The way forward for the Australian film industry is unclear, but giving up is not an option. When big bureaucracies came for the Kerrigan’s home, they didn’t give up, they fought them. And when Hollywood threatens to take-over the Australian film industry, we shouldn’t give up, either.
Australian’s are bored with films claiming to represent Australian culture, because, in the past, these films have over-simplified and butchered what most Aussies consider to be their national identity. This overwhelming feeling of ‘cultural cringe’ means fewer Australians are seeing Australian-made films, at least at the cinema.
Once a film does well overseas, then Australian audiences become interested in the film, maybe because they trust overseas audiences more than anyone else, especially when limited releases in Australia means even good-quality films bomb at the Box-office.
Maybe that’s the way forward. It is true that “commentators are arguing that the measure of what constitutes a successful film needs to change, that the obsession with box office should be replaced with an assessment of the total audiences who are watching that film across all different platforms over its life,” (Kaufman 2009) and if this simple change was made, then Aussie films would fair a lot better. After all, The Babadook only made $258,000 at the box office in Australia, but around $7.5 million worldwide after it did well at film festivals and in the US. Critically, The Babadook is a success, but looking at box-office takings alone, it’s a flop.
It could also be argued that money needs to be funneled away from international production and back into the Australian industry, but when the international films are more likely to guarantee a financial return, the likelihood of this happening is slim. Roeper and Luckman (2009) argue that co-productions are the way forward for a viable and sustainable future because more creative endeavors are possible when working in a collaborative media environment (p. 15).
Considering Australian audiences don’t particularly want to watch Australian films, even though the government and funding bodies believe that these films are crucial to the creation and longevity of the Australian culture, maybe the way forward is to eliminate the caveat of forcing filmmakers to create ‘Australian culture films’. This would open the door to allowing more genre-specific films to be made in Australia which could potentially compete in a global market.
Allowing independent filmmakers to have access to funding without forcing them to make a ‘significantly Australian film’ could also be a step in the right direction, as “the film industry, like many other key creative industry sectors, has long seen much of its most innovative and ground-breaking work done at an independent, unpaid and/or pro-am level,” (Roeper & Luckman 2009, p. 14).
Removing these restrictions on what constitutes an Australian film, and ditching the phrase ‘Australian film’ altogether, will allow Australian creatives to just make good quality movies that people will want to see, thus encouraging a shift upwards for our film industry. It would stop the cycle of low budgets creating low-quality films about Australia which no audiences want to see.
Instead of ‘giving up’ on the industry, there needs to be a re-evaluation of what works and what doesn’t.
Kaufman, T (2009) “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films” Metro, no. 163, p 6-8
Roeper, J & Luckman, S 2009, ‘Future audiences for Australian stories: Industry responses in a post-Web 2.0 world’, Media International Australia, no. 130.
Australia is really doing itself a disservice by neglecting marketing and distribution with its films.
If an Australian-made film is even released at the cinema – around 30 Australian films are straight-to-DVD releases each year, according to Screen Australia – they usually show on less screens, for less time. For example, according to a 2014 The Conversation article:
“In 2012, 43 Australian films screened at Australian cinemas, including 27 new releases and 16 films released in previous years that were still screening in 2012. Those 43 Australian films spent an average of eight weeks in cinemas during the year, and a median of five… they averaged 75 screens across the country, with a median of 17, and at their narrowest, they averaged four screens… Some 23 films reached fewer than 20 screens at their widest point of release, and 19 films ran for less than five weeks.” – Rebecca Mostyn, 2014, The Conversation
With cinema releases not pulling in Australian audiences, and DVD releases not pulling in a lot of Australian audiences, and streaming on the rise, it makes sense that this is the step forward for the industry.
Looking at the 2011 film The Tunnel, which massively flopped at the cinema but utilized legal downloading to get the film distributed to relative success, it’s clear the internet is the way forward for not just Australian film audiences, but all audiences.
In 2018, the trailer for the new movie The Cloverfield Paradox was shown immediately after the Superbowl, but audiences didn’t have to wait months until the film dropped – Netflix made it available to stream straight away, which is genius marketing in today’s digital world.
Australian’s now have access to four major streaming services, Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video and Foxtel Now, and if Australian content wants to compete with international content available on these services, they need to fully embrace them. Stan is doing this to some degree, creating its own original content, à la Netflix.
