Stuart Cunningham. 'Negotiating the Difference: The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing'. In T. O'Regan & B. Shoesmith eds. History on/and/in Film. Perth: History & Film Association of Australia, 1987. 81-9.


Stuart Cunningham

One of the most repeated criticisms of the stylistic and entertainment value of Australian features, voiced both within the industry and by newspaper critics, was their lack of quality scripting. Perhaps the most successful scriptwriter of the thirties, Cinesound's Frank Harvey, nevertheless took some time under the protective umbrella of continuous production at Cinesound to develop satisfactorily away from the theatrical model of his earlier work and training.[1] The extent to which script work perforce was done by Ken Hall at Cinesound[2] and the Chauvels' extensive resort to scripting their own projects is also indicative of the lack of competent specialists in the field in Australia. As late as 1944, Hall commented that the "biggest problem" in Australian film production was procuring good writers.[3] While the level of technical expertise - in cinematography, sound systems and recording, special effects and set design - could be considered, under optimum conditions, comparable with international standards, and while attempts were made to nurture talent in various acting schools and talent quests in the twenties and thirties,[4] script production remained an endemic problem.

It is in this context that "The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing" takes on a significance as the only concerted, publicly-subscribed, attempt to develop indigenous scriptwriting along the lines of the development of indigenous acting talent. It is not that the School had marked effects in the industry; on the contrary its brief life was unremarkable. In this, it resembled Cinesound's talent school, which may have been run as much for its publicity value as for its actual production of acting talent.[5] Nevertheless, the School, its correspondence courses written by Chauvel, and its strategic publicity value and how this was used by Chauvel, give insights into his placement and priorities within the industry.

The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing ran from 1933 to about 1936.[6] A financial statement winding up the School's transactions indicates its termination well before 1938.[7] Although it was a correspondence school with Chauvel as its "Principal" and course writer, it was managed by Ruth Ann Curtis, later Ruth Emerson Curtis, an American with experience in script editing, assistant direction and as a producer in Hollywood at both Metro and Universal.[8] It was wound up when Curtis was unable to continue and the Chauvels were unable to devote the extra time needed in her absence.[9] Its chief success lay in one of its students winning a Commonwealth prize for film scripting in 1935.[10]

It is clear that a major buttress for the formation of the"classical Hollywood style" and its achieved dominance in international markets from World War One to the late twenties was the rapid development of its scripting practices, contributing as it did to public perception of Hollywood's "superior" and normative production values. David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger in their definitive study of the historical formation and dominance of this style,[11] have shown how the development of scripting practices formed a major part of the parallel formation of the classical "mode of film practice", a stable, interdependent ensemble of stylistic norms, and the "mode of film production", a rationalised division of labour allocating separate though closely interdependent functions from acquisition to post-production and publicity.

The development of script format underwent three marked changes during the 1910s, contributing to and part of the relatively rapid changes in the division of labour in Hollywood studios during that time. The shift from the "cameraman" system (up to 1907) to the "director" system (1907-1909) entailed a division between, on the one hand, the selection of story material and the construction of plots, and, on the other, this material's reconstruction for filming. The former became the province of sub-contracted freelance writers or writers specifically hired by the studios. The latter was typically performed by the director.[12] The "director-unit" system (1904-14) saw the development, for reasons of production efficiency and standards of quality, of the "scenario script", the standard format of which was the title, followed by its generic designation ("a drama", "a comedy"), the cast of characters, a two-hundred-word-or-less "synopsis" of the story, and then the "scenario", a scene-by-scene account of the action including intertitles and inserts.[13] A corollary of the central producer system (1914-1930s) was, finally, the detailed continuity or shooting script, which permitted the producer, now a position distinct from that of studio staff directors, to plan and budget the entire film shot-by-shot before any form of material production began.[14] Such continuity scripting was normal practice in the Hollywood studios by 1914, and a proliferation of screenwriting or photoplay manuals, typically written by screenwriters themselves, assisted in the standardisation and dissemination of the format.[15] However, variations were tolerated. Frank Borzage used a "continuity synopsis", a running account of the plot, undivided into shots. D.W. Griffith used a general outline script well into the multiple-reel era (after 1914). Cecil and William de Mille shot in story order. These variations can be partly accounted for by these directors having greater than usual power to determine production practices.[16]

