Should we give up on Australian content? Did Darryl Kerrigan give up on his home?

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.

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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.

Resources: 

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.

 

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Time to embrace Netflix and chill, Australia

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

So some films are shown on 75 screens across Australia, and some are only shown on four. As stated earlier, all the other films are released straight to DVD. While DVD sales aren’t failing dramatically – Australian’s spent $805 million on DVD’s and Blu-rays in 2016 (but in 2012, only 4.4% of these sales were attributed to Australian films) –  the hiring market is shrinking. A Screen Australia survey found that between 2006 and 2013, the DVD hiring market fell from 57 percent to 37 percent, and streaming and downloading rose to 30 percent.

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.

However, in Australia, video on demand services are lacking. “A lack of cultural and commercial imagination is holding back Australian digital viewing culture. Still isolated, still a little parochial, Australia isn’t lacking in options for how to view, but there’s little forward thinking about what’s possible,” and they can be sluggish, unreliable and pixelated, which, considering it’s undoubtedly where audiences are going to consume their content on a day-to-day basis, is problematic.

Over one in three Australian’s have a Netflix account, and the longer the Australian government ignores video on demand services, the more Australian content will suffer. Hopefully, the 2017-2018 inquiry into these services will lead to positive results which can be harnessed by the Australian film and content-making industries.

 

 

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Taika Waititi should just be involved in every Australian co-production

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.

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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 an 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.

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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.

Resources: 

Caust, K 2017, ‘Why is the Australian government funding Hollywood films at the expense of our stories?’, The Conversation, <http://theconversation.com/why-is-the-australian-government-funding-hollywood-films-at-the-expense-of-our-stories-79898&gt;

Tunny, D 2013, ‘Moochers making movies: Government assistance to the film industry’, Policy, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 8-15

 

 

 

Australian’s don’t even say shrimp: Not all attention is good attention.

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.

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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.

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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.

Resources: 

Brabazon, T 2011,’A pig in space?: Babe and the problem of landscape’, Australian cinema in the 1990s, F.Cass, London, pp. 149-158.