RMIT University, Building 80, Level 10 – Room 80.09.09
Screenwriting Melbourne/ s: representing and recreating a city within a screenplay’s flipped-reality narrative
Stayci Taylor, RMIT University
Home to one of the world’s biggest international comedy festivals (and this presenter’s adopted city) Melbourne is an apposite setting for a comedy screenplay about comedy. Funny/Peculiar centres around a struggling comedian who inadvertently wishes herself into an alternative Melbourne where gender hierarchies are reversed, and was written as part of a PhD taking a creative practice approach to examining gender, comedy and script development. In first giving “a sense of what the protagonist’s life would have been like if the events that lead to the story hadn’t interfered” (Gulino 2004), the screenplay enjoys a familiar Melbourne setting before travelling to an imagined, parallel Melbourne as part of the ‘flipped-reality’ narrative device. As with other screenplays set in skewed yet identified worlds – such . as Her, which gives us an LA “slightly in the future” (Jonze 2011) – the screenwriter finds herself making thematic decisions. around preservations and departures from the default setting. In the case of Funny/Peculiar this raised questions (of and within the screenwriting process) such as; how are cities gendered? And, in what ways do protagonists manifest their realities within familiar worlds? Drawing from the research of the PhD, particularly its investigations into notions of perspective within screenplays, this presentation is part academic paper and part live screenplay reading, hoping to open conversations around the practice of screenwriting Melbourne/ s in this tale of two cities.
Stayci Taylor‘s PhD explores gender, comedy and script development through creative practice, incorporating her industry background as a screenwriter, actor and playwright. Originally from New Zealand, her screenwriting credits include ten seasons of an award-winning bilingual (English/Maori) serial drama and a prime time sitcom. Published in Senses of Cinema, Philament, Journal of Creative Writing Research, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, New Writing and TEXT, Stayci is also co-editing special issues of Networking Knowledge and the Journal of Screenwriting. She teaches screenwriting at RMIT as well as assisting on research projects such as #STREATstories and a global script development network. She continues working as a consultant and script editor on television projects in New Zealand and is co-writer of a feature currently in development with the NZ Film Commission. Stayci was invited to present a live reading excerpt of Funny/Peculiar for WIFT’ s International Women’s Day short film screenings in 2016.
‘Pedagogy in Practice of the City Documentary’
Claire Henry, Massey University & Billy Head, Monash University
In the Film and Screen Studies unit, Screen Project: From Film Theory to Digital Video Practice, second-year Monash University students gain knowledge of the ways in which films employ the city in different modes of documentary cinema. Students develop an understanding of theoretical and critical approaches to the city film through screenings and readings, while concurrently developing video production skills in workshops as they collaboratively create their own city documentaries.
This paper presents a reflection on the unit, focusing on how students conceptualise Melbourne on screen, and how they engage with both cinema and the city via theoretically informed production. What challenges do student filmmakers face in capturing and conceptualizing Melbourne in their short city films? What fresh perspectives do they offer on Melbourne, and what do their productions (and written reflections) reveal not only about the (screen) culture of Melbourne but the productive nexuses of city/cinema and production/theory? Why is it beneficial to frame this unit through a focus on the city in nonfiction cinema? Just as cinema developed with the city, the processes of film production bring Melbourne to life for both local and international students, facilitating their engagement with the city through experiential and cross-cultural learning.
With the participation of their students, the 2016 teaching staff of Screen Project, Billy Head and Claire Henry, offer insights into the pedagogical, practical, and creative processes of making (and reflecting) on city films in Melbourne. Using a case study on the development and outcomes of the unit, the co-authors of this paper draw on their range of production and teaching experiences to provide insight into how a pedagogy of production enlivens the city and the learning process for its student citizens. Highlights from the 2016 students’ documentaries will be screened as part of the presentation.
Claire Henry is Lecturer in Digital Media Production in the School of English and Media Studies at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand. She holds a PhD in Film Studies from Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge, UK) and a BA(Hons), DipCA, and MA in Screen Studies from The University of Melbourne. Her monograph Revisionist Rape-Revenge: Redefining a Film Genre was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014 and she has published journal articles in Senses of Cinema, Studies in European Cinema, Cine-Excess, Animal Studies Journal, and Ctrl:Z: New Media Philosophy. Claire’s short documentaries and experimental films – made and premiered in Melbourne – have screened at film festivals in New York (NewFest and the New York City Short Film Festival), Amsterdam, Berlin, Zurich, Hamburg, Sydney, Bangalore, and Malmo.