The introduction of sound brought forth a restandardisation of the continuity script which incorporated elements of theatrical scripting into the pre-sound format.[17] The "producer-unit" system (1930s-1950), the most complex system of management control and division of labour in the studio system, saw an extension and further sub-division of the procedures for generating script material. Studios monitored publishing world wide, editorial departments grew substantially, and bidding for rights to pre-published material grew more intense.[18]

There was international recognition that Hollywood's script generation and production practices based on it constituted a formidable basis for its dominance in world markets. In 1918, Charles Pathe, referring to "la crise du scenario", urged French film-makers to write scenarios that left nothing to improvisation, in other words, to adapt quickly to the industrial ramifications of continuity scripting.[19] It was clear that Chauvel, from an early date, was well aware of the need to develop adequate scripting potential in Australia. During his second period in Hollywood, he wrote a "Hollywood" column for Everyones in which he reported on filmmaking trends and their implications for Australian cinema. In one of these, he emphasised that:

(T)he screen story is the beginning and the end of picture making, and with this in view, and realising the material that we have in Australia, I am devoting the bulk of my time here to the study of scenario construction.[20]

By "material", Chauvel clearly refers to his consistent stance that Australian filmmaking should be built around the presumed international attractiveness of the bush and indicates that, with only "themes instead of vital screen vehicles, and without any equipment", his silent films could have been nothing more than "scratches upon the surface of a very rich cake" of Australian story material.[21]

This argument is repeated some years later in the rationale for the establishment of the School. Newspaper critics are quoted to indicate the urgent need for trained scenario writers. One such quotation might well have been voiced of Chauvel's films themselves:

It must be stated that a higher standard in scenarios is urgently necessary. Wonderful photography will carry one or two films to financial success; but to build on this alone would be fatal. (Quoted in School:3)

However, it is not only for Australian conditions that clients are invited to write; the market for scenarios is proferred as including America and England - 760 features and 1500 "shorts" in total for 1934.(School:3) And the School's publicity correctly, if ambitiously, argues that producers in all three territories "are always on the search for new plot material, and have the utmost difficulty in securing even a fraction of their needs."(School:5) Not only this, but the results of the NSW Film Inquiry of 1934 are quoted as guaranteeing the "dawn of a new Australian profession": script writing for a burgeoning film industry.(School:7)

The School's manual of correspondence lessons are an extended example of certain of the structural tensions subtending Chauvel's career and place within the industry. These lessons, written by Chauvel, contain inter alia much that may be construed as rationalisation of his own filmmaking project even as they purport to introduce the internationally recognised and standardised "rules" of narrative feature script writing. They also indicate that, despite the promotional ideal that the aspiring Australian writer may write for Australian, English or American producers (Lesson 2:1), the production constraints of Australian filmmaking still inform much of what is transmitted as filmmaking in general. Further, with reference to Chauvel's singular filmmaking project, they show the extent of his grasp of classical Hollywood practice even as the films on which he was engaged at the time demonstrate his greatest departures and licenses taken with such classicism.

