA for directors. This standard directors contract (both for television and feature films) became the bane of ASDA’s political life as it tried over the years to find agreement with SPAA about a fair contract for directors. Time and time again SPAA would not ratify our standard director’s contracts because, as they always said, we weren’t registered as a union, so there was no compulsion for them to negotiate. This frustration, more than any other, has led to the present bid for our registration as a union.
Fees were needed for the organization to employ an officer/manager so there was immediately a conflict with AT@AEA when Phil introduced the idea of fees for ASDA. He had no choice. The AT&AEA were not interested in giving us any special rights or money from our fees to them, stating at the time that they had too many other groups to look after. We realized quickly we needed an industry officer to speak on our behalf and we needed money for this. We had to create our own fees which were at first very modest. I remember Phil actually wanted to make them something like two per cent of our incomes but directors weren’t ready to pay that much then and left in droves when he said he might insist on it. (Noyce was right about the percentage and the need for it but it was too early for directors to accept that).
There were meetings at the Trade Union Hall about incoming directors on US television productions at which we were invited to make a decision on the directors they could bring in. Phil mostly argued the case to let them come in provided some Australian directors were included on the projects. This, more or less, became our ad hoc policy.
There is no record or minutes remaining from this year but Phil was very active as President and many meetings took place and there were many cultural events. Board meetings usually took place at the 729 Club in Falcon Street, Crows Nest. One evening in 1982 in the 729 Club, I remember Ken Hall (the film director from the 30s) came to talk to us about directing and told us all to make soap opera films because that’s all the Australian public wanted.
There is a record of an income $4337 for ASDA from fees and events in 1983. About this time Jinks Dalhunty was appointed as manager. Although there is very little record of the activities of ASDA then, important seminars and meetings were held throughout 1983 and early 1984.
Dušan Makavejev (the Yugoslav director of MONTENEGRO) came out to direct the COCA COLA KID in 1984 and he gave talks on filmmaking to ASDA in the restaurant in Chinatown. We had agreed to his directing the film if he agreed to talk to us and he was only too willing to do so. In his case it was argued he had developed the project himself, had sought out Australian producers and brought finance with him. So he was happily accepted. He was also a celebrated, world-class director who could bring a lot of expertise to Australia and be of assistance to Australian directors.
He turned out to be wonderfully convivial and an inspired speaker, urging directors here to be more daring. For us though, he was strange creature, coming from such a volatile culture and speaking to us as though we, too, were involved in the same political turmoil as Yugoslavia.
George Miller (MAD MAX) also gave a seminar to members in 1984. He had the huge success of Mad MAX I and II behind him and ASDA directors were in awe of him. George told us to study genre inside and out before embarking on genre films and to keep the stories open not closed. (I never quite knew what he meant by this). He also recommended we avoid government assistance, if possible.
Other cultural events were held at German Goethe Institute in Paddington (a seminar with Russell Boyd) and in Greenknowe Avenue, Kings Cross in rooms that have now been converted into the Darlinghurst Theatre (a steamy hot Christmas party and actor/director seminars).
ASDA in these days was in search of a permanent address and directors held meetings and seminars wherever they could. Board meetings, if not held at the 729 Club were still held in director’s homes.
In 1984 Phil Noyce continued as President and the income for ASDA, according to the AGM report, had risen to $17,382. The ASDA manager then was still Jinks Dalhunty. A suitable office had been found at 195 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, a room in a suite of offices.
These years were a very active time for ASDA.
In 1985 documentary directors were accepted for the first time as members of ASDA (on an ad hoc basis, not formally). Previously they had been with SPAA (not with the AT&AEA) but had found they weren’t properly represented.
The records that year state there were 100 members of ASDA. That’s the first record of the numbers of directors in the organization. It had started in 1981 with about 20 directors.
Manager Jinks Dalhunty resigned in July 1985. Peter Howard became the new manager. In 1985 the ASDA income had risen to $34,139. Income was steadily increasing, both from fees and income from seminars and now from the AFC (in support of the seminars).
Also in this year ASDA became more active lobbying the government bodies on behalf of directors.
