The Future of the Australian Film and Television Industry

Before undertaking this subject, I had no idea the obstacles and barriers that Australian film makers need to climb just to get their ideas to even be considered by funding bodies. A lack of funding, marketing, access and distribution strategies paired with an audience that is bored with the ‘Significant Australian Content’ test, means that even the best of Australian scripts are disadvantaged in some way or another. Troy Lum from Hopscotch entertainment say’s good scripts are hard to come by all over the world, “a good script is really, really difficult and we churn out about as many of them as anyone.”(Kaufman, 2009, p.6). It’s a fallacy that Australia has poor creativity, its the industry that’s letting people down.

The emphasis on ‘significant Australian content’ has alienated Australian audiences and driven them towards a reliance on Hollywood. There has been a common agreement amongst industry specialists that ‘telling our own stories should no longer be a driver for making Australian films’ (Kaufman, 2009, p.`7) and instead to just focus on making a good film and “making our own myths” (Kaufman, 2009, p.7). Critic Luke Buckmaster explains that the SAC test has created a perception problem,

When it’s not busy depressing us with films about cancer and people who collapse in gutters with needles in their arms, Australian films are cringe-inducing ‘g’ day mate’ comedies. The sort of facepalm productions geared towards jokes featuring things as stereotypically nationalistic as shrimps on a barbie. (Verhoeven, 2009, p.8)

 

A film that is created, directed or produced by Australians, has Australian actors or special effects crew will automatically reflect parts of what it is to be Australian, without having to meet the SAC test.

Furthermore, as global technology companies like Netflix continue to increase with no Australian content obligations, the industry needs to respond, embrace and co-create (Roeper & Luckman, 2009, p.6). Roeper & Luckman 2009 argue that there has been a history of adaptation and survival for platforms such as cinemas undergoing transformations from full colour 3D, VCR, DVD and the IMAX format in order to adapt to changing audience demands. It is because of this history of adaptation that industry professionals may not see ‘Web 2.0’ technologies as being as much of a threat to film and television as they might otherwise seem. This is the industry response they have termed ‘denial’ (Luckman, 2009, p. 7). With the rise of VOD services, cinema going has become more of an event than a regular occurrence. Due to the changing nature of how audiences are consuming content, the industry needs to be creative with their distribution strategies, Colin MacCabe (2007) observes, “films only exist when they are distributed properly”. Without the proper distribution, unfortunately, the harsh truth is that our films can’t compete financially with “either the low budget indies from the US, and they can’t mix it aesthetically with the big-budget block busters” (SMH, Quinn, 2014). A solution for the future of Australian films as suggested by producer Cass O’Connor is that, “the new technologies are going to allow filmmakers to hone their skills and craft good films with smaller budgets, which is what they need to do,” O’Connor said.

On a larger scale, the industry needs to be trying to strike a balance between protectionism and internationalism by stopping the relentless cuts to Screen Australia, ABC and the SBS. Yet still continuing to participate in co-productions with countries like China in order to bring money into the industry, employ Australians and allow Australia’s presence to grow as a competitor in the global market. Matt Pressberg says to expect more Chinese stars in the next five years (ABC, 2017).
It is not the time to be giving up on Australian content, but instead lobbying for changes within the industry, because once all is said and done,”People just want to be entertained, to be swept away by the story.” 
Advertisements

Does Globalisation mean the Americanisation of Australia’s Film and Television industry?

The phenomenon of globalisation has meant the international flow of money, ideas and culture. Free Trade Agreement’s are ultimately a product of globalisation, they are a tool to break down the barriers that are in place to protect local markets in order to trade between two or more countries. Breen (2010) uses the theory of ‘digital determinism’ as a way of explaining the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 2005 between Australia and the US. As a theory, digital determinism offers a frame­ work for identifying how already­ hegemonic digital networks reproduce their own inter­ests: culturally, economically and politically (Breen, 2007). The FTA was seen by some critics as American expansionism because the adoption of American technologies would also entail the adoption of American culture and values. Breen (2010) explains that this becomes possible because the “pre-existing structural supremacy of one of the treaty partners (US) overwhelms the culture industries within the lesser power (Australia)” (Breen, p.660). This has ultimately meant the Americanisation of Australian film and television and whilst globalisation and shared cultural understanding is not a negative, individual cultures deserve to be protected and preserved.

