Narrative Practice with individuals who suffer from Mental Health Disorders

Australia’s mental health disorder rate is increasing, raising the demand for more effective treatments. Often counselling sessions are generic, merely discussing the sole issue rather than exploring the clients surrounding life narrative. This article will be reviewing narrative practice theory developed by Michael White, this practice is a potential solution as an applicable treatment for mental health disorders. Narrative practice is an incomplete area of study, nevertheless, this allows a wide spectrum of areas to be built on. This article will review narrative therapy regarding mental health, specifically depression/ anxiety and bi polar disorder, it will be analysing the effectiveness of this practice on the individual and whether it results in positive or negative outcomes.

Firstly narrative practice as a term should be discussed and defined. Narrative practice was developed by Michael White, though this research was never completed due to his sudden death.  Morgan (2000) defines narrative therapy as a; ‘respectful, non-blaming approach which views problems separately from people’.  Whilst Ikonomopoulos, Smith and Schmidt (2015 p.460-461) define narrative therapy to be based on peoples experiences and the situations constructed through cultural and social interactions. This definition has not separated this therapy from the individuals, rather it takes the view that societal views have a significant impact on a person’s individual self-worth. This is the definition that will be implied through-out the rest of this analysis whilst focusing on mental health disorders and specifically Ferguson’s (2014) idea of stigma stalker, which will be discussed later.  Mental health disorders have become a pandemic in Australia, as of 2007 forty five percent of Australians between 16-85 years of age at some point in their life experience a mental disorder (Australian Bureau Statistics 2010) and it can be assumed that this number is slowly increasing. Therefore, it should be studied whether narrative practice is an alternative therapy for individuals with mental health disorders. Unlike traditional counselling sessions it is believed that narrative practice will see clients opening up through-out the process providing greater in-depth answers about what shapes the individual (Dulwich Centre 2002). The concern about narrative practice being undertaken with individuals that are suffering from mental health disorders, is the sensitive nature of their condition and it is unclear how they will interpret their results. Morgan (2000) notes that some narrative therapy scenarios can result in an individual becoming dis-empowered, thus it is important that the session is handled with care.

Stigma stalker is defined by Ferguson (2014 p.4) as the judgement and shame that consistently follows individuals with mental health disorders. This stigma is either felt from the individual’s personal beliefs or they believe it is radiating from their colleagues or family and friends. Stigma is a significant barrier for individuals with mental health problems, this is why it is important to not separate the practice from the individual; as often this stigma in society is the main issue. The crux of narrative practice in this instant is to address the damaging effects that society has created for these individuals (Burgin, Gibbons 2016 p.53) and to ultimately allow them to see there is a story beyond their mental health struggle (Ikonomopoulos, Smith and Schmidy 2015 p. 461). An excellent example is Anderson and Hiersteiner (2008 in Ikonomopoulos, Smith and Schmidy 2015 p. 461) whom worked with incarcerated youth, majority of whom were repeat offenders and suffered from a mental health disorder. It is clear that Anderson and Hiersteiner (2008) employed the absent but implicit in this research, the absent but implicit is a technique that encourages double listening. Ultimately the listener will be hearing the problem but will also be contrasting it with what the client is leaving out of the narrative (Carey, Walther and Russel 2009 p.321). Carey, Walther and Russel (2009 p.321) states that we can describe meaning by contrasting it with something else, and this is what Anderson and Hiersteiner (2008) are attempting to do within their work. The majority of the youths described their narrative around their abuse and recovery. Whilst through implementing the absent but implicit Anderson and Hiersteiner (2008) were able to help these youths create a life story beyond their abuse and recovery by re-authoring their life narrative. Resulting in these clients being able to consider future possibilities (Ikonomopoulos, Smith and Schmidy 2015 p. 461).

