‘We’ve got a unique lovable culture that we should celebrate. We’ve got great talent, when the writers, directors, actors all come together – when all the molecules coalesce – that’s when the magic happens.’ – Gino Munari, Village Cinema’s General Manager
And somehow the magic just doesn’t seem to be happening. Australian films and media content have been incredibly influential not only domestically, but internationally. With a long history of contributing towards a cohesive identity and representing Australian culture, Australian stories are ones that should be told on a global stage. The general assumptions around Australian media content, particularly Australian films are extremely underwhelming, with Burns and Eltham describing Australian films as ‘unpopular at the box office’ and a ‘failure of the domestic screen industry’ (Burns & Eltham, 2010). Whilst these key assumptions are common towards Australian films, there are more deep seeded issues like measuring success, funding, marketing and audience watching habits of Australian films that contribute towards this stigma. The overall negative stigma of the Australian film industry and Australian films lead people to believe there has been a market failure within the industry. Whilst admittedly there are significant issues that must be addressed to ensure funding continuation, protection and stimulation of Australian content, the market has not entirely failed. Instead, it needs a makeover, Muriel’s Wedding style.
The Australian film industry has had a long history of being delicately intertwined with government policy, ultimately affecting the success of films. It is said that ‘screen policy is highly visible in Australian cultural policy debates due to the screen industry’s perceived cultural importance and media profile’ (Burns & Eltham, 2010). The 10BA existed throughout the 1970’s to 1980’s offering generous tax deduction of up to 150%, resulting in a boom in the industry (Burt, 2004). Some of Australia’s most successful films, like Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max, were produced in this time. However there were also a substantial amount of terrible films produced, some of them not even being released. With ‘skyrocketing budgets, shady deals and erosion of Australian cultural identity in an effort to appeal to global audiences’ (Burt, 2004), the 10BA days are well and truly over. In 1988, the Film Finance Corporation was created as a means to replace the 10BA and was to act as a film bank, becoming the ‘major source of finance in the 1990’s’ (Middlemost, 2015). Ultimately it was a failure, with only 25 movies produced a year in the 90’s and little profit. In 2008, Screen Australia was created under the Labor Government, a combination of the FFC, Film Australia Limited and the Australian Film Commission (Screen Australia, 2015). Screen Australia ‘aims to create an Australian industry that is innovative, culturally important and commercially sustainable’ (Screen Australia, 2015). With fluctuating policies, taxes and companies funding the film industry, it’s easy to see how the history of Australian film has either been in a ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ period (Burns & Eltham). However, with 2015 being the biggest year for Australian films since 2001, taking $84million or 7.7% of the local box office (Quinn, 2015), perhaps there is hope for future years.
An issue with films is how we measure the success or failure of a film. Traditionally and currently, a films success is measured by the amount of money it generates at the box office (in selling movie tickets). It is expensive to go to the cinemas. The minimum price of a ticket for a student is $10, plus the petrol to get there and the overpriced popcorn and soft drink… the whole experience can easily set you back $20. These limitations are highlighted in Torsten Hägerstrand’s three constraints on a audiences movement with money, time and transportation greatly influencing their ability to go (Holland, 2015). We have already acknowledged a huge information and research gap in Australians online movie watching habits (Middlemost, 2015). Personally I prefer streaming or watching a film on Netflix and eating my own food at home… cost efficiency. According to the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority), 9 in 10 teenagers use the internet for entertainment purposes for approximately 14hrs 42mins per week (Raco, 2014). If there is a whole demographic of people who are actively choosing not to go to the cinema to watch Australian films because the whole experience is too costly, then the box office success is not a true indicator of a films popularity. It’s therefore evident that funding should go to future research to fill this knowledge gap. As Kaufman suggests, we should be asking questions like ‘how many people watch Australian films or television programs, or Australian content made for new platforms?’ (Kaufman, 2009). By addressing these questions we will be able to furthermore understand the ways in which Australians consume Australian media and work towards protecting and enhancing the Australian film experience for everyone involved.