The FTA between the US and Australia was implemented against the backdrop of the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity’ (2002) which was established to do exactly that. The declaration asserts national cultural rights as human rights in the globalising ICT (Information and communication technology) context. The convention was a result of nearly a decade of lobbying against US cultural hegemony, it is therefore not surprising that every member of UNESCO voted in favour of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, with the sole exceptions of the US and Israel. There is no doubt that Australia’s film and television industry has been heavily Americanised with the majority (54%) of films released in Australian cinemas over the past 33 years coming from the US (Screen Australia). This has resulted in a protectionist attitude about work for Australians, and concerns about effectively representing national interests on screen.

The most controversial kind of globalisation as a result of FTA’s in the film industry has been runaway or ‘born international’ productions’ (O’Regan and Potter, 2013, p.5) as often big budget block busters are funded and produced instead of funding being allocated to local and culturally relative screen stories. Alongside runaway productions, O’Regan & Potter 2013 explain that, “we need to include the transformations within the national production space in terms of formats, processes and structural connections”, in other words, policy makers and governments need to understand how the internet, still a relatively new and unregulated platform, has distinctly changed the way audiences consume film and television nationally. The ability for audiences to watch across multiple platforms without content quotas has resulted in audiences favouring global cultural diversity over Australian content. Hollywood movies dominate what Australian audiences are watching through VOD (33% Hollywood movies to 20% Australian movies, see figure 1.) meaning that online viewing is still heavily Americanised. Audience fragmentation is becoming more widespread as media outlets continue to grow, policymakers and funding bodies have so far failed to respond to the changing demands of Australian audiences but must find new ways to incorporate these new platforms into the Australian film and television industry.

Infographic-2015-Mar-Australian-audiences-are-watching-online

Fig.1 “Australian audiences are watching online” Screen Australia  2015

 

 

Discuss: Australian jobs are more important than Australian Culture

As discussed in previous posts, the Australian film industry faces a smorgasbord of problems and hurdles to overcome in order to compete in a global market. Transnational co-productions have been one way of overcoming many of the typical issues faced by Australian film makers. Co-productions offer significant opportunities including opening a pool of resources and automatically accessing two markets in terms of creativity, finance and audience reach. The ultimate outcome is content that can be considered a ‘domestic’ production in each of the partner countries (Yecies, 2009, p.2).

Governments use incentive instruments to develop economic growth, to modernise industry infrastructure and to increase domestic employment and training opportunities – all while promoting tourism (Yecies, 2009, p.3). In Australia these incentives include the Producer offset whilst bypassing the SAC test and also being able to apply for production funding from Screen Australia. Australian producers can make a co-production with producers from:  Canada, China,  France (MOU),  Germany,  Ireland,  Italy,  Israel,  Korea,  New Zealand (MOU),  Singapore,  South Africa, and the United Kingdom. 
Currently the Chinese film industry is in the middle of a boom (Yecies, 2009,p.4) and Australia is taking full advantage of this.

China is currently the world’s second-largest movie-going market (Screen Australia 2017)  and in April 2017, Australia announced 14 China-Australia film co-productions (Yu, SBS, 2017). One of the films At Last is expected to provide around 200 jobs and inject $10.8 million into the local economy (Vieira, 2017). However, Australian producer Mark Lazarus says “the collaborative process is complex and compromise is necessary”. Does this then mean that Australian culture must be compromised in order to allow for transnational co-productions that provide Australian jobs and boost the Australian economy?. Yeices (2009) says that “ICPs can circumvent cultural imperatives, because they weaken the cultural relevance of the content for one or more of the partnering countries and their cultural identities.” This has certainly been true of past co productions Australia has been a part of. For example Greencard (1991) was an Australia/France co-production that was shot in New York, had an American lead actress, French lead actor and an Australian director. It was classed as ‘Australian’ for funding purposes but lacked any identifiable Australian cultural specificity. It is examples like Greencard that give legitimacy to the belief that, “the funding that producers gain access to has proven more popular than having a collaborative cultural experience” (Yecies, 2009, p.3).

GuardiansOftheTomb

Still from Guardians of the Tomb (Australia/China co-production, to be released in 2018)

Furthermore, whilst investment budgets of AUD $400 million have been promised by production houses such as Sydney Films to 20 potential co-productions, Screen Australia has received funding cuts of over $50 million in the five years up to 2018-19 (White, SMH, 2015).  These funding cuts have been heavily denounced by Screen Producers Australia, which claimed they “will seriously impact the industry” (Quinn, SMH, 2015). From these politically charged actions it can be said that the Australian government is much more concerned with strengthening diplomatic ties with China than supporting its own local screen stories. Yecies explains that the result of politically charged co-productions can be that, “collaborative stories can appear forced – especially when a ‘domestic’ film is sought-after only to fulfil policy requirements, rather than organically to tell a local story” (Yecies, 2009, p.6).

