NOTE: Collaboration can be fun where two or more heads and hearts are better than one. These guidelines will get you thinking about how to be a fair partner as well as get those things that you need to allow your creativity to soar.
1. KNOW "THE CHARACTER"
Get a bio, or resume and referrals -- Ask in a nice way. A friendly background check will help prove s/he’s legit or a fringe wannabe. Lack of experience is NOT a reason to reject someone. There are plenty of very talented people who just need a chance. It is like a marriage where you’ll be spending loads of time with them. Make sure your potential producing partner is “writing savvy.” Even writers collaborating have to see if communication styles are compatible. Seriously, finding out how sensitive they are to criticism or how they like feedback. Some people prefer in your face, others need a bit of hand-holding. There are the memo freaks and those that prefer long walks in the park. It's all good -- just work it out. I am west coast (I like hand-holding and gentle honesty) My writing partner is New Jersey East Coast (and she likes to give it rough, but can't take it) --
two very different styles -- but it can work!
PERHAPS collaborate on a scene or two to verify if there's chemistry and a shared vision, or a vision that is shareable.
2. HOW EQUAL?
Going into any partnership, it’s imperative to establish boundaries. Will the financial contribution be equal? Are costs shared for Xeroxing, postage, registration, space rental, petrol, expenses for travel going to/from meetings, meals and resources? Should expenses be spent by the partner with deep pockets be taken off the top in any sale?
3. OPTIONING LITERARY MATERIAL/LIFE RIGHTS
Often collaboration will spring from an existing work. You may be embarking on an adaptation of a book, true-life story, magazine article or play. Have underlying rights been secured or cleared and/or is there an option agreement in place prior to collaboration? If you are the one controlling the option, make sure that there are appropriate time-frames built in for extensions; so that there is at least a year to adapt, research, and develop an underlying true story, magazine article, short story, play, poem, book, etc. And Make it "legal" -- Write down what you each want / see happening out of this exchange: so you can see where the different POVs lie. Do not run away from conflict - use it, cultivate it, shape it and transform it into creative energy - the form of conflict resolution. Get an attorney or using a boilerplate AWG/WGA collaboration agreement. It will always always come back to bite you if you don't, and it's so easy to do.
Disclose limitations / parameters of available time for work and writing (picking kids up from school, elderly parents, etc. should be acknowledged.) Perhaps give 2-hour notice (or as agreed to), should a predetermined meeting be rescheduled.
5. PROBATION PERIOD
See if it can work before you actually “commit, commit.”
If you are collaborating for the first time on your original idea – give yourself one month to see how the collaboration goes. If it is your original idea that you are sharing with a writing partner, you can have a piece of paper that states, that if it does not work out and you use any of their ideas that you’ll pay them X.
6. THE BAD SIGNS:
o Is your partner chronically late?
o Do you and your partner argue a lot over every little decision?
o Does your partner call in sick often or constantly gripe about a physical malady?
o Does your partner constantly take phone calls and texts?
o How deep does your partner’s passion for this project run?
o Are you attracted to your partner? Just don’t go there – likelihood it will destroy a good thing—your script!
o If you’re already romantic or friendship precedes the partnership, have in place a “safe word” to trigger a needed time out, (My word is “tumbleweed.”)
Reprinted with permission from the author, Devorah Cutler-Rubenstein
After graduating Cal Arts Film School (Peewee Herman & Ed Harris were among her graduating class), Cutler-Rubenstein started her career as assistant to legendary Agent-turned-Producer Jerome M. Zeitman at 20th Century-Fox, where she assisted in the development of numerous projects including her first produced studio feature, the sci-fi thriller, DAMNATION ALLEY.
CHARACTER, AUDIENCE & TRIBE
in the Art of Collaboration
transcription of a talk by Billy Marshall Stoneking
Having a working understanding of the means by which stories convey meaningful (emotional) energy (i.e.: by way of a dramatic grammar) enables the screen storyteller to conceive as well as articulate critical and constructive insights about the characters and their actions, and the degree to which the selection and ordering of these actions works to clarify or obscure the emotional and physical journey that is the story. Conversely, the non-intuitive storyteller, because he or she is not fluent in the grammar, will struggle to become an effective member of the collaborative team.
