“What about me! It isn’t fair! I’ve had enough now I want my share! Can’t you see- I wanna live! But you just take more than you give.”
With Australian Films taking up a tiny share of box office tickets, dominated by foreign films taking around 90% share… it’s not difficult to imagine the Australian Film Industry singing along to the Moving Pictures classic song ‘What About Me?’ But with an investment of $1.345 billion over 20 years from the Film Finance Corporation (FFC), and only recouping a mere $274.2 million, we must ask ourselves: why do Australian audiences not like Australian films? Despite the funding and market protections set up to encourage and enable Australian content to find a spot in the market, the figures show significant failure of Australian content.
It’s certainly not that we are not going to the cinema – the Australian Bureau of Statistics measure that 87% of us watch or listen to television for just under 3 hours a day, and that attending a cultural event or attending the cinema is our number one choice. Whist the FCC have argued that the investment has increased final production budgets, the attendance of audiences consuming home grown content has diminished to as little as 4.5% in 2008.
It is undeniable that the Australian Film Industry has no lack of talent. For a small nation we have an abundance internationally recognised and awarded industry players – yet our products seem to suffer and not achieve the same success. There is much debate surrounding the reasons why this is: marketing issues, distributors fighting against the American Juggernauts, even debate surrounding how we measure ‘success’ itself. So an examination further than box office numbers is required by us to fully realise what is missing and how we can exploit the gap in order to create a sustainable industry that is thriving without being entirely dependant upon the taxpayer, with no one going to see the final product.
With all the numbers and budgets about what, where and why the Australian Content is flailing – I find this the most telling. Locally made genre films Daybreakers and Sanctum were internationally successful (in terms of box sales) and yet failed to capture Australian audiences as well as critics. Juxtaposed with Tomorrow when the War Began, which was a high earner domestically but dismal in box office tickets internationally, there is a dichotomy that Ryan calls ‘a curious omission that the international success of Australian genre movies is rarely celebrated within domestic film culture’. What this suggests to me is that the answer is not with budgets, talent or audience habits; but with the cultural shadings of the marketing and how we view ourselves.
In a globalised landscape that the Australian Film Industry must operate, products with Australian content must be transnational in order to be successful – the domestic market is simply too small to rely on. How we see ourselves and how we would like to see ourselves appear to be two very different things. This intersection with how the international audience perceives and consumes Australian content creates the environment where content, which is favourable to Australian audience, does not resonate with the commercially optimal international audience and vice versa. This cultural cringe is impacted on our success.
Tina Kauffman suggests that a pragmatic approach to the production of Australian content in necessary to have a sustainable industry. This means creating content that is bombastic – ‘more Australiana, boatloads of escapism, heroic journeys that end in triumph’. This path seems to be almost, and I loathe to use this term, Un- Australian. The ‘Hollywood’ approach suggested by Kauffman seems to go against the grain of what is embodied as at the core of the Australian Identity, which she admits herself. But embracing the international does not mean exclude the national, and as French explains, universal themes and human values are ‘the means of fostering a connection to people and locations beyond the nation’.
So we have the Australian Content Producers stuck between a hard rock and a hard place. Do we water down the Australianness of our content in order to create a internationally valued film, devoid of what makes it truly Australian? Or is it just a matter of being drowned out by the bigger, louder, harder, faster American Hollywood Mammoth? The real question here is this: is it that important that we see ourselves reflected on screen, and how can we modify the funding model of the Australian Industry in order to create a self-sustaining and productive industry.
In my view, the idea of creating Australian content simply to have a essence of Australian Identity is flawed. FFC funding an industry to create a product that no one is consuming is not good policy. The shift must come in the product that is produced. The stories must be that of universal themes, and be capable of being marketed internationally. The media world now operates on a global stage and this must be adapted too in order for the industry to survive, let alone have success. It is as though when we see Australian content, it’s as awkward as it is to hear your own voice being recorded and played back to you and you think ‘I don’t sound like that!” How we see ourselves is not how we are seen to others and this is the problem. There is a cultural cringe that sets in as we view ourselves. This is a hindrance and problematic when creating content for a global market, whilst catering for the domestic audience also.
The Australian Film Industry’s place in the market is essentially as the little boy waiting at the counter of a corner shop: pushed around, knocked to the ground. It needs to get up and scream What About Me!
2010, Sources of Finance for Australian and CO-Production Features, Screen Australia, Sydney, www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/mpfeauturesfinance.html
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2007, Attendance at Selected Cultural Events, 2005-06, Cat. No. 4114.0, ABS, Canberra.
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 (8/1/07-current), no. 136, pp. 103.
French, L, & Poole, M 2013, ‘Internationalizing Australian Film and Television’, Metro, no. 176, pp. 86-91.
Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Finding Australian Audience For Australian Films’, Metro, no. 163, pp. 6-8.
Ryan, Mark David 2012, ‘A Silver Bullet for Australian Cinema? Genre Movies and the Audience Debate’, Studies in Australian Cinema, vol. 6, no. 2, pp.151.