Co-productions offer opportunities that are normally unattainable for local productions. They create a significant amount of jobs for Australians, highlight Australian creative excellence, have the potential to inject millions into the local economy and deepen cultural understanding. However, they often require compromise, which can mean the loss of cultural relativity to either country involved. The large funds and diplomatic ties involved in co-productions can take the emphasis off creating a collaborative cultural experience that may have been more justifiably spent on a local production.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/bringing-stories-together-14-china-australia-film-co-productions-announced-in-beijing.”

https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/sa/media-centre/news/2017/04-20-australian-chinese-copro

Yecies, 2009 http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1409&context=artspapers

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/screen-australia-budget-cut-brings-agencys-funding-down-16-per-cent-in-12-months-20150513-gh0tsn.html

Accessing Australian Audiences

It’s a common perception that Australian audiences do not like and will not support Australian content. Many believe this is due to the fixation of the Australian film industry to create films that say something important about being Australian. Whilst viewing Australian screen stories has become a very significant part of Australian everyday life (Bowles, 2007, p.96) the emphasis on ‘significant Australian content‘, referred to as ‘meeting the SAC test’, relates to the fact that content we have created in the past has been cliché and leads to a ‘dire state of naturalism in films’ (Kaufman, p.7, 2009). This is reflected in box office figures with feature films under Australian or shared creative control earning $24.1 million or 1.9 per cent of the total Australian box office in 2016 (Screen Australia). Previously, in 2004 when Australian film took up 1.3% of the box office, Australian cinema was seen to have a ‘brand’ problem (Verhoeven). This branding problem has clearly not been addressed with Australian content still doing incredibly poorly at the box office in 2016. Dr Deb Verhoeven explains, “Australian film funding agencies have barely raised an eyebrow at the low level of interest in the local cinema”. Whilst box office figures do not create a complete measure of a films success or audience preferences, there still needs to be analysis over these statistics.

Susan Hoerlein has also referred to Australian films as a brand, noting “if people don’t really connect with it, the brand has failed, and it would take an extensive marketing campaign to turn this around” (Kaufman, 2009, p.6). Nevertheless, there are multiple reasons as to why box office figures are so low and the marketing of Australian films or lack thereof is a significant factor. In 2012, 43 Australian films screened at Australian cinemas, but many people didn’t know about them. Film distributor Troy Lum argues that “the marketing of Australian films is often mis-targeted, underfunded or left too late” (Kaufman, p.6, 2009). Furthermore, Australian films get a much more limited release in Australian cinemas, Paul Kalina from The Age notes that “well received local films may only be seen on around twenty-five screens across Australia, whilst a mid level release of a US film will still be seen on up to 200 screens” (Kaufman,2009, p.8).This creates an issue of access for Australian audiences and is illustrated poignantly through the example of the Australian film, The Babadook (2014), which earned more money in its opening weekend in the UK than during its entire Australian cinematic run. Given its limited 13-screen release in Australia, compared to the 147 screens it opened with in the UK and 1 million pound advertising campaign, this example illustrates the problems faced by home grown film makers when trying to access the domestic audience.

The Babadook is now experiencing renewed local interest after its international success, an instance that is often described as tall poppy syndrome. Tall poppy syndrome is when Australian audiences, “by and large, dismiss Australian films unless they’ve been recognised overseas first” (La Paglia, 2014).

Instances like The Babadook are not few and far between, these issues of access, marketing, branding and funding are prominent obstacles to the success of Australian films connecting with Australian audiences.

 

Ozploitation: Exploitation or Fearless Film making?