Thanks to Google, an argument was recently settled in my home when my housemate refused to believe that one of her favourite films, Green Card (1990), was considered an Australian film. Set in New York City with American and French leads, and not even a mention of the word’ Australia’ in the script, the film doesn’t exactly seem Aussie-made. Same with my personal favourite film, Moulin Rouge.
Mad Max: Fury Road also doesn’t scream ‘Australia’, but at least this Blockbuster is part of a series which was created Downunder, and there are elements of Australia if you look.
All of these movies are considered to be Aussie through the magic of transnational co-productions; a production program put in place to encourage international filmmakers to film in Australia but to create international stories which will resonate with international audiences. It allows Australian filmmakers to get their movie made by reaching out for assistance in other countries who can afford to contribute to the budget, and for other countries to make their films for much cheaper in Australia – we have a really great special effects and behind-the-scenes industry, and our dollar is usually less than the American dollar. It’s a win-win situation, sort of.
It makes sense. After all, “foreign productions, especially where a large part of the movie is made in Australia, as opposed to a few scenes, have much larger budgets than Australian productions, and hence, can lead to big fluctuations in the industry. While Australian productions have spent between $5 million and $10 million over the last decade and a half. foreign productions have spent between $20 million to $60 million” (Tunny 2013, p. 9). So, at least if an Australian project is co-produced, it has a helping-hand at the box-office in the form of more budget. And there are no requirements for ‘significant Australian content’, which is why a film such as Green Card can be considered an Australian film, even though there is not a “G’day” or kangaroo in sight.
Outside of co-productions, Australia knows our film industry is struggling, and have started to offer tax breaks to American filmmakers to encourage them to film their movies in Australia, which takes money away from Australian filmmakers. In a sort of catch-22, in order for and Australian film to receive funding, they have to make a film filled with ‘significant Australian content’, which is not what Australian audiences want to watch. This forces the filmmakers to make small-budget films, typically within certain genres, which cannot compete with massive-budget international films. “Diverting scarce film funding to Hollywood prevents an Australian film (or several Australian films given the size generally of their budgets) being made” (Caust 2017), and therefore, the chances of Australian films performing well at the box office gets slimmer, which then makes the industry less financially viable. Then, the cycle continues.
While jamming ‘Australian content’ into films just for the sake of it can be a negative thing, having films made in Australia without any Australian content in them is also not the best move forward. “Even if the cultural protection argument were to justify some public support in the limited number of cases of culturally enriching films, it certainly does not justify public support for Hollywood productions with no discernible Australian content” (Tunny 2013, p.13).
And it’s clearly possible to do both.
New Zealand director, Taika Waititi recently made the Marvel blockbuster Thor Ragnarok largely in Australia. In an interview with Screen Australia, he stressed how he went into the film wanting to make a ‘true Australian film’ instead of just filming in Australia – there’s a difference. He attempted to create opportunities for Indigenous Australians, and being a small-time director, he included a lot of little Australian Easter eggs in the film which would go unnoticed by outsiders – therefore not contributing to what I like to call the Dundee effect – but making Aussies feel like this is a film made for them.
“We got local interns, from local Yugambeh communities, to come in and get work experience. Screen Australia paid for a few up-and-coming filmmakers to come in and get experience and shadow me on set. Then I managed to get some Māori and Aboriginal actors in the film as well, including myself.”
Also, all of the spaceships in the film are named after Holden cars; you’ve got the Commodore, the Terrano, the Kingswood and the Statesman. The Commodore spaceship has the colours of the Aboriginal flag patterned on it, “so, the heroes of the film are escaping from this world in the Aboriginal flag.”
The Yugambeh people who were on set did a Welcome to Country ceremony before filming, and there was also a quick The Castle reference thrown in; a bodyguard sneers at a request for a $10 million dollar paycheck by saying “tell her she’s dreamin’.”
Now, Taika didn’t have to include these bits of Australian culture in the film. Because the US has no co-production agreement with Australia, and even if they did, there is no Australian content requirements, this film could have just been made in Australia and that be the end of it.
But, in my opinion, it’s an incredibly smart way for co-productions to move forward. Include actual elements of the culture from the countries involved in making the films so everyone feels included.
And, on a not serious (but I wish it could happen) note, Taika Waititi should just make all films from here on out. He’s great. Waititi for president.
