Sunday, December 18, 2011

Being Creative in Sydney

Last night I attended the Combined Industry Christmas Party for TV and film people at the NSW Writers Centre, in Callan Park, Sydney. This was a magical evening, a worthy topic for the films those in attendance write, direct and film. Callan Park is a the former Rozelle Hospital on a large spread of parkland overlooking a bay of Sydney Harbor. Historic former hospital buildings house the Sydney College of the Arts, the NSW Writers’ Centre, and there are proposals for a city farm.

The party was a joint event including the Australian Directors Guild (ADG), Australian Production Design Guild (APDG), Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC), Australian Screen Editors Guild (ASE), Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) and Australian Screen Sound Guild (ASSG).

For a first hand account of the writer's centre, there is
Jennifer Smart's Blog. My experience was confined to the party. It starts by walking down what looks like a service road, past some old buildings to the back door of a sandstone cottage. A good sign, party-wise, is a portable cold room, next to the door.

Entering past the kitchen, there is am imposing staircase (I realize that this building is much large than it looks from the entry). Amongst the period wall paneling there are Ikea style modern bookcases stacked with books and modern (but comfortable) Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs. Leading off this are offices and meeting rooms. Walking through what must have been the formal front door of the building, I see one meeting room laid out with cold food and a BBQ visible just out the door.

Out the door is a wide veranda, overlooking a garden with flowering trees and a hint of the harbor in the distance. The veranda has a table for red wine, a table for white, water and orange juice.

Then you notice the people. This is not a party for the beautiful people who are in front of the camera, it is for the creative thinkers behind the camera. They are not especially well dressed, being more Bohemia comfortable. There is something systematic and professional about the groups. This is a celebration and a festive occasion, but there are pitches bing made, proposals being discussed, business cards being stored up for future ventures.

As twilight descends part of the magic of the event becomes evident: those present are from different but mutually dependent parts of the one industry. The conversations starts by identifying which part of the industry you are from, what projects you have worked on and with whom.

As an IT professional, I am both on the periphery and at the center of the TV and film industry. Both TV and film have converted almost entirely to digital image technology, to the point where it is novelty for a chemical film to be used in a production. But the industry is still not sure what to do creatively with "convergence": the merging of still photography, print media, motion pictures, music on Internet connected platforms. The Industry is still working out an uncomfortable relationship with the web and along has come the mobile platforms of smart phones and tablet computers to create new challenges.

3D film seems almost a technological sanctuary for the creative part of the film industry. It is new technology and creates challenges in production, but is easily conceptually and creatively understood and produces a product which can be thought about and handled like2D film. But computer games and hand-held platforms challenge what a film or TV show is.

Wandering through this crowd I felt a little out of place, having forgotten to bring any business cards and not being able to name drop any film projects or directors. But then a voice said "Hello Tom" and there was Michela Ledwidge, Writer/Director/Producer and board member of ADG. Michela is from the seriously technical end of using IT for creative purposes. She was the Webmaster at the National Library of Australia in the mid 1990s. This was a period when a loose coalition of public servants, academics and IT industry people were putting the Federal Government on the Internet and the web. Michela now does the digital strategy for creative industries, including cloud services for media productions.

It was interesting to see how in the one space on the veranda of the writer center, we had people reminiscing about making black and white film documentaries for the ABC in its early days and a group showing off their latest creative project on Apple iPhones, using 3D and gaming technology. The technology had changed, but in many ways the essence of the industry remained the same.

Challenges remain for this industry, there was at least one heated argument on the veranda about the Internet threatening the industry due to rampant pirating of films. The old hands want their intellectual property protected, while the digital natives want to develop new revenue streams on-line. This is not a debate which will be settled soon and most likely took place over drinks when the printing press and the video tape were invented.
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