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