Billy Head is a non-fiction filmmaker. His films have screened at festivals worldwide including DOCSDF, Interfilm, Cine//B, New Filmmakers New York, Guangzhou Doc Fest, Belgrade Intl. Doc Fest, St Kilda Short Film Fest., White Night Melbourne, and Antenna Intl. Doc Fest. Billy also lectures in film and video production at Monash University in the department of Media, Film and Journalism. He has degrees in Media Studies (RMIT), Australian Political Economy (Sydney University), and Documentary Directing (VCA, Melbourne University). In 2011 he curated Open Channel’s Generation Next Documentary Conference in Melbourne and in 2012 was the film and photography curator of the 11th Festival of the Pacific Arts in the Solomon Islands. He is currently in development on a feature documentary about creative cities that is being produced by Film Camp and Faction North and which is co-funded through Screen Australia and Creative Scotland.
A Philosophical Melbourne
I am currently filming a 12 x 10min TV series about applied ethics. Both the form of the work and its intended audience are liminal: the target audience is aged 14-19, neither child nor adult, and the work exists in the space between a utilitarian educational and documentary filmmaking style.
The series uses a presenter who guides the viewer through a series of interviews with experts. Unlike some, I enjoy the talking head, the human face and voice are infinitely fascinating, but, I am also keenly aware of what else is in the frame. In three previous series I filmed the interview with the expert in their home (writers), studio (artists) and office (lawyers). This was so that the ·room around them reinforced the nature of that person, it provided visual clues and even cultural capital to viewers: e.g., artists wear these sorts of clothes and their studios looks like this. But, almost no-one wants to grow up to be a philosopher, and we rarely even need to interact with one, so seeing the genuine space a philosopher inhabits is unimportant. Instead, with this series I decided to take the philosophers out of their own spaces and into Melbourne: migration ethics at Princes Pier, legal ethics at Old Melbourne Gaol, etc.
The shots of the interviewees are mid through to head shots, which means that the environment is rarely important for being recognisably that space, but more for being a visual pattern of an environment that reflects the ideas being expressed. In the end the interviewee’s relationship to space also becomes liminal. Melbourne becomes a series of evocative subtexts, or sub-images, in the interviews.
Squizzy Taylor vs. God: ‘Betwixt and Between’ Melbourne’s Actor/Director Paradigm
Ian Dixon, SAE Institute
… transitional beings are … at the very last “betwixt and between”.:. structural classification (Turner, 1969, p. 48).
The colourful historic characters and narratives of Melbourne’s creative imagining transfer effectively to its urban landscape and screen culture. This paper reflects upon the greater transformations of the Melbourne industry ‘betwixt and between’ its formal structures: from page to screen; from actor to director. Drawing upon Victor W. Turner’s seminal essay Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage, this paper considers the ‘sacred poverty’ of this transitional/liminal state or what Levi-Strauss calls ‘isomorphic’. In applying the logic of the Greimas square utilised by screen ‘gum’ Robert McKee and considering Deleuzian ‘becoming’, further implications are considered: actors who merely ‘act’ as directors; directors with only the pretence of acting craft; and the industry-specific changes they effect. In particular, this presentation as practice-led/ action research involves a bifurcated, ‘inside/ outside’ perspective of two Melbourne based productions (in which the researcher appears as actor and director/writer respectively). Firstly, television’s Underbelly: Squizzy (2014) dramatises the downfall of Melbourne’s favourite ‘between the wars’ celebrity criminal, Les ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, utilising historic silent cinema within its narrative. Secondly, impending feature film Game of God (2016) welcomes cultural diversity in genre filmmaking. Thus, the actor/ directors’ agency is examined ‘outside’ their traditional domain, ‘betwixt and between’ and on both sides of the camera. As a consequence, the ‘basic building blocks of culture are exposed and therefore open for cross-cultural comparison’ (Turner, 1969, p. 46). Indeed, Melbourne’s cultural ‘order of things’ is challenged by the presence of the ‘neophyte’ actor who is ‘structurally “dead”‘ (Turner, 1969, p. 48). The ‘diversity of Melbourne’s landscape, architecture, and people’, its depiction on screen and the ‘truth claims’ of Melbourne based filmmaking must continue to embrace the ’embarrassment of symbolic riches’, which is the actor/ director interface.
Ian Dixon completed his PhD on the films of John Cassavetes at The University of Melbourne, Victorian College of the Arts in 2011 where he also studied a Postgraduate Filmmaking Degree. Ian has also delivered academic papers (including a plenary speech for CEA in USA) and published internationally and currently lectures in screenwriting and semiotics at SAE Institute, Melbourne. Ian’s films have been distributed and won awards internationally. He has directed television for Neighbours, Blue Heelers and SBS TV (his episode ‘Wee Jimmy’ won a best director award at the San Francisco International Film Festival). Ian Dixon’s debut feature film Crushed screened at Cinema Nova in 2009. Ian has also been funded to write feature films for the Australian Film Commission and Film Victoria.