Similar narrative therapy has been undertaken with adults that suffer from bi-polar disorder. Bi-polar is a significant mental health disorder that results in the individuals mood fluctuating between extremes, thus this is a very sensitive area to address. Burgin and Gibbons (2016) studied the outcomes of adults with bi-polar who have received narrative practice as a treatment and detailed their outcomes. Their findings were significant and once again they found that society has created an oppressive and dominant story for these individuals (Burgin and Gibbons 2016 p.54), furthering Fergusons (2014 p.4) idea of stigma stalker.  Burgin and Gibbons predominately focused on middle aged and up individuals in their study which they found to have remarkable results. They altered narrative therapy into ‘narrative gerontology’ (Burgin and Gibbons 2016 p.55), this provides emphasis on the inside of aging and ultimately focuses on people and their stories. This had remarkable results, the study found a significant decrease in depression rates. This directly shows that narrative therapy has distinct results, especially in an older client. Burgin and Gibbons (2016 p. 58) states that narrative therapy is an ideal treatment to assist adults with a disorder such as bi-polar, as it provides them with a greater importance and power. Here rather than implementing the absent but implicit, it seems Burgin and Gibbons (2016) have implemented the re-membering technique (White 2005 p.13); where conversations are not merely a passive recollection, instead these engagements are given purpose. Burgin and Gibbons (2016 p.54) attempt to externalise the problem and revise their narratives such as attempting to have their client remember a time when a stranger said hello to them utilising re-membering to create new meaning. Ultimately they utilised this to help individuals whom felt alone revise their life to see they are not always alone and notice the little conversations they have missed.

Narrative practice is meant to develop a sense of one’s self, through discovered values and missed elements within their life. Though these results are always conveniently positive with negative outcomes never included within the studies. Ferguson (2014 p.3-4) has detailed a scenario where she felt the impacts of a possible negative outcome from her narrative therapy treatment. Her client Joe in the middle of his treatment attempted suicide. This was a setback for Ferguson (2014 p.3-4 ) whom clearly was unsure if she should continue treatment and discusses the sensitivity of the disorder. Ferguson (2014 p.13) attempts to connect Joe with the broader world by using narrative practice to help him externalise and re-author his narrative. It is clear she only achieves this technique by first implementing the absent but implicit as defined earlier. Ferguson (2014 p.3-4) started her study through the admittance of having to gain Joe’s trust, therefore, she had to apply the absent but implicit to fully comprehend Joe’s entire story and what he was leaving out, here it was clear she was able to connect him back to his love of teaching. Hence revealing to Joe that has a strong value of education and teaching, demonstrating Joe’s importance to the world. Though much of Joe’s anxiety was from his career due to stigma stalker within the work place, although narrative practice may have showed Joe how to re-author his narrative to reveal a narrative of value without depression. It was also evident that narrative practice does not solve external factors that have potentially inflamed the mental health disorder.

It is clear that narrative practice has limitations and cannot be the entire treatment for mental health disorders. Burgin and Gibbons (2016 p.58) discuss multiple limitations of the practice they encountered throughout their study. They note that for the practice to be fully successful requires the client to undertake reflective thoughts outside of the therapy (Burgin and Gibbons 2016 p. 58), whilst many individuals suffering from a mental health disorder are unlikely to continue reflective thought. They further their analysis to include that narrative therapy can be a closed practice where the ‘value of ones life can only be reflected on through one path’ (Burgin and Gibbons 2016 p. 58), where they believe this is a direct contradiction to the core of narrative therapy. Though it is evident through Anderson and Hiersteiner (2008 in Ikonomopoulos, Smith and Schmidy 2015 p.461) study, that the final negative argument by Burgin and Gibbons (2016 p.58) can be argued. As it was clear, as discussed earlier, that the youths within their study were able re-author their narrative to move past their mental health disorders and seek a future from a single path of reflection.

Narrative practice is an alternative therapy that should be considered for individuals suffering from a mental health disorder. It is clear through the detailed studies above that there has been significant outcomes, where narrative practice has allowed mental health suffers to re-author their life to envision themselves without their illness. It also has allowed these individuals to re-member their narrative to notice small conversations they may have missed, in hope they will see they are not alone but merely they were guided by their disorder. Nevertheless, this is a sensitive area where some individuals may not find solace in re-authoring and discovering their values through narrative practice, as they may not attribute positivity to them, which leads to dis-empowerment. It is obvious that narrative practice has negatives as a therapy, but this has been outweighed by the positive outcomes. However, it is clear that narrative practice should be considered for mental health disorders but perhaps coupled with other therapy methods simultaneously.