Drawing on his consistent self-promotion as an Australian filmmaker with Hollywood "experience", Chauvel firstly invites clients into the "holy of holies" - the talkie studio - in order to teach essential filmmaking terminology and operations in the first lesson entitled "The Technique of Motion Pictures". This lesson consists in part of an intriguing mixture of historically current notations - on distance denominations, hand-held camerawork, the use of the "Alkeley shot" to film rapidly moving subjects, a term and a usage only standardised in Hollywood feature production in the mid to late 1920s,[22] sound synchronisation and mat shots - and archaic techniques. Chauvel likens filmic diegetic space to that of theatre. The set is "nothing more or less than a theatre stage" (Lesson 1:4), the face out at the end of a scene plays the part of a stage curtain (Lesson 1:6). Hollywood editing practices up to the mid 1910s are echoed in the notation that "each sequence of a scenario is generally opened with a FADE IN and closed with a FADE OUT." (Lesson 1:5) Further archaisms are invoked with discussion of the "iris view", mechanical cranking required for "reverse action" shots, and intertitling appropriate to silent film. This hybrid list of state-of-the-art and archaic technique begins to resemble the idiosyncratic ensemble of technique found in In The Wake of the Bounty; certainly it speaks fulsomely of the difficult and extended transition from silent to sound film practices in Australia.[23]

A further element of Chauvel's initiation of his clients into filmmaking practice that binds it strongly to the Australian situation, despite its promotional claims to international applicability, is the discussion of special effects. One of the central guiding principles of the entire course is the necessity to write scenarios that are financially realistic. At many other times, Chauvel was, characteristically enough, to limn the severe budgetary limitations endemic to Australian filmmaking as a virtue: films made so "cheaply" could appear attractive at times of crisis.

At this point, however, budgetary considerations reduce the potential role of special effects to little more than ingenious cost-cutting measures. Indeed, the whole section in the first lesson on "Studio Production Technique" is given over to a discussion of special effects which will enable the scenario writer to distinguish between "what is easily possible for the movie genii to secure and what is difficult and expensive." (Lesson 1:13) Budgetary constraints are re-emphasised at the conclusion of the first lesson, but, again, characteristically turned to produce a homiletic good:

Remember not to overtax the studio to which you intend forwarding your finished scenario. I will impress upon you that "all art tends toward simplicity of execution and subtlety of thought." It is the truly great artist or writer who presents his story, whether in oils or in ink - directly - vividly and simply and if all this can be achieved without great cost, then your story will be welcome indeed. (Lesson 1:18)

The displacement that occurs consistently in Chauvel's writings and pronouncements throughout his career, from the ultimately industrial necessity of the construction of good feature narratives to the position of Australia being "full" of dramatic possibilities, occurs in the second lesson, "Choosing a Theme". The province of "The Australian Screen Story" received considerably more space than writing for the English or American market. These "other" markets, treated in two perfunctory paragraphs, are effectively "written off" for Chauvel's aspiring scenarists. The English market offers scope for more sophisticated comedy and strong dramatic treatments of English history, but is, overall, not an attractive market for the Australian writer as "he is so unacquainted with England and its people."(Lesson 2:9) One may surmise that the central requirement for writing scenarios, in the absence of industrial working conditions conducive to the production of uniform and regular output, is "life-knowledge" of one's immediate environment. In his advice regarding the American market, Chauvel repeats his own practice of closely monitoring the priorities of the Hollywood studios and then arriving at "something different", though of international interest. The fact that no scenario written by an Australian is known to have been produced in English or American studios underlines the basically promotional motive in these aspects of the Scenario School's advice even as they equally underline Chauvel's planned positioning of himself within international markets.

Chauvel's script for himself is further evidenced in the prescriptions for Australian screen stories. In the context of the NSW Film Inquiry, a matter, as I have mentioned, explicitly noted in the School's promotional material, Chauvel counsels against writing potential "quota quickies", a market surely the appropriate province of a tyro screenwriter. Rather, a shift is made from neophyte writer to rising Australian producer:

Forgetting the maker of "quickies" you must realise that the real future for the Australian producer lies in the possibility of developing an overseas market.(Lesson 2:2)

Chauvel also speaks from his own singular stance within the industry in counselling against whole genres of Australian film production. The reasons, for him, were eminently logical:

