Before the formation of ASDA people who saw themselves as film directors belonged to the AT@AEA (The Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association) which had a wide variety of members including all film technicians (from cinematographers to lighting gaffers, grips and caterers, first assistants, production managers etc) as well as theatre ushers, projectionists, circus performers, ticket sellers etc. Directors were only a very small part of this organisation, allocated a position among ‘film technicians’, and, in the early days of its existence, very few in number. The directors who were in the union usually worked at places like The Commonwealth Film Unit and the ABC and they came mainly from documentary or from commercial television (news , variety etc). With the explosion of the film industry around 1970 with Government investment the number of directors increased enormously as did the variety and complexity of work they did. Many directors started directing short dramas and low budget feature films independently, they no longer worked for fixed salaries with large organisations.
Television drama expanded quickly during the 1970s and feature films were government funded with bigger budgets. Throughout the decade television drama and television drama director’s work became more complex and challenging and many successful feature directors emerged with features that made money. Also the Filmmakers Co-op (of independent directors) was formed in 1970 (it had grown out of UBU films which had been started by Albie Thoms , Aggie Read and David Perry) and it was the first time young directors of short dramas and documentaries met each other and co-operated together. Many of the directors from the Co-op went on to make feature films or direct television drama. Directors were suddenly an important cultural entity in the industry, not just ‘technicians’ in Government organisations, news and advertising.
The Filmmaker’s Co-op gave these directors their first chance to act together as a group and taught many of them about the value of politics in the film industry. The Co-op collapsed when the AFTRS was set up at the end of the 70s but many directors from the Co-op, including Gill Armstrong, Phil Noyce, Stephen Wallace and James Ricketson plus others like Abie Thoms, Bert Deling, Esben Storm, Ian Barry, John Duigan, Chris Noonan and Ken Cameron remembered how strong directors were when they acted together. It was this experience which made them realise , when the AT&AEA failed to take them seriously, that it was time to take matters into their own hands.
In early 1981 there was alarm among film directors when the news broke that HOODWINK, a production by Australian Producer Errol Sullivan, written by Australian Ken Quinell and starring John Hargraves and Judy Davis, was to be directed by English director Claude Whatham. This was to occur even though the production was being fully funded by the NSW Film Corporation (ie through the NSW Government).
There was a feeling that if an overseas director didn’t bring considerable money to the table then films fully funded by the Australian taxpayer should be directed by Australians. Implicit in this argument was that the development of Australian directors was a key part of the original argument for using taxpayer money to fund the film industry.
Protests by various feature directors were made to producer Errol Sullivan, the NSW Film Corporation and to the AT&AEA, (which eventually was merged into MEAA) then the sole representative of directors. The press ran the story.
Nothing was done. The AT@AEA refused to act, telling the protesting directors that they had many members (mostly film technicians) working on the film in other capacities and it wasn’t their place to protest on behalf of directors. We saw this as conflict of interest. Errol Sullivan said he’d offered the film to Australians Phil Noyce and Esben Storm and had been turned down, his only stated reason for his decision. No one else had been offered the film except Claude Whatham, who proceeded to Australia to direct the film.
There was a great feeling of anger and frustration among directors that nothing could be done about this state of affairs by their union as the AT&AEA was their only hope. Many emerging directors would have liked the chance to direct this film.
Out of this unrest, Gillian Armstrong, the director of MY BRILLIANT CAREER, who had led much of the protests, agreed to arrange a meeting of directors at her house in Rozelle in early 1981 to discuss the issue. Phil Noyce, Stephen Wallace and James Ricketson, all fellow feature film directors , came to the meeting.
At that meeting it was decided that the AT@AEA no longer represented the specific interests of feature film directors and that the group would form another association, AFFDA, the Australian Feature Film Directors Association, and ask other directors to join. Gillian, being the most well known, spoke to the press about the situation. At that stage it was considered that all directors should retain their membership of AT&AEA as well, as AFFDA wouldn’t be in a position to negotiate as a union.
The four directors who had met started informing other directors both in Sydney and Melbourne about the organisation, further meetings and phone calls were held. Many other directors joined and Gillian Armstrong agreed to be the first president and spokesperson when the organisation was formed later in 1981.
The meeting to actually set up the AFFDA (Australian Feature Film Director’s Association) was held at AT&AEA HQ in Glebe around September 1981. (This was set up to sign the original Articles of Association.) A photograph was taken at this meeting. From left to right: (standing) Michael Thornhill, Albie Thoms, unknown, E Gross, John Power, David Baker, Michael Pate, Bert Deling. (seated) Tom Jeffrey, Linda Blagg, Di Drew (in red), Henri Saffron, Tom Cowan, Chris Noonan, Ian Barry, Gillian Armstrong, James Ricketson. Behind the camera was Phil Noyce. (Absent on filming duties but strong supporters were Stephen Wallace, Esben Storm, Carl Shulz and John Duigan.)
The original document (the Memorandum of Association AFFDA) was signd by nine directors Gillian Armstrong, James Ricketson, Esben Storm, Albie Thoms, Henri Safran, Keith Salvat, Tom Jeffrey, Carl Shultz and Micahel Pate.
After this initial formation of AFFDA there was a great deal of interest in this organisation from directors other than feature film directors, especially from television directors. So much so that it was decided to change the name of the organisation and reform the articles of Association within a few months.
The AFFDA was officially changed to the Australian Screen Directors Association (ASDA) on 15th Jan 1982 within the Articles of Association. The members who signed this document then were:
Gillian Armstrong (MY BRILLIANT CAREER)
Phil Noyce (NEWSFRONT)
James Ricketson, (THIRD PERSON PLURAL)
John Power (THE PICTURE SHOW MAN plus television)
Carl Shultz (CAREFUL HE MIGHT HEAR YOU)
Tom Cowan (THE OFFICE PICNIC)
Esben Storm (IN SEARCH OF ANNA)
Stephen Wallace (STIR)
Albie Thoms (PALM BEACH)
Henri Safron (STORM BOY)
Maurice Murphy (THE AUNTY JACK SHOW (ABC) FATTY FINN)
Peter Maxwell (television director…BONEY etc)
Keith Salvat (PRIVATE COLLECTION)
Tom Jeffrey (THE ODD ANGRY SHOT, THE REMOVALISTS)
Ron Way ( television director: SEVEN LITTLE AUSTRALIANS)
Ian Barry (CHAIN REACTION plus television)
With the association formed the next step was to work out how to run it, how to get finance and what the agenda should be. That started to happen through 1982.
More next issue.