References:

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010, ‘Feature Article 2: Mental Heath’, Year Book Australia 2009-2010, ABS, viewed 8th June, < http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/1301.0Chapter11082009%E2%80%9310 >

Burgin, E & Gibbons M 2016, ‘”More Life, Not Less”: Using Narrative Therapy With Older Adults With Bipolar Disorder’, Adultspan, Vol. 15, No.1, pp.49-59.

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The absent but implicit: a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Family Process, 48, 3, pp. 319-331.

Ferguson, S 2014 “Using narrative practices to respond to Stigma Stalker in the workplace a journey with Joe”, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, no.4, pp.1-15.

Ikonomopoulos, J, Smith, R & Schmidt, C 2015, ‘Integrating Narrative Therapy within rehabilitative programming for Incarcerated Adolescents’, Journal of Counseling and Developmen, Vol. 32, No. 4, pp.460-470.

Morgan, A 2000, ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 30th March 2016, < http://dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy/ >

White, M 2005, ‘Workshop Notes’, Michael white workshop notes, Dulwich centre, viewed 9th June, < https://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/michael-white-workshop-notes.pdf >

 

 

Literature Review – Narrative Practice

Narrative practice theory developed by Michael White is a relevantly innovative and incomplete area of study, especially due to the death of Michael White in the midst of his research. This has left a wide spectrum of narrative practice that is yet to be studied and built on.  A specific area of interest in this review is narrative therapy regarding mental health, specifically the resulting effects of narrative therapy on the individual; whether it is positive or negative. Therefore this article will review in detail three academic journal articles to determine their relevance for further research and what areas are clearly being missed within the field.

Narrative practice is predominately used in psychology in order to discover context around a value or incident the client is describing. Morgan (2000) defines narrative therapy as a; ‘respectful, non-blaming approach which views problems separately from people’, therefore, it is obvious that narrative practice is versatile and able to be undertaken in multiple areas. Although we are mainly seeing this practice take place in physical health. Slowly the practice is being transitioned into other areas such as education, career and specifically mental health; though how often are the negative results of this practice being taken into account?

Doan (1998) is a fantastic article for initial research regarding this topic due to its pessimistic view of narrative therapy. Doan (1998 p.1) details how the human race has always employed a sense of narrative practice, where he examines the case study of Native Americans and European Christians. Through this example Doan (1998) is attempting to illustrate that narrative practice is often a group or individual believing their narrative is ‘truth’ compared to another individual or group. This is shown in his example with the Native Americans and the Europeans where he distinctly draws a connection to the Native Americans openly disagreeing with the Europeans ideal of God and the onslaught that followed.  Doan (1998) progresses to research what is narrative practice at its core but then attempts to degrade the practice by asking “Does it practice what it preaches?” (Doan 1998 p.2-3).

Doan’s conclusions are that we as a post modernism world are documenting history by telling stories of what happened, thus dismissing any genetically underpinning circumstances. Doan (1998) rather than exploring narrative practice is detailing what is wrong with the practice. Doan (1998) believes that researchers are disregarding previous factors such as genetics and are purely investigating the individual’s opinions, resulting in the individual’s opinion being held in a high regard. This article provides a practical resource as it is an example of possible negative outcomes from narrative therapy, however, that is all it offers. Rather Doan (1998) more presents a series of questions that he never attempts to answer, thus leaving this open to be further built on. Especially as his range of literature is often dated with the oldest reference used being published in 1948. Though these gaps can be filled and his conclusion of narcissism can be faulted through the discussion of the absent but implicit ideology.

The absent but implicit ideology is significant within narrative practice. Absent but implicit is based on how we interpret texts, what we hear and what we derive from them; though it extends this to being concerned about the ideals and items that we are not hearing. Ideally to simplify the ideology the absent but implicit is concerned with what is not said and it is up to the narrative practice practitioner to listen for the missing elements to derive the actual meaning. Carey, Walther and Russel’s (2009) academic article on the absent but implicit provides an in-depth view of the theory and how to undertake the methodology.