I would strongly advise the writer of Australian screen stories to avoid writing society dramas or any story with a very sophisticated theme as the background. Such a drama is not new but hackneyed. Also, by encouraging the young Australian producer to film such a story, you are forcing him at an early stage to compete with the most highly financed studios of the world, whose lavish settings cost many thousands of pounds. (Lesson 2:3)

Not only should society drama be excluded, but "burlesque comedy" such as the record-breaking On Our Selection should be surpasssed: "already Australians are clamouring for something different." In recommending comedy as both easy to sell, cheaper to make (as they typically belong in the support feature or "two reel" class) and as being that genre inadequately handled in most Australian filmmaking, Chauvel offers his most extended American models as examplars: Lloyd, Chaplin, Slim Somerville and Zazu Pitts, Clark and McCulloch, Laurel and Hardy. (Lesson 2:4-5,"Comedy") However, his general criticisms of Australian film comedy would seem to extend to both Cinesound's and Efftee's work in the genre: "If you have seen the comedies of Pat Hanna, George Wallace or Cecil Kellaway, keep their characteristics in mind and try and write `something new' for them." (Lesson 2:4) Only "Sunshine Susie" (presumably Sunshine Sally, a 1922 Lawson Harris/Yvonne Pavis film), of Australian films, is singled out as an "attractive" commercial property as a comedy.

Setting more or less to one side these possibilities, Chauvel articulates in at times visionary terms his version of the Australian screen story: these blueprints resemble nothing so much as his own, present and future, filmmaking. Scenario possibilities arise out of an immersion in the "romance and adventure" simply latent in the Australian landscape and people:

Do you know Australia? If you do not know it particularly well, may I tell you that we have great backgrounds of such unparalleled grandeur and beauty and strangeness that no other country can now offer the screen such possibilities. (Lesson 2:3)

Simply putting this "locationism" on screen will guarantee a favourable reaction engendered by "the patriotism of Australians for their own soil." There follows a catalogue which "would seem everlasting" of topography, race, occupation and history couched in visionary terms: "I have seen a thousand head of droving cattle pass through a red rock gorge chock full of tropic palms ... " (Lesson 2:6) This is undoubtedly the "something different" on which Chauvel bases his notion of international appeal. How such "locationism" might affect the stringency of budgetary considerations introduced repeatedly in the School's lessons is never mentioned, but, of course, was to be a constant structuring principle of Chauvel's industrial position.

Chauvel clearly accords priority to this notion of "background" or "atmosphere", or what I have called "locationism", in the construction of film narratives. Correct implantation of "atmosphere" secures "unity of mood", that vaguely defined but definitive "difference" he expected from Australian features. He quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson and emphasises his priority:

There are, so far as I know, three ways, and three ways only of writing a story. You may take a plot and fit characters to it; or, you may take a character and choose incidents and situations to develop it; or lastly ... You may take a certain atmosphere and get actions and persons to realise and express it. (Quoted in Lesson 7:2-3. Original emphasis)

This prioritisation remained consistent throughout Chauvel's career even if the means of motivating the display of the "difference" of Australian "background" (namely, narrative structure and character) varied significantly. To take an example of this consistency as far removed chronologically from the time of writing the Scenario School's lessons as possible: in the press book for Jedda (1955), Chauvel speaks of the gestation of the film as a process of developing a story to "match the magnificent backgrounds", and then of needing to find people, who, acting themselves, would "portray the story properly."[24]

Clearly as well, this prioritisation introduces a means of establishing an atypicality in relation to Hollywood classicism, to which we can now turn in considering "plot construction", the title of the third lesson. In detailing his notions of plot construction, characterisation, the Aristotelian unities of time, space and action, realism, dialogue, and music, Chauvel differs little, although in significant ways when such difference is considered in the light of his films, from classical Hollywood conventions. A greater role is allowed for impersonal causation than would be accorded it in Hollywood: "Perhaps fate alone will step in the way of your hero and heroine ... " (Lesson 3:2) A film, Trail of '98, is applauded in the following terms: "In this great screen play both fate and the human villain entered against the hero in a picture which depicted an epic struggle." (Lesson 3:4) Impersonal causation, erected as a principle of narrative structure, would engender distinct departures from the classical narrative model.[25] More normally, Hollywood films subordinate impersonal to psychological causality. Chauvel certainly attempts to follow this dictum in his films, but with varying degrees of success. Clearly, however, the (narrative) space reserved for the impersonal is a consistent principle: that of advancing "that great country" as "the star" of the films.[26]

