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Producer and walking movie encyclopaedia Al Clark – whose credits include one of Australia’s iconic films, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – has been named the 2012 recipient of the Raymond Longford Award. He doesn’t confuse himself with the director or the star; he knows what his job is, he tells Andrew L. Urban. 

Speaking from Wellington, New Zealand (amidst Hobbit-mania) where he is attending a producers’ masterclass & workshop, Al Clark says “I’ve been very lucky to meet people at a point in their lives when I could be helpful to them – and they to me.”

Clark is married to producer Andrena Finlay, “and as I approach our 25th anniversary I am glad that I’m married to a producer through whom I am in Australia [he was born in Spain to British parents] and to have a stable home life so that most of my energy goes into producing.”

" as a producer I don’t confuse myself with the director or the lead actors"

Reflecting on his way of working, Clark says: “The reason I go about things the way I do is that I know what my job is. As a record label publicist in the early days I didn’t confuse myself with the band. Taking calls from Fleet Street in the middle of the night I was semi-detached about all the band’s ruckus; I lived differently to them.

“Likewise as a producer I don’t confuse myself with the director or the lead actors. I try to make sure they get a chance to do their best.”

Clark has been self employed most of his life, but he started in London on Time Out before taking a job at Virgin Music. “My first two employers were significant: Tony Elliott at Time Out and Richard Branson at Virgin …they were fundamental in nurturing a sense of independence – and longevity! And on my first film as executive producer, Secret Places (1984), I had two producers (Ann Skinner, Simon Relph) from whom I was able to learn quickly. They were good people as well as thorough professionals.”

"loving films enriches what you do"

Well known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of and deep appreciation for cinema, Clark says “loving films enriches what you do; it may not be vital in what is increasingly a business, but it gives depth and substance – and feeds into the films.”

In Australia, Clark exec produced the first feature film to star Russell Crowe (The Crossing). He also produced the first Australian feature film to star Ryan Kwanten (Red Hill), and produced director John Polson’s first feature film, Siam Sunset.

Clark was also instrumental in launching the international careers of Lizzy Gardiner (who, at 25-years-old, won, together with Tim Chappel, an AFI Award, BAFTA Award and Academy Award for Costume Design for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), Andrew Dominik and Eric Bana (Chopper), and Stephan Elliott and Guy Pearce (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert).

Clark’s contribution to the screen industry goes beyond production, having served on the board of the Australian Film Commission (1989-1992), and having participated in official juries of several international film festivals, including the San Sebastian and Valladolid Film Festivals.

"an extraordinary and tenacious producer"

AACTA CEO, Damian Trewhella, says “From the many recommendations submitted in support of Al Clark for this Award it was clear that he is not only an extraordinary and tenacious producer, but that he is noted by a cross section of the industry as a mentor and educator whom many credit for launching their careers. After emigrating from the UK in the 1980s, Clark was quick to embrace and recognise the cultural and cinematic value of Australian subcultures, and is credited with the commercial and cult-following success of a number of Australian films which have become international icons.

“Al Clark is also recognised for his talent for prose and writing, which many note contribute to his keen eye for a great script, and to his ability to nurture young writers and directors. The author of two film books, Raymond Chandler in Hollywood, and The Lavender Bus, Clark is also the founder and former editor of The Film
Yearbook, adding to his praiseworthy and celebrated encyclopaedic knowledge of film.”

AFI | AACTA Chair Alan Finney, who worked on the Australian distribution of four of Clark’s films - Nineteen Eighty-Four, Absolute Beginners, Gothic and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - said: “Al's commitment to and passion for the Australian film industry, his body of work and the way in which he has nurtured new talent who have all gone on to great heights deserves this highest of recognitions. In addition to helping filmmakers to craft their projects, from assisting in casting and creative, through to finance and distribution, Clark is a celebrated mentor, noted for his collaborative and inclusive nature, regardless of people’s backgrounds and experience. It is for each of these reasons that the Australian Academy is proud to recognise Clark for his lifetime contribution to Australian film,” Finney said.

Al Clark - on the set of Siam Sunset

Guy Pearce: “Al's unique view of the world, film and the arts has been a great inspiration for me. His ability to recall any moment from any movie or book, analyse its value and express it succinctly is a rare quality. He has taught me and many other actors the value of truth in performance as well as truth in oneself. He is an educator and has opened my eyes to many filmmakers and styles just through his sheer enthusiasm for the medium. He's very generous with his wisdom.”

Stephan Elliott: “During my first exhausting week of production on Priscilla, I was under attack from all sides. Some thought I was making a very dangerous movie. The PC brigade was in full demolition mode. Everybody had an opinion. Everybody had a re-write. My producer, Al Clark, was doing his best to keep them all at bay, but at the same time needed to guide me through an expanding minefield… Al’s knowledge, grace, tenacity and good judgment are always at my (and many others) disposal 24/7 and for this I am very, very thankful. I could not think of a finer recipient for the AACTA Raymond Longford Award.” 

Michele Bennett and Andrew Dominik: “Al’s body of work has been impressive. He has tackled low budget material with the same vigour and enthusiasm as his bigger budget films. It is gratifying to know that one of these, The Adventures of Priscilla,
Queen of the Desert, became one of the highest grossing films in Australian history, due, in no small part, to the passion, skilful guidance, ingenuity and musical knowledge of Al Clark as producer.”

Hugo Weaving: “As a writer and raconteur Al has an unerring sense of style and effortless ability to find the 'mot juste'. His skill as a writer gives him a keen eye for a strong script, and a talent to bring out the best in younger writer/directors, encouraging them to shape their work in a way which suits their idiosyncrasies yet speaks to a wide audience. His comprehensive knowledge of music and the music industry has meant films he is associated with are able to access scores most Australian films cannot. He has significantly helped to put Australian film onto the world stage, tirelessly promoting and championing local talent internationally.” 

"the highest accolade"

Named in honour of Raymond Longford, one of Australia's great filmmaking pioneers, the award is the highest accolade the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) can bestow on an individual. First presented in 1968, the award is given to a person who has shown an unwavering commitment over many years to excellence in the film and television industries and has, through their body of work to date, contributed substantially to the enrichment of Australian screen culture.

The AACTA Raymond Longford Award will be presented to Al Clark at the 2nd AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Deluxe, in Sydney in January 2013. The presentation of this Award will include tributes from screen practitioners and performers who have worked with Al. Tickets to the event go on sale early December.

Declaration of interest: the writer socialises with Al Clark and his family.

Published November 22, 2012

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Al Clark

Al Clark at the producers office in Cannes, 2012

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