It is important not to misconstrue what I mean when speaking about the grammar of drama. It involves much more than a vocabulary or a simplistic set of descriptive rules that designate the movements inherent in dramatic action. It is neither academic nor prescriptive; but rather, phenomenological. The grammar isn't so much a way of talking about drama as a way of entering into it, which ultimately requires one to let go of those presuppositions, prejudices and predispositions one has inherited from others and cultivated in the ongoing gathering of knowledge concerning dramatic screen storytelling.
Even so, and even at the best of times, constructive and illuminating criticism concerning story is a rarity. When I first took up my appointment at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in 2001, comment and criticism of this sort was practically non-existent. Script conferences were little more than thinly disguised recitations of each team member’s prejudices and fears. Critical analysis seldom progressed beyond “I don’t like the ending” or “It wouldn’t happen like that in real life”; or “Poor people don’t talk like this”. And that was about as far as it got. It was as if the students didn’t know what they were looking at. As far as story was concerned, they had no way of picking it up, turning it over, hearing it, smelling it, tasting it, shaking it, seeing what it was doing and why it was doing it.
In an attempt to remedy this problem, the screenwriting department introduced what came to be known as “The Drama Report” – a twelve-page document composed of a series of questions concerning the dramatic actions of the characters in the script, and the circumstances affecting those actions. Students who used the report quickly discovered that when a script couldn’t provide answers to such questions as “who is the main character?” or “who or what opposes the main character?” the script was invariably ineffective in conveying a coherent dramatic story with enough emotional energy to compel attention and real interest.
Storytellers that ignore or disrespect the grammatical forms through which character actions find intensity and meaning fail because the storytellers do not understand the language with which, and through which, they are working – a language that communicates by evoking and presenting, then building and releasing emotional energy. When the energies in a story are neither built nor released, the story stagnates, which is another way of saying, it becomes undramatic.
But make no mistake. The mere fact that a script provides answers to all the questions is no guarantee that it will avoid mediocrity. No set of questions or answers, on its own, can ever guarantee the creation of an enduring and powerful story. Despite its obvious usefulness as a diagnostic tool, the Drama Report can never address what is most important to any dramatic story, namely freshness, surprise and credibility, or what some storytellers refer to as “its magic”.
So where and how does one find what is fresh?
A while back, Bill Russo came to me with an idea for a feature film that had been brewing inside him for years. After hearing him out I suggested he started writing it down, in script form, which he did. Then, over a period of 18 months or so, he kept bringing it back for me to read and discuss, draft after draft, during which time we talked a great deal about character and story and the means by which storytellers entered into the dramatic action and conducted the energy that that action created. It was an incredibly stimulating experience, accompanying Bill – a formidable film editor – on a journey of discovery towards the first draft of his first-ever screenplay. What developed was the sort of interaction that ought to be happening around here a lot more than it actually does. As I conducted Bill into the world of screenwriting, he conducted me into the world of editing, and we both began to see ever more clearly how writing and editing are intimately entwined, so much so that one could almost say that writing is editing. Halfway into the process, Bill said: “I wish I’d written a script 20 years ago; it would’ve made me a much better editor.”
What we were both sensitive to and what made the collaboration so useful to both of us was the recognition of what we held in common. And the common understanding centred upon our passion for character and the energies that the characters’ actions were building and releasing in the rhythmic flow of the story.
Experiences like this encouraged me to look at the nature of dramatic storytelling in ways that went far beyond the perspective usually ascribed to writers. Through my association with Bill and others I began to appreciate the full significance of an insight I had had many years earlier. Stories are not simply about the relationships characters have with other characters; they are also about the relationships that the storytellers themselves have with the characters. When storytellers are working at the top of their game – whether they be editors or sound recordists, cinematographers or designers, directors, producers or writers – they are presenting not only the emotions of the characters in the story but also their own emotional relationship with them as it develops and takes form behind, beyond and within the story.
When it comes to dramatic screen storytelling, the final cause of every creative act must be the vivid and effective realisation of emotional (meaningful) energy as built and released by the actions of characters striving to overcome problems that threaten their well-being. But to achieve this end every member of the storytelling team must be ready and able to enter the drama, which means entering into an effective and emotionally illuminating relationship with the characters. And they must be the same characters, the same characters with which all of one’s collaborators are also having a relationship!
