Australian Writers' Guild

the peak body representing australian performance writers



Oral History - Cliff Green OAM


Cliff Green OAM presenting at the 2010 AWGIE Awards

 

This is an edited transciption of an interview conducted by Susan Lever as part of the FOXTEL/Australian Writers' Foundation Oral History Project.

  
Cliff, could you begin by telling us how you got into television writing?

  
Well, I was a teacher in the Bush, out in the Malay in Victoria; little tiny school - seven, or eight, or nine kids.  And I wanted to do a Christmas play with the kids,  a little drama production.  And I wrote this called Christmas at Boggy Creek. And we had a writer staying with us; an old writer friend named David Martin, and he read the play, and he said, “You want to send this off to the ABC”. He said, “This would play quite nicely”. And he said “television” but I thought, “Oh, that’s aiming a bit high”.

And we actually didn’t have television; I am talking about the 1950s. And so I did what I thought was a radio adaptation of it, and sent it off. And after the requisite six weeks, I got a letter back saying, “This is totally unsuitable for radio. It is all visual. Would you like to have another go and adapt it for television?”

I had a book which was a BBC publication called "How to Write for Television"; a slim little volume. It was actually, "How Not to Write for Television” or what you couldn’t write for; you know - one set for the window and the door, and all that.

So I did an adaptation of it and I sent that off. And they made it! So here I was - first script produced! And it went on at 5 o’clock, in Children’s Time as it was then; very like the old Argonauts that is on television.

And then it was my turn to place nothing, of course. But I did get another gig. We shifted up to the Murray; a little school up there. And I wrote a story set on the Murray, about a paddle steamer, Riverboat Bill - a paddle steamer captain. And I had written it as a novel, a children’s book, so I sat down and I adapted that. And then they said they wanted a sequel, and so I wrote a sequel.

And then I got contacted - I was teaching out in the Bush, as I said - and they decided to start making educational programs; ABC and the Education Department combined. And the Education Department flushed out anybody, any teachers they had with television experience - writers, or presenters, or whatever.
   
So I wrote a number of twenty-minute pieces; dramas, little dramas for English primary school; a lot of little docos for Social Studies. And one of the producers or directors I had worked with at the ABC went across to Crawfords. And he gave me a ring one day and he said, “They’re desperately short of writers here. I think you would stand muster here”. So he said, “We’re sending you a sort of audition kit”. 
  
So you had to write an original Homicide storyline, and write a few scenes. So I sent in and ultimately I was hired at Crawfords. So I had three wonderful years at Crawfords, learning the trade virtually - because that is where you learned the trade in those days. And there was no better place.
   
And we were doing three Cop Shops, three cop shows a week, forty-eight weeks of the year. And you had a six-week turnaround - so from idea to going to air, you had this - I remember travelling in on the bus on pay day; by this time Hector had decided it wasn’t a bad idea for us to work at home - it didn’t use his power or whatever. And so on pay day I would catch the bus in from Warrandyte. And everybody in the bus seemed to talk about the previous night’s Homicide - because the show rated forty-plus; everybody watched it. And it was remarkable to sit in there as completely unbeknownst to anyone, and listen while there was a sort of a bus-full of critics of your show - whether they liked it or not! It was very informative, and a good training aid.

  
You worked in a team at Crawfords? Or did you get to write your own?

A   
Oh, you wrote your own. There were seven of us on each show; six weeks’ turnaround, and a spare. And sometimes other writers would be called in or wander into a story conference, and perhaps add a bit. You had to watch you didn’t get your ideas pinched. You sort of logged them in the research department on a big whiteboard so that - well, you logged the titles - and hopefully nobody whipped-off with your story.  And it was remarkable training because you wrote to a very tight budget, and very tight, stringent sort of possibilities: how many actors you could have, how much night filming, and how you traded-off day filming if you wanted night filming; could you do it day for night.  Any what they thought were unusual locations, like a kidney-shaped swimming pool - you would go and find it! So you really learned - and you were whistled up onto the floor; rehearsal, or even studio time on location. An actor couldn’t handle some lines, you would rewrite on the spot. Somebody would question a motivation or something like that, and you would either have to justify it or change.