In the early to mid 20th century, Australian censorship was really repressive, especially for the western world (Moore, p.3, 2012). It is instances like the banning of George Orwell’s first book Down and Out in Paris and London in 1933 which have given Australian censorship its reputation for severity (Moore, p.3, 2012). Australian censorship not only effected literature but also film making, however the 10BA tax laws and the implementation of the R rating in 1971 changed all this. The 10BA tax laws that were first introduced in June 1981, allowed investors to claim a 150 per cent tax concession and to pay tax on only half of any income earned from the investment, resulting in a period of fearlessness and risk taking in Australian film. Watching ‘Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild untold story of Ozploitation!’ (2008) was like opening up a pandora’s box of Australian films not readily available and rarely referenced in the Australian film industry today. Films like Turkey Shoot (1982), Wake in Fright (1971), Long Weekend (1978) and Alvin Purple (1973) all exemplified how the new R rating was taken full advantage of by film makers and nudity, horror, gore and extreme violence became common themes of Ozpolitation films.

In ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ Phillip Adams admitted, “many of us were snobby about genre filmmaking”. However Alvin Purple was the most commercially successful Australian movie of the 1970’s, it had a budget of $200,000 but took 5 million at the box office. It was a film with “progressive instincts that were both informed and complicated by the emergence of feminism as a political movement”,whilst responding to the changing ideas of sexual freedom and “giving the public what they want and rubbing it in prudes faces”. Many of the Ozploitation films were as popular with audiences as they were hated by film critics, they were often compared to popular art house films of the time like Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) even though they represented an entirely opposite world of film making. Mark Hatley notes that “For every Caddie there was a Felicity. For every Picnic at Hanging Rock there was a Stunt Rock. For every Jimmie Blacksmith there was an Alvin Purple’ (Heller-Nicholas, p.14, 2008) meaning that the boisterous films in Not Quite Hollywood positioned themselves in direct opposition to mainstream Australian film culture. The Ozploitation films act as a “rich mine of valuable cultural artefacts” and Not Quite Hollywood along with the use of Quentin Tarantino’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian genre films of this era acknowledges the impact, charm and influence of many of these films.

The creative freedom explored during this time is similar to the spirit that is moving across to the popular web series format that has inspired many young people to make film without the constraints of funding or network support. Web series made in Australia went from just 107 episodes in 2012 to 3,248 in 2016 (The Conversation, 2017) and some of these have been major success stories. Just as web series do, Ozploitation films in many ways counteract the contemporary complaints of Australian film, they were not tame and predictable, and now, web series are being given this same chance to create content that would have struggled in a conservative risk-averse broadcast market.

References

Moore, N., 2012. The Censor’s Library. 1st ed. St Lucia Qld: University of Queensland Press.

Buckmaster, L ‘Alvin Purple rewatched – the raunchy heart of 1970’s Ozploitation’, The Guardian, 2014, visited 9/1/2018 https://www.theguardian.com/film/australia-culture-blog/2014/oct/24/alvin-purple-rewatching-classic-australian-films

Swinburne, S ‘How web series are shaking up Australia’s screen industry’, The Conversation, June 30 2017, visited 3/1/2018https://theconversation.com/how-web-series-are-shaking-up-australias-screen-industry-79844

Heller-Nicholas, A, ‘Ozploitation Revisited: Not Quite Hollywood’, Metro Magazine, No.158, 2008:14-17

The Australian Film Industry in the Global Market

As Tom O’Regan has noted, “never was there a time when an Australian film industry could develop in happy and splendid isolation. It was always integrated into a global system” (Poole, 2013, p.86). O’Regan is expressing that the Australian film industry has been part of an international industry since its inception and due to this has always had to compete on the international market as a minor player. While Australian productions have spent on average between $5 million and $10 million over the last decade and a half, foreign productions have spent between $20 million to $60 million (Tunny, 2013, p.9) making some speculate that the box office is almost a ‘rigged game’, we simply don’t have the money to produce the films that will compete. Nevertheless, where would we be without an industry that allows us, as Australians, to tell our stories on the big screen? Think about the story of the ANZACS, films like Gallipoli (1981) and Breaker Morant (1980) that tell stories of mateship, larrikinism, and the continued coming of age of the Australian nation. These are vital stories that define what it means to be an Australian and must be told by Australians.

There are many ‘public good’ arguments surrounding the funding and protection of Australian media content. Gene Tunny argues that a public good is something that is “non-excludable in consumption, and non-rivalrous meaning that one persons consumption does not limit another person’s consumption in any way” (Tunny, 2013, p. 13). A classic example of a public good is a defence force in that people do not have to pay for the benefit they receive. In the strictest sense, he argues films would not be considered a public good because they don’t meet this test. However, this relies on a very narrow and technical argument because Australian films promote, protect and enrich Australian culture, and are an extremely important public good. They serve as an integral part of our society, just as any other art form. This view is reflected in Section 6 of the Screen Australia Act 2008 where the parliament of Australia, recognises the importance of Screen Australia’s role to “promote and develop a highly creative, innovative and commercially sustainable Australian screen production industry”. This means that whilst Australian screen production should develop and reflect a sense of Australian identity, character and cultural diversity, it must also be commercially viable.