In order to enter intimately into the emotional life of one’s characters, one must also cultivate and play out a relationship with one’s audience. The answer to the question “who is it for?” is not “everyone”. It’s not even “the 18- to 25-year-old age group” or whatever other group you have in mind. A percentage or description of a faceless mob is creatively useless from a storytelling perspective. If one is to actually enter the drama, one requires an audience. But who is one’s audience? Quite simply, it is that person to whom the story is addressed, a person with whom you are on intimate terms, like your mother or father, your son or your daughter, or lover or the ex-, or some colleague who maybe saved your life once – some person you imagine is capable of being changed or moved or healed by the experience of the story you are telling; in short, someone who needs it. Effective, character-based storytelling is impossible without this intimate sense of audience – not as a demographic but as an imaginative act.
To become one’s audience is to experience the characters and the story as one imagines one’s audience would. In becoming one’s audience one creates a contrasting perspective from which to view the action. As this happens, one also alters one’s psychical distance to both the characters and the story.
To say that such an audience is unimaginable is to answer the question, ‘who is my audience?’ with the answer, “no one”. If that were truly the case then, guaranteed, no one will be listening! Not to have an audience is as meaningful as making erudite statements to an empty room. Hence, storytellers must have a relationship not only with their characters, but also with their audience. And, indeed, the two relationships continuously impact on one another. In fact, they require one another.
Some time ago, the directing lecturer here at the school, Sophia Turkiewicz, asked me if I might comment on a script she was writing. I warned her that I hardly liked anything I read, especially screenplays, and she explained that that’s why she’d wanted me to read it, because she was sure I’d give her an honest opinion. So I read it, and it was terrible. I can say this because Sophia’s given me permission to talk about it, which, if you understand the way the grammar works, will tell you that this particular story, as far as it goes, has a happy ending.
At our first meeting, which I thought would probably be our last, I asked Sophia to tell me what had compelled her to write such a cheap B-grade melodramatic detective story. She answered by saying that it had started out to be a story about her mother, but because so many project officers and script assessors at the various governmental funding bodies had lamented the lack of drama in it, she had assiduously worked to transform it into its present state, with only a hint of the mother-daughter relationship intact. When I pressed her for details she explained that she and her mother’s relationship had always been difficult, even painful, owing to the fact that when she was a girl, her mother had placed her in an orphanage and gone off with a man. Later, after her mother had married the guy, and he had adopted Sophia, they migrated to Australia where Sophia discovered who her real father was. Angered by the deception, she took herself off to Italy, against her mother’s wishes, to be reunited with her father and a family she had never known. It was a thousand times more interesting and powerful than what she had in her script, and I told her so. Why aren’t you writing this? I asked. And she sat there, shaking her head: “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know…..”
After that, she wrote an entirely new story based upon her mother and their relationship. It wasn’t great, but it was a lot better than what she had, which is what I told her at our second meeting. We spent a long time discussing it, or at least I did, and, by the end, Sophia went away re-invigorated. She also took with her some very vivid impressions about me, including quite a few insights concerning my individual taste and intellectual proclivities, not to mention a variety of very vivid responses I had to the characters, the depth and intensity of their actions, and how these had impacted or not impacted on me emotionally.
Then something very peculiar happened. At some point, maybe four or five weeks after our second meeting, she came back with the official 2nd draft of the new script and asked me if I’d have time to read it. Sure, I said, and put it on my desk. And there it sat, unread, for nearly two months. I didn’t even open it. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it; I was busy, I forgot. Things happen.
So time goes by and eventually Sophia comes to my office door and asks me if I’ve read the script. It was the first time I’d thought about it since she’d given it to me, and I felt a little embarrassed. Sophia, I’m so sorry, I say, some what sheepishly, I’ve been meaning to do it, but…
“No, no, no,” she interrupts, “it’s okay. I was hoping you hadn’t looked at it, cos I’ve realised there’s some parts of it that still aren’t working, and I want to fix those up first.” Saved, I thought.
Then, about three weeks later, she comes back and says, right, this is it! And this time, the 3rd draft sits on my desk for about three months, and when she finally comes to inquire, I start to say: you’re going to kill me… but she says, quickly: “It’s all right. I was having a look at it the other night, and I’m still not happy with it…”
And it goes on like this for a couple more drafts, none of which I ever read. And when the 5th draft arrives I say to her, do you know what’s happening? And she says “Yes”. And I say, what? And she says, “You’re my audience”. And I knew exactly what she meant. What a discovery!
