Finding gaps in the Australian Film Industry and understanding Aussie audiences
What’s the problem?
It’s simple. Around 25 Australian films are produced each year, but on average, only 1.4 make it into the top 50 grossing films shown in our cinemas (Crikey, 2014). And it’s not getting any better. In fact, 2014 is shaping up to be Australia cinema’s worst domestic performance in 10 years (news.com.au, 2014). Is it due to a simple distaste in local content?
According to Screen Australia, local content is still a regular part of the audience’s media diet, it’s just that television appears to be the dominant medium. We’re listening to Aussie music and love Aussie TV shows, but why aren’t we watching local films? That’s the question we want to answer.
What do we know?
There are a multitude of factors affecting the market but common criticisms include:
Poor distribution models
Kingston Anderson, Executive Director of Screen Directors’ Guild, says that perhaps it’s due to the lack of air time, noting the difficulty for Australian films to get into cinemas and stay in cinemas unless they’re a huge hit in the first weekend (Papadopoulos, 2014). In fact, according to 2011 analysis by Screen Australia, only nine per cent of all viewings of Australian films occur at the box office. The other 91 per cent spread across TV and DVD (news.com.au, 2014).
The cultural shift to ‘art-house’ films and the failure to reach a wider (and younger) audience (Papadopoulos, Crikey, 2014)
The Little Death, directorial debut of Australian actor Josh Lawson – or more so a “low-budget local production” (SMH, 2014) – is a reflection of the failed attempt to reach the right market. Guardian critic Luke Buckmaster (2014) called it a “quasi art-house film disguised as a mainstream knee-slapper” and suggests the film is not multi-plex ready, nor is likely to draw large crowds or achieve broad crossover appeal. Yet Lawson says the movie was a service to an Australian audience he believed wasn’t being catered to (Brisbane Times, 2014).
“If you are an Australian who doesn’t like Australian films, this is the film you should watch, because neither do I. Most Australian films probably bang the “Aussie” drum too hard and make it not only less relatable to the rest of the world, but ironically not even relatable to Australians.”
– Josh Lawson, Brisbane Times, 2014
Unsustainable price points
Earlier this year, Village Roadshow and Palace cinemas came under fire for raising their ticket prices up to $20. As Papadopoulos (2014) states, the decision was due, in part, to lower rates of cinema attendance. But according to The Financial Review (2014) Australia is one of the cheapest markets in the world for digital films, refuting suggestions that internet users watch pirated content due to a lack of affordable alternatives.
Assumptions aside, what’s missing?
It’s evident the industry is aware of its poor box office performance, high prices and lack of air time. But it’s these issues that are often overlooked. Rather, the focus is on issues of illegal downloading and local distaste as Professor Verhoeven, Media and Communications expert, suggests, “The motivation is complex… There’s not enough evidence to suggest that people are not going to see Australian films just because they have a distaste for them,” (Papadopoulos, 2014).
Although Screen Australia have identified the need, what’s missing in thus as in depth look at opportunity constraints, a look at the significance of place, time, and access considerations in terms of an Australian film’s success or failure.
The industry understands what the viewers want and while such research can be further undertaken, we need to ask why it takes an averaging 2.5 years for an Australian film to complete its release cycle (cinema to free-to-air TV) (Screen Australia, 2012), and whether that contributes to the film’s ability to develop an audience, and in turn, the industry to develop an audience.
A qualitative research strategy that could actively engage young viewers to support independent films and in doing so, the local film industry.
Rather than asking the ‘why’ and ‘why not’ behind audience ratings, the study attempts to redefine the focus in asking the extent to which place, time, and access considerations contribute to the decision making climate of a potential viewer.
With the decision to cut $38 million from Screen Australia’s budget over a period of four years (Crikey, 2014), it’s more imperative than ever to underpin the problem at heart.
Relevant to distributors and industry players alike, the study will undertake in-depth questionnaires and focus group discussions among those to which cinema attendance is most popular; 14-24 year-old who (as a representation of the larger Australian population) are ‘Socially Aware’ (Screen Australia, 2012).
Taking upon the success of popular TV show Puberty Blues, the study will include both viewers and non-viewers of Australian films as well a number of relevant case studies – A Few Best Men, Tomorrow When the War Began, and surprise hit Red Dog.
In doing so, it will gather stories that enrich and underpin the data found and provide a representative snap-shot of the entire market in order to gain further insight into distribution models and decision making, and henceforth provide recommendations on how the industry can better reach its audiences.
‘Cause if they can reach China, surely they can reach us.
Buckmaster, L. (2014). The Little Death review – sexual fetish comedy falls short of fully satisfying.The Guardian. [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/sep/25/the-little-death-josh-lawson-film-review [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Did You Know? Australian Films on Australian Screens, A Statistical Snapshot. (2012). 1st ed. [ebook] Australia: Screen Australia. Available at: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/news_and_events/bulletins/didyouknow/2012/01Jan12.aspx [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Papadopoulos, T. (2014). AN AUSSIE FILM DECLINE? THE REASONS ARE A DOG’S BREAKFAST.Crikey. [online] Available at: http://dailyreview.crikey.com.au/an-aussie-film-decline-the-reasons-are-a-dogs-breakfast/12637 [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Roach, V. (2014). Local audiences snub Australian filmmakers yet Hollywood loves them.news.com.au. [online] Available at: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/local-audiences-snub-australian-filmmakers-yet-hollywood-loves-them/story-fnk853hr-1227057559133 [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Screenaustralia.gov.au, (2014). Screen Australia: Research – Beyond the Box Office. [online] Available at: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/beyond_box_office.aspx [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Sier, J. (2014). Australian film and TV body says high prices aren’t causing piracy. The Financial Review. [online] Available at: http://www.afr.com/p/technology/australian_film_and_piracy_body_qdEE0v6x8U8RwuDsjlMt6H [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].
Wilson, J. (2014). The Little Death review: Sex comedy suffers from uneven style of humour. The Sydney Morning Herald. [online] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/the-little-death-review-sex-comedy-suffers-from-uneven-style-of-humour-20140924-10l8vg.html [Accessed 25 Sep. 2014].