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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The importance of “Runaway Productions” in Australian jobs

During the year 2000, runaway productions became popular in Australia. Overseas productions companies were bringing their films to be made here and this was all due to production incentives and subsidies and of course the exchange rate. At the time, our dollar was a lot lower and cheaper for American films to be made here. Australia is home to two large studio complexes owned by Hollywood majors. They are the Warner RoadShow Studios in Queensland and Fox Studios here in Sydney. There is also Dockland Studios in Melbourne but as it is not owned by Hollywood majors, the area has not seen a boom in Hollywood productions (Newman 2008, p.303). Australia began taking away business from Vancouver, which up until that point had provided the location for over 80% of Hollywood’s foreign-produced features since the 90’s (Burns & Eltham 2010, p.109). Local employment more than doubled, from 5,998 in 1994 to 15,195 in 2000 (Burns & Eltham 2010, p.110). During this time, films such as The Matrix (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) were made. Also along with the excitement of Hollywood blockbusters being shot here, Burns and Eltham (2010) also state “the exchange rate remained attractive [for internationals], Australian crews benefited through employment and small business development. Tourism and related industries also experienced flow-on growth.” (p.110)

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The UTS building in The Matrix

This last sentence is what I really want to focus on. Even though lending our country to Hollywood productions may sound like a terrible idea for our local film industry, I think it has actually benefited it and more. Not only do I believe it has benefited the local crews and productions companies, it has projected a large amount of money into our economy, and at what loss to us is that? Hollywood is getting their movies made cheaper and we are getting a boosted industry and economy. In an article about the filming of Superman Returns (2005) in Australia by Geoff Boucher (2005) for the LA Times, he says:

“An abstract by the New South Wales Department of State Development reports that “Superman Returns” injected some $80 million into the local economy, created 800 local jobs and employed as many 10,000 people as it shot on 60 sets on nine stages over eight months. A crowing minister told the Sydney press in November that the movie will be “more powerful than a locomotive at the box office” but that it’s “already proven a winner for the Sydney area.”

In 2006 Australia saw a decline in these runaway productions due to trade picking up and the dollar increasing and therefore steering Hollywood to other nearby places like New Zealand (Burns & Eltham 2010). From this, we saw a decrease in employment from 16,427 to 13,844 in 2006-07 (Burns & Eltham 2010, p.110). While staying at a low for a while, recently I have heard a lot about Hollywood films being shot here again like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) in Queensland, Angelina Jolie’s film Unbroken (2014) in Sydney and now Julie Bishop has announced that the new Alien film and Thor will be filmed here. The Turnbull government has offered Hollywood studios $47 million in grants to lure the blockbusters, which are expected to create about 3000 local jobs (Wroe & Knott 2015).

I think that this is a smart move from the Turnbull government as I believe bringing Hollywood blockbusters here will not dilute our Australian culture but only enhance the industry on developing more entertaining cinematic films with bigger budgets which will hopefully come from this “invasion” of Hollywood.

 

References:

Boucher, G 2005, Up, Up… And Away, Los Angeles Times, viewed 3rd Feb 16, http://articles.latimes.com/2005/dec/31/entertainment/et-superman31/2

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

Newman, D 2008, ‘Australia and New Zealand: Expats in Hollywood and Hollywood South’, in Paul McDonald and Janet Wasko (eds), The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 295–305.

Wroe, D & Knott, M 2015, New Alien and Thor movies to be filmed in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 3rd Feb 16, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/new-alien-and-thor-movies-to-be-filmed-in-australia-20151022-gkfspv.html

Is any attention good attention?

As I have pointed out in previous posts, Australian film is filled with outback ocker stereotypes. But I suppose we must love it considering Crocodile Dundee is the highest grossing Australian film of all time in the Australian box office (Screen Australia 2015) and not to mention our 2nd highest grossing film in the international box office making $174.8m, just under Happy Feet. 

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Australia Box Office. Source: Screen Australia
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American Box Office for Australian films. Source: Screen Australia

 

So why is it, that if Australian movies are seen to be so stereotypical, why do we love them so much? It is clear the from the Australia box office table that more than half of the films there, are based on classic Australian themes from setting to storyline, from humour to clothing. If these are the certain kinds of films we are producing no wonder why Americans make fun of our “true blue” attitude. But you know what, maybe all this attention is great!

