Aussie films or Aussie audiences – who’s to blame?

There is no doubt in saying that the Australian film industry has several problems. It is clear it is not where it should or needs to be, and there is certainly no shortage of suggestions as to why this is. Whilst previously most theories have looked to the films themselves in attempts to solve the problem, a new debate has occurred. For the first time people are wondering, is it possible that the problem actually rests within Australian audiences and not Australian films?

A new mindset is being taken, where rather than asking how well or indifferently the movies produced and protected by policies (such as the ones set by Screen Aus) represent Australia, we ask whether the policies themselves represent effectively the interests and diversity of the Australian audience. (Bowles 2007) What Screen Australia classifies as Significant Australian Content may be vastly different to what the general population thinks. The strict guidelines are outdated and confusing, with Bowles (2007) noting that these days it seems that the market rejects the core proposition that Australian movies are central to the maintenance of Australian cultural identity. In my opinion, the premise that Australian identity must be represented through film is incredibly archaic and out of touch. Australia’s identity comes from a multitude of sources, in forms such as art, music and mateship.

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Our culture comes from so much more than just our film (Save our culture)

These days “Screen producers face a daunting challenge in finding their audience – a plethora of entertainment is available on multiple platforms, with social media giving unprecedented power to consumers to pass judgement even before a film’s public release.” (Middlemost, Lecture 3)

It is true that Aussie audiences are giving Australian films less of a chance than films that come from the US or UK. As previously mentioned on another blog (check it out here), there are many causes for this, with the two main reasons being expectations and access. Put simply, many viewers just do not believe that it is worth paying the money to see Australian films. After decades of let downs, it is evident that as viewers we have lost the trust and interest in seeing Australian films. It is this lack of attention that results in Aussie films being pushed to the side, with the Hollywood giants happily taking their place.

The other key factor is the access that viewers are given to Australian content. Kaufman (2009) argues that the marketing of Australian films is often mis-targeted, underfunded or left too late. Lack of resources and funding mean that it is “difficult to release an Australian film using TV advertising, as most US films do, as the numbers just don’t add up,” (Kaufman 2009) Though I may not be the biggest film buff in the world, I do make the effort to see the films that I am excited for. The problem is, that for as long as I can remember I cannot think of a single Australian film that I knew was coming to cinemas/heard reviews about. Not even one.

The question of whether culture or commerce amounts to success is one that has already been brought up countless times within this semester. I find myself changing my opinion weekly, however the further I delve into the world of Australian content I find myself thinking that ultimately it is neither. The Australian film industry should first and foremost be about quality. Whether this comes from a film that represents our nation, or one that rakes in millions of dollars, I believe that if Australia focuses on producing good quality, unique films, then all audiences, not just Aussies will give the Australian film industry the attention it deserves.

References:

Bowles, Kate 2007, ‘‘Three miles of rough dirt road’: towards an audience-centred approach to cinema studies in Australia’, Studies in Australasian cinema, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 245-260

Kaufman, Tina 2009, ‘Shortcuts: finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro : media & education magazine, no. 163, pp. 6-8

 

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What can Ozploitation tell us about the Australian film industry?

“Ozploitation is an evocative term that embraces a rather diverse series of Australian genre films produced during the 1970s – 80s. The term was coined by Australian film maker Mark Hartley in his 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood (2008).” (Middlemost, Lecture 2)

The concept of Ozploitation supports the boom or bust attitude that is commonly associated with Australian content. During the Ozploitation era, a huge amount of films were produced. Anyone who had the money to produce one did, often resulting in the content being weird, wonderful and downright crazy. This surge of films was aided by the 10BA tax, which allowed producers to claim a 150% return on their investment. (Burns and Eltham 2010) But this ‘boom’ era of Aussie films could not last. The notion of Ozploitation in combination with the 10BA tax catalysed an unsustainable bubble in Australian production. Ultimately, the 10BA tax was scraped, being replaced by its policy successor the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) the first government screen agency to contribute to Australia’s film ‘bust’. Established to bring investment bank-style portfolio management to Australia’s screen industry, the FFC was quick to disassemble the world of Ozploitation and over-producing. However this approach was clearly not the answer to Australia’s production issues, with the FFC fundamentally failing its stated mission of ‘commercial’ screen financing. “Over its 20-year lifespan, the FFC invested A$1.345 billion for A$274.2 million recouped – a cumulative return of negative 80 per cent.” (Burns and Eltham 2010)

So this leaves us questioning – what era was better? During the Ozploitation boom Australia produced more films than ever before. The content focused less on national identity and more on genre’s, consisting of sex, nudity, drugs, money and racism, shocking Australian and global viewers alike. Quality went out the window and the biggest concern became content alone. It was clear that this boom was unsustainable and ultimately unprofitable, but was it better than the bust that soon followed? With Screen Australia’s strict guidelines in place, we have seen a complete 360. In the past few decades, “Australian filmmakers have become increasingly hostile to genre and slid into a gloomy trough of art and self expression. This is a problem, because audiences want to be entertained. Genre compensates for the lack of stars because form is the star.” (Ryan 2012 p.148)

So what is the way forward for Aussie films? A class discussion lead us to the conclusion that while “genre production is not a silver bullet that will single-handedly improve the Australian feature film industry’s commercial performance,” it is something that Screen Australia and the Australian government definitely need to re-explore. (Ryan 2012 p.148) The case study of Ozploitation has shown that whilst genre films may be a little eccentric at times, they are popular and most of all memorable. Thomas (2009) argues that Ozploitation films do have historical and cultural value, and that the Ozploitation genre has opened up new marketing opportunities in cinemas globally.

