Australian films have consistently struggled to achieve audience numbers compared to their Hollywood rivals. So why is this? Why are Australians not supporting their local content?
Australia has produced multiple iconic films such as; Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, The Castle, Crocodile Dundee, Babe and of course Strictly Ballroom. However, when we look at these films, each employ a stereotypical Australian culture except Strictly Ballroom. Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom shies away from the traditional binaries of the bush, beach and red dusty plains to portray a sense of national identity. Rather Strictly Ballroom reflects on dancing culture, multiculturalism and the often conflictual blending of Anglo and Spanish culture (Brabazon 2001 p.151). It is these themes that have seen Strictly Ballroom being regarded as the ‘most reclaimed film of its decade’ (Brabazon 2001 p.151).
Australian audiences prefer to watch films that limit their national identity due to the general connotations of these films employing a cheesy, dorky and stereotypical Australian ideal. This is why movies such as Strictly Ballroom and Babe have been successful in the Australian landscape. These three films do not portray an Australian stereotype, instead these films could be watched by an audience internationally as their plots can be applied universally. Australian films nevertheless generally present the local market rather than presenting the local audiences desires (Bowles 2007 p.249). Yet, Australian films at the box office only show on average for five weeks and generally only on seventy-five screens across the nation (Middlemost 2015).
The local audience is an ideal that has not been researched thoroughly in an Australian context. It is important for producers to research the local audience not only to see what content is in demand but also to research the way in which audiences consume content. Rosentiel (2013) stated in his Ted Talks that now as consumers we no longer “need to be home at 6:30pm to watch the news, or up early to receive the paper”, we are now a society that is able to access content at a time that suits us and through a medium (often portable) that suits us. As an audience we are no longer tied down to having to watch free to air movies on television or certain cinema times, with the introduction of Netflix and other online streaming providers.
Australian content creators need to research further the reliance audiences have to online streaming services and if they are able to utilise these means. Kaufman (2009 p.8) notes that eighteen to twenty-four year olds are rapidly declining from the cinema due to their dependence on computers. This age range will only widen as cheap online services become available. We have already seen television programmes such as Home and Away attempt to utilise Presto (Australian streaming service), by releasing a few episodes only available on this service.
Australian audiences do not want to view content aimed at creating a national identity. Rather audiences enjoy films that could be based anywhere, allowing a greater connection to the film. Australian film plots are not inferior to Hollywood, they simply have a smaller marketing budget and are restricted through the audiences predisposed ideals of Australian films. Nevertheless, it is significantly important that audience engagement and medium of content consumption is further researched as this maybe the key for the revival of Australian content.
Bowles, K 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, pp245-260.
Brabazon, T 2001, ‘A pig in space? Babe and the problem of landscape’, in Craven Ian (ed), Australian Cinema in the 1990’s, London, pp.150-156.
Kaufman, T 2009, “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films”, Metro, no.163, pp 6-8.
Middlemost, R 2015, ‘Watching an Australian film: what’s wrong with this experience?’, lecture notes, BCM339, University of Wollongong, 15th December.
Rosenstiel, T 2013, The Future of Journalism: Tom Rosenstiel at TEDxAtlanta, YouTube (Online Video), 28th May, Tedx Talks YouTube Channel, Viewed 23rd December 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuBE_dP900Y>>