Keeping the Australian film industry commercially sustainable in recent years has meant that the Australian government has supported Hollywood productions with no discernible Australian content through providing incentives to make these productions in Australia using Australian resources. So arguments surrounding the protection of Australian media content in this context have arisen. In 2015 Julie Bishop announced $47.25 million in direct funding for the Thor and Alien sequels to be filmed in Australia which sparked disdain amongst supporters of the cultural protection argument. Alternatively, industry supporters would argue that it is Australian content if Australians are working on the productions. These are large scale and labour intensive productions in which specialists are employed to “rig the lights, weld the steel into place, hang the green screens, create the snow, the rain…” (Court and Tabone 2015). Cultural manufacturing does create jobs, Wolverine in 2013 brought in $300 million of off-shore investment and created 3,000 jobs in Australia (Jericho, 2015). The downside to all of this is that these jobs are essentially temporary and work in the film industry is subject to cycles of boom and bust (Burns and Eltham, 2010, p. 103) often dictated by the value of the Australian dollar and the attractiveness of Australia as a location through lower labour costs and construction materials. A study conducted by Abi Tabone shows that most specialists working in this space average just 60% of their annual work time in employment in film (Court and Tabone, 2015). So as production wraps up for films like Thor and Alien, as do many people’s jobs.

As explained by Burns and Eltham (2010), runaway productions in Australia such as The Matrix (mainly filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney) are often framed between two poles, “internationalist” and “Australian content” (Burns and Eltham, p. 112). But embracing the international does not mean excluding the national (Poole, 2013, p.90). This has been emphasised through the tax rebate, namely the “producer offset” introduced in 2007, which provides a 40% rebate on production costs for feature films if production qualifies as “significantly Australian” as well as international co-productions. What is “significantly Australian” is open to interpretation, but the producer offset has increased domestic film production, of both overseas and domestic films (Jericho, 2015) and has consequently opened doors for Australian film-makers on the world stage whilst increasing tourism and related industries experiencing flow-on growth (Poole, 2013, p.90). In the Screen Australia Report Skin in the Game: The Producer Offset 10 Years On, 91% of surveyed production companies indicated that the producer offset was ‘critically important’ to retain staff and keep developing projects in Australia.

Whilst the Australian film industry is global and many Australian performers relish the opportunity to work with international colleagues (Fletcher, 2015), the issue at stake is finding and maintaining the appropriate balance between foreign and local influences in the telling of our stories. In 2015 the Abbott Government proposed drastic changes to the guidelines that ensure quotas of Australian actors and crew have access to significant jobs. In response to that threat the Make it Australian Campaign was launched vying for the restoration of funding to public broadcasters and Screen Australia, rallying for rules that ensure Australian stories appear on new players like Netflix, Stan and Youtube, and outlined that tax incentives that encourage production in Australia are no longer competitive. Gillian Armstrong, award winning feature film and documentary director has shown her support for the campaign by saying, “without support, we won’t have our own jokes, our own culture, our own stories on screen”(Quinn, 2017).  Campaigns like Make it Australian are vital to the protection of Australian media content in the domestic market.

Australian film and television is undoubtedly a public good that must be protected. The Australian film and television industry, while always seeking to be international as well as being national, is increasingly reaching across borders and must continue to do so to stay commercially sustainable. It is true that the small budgets that Australian films attract compared to the Hollywood blockbusters make it extremely difficult for Australian films to compete in a global market. However bringing international productions to Australia does produce employment opportunities, increases tourism and growth in related industries. Australian stories deserve our support and protection because as Gillian Armstrong says, ‘It’s so important that we see things that are about us, that talk to us, that make us think about our lives” (Quinn, 2017).