Q   

What do you think made Homicide so successful?

A   
Well, a cop story is one. People went to bed at peace - no matter how gory the story had been. The show went to air 7.30 through to 8.30; and also the commercial breaks - you sort of learned to write in little acts, and you would have to have a cliff hanger on the commercial breaks to make sure your audience came back. Sometimes you would cheat and you would put a cliff hanger in that turned out not to be - like in the old serials where, you know, Tarzan would be crushed by everything and then next week he would be alive again!

But if you wanted a bit of heavy stuff in there - violence, or sex, or rapes and stuff - you had to wait until two minutes past… kids’ time ended at 8 o’clock - and you had to wait until two minutes past 8. So you had to structure your story to fit the requirements of the broadcasting regulations.

Q  
And you wrote for Matlock.

  
Yes, I wrote for Matlock. I was on the team that helped create Matlock because I was the only person in the building that knew anything about the country, because I had been working for ten years in the country. And the other writers had ridiculous ideas about what the country was all about - all mad farmers and incestuous… all that stuff. And I wrote a little bit on that too, because that was certainly present in the country life.
 
  
You said you are more interested in the social issues in Division 4 and Matlock than in the Homicide shows.

A   
Well we worked in those - you know, when I worked on Homicide, I was sort of the only writer that they would let write “country episodes” - because they didn’t want many of them anyway because it was essentially an urban show. But because I had a big head of steam up on ten years of life in the country, right on the cutting-edge, which you would as the local head teacher of the school - you learn all sorts of things about people that other people wouldn’t know. So I was - whenever the Homicide cops went to the country, it was usually my episode. And so, sure, I worked social issues into those.

Q   
But you finished at Crawfords after, what, three or four years?

A   
Yes, three years - almost three years. I joined in the January of ’69, and I left in the November three years later.

Q   
To go to the ABC.

  
Well, I sacked myself, essentially. I had a blow with Hector over something; Hector wanted me to be a sort of training script editor. He was desperate for writers, and he had this big campaign all over Australia to find people and then bring them in and train them. And I was to be one of two people on the training side.

That is not what I left teaching to do! And I knew that I had written some of my best stuff in the last few months. And he told me this is what I was expected to do; and I told him this was not what I was going to do. So I was given a chance to resign.

But he wished me well - and from then on was always one of my best supporters. And when I had something rather good on the ABC, the phone would ring and it would be Hector, “Good stuff fellow! Keep it up!” BANG! Down went the phone.

And I held him in huge esteem and still do - because I don’t think we would have had a drama, Australian drama industry of anywhere near the quality, without what he did. Because Crawfords was a really industrial-style operation. And it coloured the way television developed in Melbourne, television drama developed in Melbourne.

There was no work in Melbourne, so I went up to Sydney for two or three weeks, and hawked myself around the place. And I so happened to walk into the ABC Drama department in Sydney when a script had fallen out for - they were doing a thing called the Norman Lindsay Festival which was an extended series of these novels; and I did the Halfway to Anywhere, which is the book in the middle of his trilogy, of his own youth. And I loved it! You know you, it was a great - his stuff is very visual, and great dialogue and so on. And it echoes that period beautifully. So I enjoyed doing that.

I also got a commission from what was then the Commonwealth Film Unit, to write a sort of hour telemovie about the rural recession on at the time - and what the rural farmers were going through. I did a draft and they said, “This is terrific. We love it! It’s all the story”. But they said, “The women are all wrong. You can’t write women”. So they brought Anne Brooksbank in. And she rewrote all the women. Anyway, we got an AWGIE for that - Anne and I both shared an AWGIE.