One of the biggest reasons people automatically avoid Australian films is because they consider it to be an incorrect and maybe even offensive portrayal of Australian people, culture and the nation as a whole. And this general disdain for stereotypical representation of Australian culture doesn’t just apply to film, but to television as well – just think of the (admittedly hilarious) episode of The Simpsons, Bart vs Australia, where basically every aspect of our culture is mocked and exaggerated.
Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee and this episode of Australia shown by The Simpsons might seem over the top and clearly satirical and exaggerations of Australia, but they without a doubt framed how the country is seen overseas; a country of “leathery larrikins who absolutely cannot pronounce an “ing” at the end of a word.” And therefore, it’s no surprise that Australian’s are sick to death of other countries viewing us the same as a movie from 1986 portrayed one of us to be.
This has lead to cultural cringe, a term often used in Australia, is almost considered a fact of Australian culture. According to Australian academic Leonard John Hume, Australia has a weak cultural self-identity because we’re culturally alienated, and this leads to an appetite for all things American and a rejection of what could be our own nation’s culture. He also claims a lot of our cringe at depictions of Australian culture come from a serious oversimplification of our history and culture in order to make it palatable and easy to understand for overseas nations; hence the knife-toting, croc-wrestling, and daft bushman personified in the Dundee character.
And we can’t seem to shake this depiction.
While the saying ‘any attention is good attention’ could be argued here, I’d offer a counter-point. Overseas, Australia is still seen as a country full of Steve Irwins, with dangerous creatures intent on killing everyone and where every child rides a Kangeroo to school. While many other films about Australia have been released which focus on actual Australian culture like mateship, the fair go, an ‘Aussie battler’ overcoming all odds, or any other of Australia’s cultural identities, the Dundee stereotype still prevails, even though this projection “shows an inadequate conceptualisation of film audiences. This manner of social imaging can be socially damaging, culturally narrow and oppressive,” (Brabazon 2001, p. 152).
Australia is multicultural, and trying to fit us all into one box to be easily consumed by a global market isn’t the attention we should be getting. Instead of framing the Australian culture as how outsiders see us, if we focus on how we see ourselves, an accurate and positive depiction will emerge. For example, in a 2010 survey, 37 percent of Aussies voted Darryl Kerrigan, the dad from The Castle, as the film character that most represents Australia as a nation.
Yep, a middle class, everyman family patriarch with a love for his home is considered to represent our nation more than the “that’s-not-a-knife” bushman. Clearly not all attention is created equal, and the way forward should be for filmmakers, if they must create significant Australian content, to focus more on how we see ourselves instead of what other nations consider to be ‘Australian’, or we’ll never capture our real national identity.
Brabazon, T 2011,’A pig in space?: Babe and the problem of landscape’, Australian cinema in the 1990s, F.Cass, London, pp. 149-158.
Going into a subject focusing on Australian film was an exciting prospect for myself as a film buff who genuinely enjoys most Australian-made films I’ve been exposed to in recent years. While it wasn’t particularly a surprise that a lot of my fellow classmates either avoided or outright didn’t enjoy Australian film, it did make me slightly disheartened – at least enough to tweet about it.
Heartbreaking hearing everyone say Australian films are shit. Seriously, check out Aussie horror film; The Loved Ones, The Babadook, Hounds of Love, Snowtown. Get ’em up ya! #BCM330
Moving outside of the horror genre – which Australian film is excelling in currently – a lot of Australian films are good quality and tell engaging, interesting stories. And, opposed to popular belief, they’re often a far-cry away from the cliche and stereotypical Aussie films people assume they’ll be. The reasons people don’t like (or think they don’t like) and are reluctant to go and see Australian films can be boiled down to two main issues; marketing and distribution, and the audiences themselves.
Because Australian films are not necessarily the problem, but their success is reliant on winning over a reluctant audience and winning against a failing theatrical release strategy,
Time and time again, it’s been shown that the “enthusiasm of Australian audiences for cinema in general has not favoured local production” (Bowles et al 2007). Australian audiences choose to see Hollywood blockbusters in the cinema over Australian made films about Australian stories. For people to want to see an Australian film, it first has to succeed overseas, whether that be though winning at film festivals, or winning favour with overseas critics and audiences first. Then, the film can come back to Australia and audiences here might be more inclined to go and see it.