Plenty of Australian films base their settings around iconic Australian landscapes and because of that, have become areas for tourists to visit. The first of those to gain traction was the setting of the 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock, which took place at Mt. Diogenes in Victoria (Middlemost 2015). My dad had mentioned that he had visited the place before purely because of the film but admitted that there’s not much else to do there but look at some rocks and trees. Some of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia have been thanks to a number of films showcasing the outback and in particular Wolf Creek (2005). Loosely based on the backpacker murders of Ivan Milat, the film follows “roo” shooter Mick Taylor and his evil torture of three tourists. The meteorite crater in Wolfe Creek National Park, WA, is where the trio were kidnapped and is now the place which has become so popular with tourists.

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Wolfe Creek Crater, WA

Frost (2010) has also credited the success of Crocodile Dundee (1986) as a major player in the heightened amount of American tourists to coming to Australia. O’Regan (1988) also agrees saying that in 1987 our tourism rose faster than any other developed nation.

“A visiting American journalist wants to write a feature story on Dundee and his adventures. Riley is excited because he hopes that such media coverage may be translated into increased tour business, particularly from the lucrative American market. In reality, life imitated art, the success of Crocodile Dundee in the USA stimulated a massive surge in American tourists to Australia”- W Frost (2010)

 

It was with the film Babe in 1995 that we encountered a “significant shift” in Australian films (Brabazon 2001). The idea with Babe, it that it’s set in a nowhere land and does not rely on classic Australian landscape tropes. As you can see from the American box office table above, Babe is in the top 10 highest Australian grossing films in the American box office so it is clear that this move was important. From the list, you can see how Babe really is a catalyst for the introduction of Australian films like Moulin Rouge, Happy Feet, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Great Gatsby where the outback does not take a leading role.

Although there is still that ocker stereotype that will follow us overseas for a longtime, I think that there are positives that it brings to our country like tourism and even has given us a change in Australian cinema where we can be take more seriously.

 

References:

Brabazon, T 2001, ‘A pig in space?: Babe and the problem of landscape’, in Craven, Ian (ed.), Australian cinema in the 1990s, F. Cass, London, pp. 149-158

Frost, W 2010, ‘Life Changing Experiences: Film and Tourists in the Australian Outback’, Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 37, no. 3, pp.707–726.

Middlemost, R 2016, ‘Critical Regionalism vs. Regional Tourism- Representing Australian culture’, PowerPoint slides, University of Wollongong, viewed 3rd Feb 16

O’Regan, T 1988, ‘Part IV: ‘Fair Dinkum Fillums’ – the Crocodile Dundee Phenomenon’, Media Information Australia, No. 50, pp.155-175. http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/readingroom/film/Croc.html

Screen Australia 2015, Australian Content: Box Office, Screen Australia, viewed 3rd Feb 16, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/boxofficeaustraliatop100.aspx

Ozploitation and the effects on Australian film

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Firstly, what is Ozploitation?

Took me a little thinking to get a grasp of it but I’m going to put it plain and simple for you. Ozploitation is the term used to describe Australian genre films during its golden years of the 1970s and 80s. These genre films basically exploited Australian stereotypes and aspects of Australian culture. Deborah Thomas (2009) explains that some of these genres are nicely summed up in the film Not Quite Hollywood (2008) which include ‘Ockers, Knockers, Pubes and Tubes’ which showcases comedy, particularly sex comedy with films such as Stork (1971), The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), and Alvin Purple (1973). ‘Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers’ is next which features low budget horror films such as Thirst (1979) and Howling III: The Marsupials (1987). Lastly is ‘High Octane Disasters and Kung-Fu Masters’ which focuses on sensational action films likes The Man From Hong Kong (1975) and Turkey Shoot (1982).

 

So, how did this all start?

There are two reasons as to how the Ozploitation era started. In 1971, R-rated films could be made in Australia, which sparked the rise in in over the top action, horror and sexually explicit films (Daily Review 2014). This style of film was mostly used from 1971 to 1975 because it was after that, that the Australian Film Commission (AFC) was introduced with a view of “movies projecting a positive sense of national identity to the world” (Ryan 2012, p.145). As the genre movies still slowly continued like Mad Max (1979), Patrick (1978) and Thirst (1979), the next period of low budget genre films emerged in 1981 with the introduction of the 10BA tax incentive. This 10BA tax scheme was put in place to essentially move the burden of film funding from the government to private investors that resulted in a surge of genre films where producers would receive at 150% tax back (Ryan 2012, p.145). Ryan (2012) says “films were produced for tax relief with little regard for quality; and for cultural identity advocates. 10BA film concessions did not necessarily give an outcome that was desirable in cultural or aesthetic terms”(p.146). Basically these films were so bad they were good.