You see, it was important that she gave me each draft, and that I kept each one on my desk where, at any moment, I could’ve easily picked it up and read it. It had to be on my desk, and it had to sit there long enough for her to start wondering, long enough for her to want to go back and pick up her own copy, and read it again; cos when there’s no feedback, when there’s been no validation of your existence, even in the form of negative criticism, you start imagining all sorts of things, like “what if it stinks?” or “what if he thinks it’s awful?” or “maybe the climax at the end of act two isn’t strong enough?” And at some stage you pick it up and look at it, not from your point of view, but from the point of view of your audience, which, in Sophia’s case, was me! And she read it as if she was me, and goes “Oh my God. No way!” Sophia loved it, but Billy – Billy sees right through it. And every time she did that she became her audience and viewed the story she had been finding from an entirely different perspective.
Now this might sound odd, I know, but it’s happened to me – as a writer – enough times to know how it works. And it does work, this way of entering the drama, this alternate vantage point that allows one to become more conscious of what is actually going on in the story by creating a contrasting perspective from which to view the characters and their actions.
Conventional wisdom conceives of character-based stories as structured presentations of emotional energy enacted by characters whose well-being is so seriously threatened by the actions of other characters that they are forced to act in order to re-establish some degree of safety, order or control. In short, the actions of the characters drive the story forward. There is, however, another component to the character-based story that is just as important, and is almost always overlooked. In character-based stories the storytellers, themselves, must transform themselves into characters, not only the characters in the script, but the characters to which the story/script is addressed, namely, its audience.
Sophia’s audience – as personified by me – allowed Sophia, the storyteller, to view herself as more than simply the story’s author. From the vantage point of audience, she also apprehended Sophia-the-storyteller as but another character among characters whose fears, prejudices, values and choices are every bit as significant and germane to the progress of the story as those actions committed by the characters whose lives are described by the script.
When storytellers view what they are doing from the perspective of audience they view it with eyes and ears that are tuned quite differently from the eyes and ears they employed as storytellers. This ability to imaginatively alter one’s psychical distance to character and story through the medium of a character external to the story’s actual narrative is central to the notion of character-based storytelling.
So there are these two primary relationships – two distinct vantage points – from which to view story: the storyteller/character relationship, which provides a vantage point or perspective from inside the story; and the storyteller/audience relationship, which provides a contrasting perspective from which one can more dispassionately apprehend the actions of the characters and the emotional gravity of those actions from outside the story. But there is also a third perspective without which the dialogic that informs story and enables storytellers to enter the drama and creatively and effectively collaborate with one’s colleagues.
Dramatic stories are dialogical by nature. They are dialogical because they are told in a context, to an audience. They are also dialogical in the sense that they are received; they come from somewhere. When I began to think about where a lot of my own stories and other writings had come from, I remembered those years I spent in the desert, sitting around campfires, listening to Pintupi elders like Tjungkarta “Nosepeg” Tjupurrula and Tutama Tjapangarti chanting the stories of the Dreamtime. Caught up in the journeys of the ancestors, the entire world became a living drama. Those trees over weren’t merely trees; they were the digging sticks of the Namputarkatjarra women. And this claypan here, this is where the patjarta man musters all them poor buggers to warn them of the danger of the evil mamu.
Whitefellas called them “dreamtime” stories, but the anarngu at Papunya, Yuendumu and throughout the western desert, call them tjukurrpa – the Pintupi word for the Aranda word altjuringa, which Spencer translated into German, which was later translated from German into the English word, “dreaming”. In fact, tjukurrpa means creation. So that the dreaming times really, more precisely, refer to creation times.
Dreaming stories are narrations, usually in song, of the coming-into-being and transformation of things. They are dramatisations concerning the origins of everything in the natural world – plants and stones, sand dunes and rock holes, mountains, animals, birds, people and their belonging places. For an initiated Aboriginal man or woman, to enter into the essence of a creation myth is to realise where that story (or dreaming) comes from. From a storyteller’s perspective – even a whitefella storyteller – to truly find a story is to intersect a story’s origins with one’s own origins, so that the two connect. This is the basis of origin-ality. To know one’s story is to know from whence it springs.
The third perspective, or relationship, without which one cannot truly enter the drama, and apart from which one’s story will have neither the power nor the impetus to either attract or initiate others into the worlds that the story inhabits has been ignorantly neglected by the screenwriting gurus. There is no commonly used expression or word that one automatically thinks of when thinking about this perspective, so when it comes to thinking up a name for it, a word that might adequately describe this relationship, that is both simple and concise, the word that came to mind –mainly because of my past experiences, and because I was working within an Australian context – was “tribe”.