Second, Chauvel stresses externalisation and action over psychological motivation:

If the struggle in your theme is a mental one it needs most careful treatment and sufficient action must be planned to cover the story... Above all, make your plot real and so force your story out into everyday life and remember that you are the entertainer leading your audience into realms of romance, where intense drama and thrilling suspense will eventually carry them to a gripping climax. (Lesson 3:4)

This is consistent with an approach to story-telling that places characterisation within a larger realm of epic action and adventure against "foregrounded backgrounds" and is certainly borne out in his early films. However, it minimises the crucial armature of the classical story - character-centred, psychological causation.

Third, there is an insistence on epic form that correlates well with Chauvel's own project but deviates from the School's notion of imparting the structural principles of mainstream filmmaking within explicit budgetary constraints. Epic form comprehends Chauvel's "locationism", a notion of characterisation indicative of larger social typage, together with a preference for "statement" titles such as Intolerance, Cavalcade, Change. It also emerges at a curious moment when sequences in Griffith's Intolerance are invoked as "the most masterly" scenes of suspense "I remember on the screen."(Lesson 3:11) Such citation of the sequences themselves may be appropriate, but the film as a whole is an "epic-essay" straining the classicism of a regulated and uniform diegesis considerably. It is useful to remind oneself that these lessons were being written as Heritage, a similar epic-essay, was being produced.

Fourth, the question of the relation between characterisation and plot resolution. Although at various points Chauvel counsels against resorting to archaic and "unnatural" melodramatic character typage (e.g. Lesson 3:8), he approves of melodramatic topoi such as revelations of character identity changes, which he glosses, in terms of the regulation of audience interest, as keeping the audience in suspense, "not giving an inch away until it (the script) has to."(Lesson 3:10) If at all possible plot resolution must be original and there is "seldom anything better than a surprise ending."(Lesson 3:14) However, his models here are short story writers, especially Edgar Allen Poe, models appropriate to genres such as the thriller or detective story which are not considered at all in the School's lessons. What Chauvel is counselling is considered "especially dangerous" by Hollywood rule-books: "The later in a film a coincidence occurs, the weaker it is; and it is very unlikely that the story will be resolved by coincidence."[27] Such coincidence, when it occurs, is typically motivated by generic conventions of melodrama or comedy. Chauvel wants to stitch together a version of suspense appropriate to the thriller, the "hackneyed" but assured audience-effects engendered by melodrama, and the epic sweep of "outdoor drama". As so often in the lessons, what is being formulated is nothing so much as his own work. This ensemble of generic elements describes Uncivilised perfectly; the "sad" or "heavy" ending, such as that of In the Wake of the Bounty, acknowledged as "indeed dangerous" and "not generally popular", is nevertheless justified in terms of "documentary" veracity.(Lesson 3:11-12, 15) Here is another generic element to be deployed in motivating deviation from classical practice.

