Directors slam Academy's race

The Australian Directors Guild has taken a swipe at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts over the decision to pit three drama directors against an executive producer from a non-drama show in the best direction in television category in the academy's award nominations.

The guild has called on the academy to withdraw Michael McKay, the executive producer and director of The Amazing Race Australia from the nomination list, which was announced on Monday, and replace him with another drama director.

It strongly condemned “this disrespect of the drama director's profession”.

“We were just amazed. We read it when the nominations came out and thought it was a mistake,” the executive director of the guild, Kingston Anderson said. “To our surprise, it was deliberate. This is like comparing apples to oranges; it makes no sense.

“If AACTA wanted to honour directors in the reality or non-dramatic form, then they should have created a category for those directors.”

The chief executive officer of the academy, Damian Trewhella, said the category was for all directors.

“I understand the ADG's position and why they would like to restrict the award to drama directors,” he said. “Currently, we have just one award, which is called 'best direction in television', not 'best direction in a television drama'.

"Therefore, productions across all categories – drama, comedy, light entertainment, reality and children's – are eligible for the award.

“We acknowledge that there are significant distinctions between the role of the director on a drama and on a reality show, and that this does pose challenges when trying to assess them against each other. Perhaps this could be seen as a compromise, but we prefer to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, where possible.”

McKay, who is in Asia working on The Amazing Race Ukraine, won the best director award at the Asian Television Awards last year for the same episode of The Amazing Race Australia, and is “a little surprised by the ADG's reaction because the industry seems to be recognising directors across the board and their work".

"I respect that; they're clearly saying it isn't the exclusive domain of drama directors," McKay said. "I'm surprised the ADG wants to limit the category only to directors who make movies or telemovies or drama. There's a whole lot more. Maybe the ADG isn't proud of those directors.

“I'm the guinea pig. Was I surprised to be nominated? Yes. I'm so honoured to be nominated and when it's in this sort of category I get a bit embarrassed. To be in the category with those guys is very special. Early in my career I worked on drama and I know how hard that is, too.”

However, McKay does not think the nomination was a mistake.

“They want to honour directors full stop, not just drama directors. That's a real step forward for these awards," he said. "Some of those sports broadcasts are complicated. Same with the entertainment shows. Maybe next year whoever directs the AFL grand final – a massively complicated broadcast – will be in that category as well.”

Rather than expand the award, the Directors Guild wants to restrict it further, preventing light entertainment and comedy shows from qualifying.

“They shouldn't be in it,” Anderson said. “If it's going to be a director's award, which is what it is, then they should all be directors. It's like saying in the Olympics, 'We'll put a shot putter up against a swimmer'.

“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? That's the logic of that if they're doing the same thing. Would [academy board member] Sigrid Thornton like that?”

McKay rejected the comparison.

“I don't direct the competitors; it's more like a live sports event," he said. "My job is to ensure that we're getting the shots that we want. I conceived the opening arrivals and work with a great team of people to achieve and execute the plan. I do not direct the contestants once the race has started.”

He is a director though, McKay explains that he is officiall the director of The Amazing Race Australia, however his credit in the on-air list is not reflective of his role. “My credit on channel 7 is restricted to EP because of [network] credit restrictions and I don't like having a bunch of credits for myself anyway (people who are EP, director, writer, chief cook and bottle washer).”

As for the race he now finds himself in, McKay is a little embarrassed at receiving a personal nomination, as he is quick to acknowledge the work of his team.

“I wish the nominees all the best,” he said. “I'm not much for personal awards and, as always, I don't expect to win.”

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