The Australian Film Industry: A Battle of Culture and Policy

Weve got a unique lovable culture that we should celebrate. Weve got great talent, when the writers, directors, actors all come together when all the molecules coalesce thats when the magic happens. Gino Munari, Village Cinemas 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.

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Makeover time. Source

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.

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Watching films through new media technologies like iPads. Source

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.

Tropfest
Tropfest. Source

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.

Further Information

Winner of Tropfest 2014

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

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;

 

 

Home & Away: Walking Home With My Parents

Where am I? Physically, I’m sitting at the library at the University of Wollongong, typing away at my blog. My mind is daydreaming about the end of session spent at the beach. I’m texting my friend in Sydney, reminiscing about our weekend. And I’ve just Facebook messaged a friend in Mexico to see if he’s OK in Hurricaine Patricia. The question stands that if I am physically in one place, however engaging in another through the media… where am I and how is this managed?

I’ll be speaking to 4 different university students about how they manage their home and their new life out of home. The relationship between media, audience and place is complex, especially when it comes to making your parents happy that you keep in touch, mainaining old friendships and making the most of your time whilst living out of home. So, I thought I would begin with myself, and explore the ways in which I manage my home-new home relationship.

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It’s nice to know you’re not walking alone.

I grew up and attended high school in Port Stephens near Newcastle where I still have a large friend and family network. After graduating high school and spending my GAP year abroad. Then in 2014 I moved down to Wollongong to study. I am now living at my second university residence and after three years of living out of home and balancing my home – new home life, I’ve come up with some strategic and productive ways to do so.

I’ve previously discussed wasted time, and I seem to accumulate quite a lot of this. To make the most of this ‘wasted time,’ I will call my parents when I am walking home from work, the gym or the train station. My Dad is always on his mobile, and he will ‘walk me home.’ Even if the walk is just a few minutes this allows me to debrief him on my day and what I got up to, whilst at the same time, I feel safe knowing that he’s ‘walking me home.’ I also find myself having long conversations with my Mum whenever I’m cleaning my room. Whenever I’m at home, Mum will usually sit on my bed and help me fold my clothes while we just chat for hours until my room is clean. So when I find myself cleaning my room, I’ll call Mum, put her on speaker and it’s almost as if she’s sitting on the bed with me (except I’m folding my own clothes).

We can recreate the notion of a ‘double reality’ (Foschini, 2009) where we can ultimately occupy two places simultaneously. I remember being young and saying to my Mum ‘there’s so many things I want to do, I wish there were two of me.’ And whilst there may not be two of me (just yet) by creating a double reality, it allows me to keep connected and occupy two spaces at the same time to increase productivity. This removes physical boundaries like distance and blurs the line between home and my new home.

Whilst I may not have yet managed to fulfil six year old Adelaide’s wish of having two of me, I’ve definitely been able to transcend distance and space through the use of technology and have my parents walk me home.

References

Foschini, T 2009, The Doubling of Place: The Electronic Media, Time-Space Arrangements and Social Relationships – Shaun Moores, Tori’s Blog, 3 April, accessed 24 October 2015, https://tfoschini.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/the-doubling-of-place-electronic-media-time-space-arrangements-and-social-relationships-shaun-moores/

Living in a Sex Negative Culture

Before an American child turns eighteen, they see over two hundred thousand acts of violence and forty-thousand murders on TV but not one female nipple. So what is more obscene? (Camero, 2014).

You just need to take one glance at the cover of a magazine to know that everyone’s talking about sex and sexuality (thanks Miley Cyrus). It’s a natural part of life and it makes sense to openly discuss something that everyone will experience in their life, right? Despite this current craze about sex and sexuality, there’s still a hushed tone around discussing these things. On the other end of the spectrum, is violence. An act which is comletely unnatural, to want to hurt another person, and cause others pain and suffering. However, you don’t have to wait up past 9pm anymore to see one of CSI’s mangled corpses on your screen. These days you can turn on the 6 o’clock news and you’ll see violent acts such as the murder of two news journalists on live television, or children being killed and wounded in a school massacre. These are all important news stories, however is does raise the question of why is censoring sex more important than censoring violence?

South Africa's Cosmopolitan January 2015 issue. Source
South Africa’s Cosmopolitan January 2015 issue. Source

The answer is children and moral panic. Dr Klein explains that we live in a ‘sex negative culture’ where we tell children that sex is bad for no other reason that ‘because it just is’ (Klein, 2015). This dystopian view (Bowles & Turnbull, 2015) focuses on the harmful effects that exposure to sex and sexuality on TV can have on children. Children have always been viewed of ‘at risk,’ and therefore worth protecting of the horrific nature of a naked body, because it would destroy their childhood (Bowles & Turnbull, 2015). The University of Michigan provides an information guide for parents on children and TV watching saying ‘TV can promote risky behavior, such as trying dangerous stunts, substance use and abuse, and irresponsible sexual behavior’ (Boyse, 2010). This dystopic perspective that television is an evil thing in our loungerooms corrupting our children is contributing to this moral panic and the sense that we need to protect out children from potentially corruptive sources.

So how is the act of censorship spatial? ‘Censorship is aimed at material that is believed to be unspeakable, too private to be public’ (Klein, 2015) which demonstrates how both of an audiences private and public lives can be regulated through the censorship of something that is as ‘unspeakable’ as sex. The fact that this censorship travels beyond the media’s public eye and into our private homes directly correlates with how you would speak about sex to your family or friends. And if you’re brought up being told not to talk about it from the media, then you’re certainly not going to speak about it anywhere else.

So which is worse for our children to see? Source
So which is worse for our children to see? Source

Whilst there is still obviously a lot of concern regarding children and watching violence on TV and in video games, the question still remains. Why is it more common for children to watch a crime show and see violent acts then see something that human nature, real and something that is a big part in our society like sex and sexuality?

Reference

Bowles, K & Turnbull, S 2015, Media Audience and Place: 8 Regulating Audience, BCM240, University of Wollongong, lecture delivered 21 September

Boyse, K 2010, Television and Children, University of Michigan Health Systems, August, http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm

Camero, C 2014, What is more obscene, violence or a female nipple?, XPress Magazine, http://xpress.sfsu.edu/xpressmagazine/2014/12/08/what-is-more-obscene-violence-or-a-female-nipple/

Klein, M 2015, Censorship and the fear of sexuality, Dr Marty Klein, http://www.martyklein.com/censorship-and-the-fear-of-sexuality/

Further Information

And it wouldn’t be a blog post without a concluding note from Mr John Oliver. This hilariously witty piece looks at how important it is to talk openly about sex in a safe and judgement free environment.