Australian’s Watching Aussie Films? You’ve Gotta Be Dreamin’.

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.

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 in Junkee.

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.

It’s almost pointless for an Australian film to attempt to compete against Hollywood blockbusters in the cinema circuit because they just won’t ever win. In 2016, Australian films only took approximately 3.8% of Box office shares, which is higher than previous years but still below Screen Australia’s bar of success of 4.5%.

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,

Resources: 

Bowles, K, Maltby, R, Verhoeven, D, Walsh, M 2007, ‘More than Ballyhoo?: The Importance of Understanding Film Consumption in Australia’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, no. 152, pp. 96-101, viewed 1 January, <https://search-informit-com-au.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=801887957815399;res=IELLCC>

Dow, S 2014, ‘What’s wrong with Australian cinema? Steve Dow, The Guardian, viewed 1 January, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/26/australian-film-australian-audiences>

 

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Putting The “Australia” In Australian Content

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 Herald continues 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.

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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.

References: 

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.