And that actually motivated me to write Marion - because, “I’ll show those buggers I can write women!” I sent the outline of a four-part of Marion - about twelve pages - off to the ABC.

Oscar Whitbread, who produced Bellbird and then went across and worked with the BBC for a couple of years, came back, and he wanted to do stuff! So they set up Drama One.

And the next thing I knew, Oscar was ringing me saying they were going to do Marion; it was their first - they had done a little children’s series called A Taste for Blue Ribbons as a run-in for the Unit. I didn’t even know this unit had been set up. So Marion became really the first major cab off the rank for this new unit.

  
Is it a single, original four-part series?

A   
A “cycle of plays” it is called. We didn’t know what a “mini-series” was. And I was very much influenced by what the British television - and the American television - writers were doing. And I read their scripts, and there was this sort of pulling-off sensation; pulling-off - lowering the pace, which was what I was… and I was quite self-consciously lowering… writing in exactly the opposite way to what I had written for Crawfords. Quite self-consciously, leaving things hanging; leaving the audience to work things out; coming in as a surprise somewhere.

Well, I remember Oscar saying, “Look, you know, if we are going to lose an audience we will lose it in the first ten minutes, because I will slow it right down”. Well, that was exactly what was picked up by critics. It rated reasonably well. But it got a fantastic critical reception.

Q    When you say “influence” are you thinking of things like Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty which is the famous one…And that whole sort of “metrolism”…

  
Social realism. But low-key social realism. And that just - and it seemed to me that we had a whole library full of Australian material, from Henry Lawson through to, say, Alan Marshall and beyond, which was exactly right for that style and that feel. And so I was really privileged to get involved right at the beginning of that process.

  
And so Oscar took it forward?

  
He did. I remember one day he said, “You are one of the few writers I come across who has read a lot”. He said, “I want a list. I want a list of all the Australian novels that would make multi-length television productions”. So I sat down and I wrote a list. And he said, “Which of these are set in Melbourne?” I said, Power Without Glory. He said, “Right, we’ll make that”.

And they started to negotiate with Frank Hardy for the rights. And David Frost was on his way to Australia to do his first series of Frost Over Australia - and David Frost ran London Weekend, the network in England. And as he walked through the airport to take his plane to Australia, he thought, “I’d don’t know anything about Australia. I’d better find out”. And he saw this book on the shelf, this paperback, with this map of Australia on it. And it was Power Without Glory. And when he got off the plane he said to one of his minions, “I want the rights to that book. That’s a fantastic story”.

And so they contacted Frank Hardy. And now Frank Hardy had the ABC looking for it, and he had London Weekend looking for it. Now, a lot of them, it would have put them into conflict.  Frank had the brains and, well, I suppose he had the social conscience, to want the book to be made, no matter what. And he said, “Right!” and he put the two together.

So Howard Griffiths, who was a Crawford writer by this time at ABC, and I went to meet David Frost at a five-star pub somewhere, and he just said, “You guys get on with it!” And I think we then drank scotch for the rest of the afternoon!

And it was made and it rated its head off. It got the best rating the ABC had ever had - for drama, anyway - if not for anything up to that point.


  
What do you think were the ingredients for its success? What do you think the appeal was?

A   
Well it’s a great story. It is a story of a bunch of larrikins. Frank Hardy was a larrikin, and he picked them wonderfully well. It is politics without the fun taken out. We built up the material - Mary Wren, who became a communist, married a veteran from the Spanish Civil War. And Howard was sitting in the pub, his local pub, at Mount Dandenong one evening, having a quiet drink, and he saw this fellow sitting across in the pub. And he was wearing a different sort of military cap, a forage cap, with a red star on it. And Howard thought, “I know what that…” - because we had been researching all this. He thought, “That’s the cap of the International Brigade in Spain, the Spanish Civil War”. So he went across and he said, “Where’d you get the cap?” The fellow said, “Well, I earned it. I wore it”. And it turned out he was Mary Wren’s ex-boyfriend who had gone to Spain! So there we had someone right on the doorstep!