There was a meeting in 1985 between ASDA and staff of the Australian Film Commission (Malcolm Smith, Penny Chapman, David Court) about the AFC co production policy and a fear of a flood of overseas directors. ASDA reached an agreement with the AFC that ASDA would play a part in the co-production consultancy program. ASDA was invited to have a representative on AFC advisory panel for co-productions. This was one of the first official recognitions that ASDA had become a political force in the film industry.
Seminars were held during 1985 with Paul Cox (MY FIRST WIFE), Phillipe Mora (MAD DOG MORGAN), Gillian Armstrong (MRS SOFFEL), Bob Ellis (Seminar: ‘Writing for directors’). Also an evening with visiting English director Lewis Gilbert was organized but actually held the next year.
Kodak Australia had expressed an interest in funding these seminars and was soon on board as a sponsor.
There was also an ASDA seminar on the fight to save 10BA from Treasury.
ASDA also formally rejected television’s PBL’s proposed use of import Don Chaffey to direct THE BODY BUSINESS (a mini series). The project did not proceed after this rejection ASDA then apparently revised its policy on the importation of directors to be more flexible, though to what extent is not clear.
A disputes committee was formed to assist directors in industrial disputes with producers and production companies. The ASDA Board reported it was currently assisting a member in a dispute with a producer but the details were not revealed in the records.
Membership cards issued were issued to ASDA members for the first time.
Advice about the Bi Centennial Documentary projects was given to members. A standard directors’ contract was sent to SPAA and rejected.
A SCREEN DIRECTORS HANDBOOK developed by director Anthony Bowman… with a list of all ASDA directors in it…was published on behalf of ASDA and sent to all members.
A delegation from AT&AEA sought the ASDA Board’s agreement to dissolve ASDA and become a Director’s sub committee of their union. This was put to the membership at the AGM. It was rejected even though at the time AT&AEA was the recognized union for directors. The reasons given for the rejection weren’t given.
By this stage ASDA’s annual income had increased to $37,815 ( with assistance from the AFC). Phil Noyce was still President.
There was more development of a Screen Directors Standard Contract after the rejections from SPAA. It was agreed that ASDA should approach AT&AEA to form a sub group to negotiate with SPAA about such a contract. (There is no evidence that this ever happened though).
Financial support for ASDA (as the representative of directors) came from both the AFC in the form of a grant and from the AFTRS, both justified as support for seminars and cultural activities.
Peter Howard, the new manager, was sent to Melbourne to meet with directors Michael Pattinson, Paul Cox and Ian Pringle to try and strengthen ASDA in Victoria. He also met with representatives from the ABC, the AFTRS, Film Victoria, Open Channel and the Screen and Theatre Guild in Victoria.
After this visit, Patrick Edgeworth, of the Melbourne Screen and Theatre Guild, wrote to ASDA wishing it well and seeing no conflict between the two organizations.
A Victorian Working party was formed which included George Miller (‘Man from Snowy River’ George) Michael Pattinson, Barbara Boyd Anderson, Virginia Rouse, Ben Lewin and Ian Pringle.
Rapid growth in the organization was reported this year especially in Victoria. ASDA increased its membership in Victoria by 60%. ASDA sought funds from Film Victoria for an ASDA Melbourne office. A Victorian executive was formed. And corporate sponsorship from Victoria was sought.
Peter Howard now worked with Antoinette Ford and Thea Welsh as part time assistants.
There were a number of craft seminars held this year including Nadia Tass (MALCOLM), Lino Brocka from the Phillipines (STRANGERS IN PARADISE)) Vincent Ward from New Zealand (VIGIL) and a seminar with Ula Stokl , the filmmaker from Germany.
There were also film screening and talks by Yahoo Serious (YOUNG EINSTEIN) Richard Lowenstein (DOGS IN SPACE)), Ken Cameron (MONKEY GRIP, FAST TALKING), Bill Bennett (A STREET TO DIE), Troy Kennedy Martin (EDGE OF DARKNESS TV) and with Jack Rosenthal, the British screenwriter and playwright.
A ‘Directing Actors’ Workshop held with actors ANGELLA PUNCH MCGREGOR, ANN MARIA MONTECELLI, CHRIS HEYWOOD, RAY MEAGHER about working with directors.
A film Directors /Writers meet night was arranged at the Harold Park Hotel.
For the last six months of 1986 Chris Thomson took over as President of ASDA when Phil Noyce became unavailable.
