Friday 17 July 2015

Reinventing the wheel - Digging for audiences for Oz films

The first sentence in Don Groves report on the Inside Film website  sounded good
“Screen Australia has started a scoping study to figure out new approaches to building pride in Australian films.”  Then, as your taxes went to work, things may have quickly run off the rails. “The workshopping of ideas is a tacit recognition that the Australian cinema ‘brand’ was tarnished last year by a string of films that underperformed at the B.O., reflected in the lowly market share of 2.43 per cent.”  Oh dear!  “The Australian cinema ‘brand’’!” Fear the worst. It’s another dodge by the bureaucrats currently in charge, always a moveable feast, to explain why all that direct Government investment in movies almost entirely supports both critical and box office duds that almost entirely sink without trace - and have for a very long time.

Don’s report went on “Screen Australia’s communications manager Imogen Corlette is working with the agency For the People to consult with a variety of industry stakeholders on ideas to develop a more engaged market for Australian films.” What a lucky agency. Though that somewhat neo-Maoist name suggests a certain capacity for radical thinking.  On the one hand the move sort of reminds you of that regular Bristow cartoon when an impoverished caterer suddenly gets an order advising of a Board meeting in the Chester-Perry building. Joy breaks out all round. Maybe you have to know about it to get it. On the other, the agency’s website proclaims:

We're for shaking things up.
Disrupting industries, creating new markets and new companies.
We're for culture that fuels creativity and innovation. We help build trust and get teams to work harder and be happier.

We're for new models, new theories, new ways of working for this century, not the last one. Our inspiration comes more from Silicon Valley than management and design textbooks.
We’re for the potential and realisation of technology. We’re for closing the gap between technology use in your personal life vs your work life.
We’re for common-sense and brutal honesty.

Cant  argue too much with any of that. Screen Oz went on “We are looking to reframe the ways people think and talk about Australian film – shifting perceptions of success away from a simplistic focus purely on box office performance, to encompass less visible achievements, and a deeper appreciation for the many impressive achievements in a global industry,”.
Oh my goodness!
“As a first step we’re looking at how and why attitudes to Australian film tend to form and how we might be able to encourage Australians to feel as proud of our achievements in this arena as we do in so many others. This is no small – or new – task, nor one we want to do in isolation.”
Well, that’s right that it’s not a new task but I digress. “The agency plans to draw up an action plan encompassing PR, events, digital/social and other initiatives designed to “create a culture of pride and passion amongst consumers.”
.........Hey here’s a solution. How about we make some good movies!  Like Mad Max Fury Road...that’s a real good movie though it didn’t need any funding from Screen Australia. Warner Brothers and the Australian tax man covered the bills.
Bruce Hodsdon and I addressed this question first close to a decade ago and in a stunningly brilliant submission to a Government inquiry we came up with the following recommendations:
·                     there should be a clear recognition that the comparative box office performance of Australian films has been unfairly denigrated by the use of inappropriate comparisons;
·                     the focus of assessment criteria to judge success should be shifted from percentage return on investment and market share to comparative subsidy per consumer. This shifts the conceptual emphasis from a film as a product to a film as a work with intrinsic cultural value with an enduring outreach across national boundaries;
·                     Australia’s film agencies need to radically rethink the attention given to the process of scriptwriting, the funding of writer/auteurs and the relationships that exist between writers, producers and directors in the Australian film industry; and
·                     there needs to be a strong, forthright and full commitment on behalf of all funding and investment bodies to ensure that our best film-makers, those whose work has been internationally or locally recognized and rewarded, and our best writers, are working more fruitfully and more often.
You can read the whole paper here .
Later Bruce addressed the question of measuring success in another paper he published which you can also find on the Film Alert website here  and more recently Deb Verhoven and two colleagues have devised another way of considering these matters. A discussion about these issues can be found here  and here .
Still your taxes are at work and the meter is ticking over towards the eventual moment of brutal honesty. Industry stakeholders (which  doesn’t include the likes of us) will be cutting and pasting their submissions as they tailor their advice to whatever way the questions are being put this time.

I’m still convinced that there is one simple step - get our best film-makers working more regularly and allow them and their producers far more latitude as to what they might make. The results will speak for themselves and the love affair with our movies might just rekindle and some serious regular money be made.

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