So we built that side of the story a little, with a couple of big episodes. But, you know, everything was happening at the same time. I think I was doing Picnic at Hanging Rock at the same time as I was doing that, and having all that production going on.

How Picnic at Hanging Rock happened was that - I hadn’t read the book, but I vaguely knew that there was movement around a film - Pat Lovell had been battling away at it for years. And she finally got it up; well, got up development. And David Williamson had been signed to write the screenplay.

Now, it was at the same time Marion was being made - and as I said before, a lot of the Pram Factory actors were in Marion. So there were Marion scripts kicking around the Pram Factory, and David Williamson picked one of them up and he read it. And he was very impressed. He liked the style of it. And he found he couldn’t do Picnic - he was overcommitted. So he rang me and said, would I mind - and of course I didn’t mind. So he put my name up to do it.

The film, as far as I was concerned, wrote itself. The only challenge for me was what I was going to leave out. That was one of the first things you have got to work out as an adaptor; because usually you can’t put the whole into a television series. Certainly not into a movie.

Now, the first twenty minutes are dead easy because it is a straight line. But the moment when little Edith comes screaming down the hill, then it thickens out and it goes into leads, and it becomes more of a detective story and a story of lost children.

And that is when I really had to start work - once I had done the first twenty minutes. And Peter Weir came down to Melbourne and he stayed at a modest motel in Carlton; and I read him the first twenty minutes. And that was it. And then I had to come home and work out how I was going to do the rest of it. And that is when it was a matter of really calling on my skills and developing new ones.

It was a very trouble-free project. It was a lovely project. And it was a magical experience, the whole thing. He had a sort of atmosphere in the whole film that was like the book; the atmosphere in the unit that was like the book, in a sense. I mean, all these lovely sixteen-year-old girls; most of whom were not actors, but he recruited off out of the very expensive schools in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney - I mean, they were hysterical most of the time! And he sort of generated that; that level of excitement that those girls showed on the screen.

Q   
After that success, did you think you were going to be a film writer from then on?

  
No - I would look at whatever came along. To survive in Melbourne, or in Australia, as a screenwriter, television had to be part of your living.

  
Cliff, if we move through these late Seventies, you have worked on everything - Country Practice, Flying Doctors - a whole lot of things in the Eighties.

 A
   
Yes. And the commercial stuff I did, like Country Practice and Flying Doctors and so on - there were periods when ABC went dark, and they might be as long as a year or more with almost no drama. And so all the writers I had worked with at Crawfords and so on had all become producers and executive producers and so on - and there was always work in commercial television. And that was good stuff. It wasn’t rubbish. It was good stuff.

Q
   
What about Burn the Butterflies?

A   
Well Burn the Butterflies is an experiment. And it was cheeky me wanting to push the boundaries and do a drama within another drama, which moved in real time and was relatively cheap to make. And so that is what it was about.

Q    
Do you want to explain how it worked?

  
There was a crisis in Government and there were news teams filming what was happening. And that was the documentary that was a fake documentary. And all the action, all the on-stage action (if that is the right word) was happening in the Prime Minister’s suite in Canberra - so the way he was reacting, and who he was talking to - it was almost a one-man show. And it was beautifully performed. By Ray Barrett. It was wonderful. And actually it came out of a week and a bit I had spent in Canberra for the Writers’ Guild, lobbying - Fraser had cut the Arts budget savagely, and we went up to Canberra and we lobbied, Angela Wales and I.

 We became the core lobbyists, Angela and I. We brought up the highflyers from Australian Opera, and the ballet, and the Sydney Theatre Company - but we did the hard work. We knocked on the doors and we faced the politicians. And I understood, at the end of that, how that place worked. And it was nothing like how we thought it worked. And if I had decided that I would like to do a Canberra-based piece and set myself, and got up and become a member of the press corps for a few weeks I wouldn’t have got it. It was being in there, and understanding the contradictions, and the layers of commitment and attitude, and so on, that brought it on, that gave me the confidence to write it.

