Does the changing landscape force directors to take a “humility pill”?

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Directors working in the streaming landscape and alongside showrunners need to take a “humility pill” or “step out,” according to Rachel Ward.

The director of films such as Beautiful Kate and palm beachopened the Directors Guild of Australia conference, Director’s Cut, on Saturday with a keynote.

In her speech, she referenced a controversial article she wrote for the Nine Papers in 2019, where she declared the director “dead” and wrote that today’s “Leans and Hitchcocks and Weirs” don’t do not make films, but television, where they were “unfortunately neutered”.

“Producers and showrunners are the new brands, not the directors. They cast, they develop the scripts, they set the tone, they have the final edit,” she wrote then.

Ward joked Saturday the piece didn’t win over his many friends in the industry. However, she said she wrote it from her own experience.

Her own dose of “humility” came via a TV series where she “wasn’t allowed to change a word of the script without prior consent.”

“I had to answer eight pages of notes for an episode of setting up an invisible frame, deep in the bowels of the streamer. My editor was removed. Eventually so was I. And as small as it was our industry here, I haven’t worked for many years,” she told the conference.

However, Ward said his last experience on a series “couldn’t have been more fruitful, respectful and collaborative.”

“I’m tempted to take back everything I said about our impending death.

“But the truth is that the ground is moving. And while we’ve enjoyed incredible autonomy and an unbridled voice in cinemas for decades, that platform, for most genres, is rapidly declining.

“Whether we like it or not, streaming – and with it our diminished voices – is the delivery service and workplace for most directors of the future.

“It won’t be the same. We will have to conform to the streamer’s niche markets. We need to do the coverage that executives might want, even if we don’t. We will have notes that we will have no choice but to attend. We won’t have the usual six to eight weeks to play in our edition; I have three days for a 35 minute episode in my last.

“Of course, there’s no way to retain good talent. The best will rise. Their pilots will be picked up. Their setup eps will be the highest. They’ll get the fanciest fare; or they’ll develop, write and will sell their own shows to streamers and retain executive power. Either way, these directorial voices will be increasingly refocused.

Rachel Ward addressing the ADG conference.

Indeed, the role of directors’ voices in a changing creative landscape – and their industrial rights – were among the main discussions of Director’s Cut.

In the “golden age of television”, it is not uncommon to see series of six, eight or 10 episodes shot entirely by a single director, and to hear directors talking about how this opportunity creative presents itself to them as a “feature film”.

But on this kind of project, which voice is at the center? Is it the director or the creative producer? What happens when you add a showrunner into the mix? Does a director have a say in major production decisions, such as casting? Who gets the final edit? Should a writer-director be fired from his own project?

The director’s role continued in a panel discussion after Ward’s speech, “Director at the Center”. Moderated by CEO Rowan Woods, it featured Emmy-nominated Daina Reid, Bus Stop Films co-founder Genevieve Clay-Smith, Adrian Russell Wills and Partho Sen-Gupta.

Woods began the session by positing that throughout the history of screen storytelling, authorship has been shared in a “rough way” by directors, writers, and producers.

“This movement, or this jostling in the center is often rooted in the belief that a singularity of vision brings originality and coherence to the narration on screen.”

While collaborative practice was paramount, he added that the director directs the interpretation of a text and the process of creating the language of the screen – staging – stating, “We have to stand up for what that voice is worth to the screen project and what it’s worth to the audience.”

The emphasis was on bringing directors’ uniqueness of vision to the television landscape like never before, Reid said.

However, if she were to host the ADG conference, she would have called it “Episode 8”, referencing some of her frustrations working under the showrunner model. She noted that often a showrunner’s attention is drawn in multiple directions, leading to script delays.

“I’ve been in the position where I’ve finished a few sets. I never have that script. I wait and I wait and I wait and it doesn’t come.

“Everything falls apart at that point, because a director can’t direct, a producer can’t produce, and actors can’t act if there’s no script. So if that showrunner has so much divided his attention that he can’t deliver it to you, so where are we?

When it comes to how she sees the role of director, Reid likened herself to an orchestra conductor, saying the role is collaborative.