Carey, Walther and Russel (2009)’s article concludes that the absent but implicit is a further step in narrative practice that offers an extra line of support (Carey, Walther and Russel 2009 p.14), that allows individuals to see themselves in a different light. Thus helping them to reach a sense of being active within their own lives (Carey, Walther and Russel 2009 p.14). This article contrasted against Doan (1998), is trying to build on Michael Whites prior research rather than degrading the theory. Cary, Walther and Russel (2009) have provided a scaffold that describes eight directions that a practitioner can take to inquire about the absent but implicit. This is a beneficial source as each of these directions are facilitated through example conversations that provide example questions to ensure that the practice is undertaken efficiently. This article has also sighted multiple resources with the earliest having been published in 1986, therefore, rendering this article current and well resourced. However, Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) do not address negative effects of this type of narrative practice. Rather they state that this enquiry will provide the individual information about what value they are actually providing the community. Nonetheless, what if the conclusions are negative? Doan (1998) fears that many individuals are narcissistic with their opinions and what if this result for these individuals results in a negative outcome? As Morgan (2000) states some scenarios can result in seeing the individual dis-empowered. Regardless, Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) present an informative article, though it needs to be addressed how to undertake narrative practice on individuals whom are already emotionally sensitive; leading to techniques to talk about this sensitivity and possible negative solutions.

Narrative practice can uncover sensitive topics for the interviewer and the interviewee and it is important that these topics are dealt with in a respectful manner. Often whilst undertaking an interview the interviewee may reveal an unexpected topic, this topic may also be unexpected for themselves. It is imperative that the interviewer handles this topic sensitively and it can be difficult to construct questions to build on this information. This is also the case if you are implementing the absent but implicit methodology as detailed by Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) and as an interviewer it becomes apparent there are sensitive underlying issues. This can be supported by Ferguson (2014), whom discusses mental health stigma within the workplace through a case study she has undertaken with a man who suffers from depression and anxiety.

Ferguson (2014) is attempting to battle mental health stigma in the work force through narrative practice. She believes that narrative practice will illuminate triggers and help to re-connect the work environment to the broader world (Ferguson 2014 p.13), though this practice must be undertaken by an external source. This article goes through the narrative process at each step, defining stigma stalker, the client opening up regarding how he sees himself, to undertaking the absent but implicit to determine what is missing from what she is being told, to initialising this change in her client and resulting in defeating the stigma.  Each of these steps are broken down with dialogue from the interviews as well as correspondence with her client’s place of work. Ferguson (2014) provides brilliant methodologies for addressing sensitive topics, strengthened in the article by Ferguson having to address her client’s suicidal attempt. This academic article strengthens the findings in Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) by in-depth evidence of the absent by implicit being put into action. Furthermore this article has utilised a range of academic references from relatively recent sources.

Ferguson (2014) is also an Australian study, hence it holds similar cultural traits and values that will be examined within my further study. This research will be informative into how to practically implement narrative practice into a sensitive topic, though it is yet again missing any negatives that this form of narrative practice can result in. As discussed earlier, not all conclusions are positive and can lead to lower self-esteem, however, this article does not cover how to sensitively address a negative outcome with an emotionally unstable client. Also as mentioned in Doan (1998), Ferguson has ignored genetically present mental health issues, another issue that should also perhaps be addressed.

Throughout all three academic articles each has presented a different view of narrative practice and how they believe it should be addressed. Overall it is clear there is a significant gap within the literature regarding negative outcomes of the practice, and this is what my final report will seek to build on. Carey, Walther and Russel (2009) have provided an interview scaffold which is undertaken by Ferguson’s (2014) in-depth case study, especially with her methodologies of dealing with sensitive topics. Completed with Doan (1998) initialising ideals regarding the negatives on narrative practice, as well as posing a series of questions that can be built on in further research. Overall, these academic articles together provide a fantastic background for further study focusing on the singular gap found in all articles; the possible negative resolutions of narrative practice.

References:

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The absent but implicit: a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Family Process, 48, 3, pp. 319-331.