Q   
Mud, Bloody Mud is experimental too.

A   
Yes, Mud, Bloody Mud came out of circumstances. I hadn’t written the ABC for - they had been dumbed-down and partly closed down, and I hadn’t written to them for many, many months; I had done a bit of commercial stuff. And I finally sort of threw it at them that I wanted to work. And it was, again, a different executive producer. And then Oscar took it on.

We had all the studio space and time we wanted because nothing was happening. We had designers, we had set builders, we had everybody just laid on; they were sitting around doing nothing. We had a very tight budget, very few actors, and no outside filming - so the whole thing was shot in-studio.

The only real people in it - there is a narrator who is an army Medical Officer - he is the battalion M.O.; and there are two soldiers who are actually Bluey and Curly, the cartoon characters. And everybody else is puppets. So the politicians are puppets. And they are full-size - they are actually people but they are like those Sesame Street puppets.

Q   
It had documentary elements too, didn’t it?

A   
Yes, yes. It was about the way the Australians were just sidelined by MacArthur, and left to rot in the jungles. And the dialogue was mostly Bluey and Curly jokes. And we got permission to use them from Sun News Pictorial and also from the cartoonist’s widow. And it had a tragic element because it is a story of a war, so to me it had to have a tragic ending.

I would never try to do it again - it was a one-off in terms of its concept. I think nowadays, with animation and all that stuff, and computerisation, it wouldn’t be seen to be so unique. And it won an Award. They repeated it; they got a terrific response. They ran it on Anzac Day evening I think - and they got a fantastic response from RSL clubs and Old Diggers. And they ran it again on Armistice, the eleventh of the eleventh. So it was a real sort of “out of the box” piece of work - but great fun.

And again, “Open slate - do what you like, fella! As long as we can pay for it”.

Q   
It also follows on, doesn’t it, from your other interest in Australian history, and the educational thing.

A   
Oh yes. Well, it frees it up, you know; drama can be a ponderous form, and you can tell a hundred facts in a doco that would take a whole drama to tell one. And you get all the nuances, and you get the levels and so on. But this was a quick way to tell a big story. But I didn’t do it like that. Yes, I mean, that is I suppose what it was.

Q   
By the end of the Eighties you were working in a completely different sort of area, writing for Phoenix and Janus.

A   
Oh yes. Well the adaptations continued through.

  
You did the Alan Marshall, I Can Jump Puddles.

A   
Ah, that was a lovely series to work on. They originally bought the three books, the rights to the three books. I think it was nine parts. And I said, “Well, there is material in a novel he wrote - I think the only novel he wrote - called "How Beautiful are Thy Feet” - which needed exploration in the time in the Boot Factory and so on.

And they either bought it or they said to Alan, “Can we use…?” And he said, “Of course - you can do what you like”. When I first was writing, I was writing little sketches for the teachers’ journal when I was first teaching. And, under prompting from a writer friend, I sent them all off to Alan Marshall - which I think every ruddy writer in Australia was doing. And I got a very nice letter back from him.  And he followed my career as a writer. And one of the stipulations he made was that I would work on the adaptation for I Can Jump Puddles.

Howard Griffiths edited it, and Sonia Borg, Roger Simpson and I wrote three episodes each. And it was a lovely - it was a beautiful production. Sonia taught the young boy who played Alan as a boy how to ride without using his legs. Sonia is a fine horsewoman, and she taught him how to do that - and convincingly; and gallop!  And then the older character had to learn how to go up and down flights of stairs with crutches, and so on. That was a lovely production. And it was a lovely one to work on, yes.

Q   
So when the ABC went dark, you went over and did Flying Doctors and Country Practice scripts - you have done a bit of all those during your career.

