“The release of a new Australian movie was once an event that whipped up considerable excitement. There was the glamour surrounding the stars, who were sized up to see who would join Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in the homegrown Hollywood pantheon; there was the prospect of a new Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding and Lantana to challenge the American domination of our market; and there was the hope of another Oz flick collecting international awards and putting our country in the spotlight.”
Is this still the case?
By now we have well and truly put Australian content to the test. It has been dissected, revered, criticised and appraised along the way, with the same question coming up over and over again – is it still worth it? Is there hope left for the future of the Australian cinema industry and the chance to redeem Australian content, or is it time to give up? This largely depends on whether you think Australian content has failed on its own accord, or if a larger array of issues have been at play.
According to Naglazus, 2014 is the year that Australian cinema truly died. In fact, Naglazus (2014) compares the state of the industry to the fate of flight MH370; that is, disappearing without a trace. 2014 had some serious movies lined up for release, such as Russell Crowe’s ‘The Water Diviner’ and Ewan McGregor’s ‘Son of a Gun’, but these films went down just as fast as the bad (Naglazus 2014). In fact, film turn out was so poor that some screenings cost more in paying cinema employees than what was being made off the number of tickets sold (Naglazus 2014). Is it inevitable, then, that fate has been sealed for the future of Australian films?
It is evident that whatever the film industry is currently doing is not working. According to Kaufman (2009, p. 7) one of the biggest downfalls is relying on telling our own stories as a selling point for local cinema; this only leads to a dire state of naturalism in films and should not be a consideration (Kaufman 2009, p. 7). It seems that Nowra (2009) discovered audience members wholeheartedly agree with this. When reflecting on his plight to see all 2009 Australian releases, Nowra (2009) recalls he “frequently found [himself] watching an Australian movie as the sole member of an audience and, on three occasions, with only one other person in the cinema.”
This is a point also addressed by Aveyard (2011), who expresses that often those who do not believe in the Australian film industry lament that film makers simply do not make productions audiences are interested in seeing. They’re old-fashion, they’re repetitive and “Australians don’t trust Australian films anymore” (Hardie 2014). Former Screen Australia boss Ruth Harley (as quoted in Aveyard 2011, p. 37) adds weight to this sentiment when asserting that a lot of Australian films have tended to be low scale, low budget, contemporary, very dark and urban – a combination which is not appealing to the audience at all. Perhaps it truly is time to cease and desist.
However, there is a strong counter narrative at play here that believes in keeping the industry afloat. The overarching argument is that the failure of the film industry is not to be blamed on the films themselves, but on a multitude of issues stemming from lack of support industry wide. Perhaps one of the strongest assertions here is that marketing and advertising of Australian films do next to nothing to create hype. It’s all well and good to produce a fantastic film with an intricate script and a strong acting cast, but if there is no support from marketing and advertising the film will inevitably be a flop. This was the case for 2014 movie ‘Son of a Gun’ which had all the right components to be a hit, but tanked at the box office with. It took a mangy $92,740 across 54 screens in it first week (3aw 2014), but why? Because there was no excitement generated pre release.
When Australian films are competing against Hollywood blockbusters, word of mouth is not enough to create generous returns. There needs to be a serious buzz created by marketers and advertisers through campaigns and prints (3aw 2014). According to Kaufman (2009, p. 6) ‘Son of a Gun’ was awarded only $330k on prints and advertising; typically US films receive around $1.5-3 million. It is hard to see how this will serve to even create a drop in the ocean that is full of Hollywood movies screaming for our attention. As 3aw (2014) so succinctly put it: “To hell with the self-effacement and the timidity borne of the detestable, decades-old cultural cringe. Aussie films need to let go of that and scream out: “See this! It’s as good, if not better, than anything else out there.” What this suggests is that is it not time to give up on Australian content, rather, it is the time to actually invest in it . The talent and the quality are there, but nobody is told!
Furthermore, Aussie films often struggle to do well because it is simply too difficult to actually see them. According to Kaufman (2009, p. 7) most local films are shown on less than 10% of cinema screens while Hollywood films are available on as many as one third of available screens. This was an issue faced by Nowra (2009) in his plight to watch Aussie releases, as he recalls films seldom stayed in cinemas long enough and often required the tracking down of small independent cinemas – often seeming screening the films merely as a national duty. This paired with the very disproportionate US-Australian film ratio lends itself to the idea that perhaps Australian audiences are not going to see Aussie films, because they physically can’t.
This only further supports the notion that it is not Australian films that should be abandoned, but rather the way in which we approach Aussie films that needs a transformation. In fact, it seems to be mutually agreed that issues of audience fragmentation, multi-platform distribution and reduced advertising revenue (O’Regan & Potter 2013, p. 7) are much more at fault of content failure than Australian films themselves. As Kelly (2013) asks, ‘Why are we shocked when an Australian film flops when it’s not accessible, not available, and most cinema goers don’t actually have the choice to watch it.’
I certainly do not feel that Australian cinema should be abandoned, as it remains an important institution through which Australians can enrich their culture and tell their story. I do, however, strongly support a transformation of the film industry and an abandonment of the ways in which they ‘support’ Aussie films. The talent is there and a lot of the films are good by international standards, we just need to get the ball rolling with more interest from advertisers and marketers to actually promote the films. Hope is not over for Aussie films just yet.
Aveyard, K 2011, ‘Australian Films at the cinema: rethinking the role of distribution and exhibition’, Media International Australia, no. 138, pp. 36-45
Hardie, G 2014, ‘What’s wrong with out films?’, The New Daily, 11 September, viewed 1 February, < http://thenewdaily.com.au/entertainment/2014/09/11/australian-cinema-crisis-dont-trust-local-films/>
Kelly, F 2013, ‘The real reason Australian films flop’, ABC, 8 November, viewed 1 February, < http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/australias-film-distribution-problem/5078404>
Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro, 1 December, pp. 6-8
Naglazus, M 2014, ‘The year Australian cinema died’, The West Australian, 16 December, viewed 1 February, < https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/25786596/2014-was-the-year-australian-cinema-died/>
Nowra, L 2009, ‘Nowhere near Hollywood’, The Monthly, viewed 1 February, < https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:1jJowS60ej4J:https://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-nowhere-near-hollywood-australian-film-2177+&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au>
O’Regan, T & Potter, A 2013, ‘Globalisation from within?: The de-nationalising of Australian film and television production’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 149, pp. 5-14
3aw 2014, ‘Why good Aussie films fail’, 3aw, 24 October, viewed 1 February, < http://www.3aw.com.au/radio/why-good-aussie-films-fail-20141024-3isir>