Screenwriters spring-clean the local film industry

Five of Australia’s star screenwriters are set to share the tips and tools of their trade in a new Department of English course at the University of Sydney. Screenwriters like Ian David hope to rectify the local film industry crisis, by virtue of their expertise and experience.

Offered to postgraduate students, Writers at Work: Screenwriters is expected by its Unit Coordinator Dr. Sue Woolfe to encourage “new writers to locate, develop and strengthen their own capacities” and to remind them that they are not “mere typists with an occasional good idea, but thinkers who create stories”.

The course will be delivered by successful Australian screenwriters Ian David, Louis Nowra, Nicholas Parsons, Stephen Sewell and Katherine Thomson. They have previously scripted critically acclaimed Australian films and TV shows, such as Blue Murder, First Australians and The Boys.

In each seminar, students are treated to scenes from films scripted by the screenwriters. This is followed by explanations on the facets of screenwriting such as its genesis, process, and the accompanying triumphs and tribulations.

According to Dr. Woolfe, the contributions of these “unsung heroes of film” would serve as part of the nationwide drive to rectify the local film industry crisis. She said the crisis was not isolated to its poor performance at the Australian box office, a long-standing issue in which its

share had fallen from 4.5% in early 2010 to 1.3% by early 2011. Instead, she maintained that the “grave danger” dwelled in the Americanisation of local screenplays, a process that allegedly breaks down the cultural potency of Australian films.

“The Australian film industry currently is very commercialised, with demands that our films have ‘universal appeal’,” Dr. Woolfe explained. “As a comparison, the Australian films and their screenplays of the 70s are rich with much more authentic reflections on our culture.”

Highly-acclaimed screenwriter Ian David, whose groundbreaking dramas include Police State and Joh’s Jury, believed that students and the local film industry alike would be enriched by the University’s offering.

In yesterday’s seminar, Mr. David said that local demand for Hollywood appeal had been “bleaching out cultural truths” in modern Australian films. The Hollywood ideal, he said, advertises a clear-cut world of good and evil. It reinforces stereotypes which do not reflect the bulk of Australia’s communities.

He hoped the deficit of cultural truth could be redressed by encouraging students to cherish the “incredible complexity” of Australian screenplays. In his opinion, the screenplays should not subscribe to the simplistic conventions of Hollywood films.

On the University of Sydney website, he commented: “Every spring clean produces something worth keeping.”

Vicki Choh

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