Why don’t Australians like Australian films?

It’s the debate that just won’t die. Australian films continue to draw just a few percent of total Australian box offices, and the local industry continues to scratch its head and wonder why.

On October 22nd, Metro Screen held a sold-out forum on the issue, chaired by Andrew Urban and featuring a panel of distinguished panelists including Margaret Pomeranz, Tony Ginnane, Troy Lum, Rachel Ward and the new boss of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley.

The debate swirled around many of the same-old, same-old standards of the “what’s wrong with Australian film” issue, which has been debated extensively in the press and the industry by critics and commentators like Jim Schembri, Luke Buckmaster and Lyndon Barber.

Does “Australian film” have a branding issue? Are Australian scripts and movies too depressing, mundane and dull? Are the marketing budgets unrealistic? Does cultural imperialism mean Hollywood is a natural advantage? Should we abandon “telling stories” and instead concentrate on “creating myths”? Do Austraolian film-makers and funding bodies even understand their audiences and why they go to see movies? And is it all about to change with the coming of digital delivery anyway?

One issue that came to my mind immediately was the uphill struggle most Australian cinema faces. Not only is it competing with the Hollywood juggernaut, but the small size of the Australian market means limited sources of capital investment, development funding and ultimately cinematic audiences.

There’s also no doubt that, structurally speaking, the market for film production in Australia is skewed towards blockbusters and against independent productions. That’s just an unsurprising fact of life; even though film has certain unique facets it is still hostage to the sorts of competitive advantages and economies of scale that make it easier to market and screen Transformers than an indie Australian drama.

Having said that, as a cultural economist I am constantly amazed at the lack of price differentiation in cinema. If audiences aren’t going to see Australian films, why not drop the price? It seems insane to me that we expect audiences to pay the same to see a Michael Bay special effects monster as for a $1 million Australian indie. Maybe it would not be more profitable in the long run to do this, but in the name of market share alone it seems to me a no-brainer. Maybe Australian dramas would sell at $9 or $7 or even $5. Of course, there are structural issues to do with distributors and exhibitors that would make this unlikely.

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4 thoughts on “Why don’t Australians like Australian films?

  1. This is an awesome discussion.

    Like Ruth Harley said – I think Aussie films tend to be “boring suburban microdramas”.

    We need less depressing movie stories – and more movies (as opposed to `films’) that are pure Entertainment. Crocodile Dundee make $50m.

    Also, our Horror genre pics have succeeded.

    “Humankind cannot bear too much reality”.

    Most people (I am not saying ALL) prefer to go to the movies for Escapist Entertainment. So, car chases, fistfights, supernatural stuff, fantasy, singing and dancing and stuff.

    So, we need more movies that compete directly with Hollywood entertainment. I am not saying that’s easy to do on Australian movie budgets. But look at the Aussie films that have succeeded.

    Clearly it can be done (as it has been in the past.)

    Also, `hybrid genre’ movies are the go. eg Horror-Comedies, Bushranger-Westerns, Zombie-Musicals, Sci-Fi Comedies, etc etc.

    None of this `drama’ stuff. Drama is boring and despressing, that’s what real life is for. In a movie, make us laugh make us cry, and throw in a few car chases, shootouts, and fist-fights and love scenes and stuff. Now – That’s Entertainment!

    All just my opinion. Like I know anything, LOL!

    Cheers

    Joe Velikovsky
    Writer-Director
    http://www.joeteevee.com

  2. Australian Films are almost government/initiative/etc. co-productions. As a result they almost always need certain elements to be deemed appropriate to finance:

    Cultural melting pot. Tourism. Aboriginal characters. Australiana – make sure there’s a football match in there, make sure they wear stubbies.

    We never used to make dull cinema. We’ve made dull cinema ever since private funding sources dried up and public funding sources have become the norm.

    Lose the over the top accents, lose the ‘depressing melbourne slum’ or ‘outback hardship’ backdrops and make some real fucking entertainment. Having a checklist for financial applicability doesn’t elevate bad scripts to high art, it just makes them preachy.

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