“This is a trend that continues in Australia — it takes an overseas audience to tell us how good our films are.” – Emma Westwood, film broadcaster, commentator, and author inJunkee.
Those in the entertainment industry wonder if it’s the need and desire of Australian audiences to hear from overseas audiences that a film (US blockbuster or Australian made) is worth seeing before taking the plunge and viewing it which is having such a negative and detrimental impact on our film industry, and whether it’s
“You know what the trick is? Don’t release the film in Australia first. Release it overseas. Take it to overseas festivals. And then, if it gets overseas attention, it will get Australian attention.” – actor Anthony LaPaglia.
Even after an Australian film is given an overseas stamp of approval and has the opportunity to be seen by Australian audiences, the way Australian audiences engage with content is changing with technology and media convergence. According to The Guardian, a 2011 Screen Australia survey found nine out of 10 Australians will wait to view an Australian film from home instead of seeing it at the cinema. And not necessarily on DVD.
Another survey found that “between 2006 and 2013, the number of Australians hiring a DVD or Blu Ray in the previous three months fell from 57 to 37%. At the same time, Australians streaming or downloading online video and film, in the four weeks before the survey, rose to 30%,” (Dow 2014), proving that traditional view methods like cinema and DVD are on the decline while streaming and downloading are on the rise.
Re-engaging the Australian audience with homegrown films must be addressed, and it’s not an issue of changing the content of Australian films, but reassessing how they are going to be consumed, and marketing the films accordingly. Maybe the step forward is to stagger an Australian release until after it’s premiered overseas, and then releasing the film not only in cinemas, but through streaming services and on the internet,
When you’re battling against the minds of the studios and the money that can go into promoting larger budget films, it’s very hard for a very small-budget Australian film to get a look in. You can get critically acclaimed and go to various film festivals around the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the majority of people are going to hear about it. – Hugo Weaving, 2012 interview with Collider.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Australian’s tend to avoid watching Australian films at the cinema. It’s reflected in both the box office numbers of Australian films, which fail year after year to reach Screen Australia’s idea of success – 4.5% of box office shares each year – and fail to bring in audiences in cinemas.
Our film industry has been in dire straights for years, following a ‘boom and bust’ cycle (Burns & Eltham 2010, p. 111) of relative success followed by periods of market failure. There is constant commentary in the media about what’s wrong with the film industry, and how to fix it.
A poll of our classroom highlighted several of the issues which are also repeated in articles attempting to get to the bottom of the issue all over Australia; Australian’s are sick of seeing outdated and incorrect stereotypes, and tall poppy syndrome means there is no chance a small-budget Australian film can compete with the budgets, actors, marketing, and hype of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Burns and Eltham (2010 p.111) agree that Australian films are unpopular because of; low production and marketing budget, distribution bottleneck and poor investments.
A 2014 article in the Sydney Morning Heraldcontinues with this list of things wrong with the industry, citing the dark and depressing subject matter, the critics being ‘too soft’ on Australian films, the lack of marketing and limited distribution, tall-poppy syndrome (again), outdates ocker stereotypes (again), and just a general lack of quality film coming out of the country.
Internationally, our films aren’t always well-received because there are a number of culturally specific elements which don’t translate well overseas because Screen Australia forces creators to include significant Australian content in their projects in order to obtain funding.
Many experts in the field claim the notion of an “Australian film” is the industries undoing, for example, producer and executive, Troy Lum (The Water Diviner) has dismissed the idea that people go and see a film because of its country of origin. ‘People just want to see good movies; no one cares if Mao’s Last Dancer is Australian,’ he says, according to Kaufman (2009).
But Australia is making good movies, they’re just overshadowed by a couple of bad ones which have turned, in particular, Australian’s off seeing them – I’m looking at you, Crocodile Dundee.
I think the major issue is that you don’t have to Dundee a movie in order to make it Australian. Some of the best films I saw in 2016 and 2017 were Australian, and they didn’t have ‘typical’ Australian things in them, just nuanced elements of real Australian culture; in Hounds of Love (2016) and Snowtown (2011), the houses, streets, clothing, and language situates you right in an Australian suburb. In The Loved Ones (2009), the main character transitions between a small town and the bush in a way which is normal and natural, not forced and ‘look how Aussie this is”.
Audiences are making massive assumptions about Australian content without actually watching the content, and these assumptions are bringing down the industry as a whole.
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.
Kaufman, T 2009 “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films” Metro, no. 163, pp. 6-8.
