Saturday, January 16, 2010

The PAC Experience

Next week is the annual PAC (Perth Actors Collective) party where, amongst other things, the best actor, director and writer of 2009's screen workshops is recognised.

I haven't been for a couple of years. Ever since my no-show in 2007 where one of my writing colleagues believed that, due to my AWG membership, I wouldn't attend "award ceremonies" in support of my striking American brethren! He went on to win Best Writer while I picketed at home :-)

But it's made me think about my "PAC experience", somewhat of an institution in the Perth film community. I did some 8 workshops between 2005-2007. Before then I stoically ignored the constant stream of flyers that were mailed to me (mistakenly) thinking the workshops were more for actors and directors.

The catalyst for my change of heart? One of my feature screenplays made the Top 50 of the inaugural Project Greenlight Australia in 2005. If it went any further there was the distinct possibility I would be asked to direct things including, if I won, my script. Having never been to film school or used a video camera before this was a pretty scary proposition. So PAC to the rescue.

In hindsight, it was crazy to think I'd become a director overnight but the experience was beneficial in many other ways. The script - a first draft - was read at PAC Script Lab which was exciting and terrifying but it didn't progress any further in PGLA.

During PAC1 I shot two scenes - my first and only directorial pieces. At that time all the assigned scenes were either existing Hollywood (Witches of Eastwick seemed to be a big favourite) or Australian television scripts. I was given a Blue Heelers scene. It was terrible so I rewrote it, borrowed a friend's camera then muddled through shooting a two-hander. The only thing I remember from the review night was the comment about the low socio-economic location. It was shot at my block of units!

I enjoyed the experience but it reinforced that I am definitely a writer with no great passion to direct. It helped that we had a great PAC1 group - Henry went on to win 2 "Stani's" for overall excellence, I won 2 for writing, James another for writing and is nominated again in '09. As well as a small group of talented actors.

Onto PAC2 and I figured the only way to earn my keep was to write original scenes which I proceeded to do through the next seven workshops. By my last workshop in 2007 all the scenes submitted were original pieces as a talented crop of writer-directors and writers saw the value of honing their own narrative storytelling craft. Sure, there were some misfires but it was a chance to experiment and learn in a predominantly 'safe' environment.

PAC is also an excellent networking opportunity (no doubt helped by the proximity of The Belgian Beer Cafe to the King Street location and then Paddy Maguires when Annie moved to the Subiaco Arts Centre). Apart from friendships made, there are directors and actors I've worked with outside of PAC and who I keep in mind when writing, either for roles or as part of the creative team for funding submissions.

I can't stress this enough. Some people occasionally think it's "only PAC" but people are watching - to see who is talented, who is serious about their craft, how people work in a team or under stress. They also notice the tantrums, the no-shows, whether people are reliable. If you can't commit in the workshop why would someone take a risk on you in a paid gig?

I "resigned" at the end of 2007 because, in my mind, it was time to "graduate". Since then I've been developing feature film projects largely under the Forgeworks banner.

I miss the camaraderie of PAC, the challenge of writing original pieces in a short period of time, and that sense of community I imagine is similar to film school. One of the highlights was the night Charles "Bud" Tingwell spoke to us for about 90 minutes on everything from Richard Burton to The Castle. Fascinating and unfortunately all too brief.

I remain an avid supporter of the PAC Script Labs and who knows, one day I might sign up for a PAC2 workshop and have another swing at a few original pieces ...

Until then, I have checked with the WGA and I'm allowed to attend award ceremonies again, so come up and say hello on Thursday.

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