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The Industry: Alison Barnes Interview

Author: Darryn King
Friday, 8 August 2008
Many would know her as Abbie Cornish’s replacement in the satirical SBS lifestyle program Life Support – she played Penne, the streetwise ‘youth’ presenter. Alison Barnes, researcher and script developer for Golden Universal Films, was writing for her character even then and, these days, she’s wholly committed to the writing process, as a film writer and aspiring auteur. She spoke to Darryn King.

Many people would know you from your worn on Life Support…
Yeah, that’s right. I was an actor. I did a little bit of writing in Series 2 for my character, Penne. I sort of toyed a little bit once I got comfortable.

So how did you get into acting for television-
I was into performing in high school and then became a member of the State Schools Drama Company. I don’t know if it’s still running, but people from state schools got together and do plays and tours. When I moved to Sydney I got with ATYP and did lots of shows. Then I got an agent, and through that I got Life Support.

How did you get from there to where you are now-
I was doing acting – and then I realised I needed to diversify because you’re not going to get much work, apart from one per cent of the acting population.
So I went back and did a Media Arts degree at UTS, played around with film and made some shorts. At the end of last year I did a short that I wrote and directed.
I got a job with a Chinese-Australian film company called Golden Universal Film – what I’m doing with them is coming up with ideas for Chinese-Australian TV films.

What does Golden Universal do-
What they’re trying to do – and they’ve just had the green light from China – is make films in rural NSW. And I’m writing them. What will probably happen is that someone who actually speaks Mandarin will come out and we’ll write the scripts together. So it’s a bit wacky.

How did you get the job in the first place-
I got the job through a friend, actually, who also works in the industry.

What sort of films are you working on for Golden Universal-
They’re actually kinda tailored to the Chinese market. It’s quite a far cry from Life Support! They’re sort of coming-of-age adventure action stories.

So what does a typical day involve- Just strapping yourself to your computer and writing-
Yeah, for the last month or two, that’s what I’m doing basically: just writing. I write all my ideas down – for each synopsis or film proposal I write 20 or 30 pages and spend my time refining it.

What stage are you at with the film projects-

We’ve just sent the treatments to Beijing today, and we’re waiting for them to tell us which ones they want to develop.

Do you write by yourself or in a team-
I write independently, then I have a meeting with the two other people I work with. They throw around ideas and critique where I’m at, and I take those ideas and go away and work on it again. It’s not very glamorous!

Where are your aspirations then-
Well, if these productions get up and running, then I will probably be involved with the on-set production of the work – and I would say that that’s what I’d like to see myself doing. Probably making my own films… I mean everyone says that, but I do like the idea of being an auteur, and for me there is a natural connection between writing an idea and realising it onscreen. I have a real passion for writing – for me it’s just another way to explore my creativity – but I would say I’m just as passionate about producing.

No acting-

Yeah, at the moment I’m not interested in pursuing acting, I’ve kind of moved away from that a bit. But I would never say I’d never do it if the opportunity came up.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write for the screen-
Be disciplined I guess. Probably to be prolific – which is what I’m beginning to learn. You know, words are not precious, just write whatever.
To an extent I think it is who you know – I think the industry’s a little bit in-bred… That’s probably not a good thing to say, but I think it is! But, if you’re passionate about something, just do it, basically.


Get more career advice and read more interviews like this in Career FAQs Entertainment, or online at careerfaqs.com.au
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