Doan, R 1998, “The King is dead; Long live the king: Narrative Therapy and practicing what we preach”, Family Process, vol.37, no.3, p.379-385.

Ferguson, S 2014 “Using narrative practices to respond to Stigma Stalker in the workplace a journey with Joe”, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, no.4, pp.1-15.

Morgan, A 2000, ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 30th March 2016, < http://dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy/ >

 

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Narrative Therapy in Practice

Recently I was in a seminar where we were instructed to describe our professional values. Each individual used similar descriptive words such as; independent, driven and passionate. Though when asked why we selected these values many of us could not answer; because these are the values inscribed into us. We are told we should hold these values and these are held by the ideal professional candidate. We attach these to ourselves as they are the values we would like to hold. Shapiro et al. (2016 p.38) found that all journalists described themselves with a similar core professional value; accuracy.  Therefore, to try and fully evaluate our true selves, we undertook narrative therapy practice exercises.

Narrative therapy practice is a theory utilised in psychology to achieve context around a value or incident that the individual is describing. Morgan (2000) defines narrative therapy as a; ‘respectful, non-blaming approach which views problems separately from people.’ We are utilising this theory per the process of understanding professional identity as described by the Dulwich Centre (2002). Dulwich Centre states that individuals should bring in external examples which perhaps shy away from their professional career. It is the belief that this process will open the individual up about themselves that otherwise may have been overlooked. The process should provide a greater depth and answers about what shapes the individual (Dulwich Centre 2002).

We paired up to each undertake a narrative interview about something which had happened recently where we had to a make decision. This required us to detail the situation, as well as providing previous context surrounding the decision. We were then questioned as to why we made that decision, what was the expected outcome and did we expect to follow it? This allowed us to step back from the situation and think why we made this decision. When we subconsciously make decisions we are unaware that in that moment we are actually displaying a value that we hold as a person. When questioned in-depth about these decisions and having to relate the decision to prior times within our life, it allows us to see that perhaps this is a value that we have previously not noticed.

The exercise was followed by the interviewer recounting our narrative, where they relayed exactly what was said word for word. This allows the interviewer to attempt to place values that they have obtained through-out the story, but it also allowed the interviewee to hear the story re-told and view the situation from a different perspective. Ultimately this was a listening exercise and it is interesting to find out what the interviewer has retained from your narrative and what contextual features led them to remember these facts.

For me personally I feel I gained more from Michael White’s concept the ‘absent but implicit’. The absent but implicit concept attempt’s to make sense of how we individually read texts, particularly our account of events (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321). The absent but implicit to define the concept simply reviews an individual’s narrative, often of a negative experience, and discovers what the individual does not include within the plot.  When utilising this concept the interviewers are to listen carefully to what they can hear about the experience and what they are also not hearing (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321). This is a significant concept as generally we will make sense of our own self through contrasting our experiences against what they are not (Carey, Walther, Russell 2009 p.321), thus the meaning is absent from our thoughts but our narrative has subtly suggested it.

This concept resonated with me the most, as I often find negative experiences are hard to move on from and I do not fully understand my actions. I am often left not understanding why I feel the way I do, however, when I discussed my experience with a fellow class member as a narrative interview I was able to see what I was overlooking about my personality and what values I hold deeply. This was furthered when my interviewer responded through asking me deeper questions about issues and feelings I had not noticed when I was answering but apparently it was implicit. This reflection and my interviewer’s conclusions allowed me to see that I hold a value that I never knew about and that I am not able to recognise why I react in such a way to similar incidents.  Nevertheless, it should not be ignored that some conclusions regarding an interviewee’s identity can be negative on the person. Morgan (2000) describes a scenario where the individual is classed as an attention seeker and this immediately is received negatively and disempowers the individual.

Overall narrative therapy practice has many mutual benefits for the interviewer and the interviewee. The interviewer gains skills in listening and learning to write down exact quotes whilst also trying to uncover in-depth information the interviewee might not know about themselves. Whilst the interviewee will discover values and morals that they might not have otherwise have uncovered, this is valuable foresight when approaching decisions. It is also valuable when the narrative practice is undertaken in a professional setting, it will allow the interviewee to escape the inscribed values we place on ourselves. Though it should not be ignored that some conclusions from this practice can lead to individuals feeling negative towards themselves.