 

What did/does this mean for Australian film?

The term Ozploitation only started with the film Not Quite Hollywood (2008), and is therefore only a relatively new stop to discuss. Ryan (2010) believes that the film has made a negative impact towards Australian film history as he says “Not Quite Hollywood does not present a complete body of Australian genre movies and privileges certain movies over others to advance the documentary’s argument”(p.8). Ryan says “it limits our understanding of Australian genre cinema’s heritage to the low end of genre and restricts study of such films to a narrow exploitation framework”(p.11).

I agree with Ryans argument and as a result of “tacky” Ozploitation films I believe that currently, and as Tiley (2010 [excerpt from Ryan 2012, p.148]) puts it perfectly “Australian film makers have become incredibly hostile to genre and slid into a gloomy trough of art and self-expression.” I believe filmmakers are doing this as a stand to move away from genre films that have a negative connotations. The problem with this is that arty films to not attract mass audiences. Filmmakers need to start creating films that are entertaining and not think about how arty they can be. Less successful Australian films means less cinemas attendance to support these films.

 

References:

Daily Review 2014, Five Essential Ozploitation Movies, Daily Review, viewed 31st Jan 16, http://dailyreview.com.au/five-essential-ozploitation-movies/15950

Ryan, M D 2010, ‘Towards an understanding of Australian genre cinema and entertainment : beyond the limitations of ‘Ozploitation’ discourse’, Continuum : Journal of Media & Cultural Studies , vol.24, no.6, pp. 1-13

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

Thomas, D 2009, ‘Tarantino’s Two Thumbs Up: Ozploitation and the Reframing of the Aussie Genre Film’, Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine, no.161, pp.90-95

Australian Film Assumptions

 

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Before picking up this subject, I’ve always had a negative attitude towards Australian cinema and television. I am not proud to admit this as I think it’s important to support local talent and production. I have never watched Underbelly, Packed to the Rafters, Love Child, the INXS biopic or any other television drama or soap (excluding Puberty Blue, which I love!). When I watch it, I kind of cringe. There’s something that I just can’t take seriously about Australian acting. To go to class and find out that some people felt the same way was somewhat of a relief. When asked what we think when we hear “Australian content”, a lot of the same themes kept popping up like stereotypes, the beach, the outback, soapies, cringe worthy and unsuccessful.

So what really defines a film or TV show Australian? For a film to be classed as Australian made, it has to showcase significant Australian content under the guidelines of Screen Australia. Screen Australia says that to be of significant Australian content, the film has to take into account “the subject matter of the film, the place where the film was made, the nationalities and places of residence of the persons who took part in the making of the film and the details of the production expenditure incurred in respect of the film” (Screen Australia 2015, p.6).

Personally, I think that the “subject matter” and “the place where the film was made” have been taken too far. I mean this in a sense that almost every notable Australian film has something to do with the outback or an extremely Aussie accent. Some films that showcase this are Picnic at Hanging Rock, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Wolf Creek, Strangerland, Tracks, Crocodile Dundee and Last Cab to Darwin. I feel that it is time that producers and directors try to move past this ‘Australianness” image and create something that doesn’t contain Aussie stereotypes. We should move towards storylines like Moulin Rouge, The Black Balloon, Paper Planes, Happy Feet or even The Babadook. Even on just a quick Google of Australian films, I get bombarded with a whole lot of movies with stereotypical Aussie plots and landscapes and actors with over the top “ocker” accents (let’s maybe just exclude Mad Max: Fury Road and a few others).

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I also question as to why we portray these over the top stereotypes. Is it because we lack a sense of cultural identity therefore we are trying to cling on to whatever we can? In saying these opinions, it’s only the start of the semester so I am excited to see whether further knowledge on Australian films will open my mind a little more or change my thoughts and attitudes towards Australian film. Who knows, by the time I’ve finished this subject I might actually want to pay to see an Aussie film.

 

References:

Screen Australia 2015, Producer Offset Guidelines, Screen Australia, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/c83d96e6-d225-4270-847a-864b230759f0/Glines_ProducerOffset.pdf