All these articulations of "difference", however, should be seen in the light of a more general alignment with the fundamental of Hollywood script writing practices. Goal-oriented characters constructed out of a limited and coherent ensemble of externalised motivations (Lesson 3:1-2); a limited number of charaacters interacting efficiently within a simple plot - "counter-plot" narrative structure (Lesson 3:7); a hierarchy of characters ensuring "identification" with the hero or, "as we sometimes call him in cinema language", the "viewpoint character" (Lesson 3:12); the maintenance of the trinity of unities of time, place and action (Lesson 3:4); the attribution of the notions of "realism" of "plausibility" to these constructions of character and narrative continuity, thus discriminating "modern" filmmaking from "old fashioned" melodrama (Lesson 3:7-8, Lesson 4:3); the sub-Pavlovian understanding of "leading" audiences to the right response and knowing and fulfilling their expectations (Lesson 4:6-8) - all this accords well with the accepted conventions of Hollywood script writing. There is evidence that Chauvel read Hollywood screen writing manuals, as he quotes scenarists' advice at appropriate times (e.g., Lesson 3:13). He also draws on a wide range of knowledges of Hollywood practice - directors' statements, exemplary films, the use of models from theatre, the short story and the novel in the construction of the screen play, and, as we have seen, filmic technique. If there are, as I have argued, significant departures, or at least specialised emphases justifying potential departures, from mainstream screen writing advice contained in the Chauvel School of Scenario Writing, these are not marked out in such a way as to call attention to any principled "difference". Any such difference must be read out of a series of lessons declaring themselves to be a transmission of, and accommodation to, standards derivable in the first instance from Hollywood practices.

This conformity to international standards is also clear in Chauvel's discussions of such matters as acting, dialogue, music, censorship and his advice about how one assimilates the "art" of writing for film. While it is apparent that Chauvel wishes to reserve a space for principled difference in the areas of background and "epic" story structure for the kind of Australian filmmaking he is counselling, in these other areas the gap between norm and achievement, for instance, in his own films, remains simply a shortfall. Actors are not to overact, as in the "old" melodramatic tradition. In Lesson 6, "Dialogue", Chauvel skirts the many severe technical and stylistic problems attendant upon the introduction of sound in Australian films of the early thirties, declaring optimistically:

Now that the motion picture has found a voice, the screen has acquired capacities for producing reactions upon the human mind far more vividly than the silent film ever could succeed in obtaining. Now the whole is presented, for the story being seen and heard is fully sensed. (Lesson 6:1)

He goes on simply to demand of writers what was patently difficult to achieve in early Australian sound film - taut, succinct, non-theatrical dialogue. The short story - Chauvel compiles an impressive list of practitioners: de Maupassant, Poe, Kipling, Stevenson, Conrad, Brete Harte, Peter B. Kyne (Lesson 6:3-4) - is invoked as the model, as it was in the formation of the Hollywood classical style.[28] Similarly, music is treated purely in its role as contributing to that redundancy of information characteristic of Hollywood classicism.(Lesson 6:5)

Given Chauvel's animated resistance to the attempted censorship of sequences from In the Wake of the Bounty, one might expect a similarly animated treatment in the School's lessons. However, his advice is rather ambivalent, juxtaposing sanguine sentiment ("The censors demand of art, above all things, the simplest and most natural form of beauty" Lesson 3:13) with the rather more cynical comment:

It seems impossible to be asked to lay down a set of "don'ts" in this respect, as the censorship in countries varies and in its rulings has been found to be most inconsistent, but I would impress upon you the importance of keeping your subject within decent moral grounds. It is very difficult to decide what is moral or immoral, as almost every member of an audience will have a different idea as to what is moral or immoral. (Lesson 2:10)

Chauvel's policy, admittedly barely-formulated, of pushing censorship limits and attempting to benefit from their infraction, seems however to have been lost on his students. In the final lesson, written "after a year of hard work with 150 students", he cautions against the tendency to moralise: "The school room is the proper place in which to teach - but the screen is for entertainment."(Lesson 8:1)

In counselling aspiring writers to learn their "trade" basically by becoming keen students of the cinema - attending films with a "really good screen play" several times to study their dialogue and sequence construction (Lessons 1:12; 6:4; 7:1) - Chauvel was suggesting no more or less than that which was held to occur in Hollywood.[29] However, what was lacking was the extensive surround and backlog of experience assimilated by informal and formal apprenticeship that constituted the environment of the division of labour within studios in continuous production in Hollywood, a lack to which the Chauvel School of Scenario Writing in large part addressed itself.