 

References

Combs, G and Freedman, J 2012, ‘Narrative, Poststructuralism, and Social Justice: Current Practices in Narrative Therapy’, in The Counseling Psychologist, vol.40, no.1033 p.1034.

Carey, M, Walther, S, & Russell, S 2009, ‘The absent but implicit: a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Family Process, 48, 3, pp. 319-331.

Dulwich Centre, 2002, ‘Storying professional identity’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 3rd March 2016, < http://dulwichcentre.com.au/articles-about-narrative-therapy/storying-professional-identity/ >

Morgan, A 2000, ‘What is Narrative Therapy?’, Dulwich Centre, viewed on 30th March 2016, < http://dulwichcentre.com.au/what-is-narrative-therapy/ >

Shapiro, I, Brin, C, Spoel, P, & Marshall, L 2016, ‘Images of Essence: Journalists’ Discourse on the Professional “Discipline of Verification”‘, Canadian Journal Of Communication, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 37-48.

 

 

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.

Why view our content when we can see the world?

Audiences no longer consume content through analogue mediums, we have seen the shift into the digital flow of content. Audiences no longer want to be confined to when, where and how they consume content, rather audiences now have the power to watch content on their own terms. With the rise of Youtube, online streaming services, videos on social media sites and illegal torrenting; audiences now have greater access to global content.

Streaming services are affordable online services that have an unlimited amount of capacity for television and movie content. These services have seen a rise recently in an attempt to curve illegal torrenting of content. Torrenting demonstrates how society currently prefers to watch content, for free and on demand. Australian audiences no longer need to wait until the show is aired domestically long after broadcasting hours to weeks prior internationally.

Currently between seventeen and twenty two percentage of all age brackets of internet users are utilising video on demand (Screen Australia), although this percentage doesn’t state if this also takes into account users whom illegally download content. However, astonishingly online streaming services have been successful due to their ease and low subscription prices. As of 2013 Netflix had forty million subscribers globally (Ellingsen 2014 p.109), this number would have steadily risen with its introduction into the Australian market. Netflix also have developed a successful two dozen original network series (Brustein 2015 p.45). Furthering that, audiences are turning to online content and shying away from traditional viewing habits. So what does this mean for Australian content?

Clearly society’s changing demeanour towards when and how they consume content has resulted in streaming content rather than awaiting its premier. Digital platforms have also increased the ‘shareability’ of content (Jenkins et al. 2013 cited in Ellingsen 2014 p.107) thus we are now more exposed to global content than ever before. This is resulting in audiences favouring global content over Australian content. We now have unrestricted access to shows such as Game of Thrones, X Files and The Big Bang Theory, traditionally we would have to wait until these shows premiered in Australia or they may have never been shown. We are no longer constricted to the limited availability of Australian content and we are now able to sample overseas content and they are able to view ours.

Online service providers are able to take a chance on international films due to the limited cost of hosting the content on an online provider. This has seen The Howling 3: The Marsupials, be internationally released onto Netflix (Dunks 2014 p.36) and therefore, providing other nations a chance to experience our cultural content.

Digitally consuming content no longer leaves audiences with only Australian content to consume. Audiences naturally favour culturally diverse content over Australian content due to the large variety, however; due to these online streaming services Australian projects are now also globally accessible. Even though Australian audiences maybe settling for culturally diverse content.

References:

Brustein, J 2015, ‘VIDEO: The Netflix Effect Is Spreading’, Business Week, Vol. 4450, pp. 44-46.

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

Ellingsen, S 2014, ‘SEISMIC SHIFTS: PLATFORMS, CONTENT CREATORS AND SPREADABLE MEDIA’, Media International Australia, pp. 106-113.

