AACTA Awards unfair? Australian Directors Guild gets it wrong.

By David Knox on December 7, 2012 / Filed Under News 22

The Australian Directors Guild is wrong to call for an AACTA Awards Directing nomination for The Amazing Race Australia to be revoked.

The ADG doesn’t agree that producer / director Michael McKay should be nominated alongside drama directors.

AACTAs nominated TARA for a Directing award alongside Beaconsfield, Howzat! and Jack Irish earlier this week.

”It’s like saying in the Olympics we’ll put a shot-putter up against a swimmer,” says ADG executive director, Kingston Anderson.

”If you’re going to say the director of The Amazing Race should be up against the director of Beaconsfield, well then surely the people in The Amazing Race should be up for best actors? Would Sigrid Thornton like that?”

This is an unfair analogy.

People in The Amazing Race are not actors, they are appearing as themselves (and if the ADG can’t recognise that then we have a much bigger problem than anybody realises).

The ADG more than anybody should know that the bottom line is excellence in storytelling and communicating a narrative. As a recent International Emmy shows, TARA excels in its chosen field. Whether it is in drama, comedy, children’s animation or yes, heaven forbid, reality TV is actually secondary.

In fact the ADG itself awarded a Best Direction in TV Reality Program/Light Entertainment at its own ADG Awards in April (the trophy went to Dancing with the Stars).

Is it seriously suggesting that those members are any less worthy of an award than those who work in drama?

Yes it would be nice for AACTAs to award both Drama and Non Drama directing awards, but given that it does not then the four nominees should be viewed as a celebration of the industry’s diversity of work.

Instead the ADG has unnecessarily turned drama into snobbery….

The Australian Academy’s chief, Damian Trewhella, told the Sydney Morning Herald, ”We acknowledge that there are significant distinctions between the role of the director on a drama and on a reality show … but we prefer to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, where possible.”

22 Comments »

  1. David Knox December 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm -

    Still unclear as to whether there would be any problem with DWTS in this category alongside drama, and that gets to the crux of the complaint for me: whether ADG views this as a Drama only category when clearly the category currently embraces other genres aside from Doco. If the problem was a view that McKay did not direct then it was unnecessary to elevate Drama above other genres as part of the argument. Seems to me the complaint lays with the thorn that McKay is probably not an ADG member. AACTA appears to have accepted he was director / producer of a work that excelled in its field.

    I think we’ve probably exhausted the arguments now and we’ll have to agree to disagree. ADG should work with AACTA to make this a Drama Director category if they ant to avoid similar bunfights with children’s, animation, lifestyle etc. directors in the future.

  2. muul December 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm -

    Firstly, it undermines AACTA more than fiction directors, because McKay is not a director.

    Secondly, why are we asking that question after all the words below have already asked whether non-fiction and fiction directing are comparable?

    Directing actors is a substantial challenge, additional to working with your film team to capture an event as well as possible (so your editors can produce a high-quality final product).

    I have never watched DWTS. It’s live, right? So the director deserves a lot of extra credit, due to having to deal with unseen problems and effectively being the editor. The fact it’s in-studio, heavily controlled & choreographed (and based on previous formats) suggests directing DWTS might not be as challenging as other non-fiction roles.

    But there’s no denying it is a different role to directing fiction. E.g. Redfern Now, Puberty Blues, etc. And comedy direction is probably the hardest. The point is these directors have produced great work this year, and now there’s an E.P. taking one of the four ‘best director’ spots? How can you say ADG got it wrong, when clearly AACTA did?

  3. David Knox December 9, 2012 at 10:36 am -

    Let’s leave ADG awards to one side. The complaint was about how TARA undermined Drama directors. So would it be problematic if the nominations had been Beaconsfield, Howzat, Jack Irish and DWTS? Would that undermine drama too?

  4. muul December 9, 2012 at 10:03 am -

    I agree with VPCTV that the terms director and producer are used to mean a confusing variety of things, but, David, your defense of the ‘ADG gets it wrong’ headline seems to be that they are being snobbish and that they should ‘stick to one argument’.

    Why stick to one argument when both apply (and neither has been retorted)?

    McKay is not a director, so why is he in that category? This is the main argument. If there were blogging awards and they included Ian McEwan or JK Rowling because ‘they basically do the same thing’, I don’t think it would be snobbish to question that.

    The DWTS directors can beat TARA at the ADG awards, because directing DWTS is about capturing the drama and story in one location on a livefeed. That is mostly what Directors do on non-actor based productions. The story-telling aspect of these shows are far more in the hands of the producers. i.e. TARA’s cast and their backstories, the narratives and momentum of the mini-games and overall game, etc.

    There is a legitimate, interesting secondary argument about these people directing/producing within non-actor based programming and the Award recognition they might get, but it is apples and oranges (well, it’s more accurately Granny Smiths vs Apple Pies) when they’re put next to fiction directors. We’re allowed to talk about the merits of this argument with the McKay case, because the logical endpoint of this argument is ‘what was AACTA thinking?’.