Tribe, for lack of a better word, refers to the relationship that exists between the storyteller and whoever it is that is speaking through the storyteller. Who is it that is speaking through me? Or, more precisely, who am I speaking for? Who is my tribe?
To know that we are all, each of us, carriers of the wisdom of our tribe or tribes, is to become participants in a tradition that reaches out of one’s past and propels one into the “not yet”. It is to understand storytelling as a karmic dance – to realise that the story causes us as much as we cause the story. We are causes and effects of one another, and both the storyteller and the story have grown out of something much larger and deeper and more profound than is containable in mere words on a page. It is to realise that we have a responsibility, a moral and spiritual obligation, to give a voice to the voiceless, a body to the bodiless; to build courage where courage is needed, to bring light to the edge of darkness; to be and to become by virtue of our belonging, by virtue of our dedication to something greater than ourselves.
The notion of tribe is ontological. To be is to be part of a tribe. Hence, it is neither fad nor fancy, neither “front” nor fashion. Our stories, in the context of tribe, take on an entirely different meaning, and, as was the case with audience, when we view them tribally we view them and hear them with entirely different eyes and ears.
(Above) Caesar's writers, comprising the legendary "Writers' Room", included some of the best comedic minds of the 1950s - pioneers of television comedy. Veterans of the Writers' Room included Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil and Danny Simon, Aaron Ruben, Gary Belkin, Woody Allan and Sheldon Keller. (New York City - circa 1953)
From the vantage point of tribe, our stories are gifts we receive from the ancestors and give back to the ancestors as works of love for those who gave us birth, and nurtured us; who educated and wounded us, who provided obstacles and frustrations and opportunities that enabled us to build character, to grow, to care, to create some kind of identity in the world. From the perspective of tribe, our stories are myths that challenge us to live and create more courageously, to take more humbly that which is given, and to give more generously that which can never belong to us until we give it away.
The entire idea of tribe – as it relates to what goes on in the school – was brought home to me one day last year during a storytelling workshop with the first year students. John Lonie  and I had screened the short film, Splintered, and Bill Russo had presented a thoroughly engrossing demonstration of the way in which the film’s editor had laid bare the guilt and anger between the two principal characters, two teenage mates whose lives diverge one night when a break-in goes wrong and the younger Gavin runs away, leaving his best mate, Kane, to be beaten and sentenced to a detention center.
As I looked at the boys on the screen I was reminded of the script development process where both the writer and the director were seeking to find their own, individual stories in the story that was slowly beginning to emerge. During one of the early script conferences, both Ian and Peter admitted they had indulged in the same kind of criminal behaviour that was becoming ever more apparent in the actions of the characters in the script. Indeed, Ian – the writer – had had a friend that had been caught and incarcerated for a crime Ian was also involved in, but because Ian was a few weeks younger than his mate, he managed to avoid imprisonment, and this had made him feel extremely guilty. It hadn’t occurred to me then, but, looking at the film again, the full significance of what was confessed that day came flooding in. It was a tribal story! It was being told – or rather found – by two members of the same tribe – two young men who shared a profound tribal connection by virtue of their past involvement in juvenile crime. It wasn’t a matter of each one twisting the story to fit his own needs and prejudices; it was a question of realising that they were telling a tribal story that was common to both of them.
Like Capote had said in the movie - or the actor had said (I don’t know if Capote said it) - about Perry and himself: “he went out the back door and I went out the front”. It was Capote’s way of acknowledging that he and Perry were of the same tribe. And it was the same for the writer and director of Splintered – their characters had gone out the back door, and Ian and Peter – successful screen storytellers – had gone out the front. But each was connected to the other, tribally. And it was the tribal connection that made the potency.
Such stories come from places and associations much larger than the film makers’ individual ambitions and ego-centric identities. Others are involved, others who did not have the platform of film through which to tell their story. Those boys – whom they both had once been – were speaking through them, tribally, and Ian and Peter’s art and skill lay first of all in hearing what those boys were saying.