I believe that the case study of Ozploitation has shown us that genre films create hype. I think that in order for Australian production to make a comeback, it needs to find the balance between representing national identity and genre. Of course some films need to go down the gloomy art path, and others such as The Howling, Dead End Drive In and Turkey Shoot will inevitably still be made. What Ozploitation has taught us is that any publicity is good publicity, and in my opinion, Australia needs to revert to its crazy movie making days to get our name back out there.

 

Check out some of the craziest Ozploitation films ever made > http://curnblog.com/2013/06/09/ozploitation-twelve-australian-exploitation-classics/

References:

Burns, Alex & Eltham, Ben 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

Ryan, M,D 2012, A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate, Studies in Australasian Cinema, 6:2, pp. 141-157. < http://www-tandfonline.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1386/sac.6.2.141_1 >

Thomas, D 2009, Tarantino’s Two Thumbs Up: Ozploitation and the Reframing of the Aussie Genre Film, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, No. 161, pp. 90-95, <https://search-informit-com-au.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=881538223754070;res=IELLCC> ISSN: 0312-2654>

 

 

 

Aussie content… what’s happened?

When considering the production of Australian content, there are many key assumptions that come to mind. This week, for BCM330, we are were asked to delve into these assumptions, questioning not only their existence, but also the level of truth within them. Before analysing these key assumptions, we first analysed the history of Australian content, learning about the feats and failures that shaped the industry into what is it today.

Aussie content first made its mark in 1906 with ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang.’ The film was an international success, putting Australia on the global production map, inspiring an era of bush ranger themed Aussie movies. In the decades following, we saw a steady but strong stream of content, with the 70’s and 80’s producing Australia’s golden age of movies, with films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, Crocodile Dundee and Muriel’s Wedding. However, it seems that as soon as we hit the 2000’s, Australian content lost its way, and to put it frankly, it hasn’t found its way back since.

The last few decades of Aussie content have been far too focused on promoting Australian identity, resulting in almost every film portraying ridiculous stereotypes. Of course there have been a few diamonds in the rough, such as the film The Castle. The fair go attitude and mateship presented in this movie is what Aussies are all about, however far too often we see content taking it to the next extreme, showing us as a nation of crocodile wrestling bogans who live in the outback.

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He thinks Aussie content is good? Tell him he’s dreamin’ (The Advertiser 2016)

A quick google search regarding the issues with Australian content proves that I am not alone in my thoughts. Countless articles, each with different reasons, all explain where it has gone so wrong. Groves (2012) believes that we have “had our expectations lowered from years of movies that failed to entertain, amuse or rouse us”, while many others blame poor promotion and distribution. (Harris 2013)

Regardless of the reasons why, it is safe to say that the assumptions surrounding Australian content all conclude the same thing. As a nation, we are sick of seeing ourselves and our country being misrepresented. The problem is that without access to better funding, it is virtually impossible to change this. Screen Australia has the most influential role over Aussie productions, and only what they deem to be ‘Significant Australian Content’ (SAF) will get the green light. This leads into one of the biggest debates surrounding Australian content, one that looks at the divide between value of screen culture opposed to policy demands. (Middlemost, Lecture 1)

Whilst I believe that it is important to use film to portray our nations identity and culture, I think that this argument is only relevant when the content being produced is relevant too. The USA thrives as the global production leader, with Hollywood films being more focused on capital rather than content. In my opinion, Screen Australia needs to reconsider what is deemed as SAF (mind you the criteria right now is incredibly confusing) and realise that less is often more. Showing our beautiful landscape, amazing talent and mateship attitude would be more than enough. As a nation, we have moved on from the bush ranger art house films…. so Aussie content, its about time you did too.

References:

Groves , D 2012, Why are many Australian films a turn-off? SBS, 21st May, viewed 8th December 2017, <https://www.sbs.com.au/movies/blog/2012/05/21/why-are-many-australian-films-turn&gt;

Harris, LC 2013, How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Australian Film Industry, Junkee, 11th October, viewed 8th December 2017, <http://junkee.com/how-do-we-solve-a-problem-like-the-australian-film-industry/21379&gt;

Screen Australia, Guidelines Eligibility Significant Australian Content, viewed online 7th January 2017, <https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/funding-and-support/producer-offset/guidelines/eligibility/significant-australian-content&gt;