Should we continue to produce films in Australia?

Australian content has struggled through its “boom and bust” cycles. We saw a significant increase in film creation during the 1970s in Australia’s boom cycle due to the 10BA tax incentive. Nevertheless, most of these films were unsuccessful internationally and domestically, with a similar market still occurring today. Australian content is still struggling to break out of its stereotypical connotations which would bring audiences back to the cinema.  Some might argue it is time to give up on Australian content and merely import our entertainment, though I believe that it is merely time for Australian content creators to evolve.

Australian films were predominately genre films, a pure attempt to improve box office performance of the Australian film industry (Ryan 2012 p. 142). Though Australian films require more than just genre films to achieve success. Australian audiences are inclined to watch films that restrict their relationship with national identity (Ryan 2012 p.147), due to the cheesiness that comes from these films. Audiences shy away from Australian content that is merely displaying a stereotype; they would prefer to connect more to films such as Strictly Ballroom, The Babadook and Babe. Three films which have found not only domestic success but also international success.

Babe went against the usual binaries that are employed in most Australian films (Brabazon p.154). The setting and plot of Babe were universal allowing anyone from any background to be able to relate to the film. Brabazon (year p.155) states that babe went a long way to ensure that all national identity was removed to ensure its success. Strictly Ballroom similarly employs a universal plot and setting, where only accents indicate that the film is Australian made. Unlike other films; Strictly Ballroom focuses on the Spanish and dancing community, removing all national identity from the film. As a nation we should be focusing on creating our stories rather then re-telling our national stories. This firstly needs to be accepted on a policy level before we can see a change in Australian content.

Funding is currently determined through national benefits that are achieved through a film. The films must demonstrate national identity, although this has resulted in cheesy films. Funding criteria must firstly be changed to allow content creators to freely develop films and television series based on any plot they choose. Currently the content created is dictated by their source of funding which as Hemert and Ellison (2015 p.47) notes this usually results in an Australian tourism advertisement. Perhaps this is why Australian films often have an under developed script, low budget or a depressing subject matter (Aveyard 2011 p.317).

In order for Australian content to continue, the funding needs to be less subjective to merely Australian content, though guidelines still need to put in place to ensure quality. The 10BA Tax incentive was an attempt to see more films created by offering eligible films one hundred and fifty percent rebates on their content (Burns and Eltham 2013 p.105). However, this saw the quality of films significantly decline as producers were merely creating content as a tax subsidiary. This resulted in runaway productions, where international movies were being made in Australia and taking advantage of our 10BA tax and our cheap labour (Burns and Eltham 2013 p.110). Therefore, it is important that any funding changes employs a quality control clause possibly replacing the national identity criteria.  This will hopefully allow Australian film creators to make films of their own choice without the compulsory Australian spin, thus perhaps Screen Australia will recuperate their investments. As of 2011 Screen Australia had not recuperated any investments on projects in the last three years (Aveyard 2011 p. 37). Similar figures were shown by the Film Finance Corporation between 1988-2008 where their recoupment was only within the millions compared to their $1 billion investment (Eltham and Burns 2013 p.108).

Ideally content creators need to embrace the digital market. Digital media is changing the traditional viewing habits of audiences and we are now seeing the industry starting to establish a strong hold in digital distribution (Hemert and Ellison 2015 p.45). Digital services such as Netflix and Presto are a reasonably cheap and effective means for content distribution. Digital streaming services do not have to pay for press or marketing and can focus merely on the online marketing of the production (Dunks 2014 p.36). An online release will also provide cheaper access to international markets, and satisfies societies current viewing habits as the audience are able to access the content from any location on any device.  Though this still does not remove the fact that distribution and marketing needs to be examined at an earlier stage within production (Kaufman 2009 p.7).

Australia should never stop producing content, however; the Australian Film industry needs to evolve. If more film projects are able to receive funding without the requirement of cultural identity this would see the quality of films increase, and the audience hopefully return. Audiences are merely shying away from Australian content as they cannot relate to the stereotypical characteristics. Australian projects also needs to embrace digital streaming services which result in a lower budget release and greater access. Australian films simply need to evolve and utilise changing technology and societal views by making content that audiences want.

References:

Aveyard, K 2011, ‘Australian films at the cinema: rethinking the role of distribution and exhibition’, Media International Australia, no. 138, pp.36-45.

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.

Burns, A and 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, p 103-118.

Dunks, G 2014, ‘Down And Out Down Under’, Metro, No. 180, pp. 34-37.

Kaufman, T 2009, “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films”, Metro, no.163, pp 6-8.

Ryan, M 2012, “A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate”, Studies in Australasian Cinema, Vol.6, No.2, pp 141-157.

Van Hermert, T and Ellison, E 2015, ‘Queensland’s film culture: the challenges of local film distribution and festival exhibition’, Studies in Australasian cinema, Vol.9, No. 1, pp.39-51.

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