“It’s a tribal film,” I said to John Lonie, then to the entire class. “It’s tribal! This film works because it knows what it is, and the people through whom it came into being, who birthed it in their way, know what it is, because they lived it and went on living it in the process of finding it and turning it into a story. It is connected to them tribally.” It just came out. And Lonie looked at me, and I looked at him, and we just went BANG. My God! That’s it!
Later, thinking about the handful of marvelous films that the school has produced in the past thirty-odd years, the few that people actually remember, it came as no surprise to me to realise that films like Inja and Birthday Boy – were tribal films. They are the ones that endure.
So what is your tribe? The answer to that question may very well be the work of a lifetime, but you can start answering right now if you take the time to look and to listen and to feel. A writer’s tribe is/are those people, or that culture, association, or community that the writer identifies with by virtue of a substantial emotional connectedness. Army buddies are tribe; South Melbourne (or Sydney Swan) football supporters are tribe; non-practising Catholics and reformed alcoholics are tribe; Air Force brats are tribe; single-mums are tribe; carers are tribe.
The storyteller/tribe relationship acknowledges the fact that in order to find and effectively enter into the lives and drama of the characters, the storyteller must connect with the story through a context that is larger and more encompassing than the storyteller’s (or the audience’s) individual ego and its drive to express itself. One could say that the storyteller/tribe relationship is the super-ego of the creative process. It is the conscience that lies embedded in every part of the story, the “gristly roots of ideas that are in action”.
Some might want to construe tribe as a divisive force, insofar as it susceptible to fascistic manipulation. Every idea, no matter how noble, can be turned towards its negation as proof of it completeness. However, tribe as I understand it is not about dividing or separating people; it is about bringing them together; and, indeed, the tribal vantage point is the lynchpin of character-based storytelling and the art of collaboration. It’s about identity and belonging and recognising and being true to one’s origins. It has nothing to do with limitation or exclusivity and elitism, though it can surely be brutalised to serve the small-minded purposes of the bastard muses.
Most of the stories that fail at AFTRS – and most of them, as dramatic stories, do – do so because they are being told by storytellers who do not have a tribal affinity with either the characters or the world of the story they are trying to find. It is delusional to believe that one can tell a meaningful dramatic story that one isn’t tribally connected to. This does not, however, mean that one can never be connected to it. If one becomes so obsessed with the characters or situation in which they find themselves, that one cannot help oneself, that one must tell the story regardless, then one can also find ways of being initiated into the tribe whose story one wants to tell. If you aren’t tribally connected to a story, a process of initiation might enable you to become so intimately connected to the world that is the characters’ world that one lives in at as the characters do themselves. It’s what used to be called research, which is about connecting with something ever more deeply. A meditation in which one eventually merges with the subject.
So we tried this thing that I decided to call a Tribal Workshop, and over three days I sat in a room with all of our first-year directors, writers and producers, and listened and watched as they told stories about themselves through the medium of dramatic scenes that each of the participants had individually selected and brought to class.
Here’s how it worked. The group was divided into pairs. No two directors, writers or producers were paired together. If I was a director, I would be paired with either a producer or a writer. So let’s say my partner is a producer. What I have to do is pick a scene that I feel, from my perception of this producer, represents his or her tribal identity. And the producer does the same for me, choosing a scene they imagine represents my tribal identity. Then I pick a scene I believe represents my own tribal identity; and they pick one that represents theirs. So between us we’ve selected four scenes. When the big group comes together, our scenes are selected to be screened first so I screen the scene I chose for the producer and talk about why I chose it; and then the producer replies to what I have said and the group asks both of us questions if it feels like it. Then I screen the scene I chose for myself and talk about that, and the group asks me questions. And then the producer screen his scene that represents me, and after discussion screens the scene about himself, followed by more discussion. And it goes on like until every scene has been screened and discussed.
The thing that amazes everyone, because they hardly knew each other at this stage of the year, was how insightful it all was. It was so overwhelming that hardly an hour went by that people weren’t in tears. Not because they were frightened or nervous, but simply because someone had actually seen them.
Well, the dramatic scenes that grew out of tribal workshop represent some of the most astonishing work that has been done here. Each sequence of scenes, in its own way, is an example of an attempt to tell stories that rarely get told in this place. Told, not for show or to impress or because they’d look good on a show reel, but because the stories themselves represented aspects of the identity of the people who were caught up in the act of finding them. Even when a story didn’t quite fit the tribal identity of every collaborator, the ones who were tribally connected took responsibility for initiating the others into that world.