The School seems to have produced some limited success. Apart from the student who won a prize in the Commonwealth film and script awards in 1935, Chauvel mentions, in the concluding lesson, that a number of students have had success from a "literary point of view." He proceeds to make observations concerning the writing and publishing of short stories, magazine articles and short "paragraphs" for newspapers in the vein of "descriptive" or travel writing, evidence probably as much of the difficulty of marketing film scenarios as of the desirability of "literary" writing. The School was wound up formally in 1938 with a very modest balance sheet.[30]

Nevertheless, the very existence of the School and Chauvel's own writing of the lessons - the most sustained written documents, film scripts, novelisations of the thirties films and the book Walkabout excepted, by Chauvel's own hand - tell us much about Chauvel's priorities and placement within the industry at an early stage of his career. I have read the School's lessons as very much a work of self-identification and, in part, self-promotion, on the part of Chauvel. This is justified by the ambivalent pattern of differentiation from, though accommodation to, the standards and requirements of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking and the negotiated distance Chauvel maintains between his priorities for Australian filmmaking and the bulk of work actually being produced in the country. On balance, the School assumes importance more as an adumbration of Chauvel's own project than as a general rule-book.

The School's lessons make it clear that Chauvel both had assimilated the fundamentals of the classical Hollywood style and was prepared to use this "experience" in this particular form of self-promotion and, simultaneously, of contribution to Australian film production. Chauvel "knew" Hollywood practices intimately, even if, in his principled attempts to produce a distinctive variation on them, he was actually engaged, in his thirties filmmaking, in significant departures from such practice.

The very structure of the scripts students of the School were to prepare acknowledge this negotiated difference. While Hollywood scripting practices, as we have seen, had consolidated, with few exceptions, into the "continuity script" format by the late 1910s, Chauvel taught, for obvious reasons, the looser preparatory form of the "scenario script". A student's scenario script was to be sent, unsolicited, to production companies, whether in Britain, America or Australia, and from there a continuity script was to be prepared under studio conditions.(Lesson 7:4-5; School:6) Chauvel was here counselling the same form of "marketing" as he had pursued with an early version of Heritage, a scenario script called Conflict which he sent out "To Whom it May Concern" in March 1930.[31] The quixotic nature of this enterprise was clear, however: the insatiable demand for story material generated by British, American and Australian production which the School's publicity brochure indicates was, for the most part, a demand for copyrightable properties to be developed by studio writers into treatment, scenario and, ultimately, continuity form. The ineradicable problem for aspiring Australian writers was simply the lack of opportunity to work within such continuous studio production circumstances. Chauvel himself had to form his own companies in order to see his scripts to production.

Finally, the School demonstrates the importance Chauvel placed, from an early stage, on adequate script development as a precondition for healthy Australian film production. It would be a mistake to take the inversion that Chauvel proposed - of "background" generating "everlasting" story potential - at face value and regard as secondary the place he accorded script development. Indeed, a feature of the career is the continuing difficulties posed by the lack of adequate script writers and the consequent resort to the necessity of self-authorship, in concert with his wife, of most of the subsequent sripts that went into production.


1.See Andrew Pike, "The History of an Australian Film Production Company: Cinesound 1932-70", Unpublished MA Thesis, ANU 1972, pp.51, 53.

2. Pike, p. 37.

3. Ken Hall, letter to Frederick Daniell, 20 October 1944. Daniell, Frederick. Papers. Manuscript Collection, National Library of Australia, MS 1634, Series 183, Item 1.

4. For example, Reg "Snowy" Baker's acting school and the Cinesound Talent School. On Baker, see John Tulloch, Legends on the Screen: The Narrative Film in Australia 1919-1929 (Sydney: Currency Press and AFI, 1981), pp. 81ff and on Cinesound, Pike, p. 77.