Screen Australia 2014, “Online and on demand Trends in Australian online video use”, Screen Australia, p.18, viewed 25th January 2016, < https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/d61a7c4b-3abf-444c-9367-aa8dc8b1b8f6/OnlineOnDemand_2014.pdf >

Is Australian Cultural content a higher priority than Australian jobs?

women-film-infographic.ashx_Image Source

The Australian Film industry has strict conditions for films that receive taxpayer support. They currently require fifty percent of the lead roles to be played by Australian actors, with support roles sitting at seventy five percent required to be Australian (Middlemost 2016). This is an excellent criteria to ensure that Australian jobs are protected within the local film industry. However, this doesn’t mean that we are seeing a large amount of Australians with continuous employment within the industry.

It is apparent that Australian jobs are important to Screen Australia, though it is also apparent that the portrayal of Australian culture is a high priority. For taxpayer support to be granted for a film project it firstly needs to demonstrate that it displays significant Australian content that will be beneficial to Australia as a nation. Though it is clear that Australian audiences are not interested in viewing typical Australian films. Films such as Babe that do not depict the country it is set in are often more successful. Therefore, before we have even considered the percentages of Australians working on projects, Australian film projects numbers have the potential to have been cut in half.

In regards to television series what was remarkable is that after a series has aired sixty five episodes they are no longer eligible for funding (Middlemost 2016), they are also only entitled to twenty percent funding compared to a film receiving forty percent. This has led to shows only being able to continue through sponsorships; for example Masterchef had to rely on sponsorship from Coles (O’Regan and Potter 2013 p.149). Whilst shows like The Voice generated revenue from Itunes downloads and the Underbelly television series gained profits from its DVD sales (O’Regan and Potter 2013 p.149). Instead of continuing to fund projects or granting projects with potential, regardless of their Australian cultural impact, their funding subjectiveness may result in the decline of Australian jobs.

Similarly shown through Screen Australia’s lack of support for women in the industry. In 2006-2011 only eighteen to thirty four percent of key creative roles were filled by women (French 2014 p.189). Furthermore only fifteen percent of Screen Australia’s investments in productions had a female director (French 2014 p.189). Whilst many other companies have implemented programs to see more women joining careers and having equal opportunity, Screen Australia does not have a gender based programme or targets to increase female involvement (French 2014 p.190). Gender issues have also not been reported in Screen Australia’s annual report (French 2014 p.190), therefore, women in this industry are still underrepresented.

It is clear that the Australian film industry considers Australian culture more important than jobs. Their selective funding schemes only consider projects with significant Australian content rather than focusing on maintaining a strong Australian presence and ensuring jobs on quality productions. They are merely focusing on cultural identity. Similar with their lack of programmes to try and increase the number of female creatives within the industry. Australian jobs are a key priority, as whether the content they create is visually Australian or not it is still created by an Australian. It is clear that Screen Australia needs to take a greater stance to ensure jobs within the Australian film industry.

References:

French, L 2014, ‘Gender then, gender now: surveying women’s participation in Australian film and television industries’, Continuum: Journal Of Media & Cultural Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 188-200.

Middlemost, R 2016, ‘Cross national casting, transnational co productions, location incentives and runaway productions’, lecture notes, BCM339, University of Wollongong, 12th January.

O’ Regan, T & Potter, A 2013, “Globalisation from within? The De-Nationalisation of Australian film and television production”, Media International Australia, No.149, p.5-14.

Is calling Australian films Australian bad attention?

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When a person loves a product they are likely to tell one person, but if a person has a negative experience they are said to tell ten people. This is where the belief that any attention is good attention originates. The pure belief that whether the product is famous or infamous does not matter, people will look for the item out of sheer curiosity. But does this saying also work for films?

If people post bad ratings for a film often it will deter other audience members, it is a rarity that a film will become a pop culture success just for being an awful film. Sharknado is an example of a tragic film where the bad attention turned it into a pop culture classic. Similar to Mad Max which may be seen by many as another “weird” Australian movie created in the boom cycle, however; this film has gained a significant cult following and has seen a revival  last year with Fury Road.

Australian films seem to have a continual hype due to being Australian. As a culture we are continuously encouraged to support Australian content, though it is the Australianness of films that often deters the audience. When we look at the film Babe, many Australians did not even realise that it was shot locally in Bowral. Babe utilised opposite binaries compared to traditional Australian films (Brabazon 2001p.154), it also ensured that the film would be received internationally by not creating a specific setting.