  5. vpctv December 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm -

    Interesting thread. Had to respond. As a tv director myself of 20 yrs I too wonder why an EP had been nominated in the Director category in the AACTA nominations. Over 90% of TAMR would have been shot in field by field producers and Camerman and then handed to editors and post producers to put together with very little, if any, follow through by a “director”.
    Every different genre in tv or film requires a different set of directing skills.
    Whilst “directing” is considered, by the film community, as “directing actors” it is actually about directing people.
    Directing is about using the facilities and resources and people working with you to achieve the collaborative final product, tv or film.
    Directing a Live tv show like DWTS requires a completely different set of skills to directing My Kitchen Rules as it does a doco and I’ve done all of them.
    Vastly different skills set for each but built on the ability to coordinate craft from each crew member to realise the final “visual” goal.
    I agree with the ADG, however their own awards catergories lump very different ,skill set based, genres in together in their own “award” directing categories.
    Directing DWTS is not the same as directing “rock wiz”.
    The AACTA is merely trying to broaden its appeal base by including more TV in its catergories as its AFI “only film” awards were dying. Rest assured it will be a “film based” nominee that wins the “best direction television” award anyway.
    Directing and producing, Tv or Film, are probably the most misunderstood of any roles and they are most definitely not the same and neither is directing or producing on a reality show vs a “film style” tv drama vs a pure feature film. It’s a very grey area on both sides of the argument.

  6. David Knox December 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm -

    So again, the issue is not that it’s a non-drama? The issue is the way TARA is assembled / directed? Dancing with the Stars would be fine here? Deal or no Deal would be fine here? I thought ADG was objecting because it wasn’t drama, hence my point to please stick to one argument…

  7. muul December 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm -

    I did not know that you had directed, David, but it always helps to explain these things to the general readership too. My point still stands that Directors are not the main story-tellers (as the media makes them out to be), so I can understand the AWG being spooked by an E.P. getting into their category. I don’t know how hands on and in-contact McKay is on shoot, but TARA has different teams in different locations so it’s a fair bet that field producers do most of the ‘directing’ of performers and action.

  8. David Knox December 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm -

    Firstly, you’re presuming I have not directed, so I’m not at all confused. Directing is about more than working with actors, it also requires understanding of visual narrative, technical knowledge and dramaturgy skills.

    Secondly, a director on Sea Patrol and a director on DWTS do require a different set of skills, but nowhere is it written that one deserves more prestige, more recognition, than the other. As it stands the AACTA categories are for Doco Directing, and TV Directing. Not Doco Directing and Drama Directing. Therefore the nomination is legit under the current rules and ADG should work with AACTAs to split factual from fiction or lobby for new categories.

  9. muul December 8, 2012 at 11:56 am -

    If that was too confusing, try this:

    Directing is, strictly speaking, directing performance from actors.

    To your average joe, Directing is story-telling. It is not. Story telling is what the whole crew — pre, post and during a shoot — is doing.

    If AACTA has decided that TARA was so scripted (with the contestants chosen like any cast is, directions given to them like actors can be directed, and re-takes asked of them to make the ‘reality’ more entertaining) it deserves to be considered in the ‘Director’ category, then it needs to know that McKay had a lot of overriding influence on all the shoots.

    If either of those two things are not true, McKay should not be in the category. And both of those things are up for arguing about – it’s what the Internet does best, after all!

  10. muul December 8, 2012 at 11:34 am -

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, David, but the truth is most people outside the industry do not understand what Directors do, which is why you are confused.

    The Director’s job is to get good performances out of the actors.

    However, they are also often the main person viewing what the camera is capturing, and so therefore they can dictate many other aspects of the shoot to ensure a good story is being told. This is key to great directing, but (a) that person can just as easily be a producer, a D.O.P., the continuity person, a script supervisor etc, and (b) a lot of these story-telling things are worked out via story boards or discussions with producers, writers, D.O.Ps, actors etc beforehand.

    When problems arise on shoot which mean these plans don’t come off, the Director is looked to foremost, which is why Stephen Frears says, “I’m paid to not stuff up”. (He uses harsher language).

    So for this argument, AACTA is treating ‘best directing’ as that second part of the job, the overall story-telling part, but in reality TV that is called producing. A Director will often direct more than the actors, and can have the final decision on the creative options given to him or her by the rest of the team, but it is hugely collaborative and lines are very blurred.

    If we call the main decision-maker on a shoot ‘the Director’, AACTA is right. In Documentary and Reality they call it a Producer, but the point is who is ensuring what’s being filmed will make good tv/film. We all know how often reality is scripted/herded, rather that fly-on-the-wall so I think AACTA is probably right to include McKay.