The Google study found that most people spend time using multiple devices, and my experiment focused on simultaneous screening; using multiple devices at the same time. It also found that “TV no longer commands our full attention and has become one of the most common devices that is used simultaneously with other screens.” (Google 2012, p. 2).
Between 2000 and 2013, the human attention span shrunk from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, and it can be attributed to multi-device use. Although, it has had a trade off in that most people who multitask with more than one device have gained higher attention spans, have become better at doing more in less time, and have become more efficient at memorising things.
It was these facts, as well as my own reflexivity which made me acknowledge that also am both obsessive with my phone use and also engage in simultaneous screen watching. I knew that I would struggle to watch an entire episode of a show without using my phone, so I knew the results of the experiment would probably be worthwhile and go on to prove the points of the two articles cited above .
I also wanted to try to find some answers to questions I couldn’t find answers to or theories for in the readings I did. Those questions centred around why adults were being affected by attention spans and device use outside of consumer behaviour. While there were lots of readings about children and the effect of phones on behaviour and attention spans, all of the studies on adult behaviour was around consumer behaviour. I still reference these readings throughout this piece, but I believe there is a gap in academic study which should be addressed.
I approached the experiment with two things in mind; the information from the consumer studies on attention spans, and Torsten Hägerstrands’ time geography theories.
The Microsoft study found young people (18-24) were more prone to addictive technology behaviour. The ages of the people I chose for this experiment fell inside this age group (22, 23 and 24 years old). Previous studies I found from 2012 focused on children the age of 8 and 18. One by the Pew Research Centre, published in an article in the New York Timesfound:
“nearly 90 percent (of teachers) said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” (Richtel 2012).
I wanted to focus on the next age group up, because of the lack of research in the area and the fact it is one of the age groups most engaged with media and device use with 79% using their phones while watching TV and 77% using their phones whenever something isn’t currently occupying their attention.
The Google report found that the average time people engage with television is 43 minutes, so I chose to show episodes of a television series because they had a duration of 44 minutes and 39 minutes respectively. This meant I wasn’t trying to make my participants pay attention to something for longer than the average amount of time, which would have affected the results.
The experiment also engaged with Hägerstrands’ theory of time and space geography. On a basic level, his theory dictates that the spatial constraints of human activity fall into three categories; capability, coupling and authority, which I have outlined in more detail here.
My experiment tested these three constraints.
Capability: with what we know about human attention spans, the length of engagement with certain media for certain amounts of time and the use of device use while engaging with media, there were certain biological (attention span) and physical (phone use) factors dictating how the subjects in the experiment were going to act.
Coupling: the experiment tested not only being engaged with the space but also with the other people in the space. On the viewing of the show where the phones were allowed to be used, there was some interaction between the subjects (who are all really good friends), but this interaction was limited because the focus was already being split between the phone and television and conversation. On the viewing where the phones were removed, there was much more interaction between the subjects, which they all admitted in the interviews lead to a more pleasurable experience, even though the episode was not necessarily more enjoyable. They also had to be engaged for a certain amount of time (49-44 minutes).
Authority: obviously, there were limitations placed on actions and access to phones by the ‘owner’ (myself). I dictated what they watched, and also was in control of taking and giving back their phones.
Using these theories helped me set up and make decisions about the kind of experiment I would be using. I filmed two separate videos but chose to include them as one video with a running time of 10 minutes, to make the contrast between the two viewings clear.
I conducted interviews with the subjects immediately after the second viewing, asking them about their experience and their own perceptions of their device use. I believe I got honest and accurate answers out of them, and they offered insight into why – a key question for qualitative researchers to ask and find answers to.
In summary, all of the participants admitted to being addicted to their phones and using their phones when engaging with television. They all admitted to being anxious when I removed their phones from them, but all enjoyed the experience more without their phones.
I thought the fact that it only took 43 seconds for someone to pick up their phone was interesting because three of the four started using their phones around this time. I also found it interesting that Lauren used her phone almost constantly during the first viewing and was not engaged at all (she even admitted it), but she was the most engaged during the second viewing without the phone (even giving off a visual reaction when scared and asking questions throughout).
I believe my experiment, which was very relaxed and definitely not infallible, does show that young adults between 18 and 24 are addicted to their phones, and it shows a relationship between phone and device use and having a lesser attention span.