Babe has attempted to create a setting that could be anywhere, with no true Australian accents, native Australian animals or landmarks; this resulted in the film becoming an international success. Bowral requested a sign to be erected publicly stating that it was the ‘home’ of Babe (Brabazon 2001 p.155), however; the producers did not want to gain any attention from the location where it was filmed. Evidently they feared the downfall of their Australian film purely due to being Australian. Though are Australian films even achieving any attention at all?

Dow (2014) states that due to international blockbusters marketing budgets, it is lucky if we even see an Australian film poster at our local cinema. Sometimes any attention can be good attention if it leads to a pop culture sensation, however, sometimes attention to the nationality of the film seems to result in a negative view. Makes you wonder whether Australian films are attracting any attention at all in today’s market?

References:

Brabazon, T 2001, “A pig in Space? Babe and the problem of landscape”, in Craven. Ian (Ed), Australian Cinema in the 1990’s, pp.150-156.

Dow, S 2014, ‘What’s wrong with Australian cinema?”, The Guardian, 26th October, viewed 11th January 2015, < http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/26/australian-film-australian-audiences >

 

Is it the Australian films or the audiences?

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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.

References

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&gt>

Ozploitation.. What does it really mean?

The 1970s was a historical decade in Australian cinema.  The 1970s saw Australian media censorship laws loosen, with the Government allowing R18+ content to be released nationwide. This was also implemented alongside the 10BA tax legislation, a Government initiative that attempted to boost the national film market by providing significant tax incentives. 10BA tax would provide a 150% rebate (Ryan 2012 p.145) to all eligible film creators, this coupled with the release of media censorship saw an influx of horror, comedy and action films being created.

The influx of films saw many unmemorable productions, simply due to the low quality of script and production. Many of these films were merely part of a tax rebate scheme where many producers of content attempted to take advantage of this rebate. It was the making of these ‘b-grade’ films that donned the term Ozploitation.  But what is Ozploitation?

Ozploitation is simply Australian exploitation films. These films are defined by Kuhn and Westwell (2012) as;

Exploitive certain events or trends, they are low budget commercial films that are aimed at a neglected market in mainstream film making. Though these films may also include explicit sex, violence and drug abuse.

Consequently the 1970s saw the rise of Ozploitation films, these 1970s films experimented with sex and free love, remarkably similar to the free love movement during the 1960’s.

The influx of ‘sex romp films’ throughout the 1970s saw the exploitation of Australia’s new media censorship laws.  One of the first sex romp films was The Naked Bunyip released in 1970, this documentary investigated a variety of sexual experiences through fact and fiction. Though this film is not an iconic Australian film and would not be recognisable by most of Generation Y.  The only pop culture hit of the Ozploitation era was Mad Max. This film has become a cult classic, with the Mad Max series being produced and the fourth film having been released earlier this year. Mad Max was first released in 1979 and has had international success. One of very few Ozploitation films to become widely known.

We also saw the rise of the horror genre under this period, with multiple horror films being produced such as; Razorback (1984), Long Weekend (1978) and Howling III: The Marsupials (1987).  Many producers created horror films as they were easily accepted by the international market. With Dunks (2014 p.34-35) arguing that many produced horror films to simply launch their careers within the international market with limited success. Many of these horror films have been forgotten, however; we are seeing a comeback of Ozploitation films with services such as Netflix. Howling III: The Marsupials has recently become available on Netflix, allowing international audiences to experience it for the first time.

So what does this indicate about the Australian Film industry? Looking at the films which were created during the period, it shows that the Australian Film Industry is attempting to provide a funding platform to encourage Australian content, nevertheless, resulting in tax evasions and exploitation films. It shows that Australia has the potential to create brilliant films with the likes of Mad Max, but currently it seems the industry is seeing content creators interested in the economic benefits rather than producing entertaining content. Resulting in poor scripting and production elements and overall low quality niche films.

References:

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.

Kuhn, A, & Westwell, G 2012, Ozploitation, n.p.: Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 December 2015.

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.