Another aspect contributing to the supposed market failure of Australian films is the way that we talk about them. Timothy King argues that commentary, reviews and marketing play a crucial role in contributing to a films success at the box office (King, 2007). In his research, he found that if a film has a glowing review, then the success should be reciprocated at the box office. However, is it common to see the Australian press criticize the Australian film industry for lack of success with the implication that it should be doing better (Middlemost, 2015). Whilst commentaries of Australian films are predominantly negative, film critics on the other hand, are criticized for being too soft on Australian films (Quinn, 2014). Many people base their decision off going to watch a film off of reviews (King, 2007), so it’s important to place value and trust in film critics. It is argued that the Australian film industry needs to be re-branded (Kaufter, 2009). If not re-branded, at least a botox injection, something to give it a bit of liveliness and something for people to talk about.
Despite the behind the scenes issues like marketing, commentary and audience viewing of Australian films, we must also discuss that perhaps some of our content needs improving in order to protect the future of the Australian film industry. Criticisms of Australian content are generally affiliated with the films being ‘dark and depressing’ and ‘full of outmoded ocker stereotypes’ (Quinn, 2014). Sponsored by Screen Australia and Screen NSW (Tropfest, 2015), Tropfest is an annual competition that sees hundreds of short films submitted. Tropfest is a way to provide up and coming talent the opportunity to break into the film industry and have their creative and new innovative ideas heard. Or at least it was. Tropfest for 2015 was cancelled due to ‘terrible mismanagement of funds’ (Mackander, 2015). This illustrates the crucial role that funding plays in the Australian film industry. However, thanks to CGU Insurance, a private investment was made so that Tropfest will take place on the 14th of February 2016 (Tropfest, 2015). If we are looking for ways to improve the Australian film industry, then holding Tropfest is fundamental to not only encourage aspiring filmmakers, but also bridge the gap between them and large production companies (Mackander, 2015). This also illustrates that perhaps the film industry needs a mix of both private investors and government funding in order to maintain a healthy industry.
Australian films are unique and crucial to Australians and Australian culture. It’s a hybrid type of film that should be allowed to change and evolve over time. The only way that can happen is if creative and innovative communities are given the opportunity to access the industry. It is also apparent that policies and funding directly affect the reception of films, visible through the 10BA tax, the FFC and Screen Australia. Another important note is that the audience has a large role to play in the industry. This being said, I don’t believe there’s been a market failure within the Australian film industry as such. More like a market glitch that can be resolved, and when the right molecules coalesce, that’s when the magic happens.
Winner of Tropfest 2014
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
Burt, M 2004, ‘10BA – The Pot of Gold (of Old)’, Metro, 140, pp. 158-158, Communication and mass Media Complete, viewed 9 December 2015, http://ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=12876007&site=eds-live
Holland, T 2015, ‘BCM240: Week 5 Cinema’, Blergh, 25 August, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.blergh.org/2015/08/bcm240-week-5-cinema/
Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Shortcuts: finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro: media and education magazine, No. 163, pp. 6-8
King, T 2007, ‘Does film criticism affect box office earnings? Evidence from movies released in the U.S in 2003’, Journal of Cultural Economics, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 171- 186
Mackander, M 2015, ‘Festival cancellation leaves ‘huge hole’ for emerging Australian filmmakers’, ABC News, 12 November, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-12/tropfest-short-film-festival-cancellation-leaves-hole/6934316
Middlemost, R 2015, ‘Introduction, key terms, debates and assumptions behind Australian content’, Lecture Notes, BCM330, University of Wollongong, 1 December 2015
Middlemost, R 2015, ‘Funding and Policy: A History of Market Failure’, Lecture Notes, BCM330, University of Wollongong, 7 December 2015
Quinn, K 2014, ‘Why won’t we watch Australian films?’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/why-wont-we-watch-australian-films-20141024-11bhia.html?rand=1449200398857
Quinn, K 2015, ‘Australian film has had it’s biggest year at the box office ever. Why?’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/australian-film-has-had-its-biggest-year-at-the-box-office-ever-why-20151204-glfut3.html
Screen Australia, 2015, ‘Cancellation of Tropfest 2015’, Screen Australia, 13 November, viewed 7 December 2015, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/news_and_events/2015/gn_151113_Tropfest.aspx
Tropfest, 2015, ‘We’re Back’, Tropfest, 6 December, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.tropfest.com/au/news/tropfest-is-back/
Raco, E 2014, ‘Aussie Teens Online’, ACMA, 1 July, viewed 7 December 2015, http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Research-snapshots/Aussie-teens-online#li=4CjCrptEqv4%3D&cs=3ABA593aXcCJ%2B9TWmsrhbg%3D%3D;
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