In 1987 Chris Noonan was elected President and Michael Thornhill vice President. The elected board members were as follows:
Chris Noonan (President), Michael Thornhill (vice President) Phil Noyce, Anthony Bowman, Frank Arnold, Barbara Chobocky (documentary representative), Mitch Matthews, Geoffrey Nottage, Rolf De Heer, John Duigan and Graeme Rouse.
Thea Welsh took over as manager. This proved to a great year for ASDA and a turning point in its political influence.
Two changes were made to constitution: Election of presidents at the AGM was made possible (as well as by the board later) and there was an increase in size of the board. Fees were increased to $150 pa. Associate members were allowed.
Thea Welsh reported that she and Chris Noonan were spoken to by Kim Williams (CEO of the AFC at that time) about the setting up of FFC (or the Film Bank as it was then called…it is ironic that the AFC originally set up the FFC then years later the FFC morphed into Screen Australia abolishing the AFC and most of its activities at the same time)…ASDA circulated copies of the Film Bank proposal to all members in late 1986 and in 1987 Kim Williams addressed a general meeting of ASDA and talked about the AFC’s proposal for the FFC. ASDA later held meetings with members and presented a submission to the AFC on the proposal. ASDA also held meetings with the AFC regarding a supplementary proposal (which is not named in the reports).
It is relevant to point out that Kim Williams sought the opinion of ASDA regarding directors’ views about the new FFC but did not speak to MEA. Also ASDA President Chris Noonan was invited onto the panel to set up the FFC and he became very active and effective in that role, eventually getting a seat on the first FFC board.
ASDA decided in this year to formally and officially accept documentary makers as members (though they had been joining ad hoc since 1985) opening membership to all documentary makers. Immediately there were 30 new members. ASDA immediately met with Australian Broadcasting Tribunal about Australian content quota for documentaries.
ASDA then made representation to Film Australia regarding documentary director’s contracts. ASDA also represented directors at SPAA conference and Documentary conferences that year and a documentary workshop held for documentary makers. And there was a program of documentary screenings through the year.
INDUSTRY PROBLEMS AND SEMINARS
ASDA also attended a meeting about a Channel 4 proposal in Sydney, which clearly came to nothing. Discussions were ongoing with the AFC Co production office about co productions and Chris Noonan attended many content meetings of co-pro committee. It is interesting to note that no AT&AEA representatives were present at these meetings.
In fact, that year ASDA made representation to AT&AEA for a 5 day week for directors on feature films. It is interesting that ASDA was negotiating separately with AT&AEA about this on behalf of directors when MEAA was supposed to be the representative of directors. ASDA also pushed for arbitration procedures for directors who were in conflict with employers (mainly producers).
This was one of the peak years for seminars and workshops (inspired by Chris Noonan and Thea Welsh’s planning), with ASDA sponsoring some of the best seminars about directing and related issues ever seen in Sydney. It was reported that over a 1000 people attended these sessions. They were as follows:
January: A seminar with Sandra Levy about ABC drama.
March: NZ director Ian Mune, producer John Maynard and Lindsay Shelton (NZFC) about working in New Zealand.
April: The Casting Panel (The right cast?) with Phil Noyce, Michael Lynch, Wendy Hughes, Tony Ginnane discussing the rights and wrongs of casting.
May: A Casting Workshop on the audition process.
June: Teguh Karya (an Indonesian film director) seminar.
September: Seminar with George Miller and Mentor Huebner (the US storyboard artist for feature films).
October : (a) A seminar on dealing with TV executives: The Everlasting Secret Family.(b) A documentary workshop. (c) A seminar with author Nick Hart Williams Ch 4 (Britain) about the ‘processes of change’.
THE CREATION OF THE FFC: a step up for ASDA
The biggest change for ASDA in this year was the establishment of the Film Finance Corporation, a film bank created by the government to fund feature filmmaking. It was a turning point for ASDA because Chris Noonan, the ASDA President, became one of the key players in the setting up of this organization. His work there, more than anything else ASDA had achieved in previous years, raised the profile of ASDA to that of key player in the Australian film and TV industry. The credit for this belongs with Chris Noonan himself and the hard work he put in to those vital years.
Next Issue The History of the ADG: Part Three: The making of the modern ADG.