A   
Yes. And Stingers, and they were good to work on. Very often I was working with ex-Crawford colleagues, so it was, you know, you sort of think alike.

  
What about those major three groups - I think Mercury you were responsible for, of the three - Janus, Phoenix and Mercury?

A   
Well Janus and Phoenix were a revelation.  The way Allison Nisselle set up those shows was fantastic. And what she did, she forced us into long, in-depth research. So we lived those lives, those places, those work places. And to begin with we weren’t paid to do that; we were just getting script fees. 
I did an episode of Mission Impossible - and they were a lovely way to make a lot of money and write rubbish and have a bit of fun! And out of the blue I got a sixty thousand dollar cheque, which was residuals. And Mission Impossible wasn’t a successful show - not that series.  And these were international residuals. This was the sort of difference between here and Los Angeles, or Hollywood. And that financed me through the research of Phoenix.

And that was fascinating - the forensic laboratories, the homicide squad, the technical stuff.  And it was a great team. And then Janus, which was set in the courts, was even better - because we sat through court cases; we got to know judges, and magistrates, and coppers.

I wanted this exercise to continue. And they weren’t going to make any more. So I said, “I’ll set one up”. So I set up Mercury. And I got properly paid to spend six months in The Sunday Age researching it. And they were fantastic! Bruce Guthrie was the editor, and he was just brilliant. And John “Sly” Silvester was the police roundsman - and he is a legend; he wrote Underbelly (book).

Q   
Cliff, could you tell us whether there are any bits of writing for television - or anything - that you are particularly proud of?

A   
Well, certainly I am very proud of End of Summer and the other one-shots, because they were so different. More so Mud, Bloody Mud - I think that was more successful than the other one, Burn the Butterflies. But I actually felt I got - my most satisfactory work was from the Janus and Phoenix series. The research we did was deep and detailed. And we actually, as a writing team, we lived with those characters and worked with them, and gained their confidence, and felt we knew them - and reflected that in the writing, I believe.

We also - I was certainly able to pick up on social elements that interested me - instinctively pick up, rather than set out. I certainly never felt I was writing propaganda, for example - quite the reverse.

But a wonderful story, well a terrible story really, of an aboriginal guy who was brain-damaged as a result of a burst eardrum when he was five or six; and stabbed someone - not fatally, but… And was brought into the courtroom. I am in court by accident; and there is this shuffling, drugged, big black fellow being brought into the court in chains. It was like something out of the south of America hundreds of years ago.

And his story - what the trial was about, it was about having a jury find him unfit to plead. And the judge was a bastard. And his defence was a cranked-up young barrister in a tatty gown - and she went for him. And it was the most inspiring thing I have ever seen in a courtroom. And I wrote that, and I won a Human Rights Award and it is something I am very proud one. And it happened in front of me, in a day.

I was supposed to be doing an episode about part of the thread of the storyline; and I rang Allison and told her - she was the story editor -and she said, “Go for it! You write it down as you’ve told it”. And she said, “All you need do with the continuing story is you can leave it there for light relief”.

Q   
Do you think those shows were showing the audience something about Australian society? I mean, it is almost like the difference between drama and documentary - that now you would think a documentary maker would just go and sit in a courtroom. So what do you think the dramatist adds to that?

A   
Well the dramatist gets inside. The dramatist, well, I mean, I worked off the transcript - and we did on those shows; we had free access to the transcripts. And an awful lot of the real people wrote themselves, out of their own mouths. That was part of the thrill of writing that.
   
And then when Janus was finished, I wanted to keep going with this style of drama, so I put up Mercury, which was the story of a newspaper - and had a lot of fun with that.

Q   
And have you have been involved in the Writers’ Guild from the beginning?

A   
Not quite. I joined when the Guild was probably a few months old. It was only when I came to Crawfords that I got properly involved, and deeply involved I might say.