On this point, Clay-Smith agreed, noting that his directing style was one of “servant leadership”, as opposed to others in service to his vision. That is to say that the creative vision is developed as a team, the role of the director then being to get the best out of the said team.

This idea of ​​allowing others to be the author of the creative process inspired his work with the disability community through Bus Stop Films. The concept of authorship was not something that suited him.

“There is a way to have creative vision and lead with empathetic leadership; being able to listen to people, give space to others, and see them as valuable members of the team, not just servants of the machine. That’s where inclusive cinema really comes from for me; it was the idea of ​​a shoulder-to-shoulder model, not a hierarchical model,” she said.

In contrast, Sen-Gupta argued that the author’s idea should be reclaimed and revisited. They encouraged delegates to remember where the idea of ​​“author” comes from; a reaction against the studio industrial model in France in the 1950s where directors were seen as artisans – they think we are at a similar time now.

“I would like to take this word and own it. Yes, I call myself a writer-director because I am the author of the story and the film. As I go, I work with different collaborators, each contributing to my vision in their own way. But they come and go, and I keep working on this project for a long time,” they said.

The sometimes added wills, time and money constraints on Australian productions – especially in episodic TV – can mean a director feels like they’re only there to ‘turn a leaf’. call”.

“That’s when I start to feel like my sanity is declining, because I’m after art; I’m after performance, storytelling… I think it’s getting more and more out of reach in this country.

Adrian Russell Wills, Daina Reid, Genevieve Clay-Smith, Partho Sen-Gupta and Rowan Woods.

In another session, “Rights, Representation and Residuals,” Jennifer Naughton of RGM and Greg Duffy of Frankel Lawyers discussed negotiating directors’ rights in the changing environment.

Duffy said that over the past decade he’s increasingly observed directors divorcing themselves from key decisions, while noting that this is changing somewhat. As part of this, he raised concerns about showrunners “cutting behind” directors in the US, Australia and the UK.

“You have to be very clear about your vision, how you are going to present it and what process, contractually, that means. So for example… What period do you have to work exclusively with the editor to do the director’s editing? So who do you deliver to? Who do you take notes from? Do you have the ability to go back and interpret those notes and make another cut, and then who does it go to? It is this last jump that creates the tension.

Another growing trend is the early termination of directors. Naughton noted examples of clauses in contracts that would allow a director — shooting all episodes of a series — to be fired after the first episode if a platform didn’t like their approach.

Duffy cautioned that termination clauses should be carefully negotiated, especially when the director was also the creator of the project. He noted that in feature films, there was usually a process before a director could be fired: consultation, back and forth, then arbitration. He encouraged administrators working in other media to also include an arbitration clause in their contracts, allowing a neutral party to quickly resolve decisions.

In terms of residuals, Naughton said directors rarely see more than an upfront fee on streaming projects. She and Duffy both noted that it is very difficult for representatives, whether agents, managers or legal, to oppose the global power of streamers in contracting, with the argument often: ” It has been signed and used in 190 countries around the world.”

In this sense, Duffy said there was a need for industrial action. “Writers, composers and producers around the world have been treated to this particular pie for a long time. It’s only just beginning with small-scale directors.

Additionally, Duffy noted that most countries in the world, with the exception of the United States, have moral rights for administrators, which involves the right to be credited and the right to integrity. He started pushing this on deals with global streamers as Australian directors benefit from these productions under the copyright law.

” We do not want [directors] be relegated or kicked out of the consultation and collaboration process in the final delivery,” he said. “If the production company wants the director enough, there’s a discussion.”

Naughton said that if a director waives attribution of authorship of their moral rights, it actually conflicts with their credit clause. “We keep raising this issue with the various legal teams that represent these companies, and it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.

“These companies, most of them are from the United States. They are used to working with the guilds there. These guilds have such strong memberships, such powerful powers. It’s very difficult for us to counting on that in this market without that industrial instrument in place If we’re counting on the guild to step in and say, “Well, no, the director has to be credited and you can’t cut his work” that’s what what the ADG should do.

The ADG is in the process of finalizing a TV director deal with Screen Producers Australia.

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