The Voice of the People

Produced at the Australian Film & TV School in 1978, this 20 min short encapsulated some of the problems with TV that remain to this day…

My first job in television was a lowly paid gig which involved physically splicing the ads into 16mm prints of TV shows. The ads themselves were on 16mm film. This was one of those terrible jobs which combine very boring work with the need to be very accurate. Each one of those tiny little advertising clips was worth a great deal of money to the station, so if you screwed one up – put the wrong ad in the wrong place or accidently left it out – your job was on the line.

But the thing that stuck with me from that time wasn’t the nature of the job, but the attitudes of my co-workers to the TV audience – they used to refer to the audience as “the masses” – not in any jocular sense, but more with contempt – as if the viewers were sheep who could be easily manipulated. (My co-workers were lowly paid staff in the film editing department, so they weren’t movers and shakers, but they were smart enough to know the wisdom of reflecting the attitudes of their bosses).

As a kid I’d grown up in a country town and while we had plenty of access to books and radio and other information, it was television that provided the most amazing window to a world that was completely different to the one around me.

That’s why I loved TV. I trusted it. I relied on it.

So I was part of the prime-time audience that supported the “Golden age of Television”, but in those days audiences didn’t really question that TV isn’t free, isn’t benevolent, or that it was a business so profitable that owning a TV network was once famously described as “having a licence to print money”.

Anyway, a few years after that first TV job I had the opportunity to make this short film, “The Voice of the People” – a satire about the arrogance of commercial television of the day.

(If you look closely you can date this film because the hero is driving a brand new Datsun 200B, and maybe also because of the voice of former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in election mode. To this day whenever I see this film and hear him saying “Our consistent and coherent economic policies are succeeding”, I wonder if I am in some kind of time-loop).


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