Gettin’ bums on seats

The Australian film industry has gone through a tough time over the last decade where it has been rare for a film to truly break out and become a hit with both audiences and critics alike. Many of the breakout hits from recent times have been feel good follies such as Red Dog or The Sapphires but Australia has a history of producing dark, emotional and powerful films that while not being in any way crowd pleasers are works of art that deserve to be found by those around the world.

2014 is shaping up to be Australia cinema’s worst domestic performance in 10 years, the trend looks set to continue.Sure, there are multiple reasons for this, but ultimately us Australian’s don’t support our film industry in the manner we should. Wolf Creek 2 is the only Australian film to make any kind of a serious impact at the local box office this year, taking in just over $4.1 million. By comparison, Adam Sandler’s Blended, generally agreed to be his most  terrible movie for some time, made $4.4 million. Go figure. So what does it take to make Aussies want to go and see Aussie films?

You are not alone, if you are having trouble thinking of the last five (or one) Aussie Film you have seen, as the IF reports that publicity for films is terrible and this is a reason why Aussie bums are not filling those seats for movies like Predestination and Felony. Both films have sold to most major markets internationally and are guaranteed a US theatrical release. Sony is the US distributor of Predestination and Gravitas Theatrical is launching Felony in mid-October. I feel as though if you don’t (well didn’t 😦) watch At The Movies With Margret and David or read film articles you wouldn’t know about these films in the first place.

Or perhaps it isn’t the lack of publicity and poor marketing that leaves Australian films flopping time and time again, as one consumer, Junior, argues that Australian films are just poor quality…

Marketing is one of the major hurdles, but in the long run its the quality of the films that will have Australian audiences coming back for more. I saw both of these films [Predestination and Felony] on the weekend, and honestly they were both pretty clunky and average at best. You can blame marketing, stale attitudes of audiences etc, but there will be no word-of-mouth or enthusiasm if the quality isn’t there. Festivals such as Canne, Venice, Berlin – all of which typically (but not always) critically validate a film, seldom have Australian films in *official* competition. Why? Because the quality isn’t there. Stop funding half-baked genre films in a short-sighted attempt to make us ‘players’ on the ‘world stage’, and back filmmakers whom truly do have vision and something to say.
When it comes to the sorts of films that make real money at the local box office, Australian’s like to keep things light and breezy compared to the dark and gritty dramas we so often produce. According to figures collected by Screen Australia, these are the all-time Top 10 highest-grossing Aussie films within Australia itself:


1. Crocodile Dundee (1986) $47,707,045
2. Australia (2008) $37,555,757
3. Babe (1995) $36,776,544
4. Happy Feet (2006) $31,786,164
5. Moulin Rouge (2001) $27,734,406
6. The Great Gatsby (2013) $27,383,762
7. Crocodile Dundee II (1988) $24,916,805
8. Strictly Ballroom (1992) $21,760,400
9. Red Dog (2011) $21,467,993
10. The Dish (2000) $17,999,473
Their list is not adjusted for inflation – if it were, then older films like The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Muriel’s Wedding would likely crack the Top 10 – but even so, it paints a pretty clear picture of the kinds of local films we like.
First, and most obviously, most of the films in the Top 10 are major studio releases that feature overseas talent and financing. It seems that if we want to make money at home, we still need help from outside.  And going from the list above Australian audiences love family-friendly entertainment, and connect very strongly with animals. Three of the films on the list feature them in leading roles – five, if you consider ’80s Paul Hogan to be an animal (which, honestly, I kinda do).
image via
The Top 10 list is also notable for Baz Luhrmann domination. Four of the Top 10 films are his, highly-stylised extravaganzas are basically a license to print money. Even Australia, which everyone sort-of agrees in my tutorial class was a bit shit, made a truckload.
While only three of the films in the Top 10 could strictly be filed under comedy The Dish and the two Crocodile Dundee movies – all have a certain sense of lightheartedness. Even the weepy Moulin Rouge made time for Kylie Minogue as a CGI fairy.
Speaking of CGI, all have very high production values. It goes without saying that Luhrmann’s films spooge lavish production design all over the screen, but others, like Babe and Happy Feet, also make prominent use of computer animation and special effects trickery. We also love our underderdog stories. The Crocodile Dundee films were about Aussies showing Americans how it’s done. The Dish  was about good old ‘strayan ingenuity, while Red Dog was about an actual, literal underdog.
So, here we see what it takes to get Australian’s to see Australian films. Does this mean that all Australian films will now contain 1. An Animal, 2. CGI, 3. Maybe a large song and dance sequence (or popular commercial pop song) to keep it light, 4. Bring in overseas stars and 5. Appeal to that Aussie belief that we do everything better here.
Whilst all sound suggestions, we need a creative project that could help the Aussie film industry. I think we need to get people talking about Australian film. I asked a few friends about Aussie films and they automatically assumed that a movie made in Australia  would be boring and too long. Most of them couldn’t think of the last Aussie film they saw. Now that is sad. The question is how do we erase peoples preconceptions about Australian film being dry, boring, long, pointless (Just some adjectives i’ve heard about Australian film) and shift the thinking to see it has a vibrant, young, cutting-edge and entertaining industry that people will want to spend their money on?
Perhaps we could start a social media campaign as KGrace suggested or  use CrowdSourcing as The Marvels of Media came up with. I think we need to totally reposition the way the Australian film industry is perceived by Australians. Through research via social media and perhaps live movie nights and screenings where researchers can talk to movie-goers about what they thought of the film. Researchers could also ask people at the cinema what they love about the movie they just saw and what prompted them to see it and then apply those elements to Aussie films.
They will probably conclude that they can boost the film industry  by giving preference such as funding to make films with family friendly genres and accepting the fact that they may have to cast some US or UK  bigwigs to help the film out, because unfortunately Australia does not have the population to sustain a celebrity culture.
We need to start getting Aussie bums on seats when Australian film is being shown, otherwise there will be no film industry at all in the near future. And according to Quentin Tarantino that seems pretty sad considering how cutting-edge it use to be (if you have a spare 2 minutes watch this video below to see!).


What was the last Aussie film you saw and did you like it? Why/Why not?




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