    Did I make it more confusing? :)

  11. David Knox December 8, 2012 at 10:16 am -

    On the one hand ADG says “Michael McKay didn’t direct it, field producers did,” on the other hand they say “Drama directors should not be with Non-Drama Directors.” Please stick to one argument so we can understand the objection.

    I say if the category currently allows for drama, children’s, animated, reality, light entertainment directors because there are no other directors categories then you let the nomination ride and stop the snobbery. Doco has a separate prize and you should lobby for reality to move to a non scripted domain later.

  12. piccolofilm December 8, 2012 at 9:24 am -

    David, the jury of peers of which you speak is only in the feature film category, where there are chapters of practitioners in all the categories – actors, writers, producers, directors etc. The television nominations are decided by a separate jury that is chosen by AACTA, and may not include any director. Even if it did they could be out-voted and would be bound by confidentiality so couldn’t voice their objection.

    Same goes for industry consultation, there isn’t always a consensus about directions the AFI take with the AACTA awards.

    The issue isn’t about whether Michael McMay has done a good job, it’s about whether his work can be judged in the same category as the drama directors. I say the two jobs require totally different skill sets.

  13. Beckala December 8, 2012 at 12:19 am -

    I gotta agree here. My bestie works as a stage
    Manager, previously on the West End, but his previous job before this one was the Olympics. And you know what, it wasn’t nearly as specific as the West End in terms of working with actors or sets – not as personal in terms of his work with individuals because it was a massive scale. But the job he did was amazing, even more impressive because of the sheer scale. Same thing. These directors may not be giving an actor a direction, but they are dealing with a huge amount of elements, a multitude of people, settings, events. Just as skilful to achieve something under much more trying and unpredictable circumstances.

  14. David Knox December 8, 2012 at 12:09 am -

    So the issue isn’t that it is Reality and Drama in one category but that you feel McKay hasn’t effectively directed this episode? Another Reality in the category would be acceptable, like say DWTS? The line about “The ADG strongly condemns this disrespect of the drama director’s profession” still reeks of snobbery from here…

  15. Kingston December 7, 2012 at 11:03 pm -

    Yes the ADG does give an award in reality, they have a separate category for it so those directors compete against their peers. The director of “Dancing with the Stars” won last year. Then there is a separate category for TV drama directors Nothing snobbish in that, it is recognising the abilities of a director in their chosen format. There is no director listed in TAMR as they have many field producers working in different parts of the world. Understanding of the directors craft is required by AACTA

  16. David Knox December 7, 2012 at 10:26 pm -

    Interesting comments, but as we know shows do not direct themselves and there are plenty of producer / directors around. AACTAs requires two episodes to be submitted for consideration which are then assessed by a jury of peers. So it is other directors who have recognised the work. AACTAs rules were also formed after industry consultation, if I recall correctly.

  17. piccolofilm December 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm -

    As an Australian filmmaker I congratulate the TARA team on their nomination for best reality programme in the AACTA awards.

    However the directing category is for directors, and with all respect, Michael McKay is credited as the Executive Producer not the director. Nowhere is he credited as a director – not in the esteemed onscreen credits, nor any official credit lists – go check on IMDB, wikipedia, in fact there is no credited director – if this is the value the producers put on the role of director then it’s pretty damning praise.

    And regardless of what you think of the result, the ADG awards are apples with apples – judging people who make Reality Television against their peers, not drama directors or TVC directors or documentary directors.

    Michael McKay may well be a brilliant Exec Producer, but spare a thought for those directors who have spent a lifetime building their skills as directors, and who identify themselves as directors.

    And for the record it was the AACTA who first aired this issue in the media. Not the ADG.

  18. Mr. J December 7, 2012 at 4:03 pm -

    i feel very sorry for Michael McKay, he is a great director, did a fantastic job on TARA, doesn’t deserve to have his moment in the spotlight ruined like this. Hopefully he wins. I think it is quite clear that the award is for a director, not “director of drama”. directors of reality are still directors.

  19. Colin December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm -

    “The ADG itself awarded a Best Direction in TV Reality Program/Light Entertainment at its own ADG Awards in April (the trophy went to Dancing with the Stars).”

    Shows you how out of touch they are…DWTS doesn’t come close to The Voice, X Factor, Masterchef or TARA in terms of Directing – what a joke.

  20. msd December 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm -

    This really makes the ADG look petty and snobbish. If they have a problem with AACTA award categories being too broad then they should say that instead of publicly humiliating a director who has done nothing wrong. I hope Michael McKay isn’t an ADG member (although, according to their own rules he certainly qualifies for membership) because that would make their criticism especially nasty.

  21. bh December 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm -

    Hear, hear, David! You’re absolutely right – the award is for “best direction in television”, and direction is, as you point out, about great storytelling.

    There is such a snobbery that exists amongst people who would claim to be the Australian film industry – towards television generally and towards non-drama television specifically.

  22. Benji77 December 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm -

    Too right David – the abitliy to build suspense and drive narative in a genre where there is generally one take takes skill.

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