Tell him he’s dreaming. What’s the fix on the Australian film industry

When the idea about why Australian films tank at the box office is suggested, the immediate thought that comes to mind is, they’re too Australian. Too Australian? How can anything be too Australian? Well, generally they are overdone, overacted and poorly made films. Or at least that was the consensus when the proposition was put forward in class.

Yet, the more I started to think about it the less I started to believe it. Yes, there are films that are made that are horrible, or at least from their trailer suggest that they would be terrible (I feel bad for Nathan Phillips, he was good in The Bridge). But in the same instance there are some really great and creative films being produced in this country, think Animal Kingdom.

What I think the problem is, is the portrayal of ourselves that we are getting out of our popular films. More specifically the national identity that we are creating through our films does not fit with how we actually see ourselves. Some experts believe this is due to poor script writing and others believe that the “Ocker” narrative has run it’s due course.

In the documentary trailer above Haydn Keenan describes it best as “cultural cringe“. Cultural what?! Basically the perception that ones own culture is lacking in comparison to other cultures. This point is exacerbated when we look at box office figures and the like for Australian films v.s other countries films, particularly American. The issue here is two fold.

1. American films if they are “blockbusters” often cater to a wide target market, specifically to attract a large viewership, even if the content isn’t that great.

2. American films often have the ability to transcend cultural boundaries, e.g. 12 years a slave, predominately due to their vast demography, something which Australia also has.

There in lies the problem, however with a new direction in the media and film landscape, this can be combated. In particular the crowd funding revolution can be extraordinarily influential in helping creative types execute their vision. Amanda Palmer talks about it in terms of asking. Asking for help ultimately gives your viewership some span of influence on what is created. This helps the film industry by defining the types of film people of a certain demographic want to see made and by allowing the rest of the budget to go towards glorified tourism ads starring Hugh and Nicole.

Ultimately this would be where I think a really great ethnographic study could lie. Possibly it would be traditional in it’s means e.g. focus groups or in depth surveying, but I think its creative in the way that you are finding your audience. Asking crowd funding participants as to why they decided to back a certain project, could provide some direction for the film industry as to where they could allocate funding or where there target market lies. Interestingly you could also see the viewership that didn’t support one film, but did another and find out what the difference is etc.

While not groundbreaking in its design I think it could be a really useful tool for the film industry. Ultimately, though the focus lies in doing really great work. People will no longer support something purely because its Australian, they want real authentic stories, good enough for them to take to the pool room.


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