Is it time to give up on Australian content?

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So, I’m sure you’d like to know if my opinion about Australian film has changed over the past couple of months. If we remember my first post, I was a little sceptical and not interested in Aussie film or television in the slightest. But now, I think I’ve got to the point where I would happily pick the Australian production on Netflix over the American one. That’s an improvement I would say. So why this sudden change of heart?

 

The Stigma

Australia films really aren’t that bad. I think there is a stigma about Australian films that have stuck with us for a long time. To me, it’s the idea that all films are like Crocodile Dundee (1986) and are extremely cringe worthy and as Susan Hoerlein suggests that “people recognise the brand, and if they don’t really connect with it, the brand has failed, and it would take an extensive marketing campaign to turn this around” (from Kaufmann 2009). This period of genre film was one of the most successful times in Australian cinema, and was coined “The Golden Age of cinema” which is why I think the industry tries to hold onto that era so much. This era was all due to the introduction of the 10BA tax incentive. The Australian Film Commission (AFC) was introduced in 1975 by the Fraser government and in 1981 implemented this 10BA scheme (Burns & Eltham 2010, p.105). This ultimately meant that film makers would receive 150% of tax back. These films were made with little regard for quality and for cultural identity advocates, and so they ended up being to bad they were good (Ryan 2012, p.146).  Lately, there has been much discussion that films have turned away from this genre style and have been creating something that is just not connecting with Australian audiences. Tiley (2010 [excerpt from Ryan 2012, p.148]) puts it perfectly saying “Australian film makers have become incredibly hostile to genre and slid into a gloomy trough of art and self-expression.” Film makers need to start creating something that the audiences connect with, whether its artistic or not. Film commentator Lynden Barber (Kaufmann 2009) says “we need more corn, more hype, more Australiana; boatloads of escapism and showbiz; heroic journeys that end in triumph. Audiences want happiness and tears of joy and fear or films based on their favourite book of the past five years.”

 

Could This Be the Start of Something New?

 This year has been Australia’s biggest year yet at the box office. Beating the 2001 record of $63.4m with a huge $88m in box office revenue (MPDAA 2016). Some films that contributed to this success were Mad Max: Fury Road ($21.7m), The Dressmaker ($18.6m) and The Water Diviner ($10.18m). It seems as though true Australian themes are still popular with the masses as seen with The Dressmaker and The Water Diviner. As Barber said “we need more Australiana” and its true because it just seems to work for us here. What about internationally though? The most popular Australian films to hit the US box office have not had “Australia” so blatantly thrown in your face (excluding Crocodile Dundee). Some of our most popular films include Mad Max: Fury Road, Happy Feet, Moulin Rouge and Babe. So because of this, I think it is important that we find a good happy medium between the two styles of film. Firstly, we could start by saying that we actually need more Australian films to be made for them to be competitive in the market. Dow (2014) tells us how in 2013 alone, there were only 26 Australian films screened in Australian cinemas, the US had 183 first-release films in Australian cinemas and 44 from Britain. This market share of only 3.5% surely tells us that the dilution of Australian films in cinemas is the cause for the seemingly low box office revenue. Aveyard (2011) makes the argument that due to the low revenue of Australian films, distributors like Hoyts and Event Cinemas are not showing Australian films. All of these issues connect in one way or another, no profit means no showing –> no showing means no profit.

Although, as I stated before that we have had our best year on record, this does not mean that we’re at a point where we can relax and put our feet up. We need to continue what is being done! Some of the success from these films, I believe, comes from the stars that are in it. The three top movies mentioned previously from 2015, all contain one or more international notable names. Mad Max has Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoe Kravitz and Rosie Huntington-Whitely. While The Dressmaker has Liam Hemsworth and Kate Winslet and The Water Diviner with Russel Crowe. Elberse (2006) also has the view that “star participation indeed positively impacts movies’ revenues—the results suggest that stars can be “worth” several millions of dollars in revenues.”

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Look at all those famous people in Mad Max: Fury Road. Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravtiz and Rosie Huntington-Whitley

I believe that the contributing success of Mad Max:Fury Road also came from the success of the original movies. The hype and marketing that went along with the film along with the A-grade cast is what really pushed this film to the top.

The first step is for Australia to be recognized as having a competitive film industry, and to do that we should start with runaway production, move onto co-production and then finally have our own work. Starting with runaway productions allows us to create more creative jobs in the industry, and only helps us build our strength in production. With this, foreign budgets will be larger so the creativity is endless. I don’t think it is a detriment to Australian content at all because it will not be lost. We should be supporting local film in conjunction with Hollywood blockbusters.

Conclusion

I truly don’t think it is time to give up on Australian content. I believe something needs to be done about it in terms of marketing, access and distribution but there is no need to give up. We need to steer away from gloomy themes and start creating something that interest’s audiences and show the government we can create more revenue and in return receive more funding. I think people need to get use to the idea though that “Australian content” does not mean “put another shrimp on the barbie” anymore and need to realise that the industry is changing and that a superhero movie could be Australian.

 

References:

Aveyard, K 2011, ‘Australian films at the cinema: rethinking the role of distribution and exhibition ‘, Media international Australia, no. 138, pp. 36-45

Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and bust in Australian screen policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’ ‘, Media International Australia, no. 136, pp. 103-118

Dow, S 2014, ‘What’s Wrong with Australian Cinema?’, The Guardian, viewed 2nd Feb 16,http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/26/australian-film-australian-audiences

Elberse, A 2007, ‘The Power of Stars: Do Star Actors Drive the Success of Movies?’, Journal of Marketing, vol.71, no.4, pp.102-120, viewed 5th Feb 16, http://www.people.hbs.edu/aelberse/papers/hbs_06-002.pdf

Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Shortcuts: finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro: media & education magazine, no. 163, pp. 6-8

(MPDAA) Motion Pictures Distribution Association of Australia 2016, MEDIA RELEASE 2015 Australian Film Industry Box Office Statistics, MPDAA, viewed 2nd Feb 16,http://www.mpdaa.org.au/customers/mpdaa/mpdaa.nsf/(PressReleasesByDate)/21-1-2016/$FILE/MEDIA%20RELEASE%20Year%20End%202015.pdf

Ryan, M D 2012, ‘A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol.6, no.2, pp.141-157

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