So I leave you to consider these three primary relationships and their efficacy in the creation of effective collaborations and the making of compelling dramatic stories. These three perspectives from which storytellers might view their characters and enter ever more deeply into their dramas will always inform the very best character-based stories. These three primary perspectives that form the basis of a "mediumistic" approach to storytelling allow the storytellers working collaboratively with each other to conduct the story’s energy from inside the emotional life of the character's, not at arm’s length, but from the inside, in the dynamic and intimate interpaly of needs, fears and actions.
We speak for those who cannot speak. We have a duty to tell the stories for those who do not have the advantages that we have to tell stories. We must not speak falsely. The stories that we are entrusted to tell are stories of our tribes, or the tribes into which we have been initiated.
(LEFT) Gayby baby, Maya Newell, with her two mothers, Liz and Donna.
But just how much can someone belong to tribe that they aren’t born into? Several years ago I wrote a collection of poems called Singing the Snake. That chronicled my fours years living at Papunya Aboriginal Settlement in Central Australia. A number of publishers read the manuscript in the years after I returned to Sydney, and for a variety of reasons decided not to publish it. One even proclaimed that it was “racist”. The company that eventually committed to it had already passed on twice, but their reader, Les Murray, had encouraged me to try again, and shortly after, it was accepted and became the fastest selling book of modern Australian poetry ever printed by Angus & Robertson.
Several years prior to the book coming out, I was visiting Sydney with three Aboriginal elders from Papunya. Mick Namarari, Tutama Tjapangarti and Nosepeg Tjupurrula, found themselves accompanying me to a poetry reading at the Café L’Absurd in Balmain. I was one of the invited guests, and they had never been to poetry reading before. As I finished my set, or just close to finishing it, Old Mick got up, frowning, and sauntered out the back door. I was quietly horrified. Oh my God, I thought, maybe it’s true. Maybe these poems are offensive. When I finished, I went back to the table and sat down. No one said a thing. On the pretext of going to the toilet I went looking for Mick and found him returning from outside, down the long narrow corridor at the back of the café. I suddenly realised he was coming back from the toilet. As he came up to me he slowly reached out and took hold of my sleeve with his thumb and forefinger, stopping me, and very gently pulling me close so that he could whisper in my ear. “When you were talking,” he said, “I was happy”.
It was the best and most generous criticism my poetry ever received, and was also as I have come to learn, acknowledgement of the fact that, at least as far as Mick was concerned, I had been initiated into the tribe.
 Film and television editor (credits include Blue Murder, Young Lions, Two Friends, Crocodile Dreaming, etc) and head of editing at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.
 See Bullough, Edward. “'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle” from British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 5 (1912), pp. 87-117 or at http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/361_r9.html
 Sophia's television credits include adult and children's drama (Something in the Air, Mirror Mirror, Escape of the Artful Dodger, The Wayne Manifesto), telemovies (Time's Raging, I've Come About the Suicide) as well as the feature film Silver City, which was screened internationally and was the recipient of 3 AFI Awards.
 John Lonie is a novelist and screenwriter. Currently, Head of Screenwriting at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney.
 Award-winning short film (9 mins), produced by AFTRS students in their first year, directed by peter Templeman, written by Ian Irvine, produced by Stuart Parkyn.
 The German anthropologist, Leo Frobenius used the term paideuma for the tangle or complex of the enrooted ideas of any culture and period. The American poet, Ezra Pound, employed the word to denote “the gristly roots of ideas that are in action."
 Sentimentality, Pornography, Propaganda, and Violence
 Well-known and critically acclaimed Australian poet and essayist, author of more than thirty books of verse and prose.
 Born c. 1926 at Marnpi in the sand-hill country south-west of Mt. Rennie, Mick is a one of the major artists of the Papunya/Tula school of dot painters.
 Born in the early 1920s in the area north of the Petermann Ranges, Tutama’s pencil drawings provide “visual poems” in Singing the Snake (Angus & Robertson, 1990).
 Painter, actor, storyteller, guide, translator and full-time raconteur, Nosepeg was the first tribal Aboriginal man Elizabeth the Second ever met. On meeting her in Toowoomba in the early 1950s and being introduced to the Queen of England, he replied, “Really! I’m Nosepeg; King of the Pintupi.” The Queen’s response is not recorded.
Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes talks about giving script notes and the importance of every one "being on the same page:
I am often shocked by people’s rigid inaccessibility and their failure to listen to reasons, their disregard of facts, their defensive attitude and the indifference by which they prohibit discussion. Even when assent occurs I am often unsatisfied, because it was not based on true insight but on yielding to persuasion; because it was the consequence of friendly cooperation, and not a meeting of two souls… Not merely an exchange of words, nor friendliness and sociability, but only the constant urge towards total revelation reaches the path of communication… Then I realised that I myself share part of the blame for this insufficiency. The fault does lie only with others. I, too, am human like them. The same sources of inhibition of communication exist in me as in them.
- Karl Jaspers
What we seek as collaborators in "the dream" is an unprecedented form of communication - a creative and transformative dialogue that will enable us to effectively interact with one another and to achieve a shareability of emotional experience that enables us to fulfil our roles as custodians of ‘the story’.
Such communication is only possible when we penetrate the elaborate maze of self-imposed defenses and deceptions we employ to avoid exposure or to shield ourselves from scrutiny or possible criticism. When we resort to such defenses, we are likely to frustrate any possibility of making authentic contact with ourselves or our collaborators (including the characters) at the core of our being.
To engage in Creative Dialogue is (1) to lower the barriers that obstruct healthy and creative relationships, and (2) to provide an antidote to the destructive consequences of living in a monological world—a world in which people talk without listening, not even to themselves.
Creative Dialogue begins as an experiment in "radical honesty" - or what James K Baxter referred to as "rigorous emotional honesty", where participants relate to one another on the basis of their mutual awareness of and willingness to share their "hidden agendas", i.e.: those underlying assumptions and motives, feelings and projections, defensive strategies and manoeuvrings, that allow fear to control the agenda of any possible creative enterprise.
How does one start to deal with this fear? Where does one begin?
START WITH YOURSELF - with your physical being - it is helpful to attend to the rhythm of your breathing, by way of slowing yourself down a little. Use silence creatively - allow the PAUSE to enter your script. Dialogue is not all talk. Speech and silence blend dialectically (and dramatically) to allow participants to become centered and present as they engage and interact with one another. One must MAKE ROOM for listening. One of the Aboriginal expressions for "ignorance" is pina wiya - literally, "no ears".
Creative Dialogue moves in the "opposite direction" of conventional discourse.
In the midst of Creative Dialogue, instead of moving forwards, authoritatively advancing one’s position and presenting one’s ideas, you move in a more circuitous, reflexive way, by going backward into yourself. That is, you relate to others through a bodily felt sense of your own process of relating as it is occurring at that moment. In this way, you are not merely presenting an abstract content, a collection of finished thoughts and fixed ideas; you are disclosing—to yourself and others—the thinking and feeling and sensing process that lies behind what you are trying to express. And I do the same for you authentic communication becomes possible. This allows you and me – us – to "see behind the scenes," to hear the subtext of our discourse, to make transparent underlying motives and hidden agendas that are normally invisible in the defensive posturing of habitual interaction.
Crucial to this process is our ability to suspend or slow down your thinking, so that you can be receptive to yourself and others; to listen deeply, and mirror back to one another "a view of some of the assumptions and unspoken implications of what is being expressed along with that which is being avoided" (Bohm et al., 2002).
Each participant should have an opportunity to examine the preconceptions, prejudices, and the characteristic patterns that lie behind his or her thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and feelings, along with the roles he or she tends habitually to play. By tapping into the dynamic—sometimes formless and chaotic—substrate that lies beneath the fixed positions we customarily hold, the Dialogue becomes a process of creative participation between peers, a free-flowing exploration in which we can play together in the otherwise unconscious, unknown territory of the social psyche or "interactive field," as Jung has called it.
Rather than obtaining ready rewards, gaining fast closure on specific goals, and receiving food for our egos, Creative Dialogue encourages and inspires a willingness to be aware and responsive to the ever-changing, open-ended field of process and flux where the questions far outnumber the answers.
Naturally, this can prove frustrating at times, for even with a clear introduction to the process, it would be very optimistic to assume that Creative Dialogue will flow or move toward any great depth during a first meeting. When a group begins to talk together it will often experience confusion, frustration, and a self-conscious concern as to whether or not it is actually engaging in Dialogue. It is important, therefore, to remember the old Chinese saying: “Perseverance furthers”, and to use the energy of the anxiety dramatically so as to be able to transcend it.