5. Pike, p. 77.

6. Graham Shirley, interview with Elsa Chauvel. (Typescript, National Film and Sound Archive), p. 28.

7. Final Distribution Statement, 31 March 1938. Papers of C.E. Chauvel Mitchell Library, State Library of N.S.W., MS 666/3, pp. 269-77.

8. The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing (Sydney, n.p., 1933), p. 2. Copies of this 15 page brochure are held at the National Film and Sound Archive and the Charles Chauvel Collection, Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education. Further references to the brochure are given as "School".

9. Graham Shirley, interview with Elsa Chauvel, pp. 27-28.

10. The Chauvel School of Scenario Writing, unpublished course notes, Lesson 8, p. 2. Copies of the course notes are held at the National Film and Sound Archive. Further references to the course notes are given as "Lesson". See also Everyones 6 March 1935, p. 7.

11. David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).

12. Janet Staiger, "The Hollywood Mode of Production: The Construction of Divided Labor in the Film Industry", PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1981, p. 98.

13. Staiger, "Hollywood Mode of Production", p. 119.

14. Ibid, p.126.

15. Ibid, p. 155.

16. Ibid, p. 157-60.

17. Ibid, p. 223.

18. Ibid, p. 276.

19. Charles Pathe, quoted in David Bordwell, "French Impressionist Cinema: Film Culture, Film Theory, and Film Style", PhD dissertation, University of Iowa, 1974, p. 36.

20. Charles Chauvel, "Hollywood, for `Everyones' by Charles Chauvel", Everyones 9 January 1929, p. 29.

21. Ibid, p. 29.

22. See Kristin Thompson, "The Formulation of the Classical Style, 1909-28", in Classical Hollywood Cinema, p. 268-9.

23. See, for more detail on the nature and ramifications of this transition, John Tulloch, Australian Cinema: Industry, Narrative and Meaning (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1982), pp. 144-182; Susan Dermody, "Rugged Individualists or Neo-Colonial Boys? The Early Sound Period in Australian Film, 1931/2", Occasional Papers in Media Studies (New South Wales Institute of Technology) no. 12; Susan Dermody, "Two Remakes: Ideologies of Film Production 1919-1932", in Susan Dermody, John Docker, and Druscilla Modjeska (eds), Nellie Melba, Ginger Meggs and Friends. Essays in Australian Cultural History (Malmsbury: Kibble Books, 1982), and Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years (Sydney: Angus and Robertson and Currency Press, 1983), pp. 103ff.

24. Quoted in Eve in Ebony ... The Story of Jedda (n.p.: Columbia Pictures, 1954), p. 15.

25. For discussions of this, see David Bordwell, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), p. 13, and David Bordwell, "The Classical Hollywood Style, 1917-60" in Classical Hollywood Cinema, pp. 26-34.

26. Again, an insistent theme of promotional and reminiscent discourse around Chauvel. For example, "They Made Australia as a Film Star", TV News Times, 4 October 1958, or Elsa Chauvel recollecting the Hollywood "travelogue" director Kerian C. Cooper's advice to she and Charles to "get into the field. Don't let them keep you in the studio ... Don't be afraid to let that great country of yours become your star." Quoted in Elsa Chauvel, "The Trials and Triumphs of Australian Cinema" in Peter Putnis (ed.), Downs Voices (Toowoomba: Darling Downs Literary Society, 1978), p. 43.

27. Bordwell, "Classical Hollywood Style", p. 13.

28. Kristin Thompson, "The Formulation of the Classical Style, 1909-28", in Classical Hollywood Cinema, pp. 165-6.

29. Thompson, "Formulation of Classical Style", pp. 232-3.

30. The final distribution statement of the School showed a net balance of 50 pounds.

31. Charles Chauvel, "To Whom it May Concern", 30 March 1930. Cover letter introducing Conflict. Papers of C.E. Chauvel, MS 666/2.

Html markup Tom O'Regan 1996, Garry Gillard 11 February, 2015