And Crawfords was unique because what we had at Crawfords was an industrial situation. And the Guild, like Equity and the other unions, was “on the job”.  And we had the President of the local Victorian Guild was like a shop steward; you know, it was very much a unionised shop. And that made us a bit different to the operation in Sydney. I think we might have been a little bit more bolshy, and we might have pushed a bit harder - and we probably were nuisances at times. But that was a very strong Guild or organisation within the Crawford Company, yes.

  
You were the Victoria representative for a while?

A   
No, I was on the, whatever the Guild structure was called at the time - management committee or council. I was a vice president. The structure was that there were state vice presidents. And I also was the Guild delegate to the Affiliation of Writers’ Guilds in the various places around the world. I mean, that was a fantastic experience.

And to see how, particularly the Writers’ Guild of America, particularly America West - they had two Guilds; America West and East - what a bolshy lot they were!  And the sort of heritage of the old Hollywood tin trials and so on, that they still proudly carried was pretty stimulating!  And then we saw it again with the French Canadian Writers’ Guild, who saw themselves very much as cultural isolates in North America, and oppressed by - as we were by particularly Britain in terms of being able to do stuff none other than “Buy British” thanks! They have had the same problem with Paris, and were dominated and so on.

And we fought some very good battles. We won Australia’s right to pursue a cultural program, a nationalistic cultural program, which was originally disallowed within the Affiliation’s rules - which suited the big exporters like America and Britain. And we certainly had allies in the Canadians, both lots; and occasionally in the New Zealanders - although they couldn’t work out whether they were a place that made television or was a place to make television - and they might pick up a bit of stuff on the way past.

But, no, they were good years, but they were hard-working years and they were often traumatic years.

Every month I can go and look in our local ABC shop and see old shows coming up. And they sell, you know! We get good royalties - thanks to the Guild I might tell you. That was a real win. Because we refused to sign a contract originally when they sought rights to video. They put a clause in that said, “And all devices yet to be invented”. And Roger Simpson, who had been an industrial barrister in New Zealand before he came out here to write, said, “You can’t put that in a contract! That’s nonsense. You can’t contract something that doesn’t exist”. So they took it out.

So when DVDs came along, the Guild had the opportunity to renegotiate. And it was a good deal. We get fifteen percent. And it flows in nicely, you know. It’s not a fortune - but it is better than a trickle

And so the shows do live on, in DVDs, and sell through the ABC shops.

  
Do you have any ideas about how you would like Australian television writing to develop in the future?

A   
Well I think it goes back to - I don’t know if it will happen - but it is the whole structure of the industry now. I mean, in the days when I was working there at the ABC particularly, Crawfords of course was very much like it. In the ABC here in Melbourne, we had set builders, and set designers, and studios; and we had a budget - often tight budgets - but they were there; and in-house directors… And so you worked within a unit. And you were part of a unit. And you didn’t have a lot of executive producers who pushed money in, or were handling distribution, telling you contradictory things about what you were writing.

And now it can be chaotic! Those people could be all around the world, and be coming in on email, and… I mean, it’s a bloody nonsense! And I have always said - and probably most other writers of my vintage would say - that it was the lack of those single shots; of the development of writers down their own tracks that they could have followed and they could have created movies.

Now, the movies - we make good movies here. But we still make them off the kitchen sink/kitchen table. And many of them are director-written. And then they are off to Hollywood! They hit some sort of bell - and off they go! And it all starts again. There is no continuity and there is no industrial structure.

And it is leaving television, too, which is such a shame. Whereas if they had been in industrial - with studio-style structures, or authorities like the ABC and SBS are able to commission and develop in-house projects, and develop them in a collective way with the writers; with a team of writers - which is what we did with Janus and Phoenix - we workshopped it for three weeks, with the writers.

I mean, the creators very much ran the show - but the writers on the team were involved and were adding to it. I don’t believe that goes on now. It might - but I am out of it, anyway.