Reference List

Burns and Eltham, “Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, The Film Finance Corporation, and Hollywoods, ‘Race to the Bottom'”, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No.136, August 2010, p.103-118

Court and Tabone, ‘Call the Specialists: What Thor and Alien could really do for the Australian film industry”, The Conversation, October 2015 https://theconversation.com/call-the-specialists-what-thor-and-aliens-could-really-do-for-the-australian-film-industry-49750 viewed 13th December 2017

Fletcher, A “Australian Film Talent and Stories deserve protection in order to be heard”, The Guardian, June 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jun/17/australian-film-talent-and-stories-deserve-protection-in-order-to-be-heard viewed 13 December 2017

Jericho, G, “How much does Australia really subsidise overseas films and is it worth it?” The Guardian, October 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2015/oct/26/how-much-does-australia-really-subsidise-overseas-films-and-is-it-worth-it viewed 12th December 2017

Make it Australian, https://makeitaustralian.com/take-action/

Poole, M “Internationalising Australian Film and Television: The AFI and an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA)”, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, No. 176, 2013: 86-91

Quinn, K “Gillian Armstrong lends her voice to campaign to save Australian screen content”, The Sydney Morning Herald, September 18 2017 http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/gillian-armstrong-lends-her-voice-to-campaign-to-save-australian-screen-content-20170917-gyj16x.html

Screen Australia, 2017, “Report Released – A decade of the Producer Offset”, viewed 14 December 2017 https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/sa/media-centre/news/2017/11-15-a-decade-of-the-producer-offset-report

Screen Australia Act 2008, Part 2 Section 6, Australia https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2008A00012

Tunny, G “Moochers Making Movies: Government assistance to the film industry”, Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, Vol. 29, No.1, 2013

 

 

Assumptions of Australian Film and Television

Admittedly I spend a lot of time watching film and television…. probably way more than is considered ‘healthy’, but its what I really enjoy!. I’m a subscriber to both Stan and Netflix and whilst I do watch more American content than Australian content overall, I have recently really enjoyed Australian television shows like Cleverman which aired on the ABC, The Kettering Incident on Foxtel, Matt Okines The Other Guy on Stan and Josh Thompson’s Please Like Me also on the ABC. Whilst watching all of these shows, in none of them did I have the feeling of the show trying to be overtly Australian or too culturally specific, yet all of them tell an Australian story. Whilst Cleverman is clearly reflective of how Indigenous Australians are treated in Australia and so undoubtedly Australian content, it could easily be reflective of how any minority group is discriminated against.

ketteringPleaseLikeMe_headerp14107240_b_v8_ab

This is why I was really surprised when I sat down in my first summer session class and my peers described their assumptions of Australian film and television like this…

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 11.26.23 am

What my class came up with when asked what their assumptions are of Australian content…

Whilst these things aren’t the first words that come to mind when I think of Australian film and tv, once we started listing iconic Australian film and television, this mind map seems completely accurate and made me think twice of my initial understanding. Think, Crocodile Dundee (1986), Neighbours (1985-), Home and Away (1988-), McLeods Daughters (2001-2009) and The Castle (1997). Whilst these are a select few that fit a specific idea of Australian content, there are many perspectives on Australian film and a frequent complaint was summed up by Louis Nowra who wrote in 2009 that “Australian films are so dispiriting that they make Leonard Cohen seem positively cheery” (Bolt,Daily Telegraph, 2009). Another is that they are full of outmoded ocker stereotypes. So what is Australian creative content supposed to do?, well in actual fact it is supposed to have cultural benefits for Australia and in many ways is based on the understanding “… that film serves the identification and refinement of essential Australianness”(Dermody and Jacka, 1987, 35) and yet I don’t feel any of these iconic films and tv series listed above are insightful into my day to day life as an Australian.

…..So what is considered an Australian Screen Production? 

Screen Australia determines whether a project has significant Australian content with regard to:

  • The subject matter of the film
  • The place where the film was made
  • The nationalities and places of residence of the persons who took part in the making of the film
  • The details of the production expenditure incurred in respect of the film, and
  • any other matters that we consider to be relevant.

But this also means that a film like The Great Gatsby (2013), a great American novella by a great US Author F. Scott Fitzgerald can be considered an Australian film even if it is not an Australian story. This is because it was directed by Baz Luhrmann, was filmed in Australia with an Australian crew and mainly Australian actors (even though it stars Leonardo DiCaprio).

But maybe moving away from Australian content having to be identifiably Australian is a good thing and a films merits should be determined not by its cultural appropriateness but the film as a whole. Julius Avery, the director of Australian film Son of a Gun said, This label ‘Australian film’, I don’t know. I think we need to drop that and just make universal films that connect.” Whilst I think more recent tv shows like the ones mentioned earlier (Please Like Me, The Kettering Incident, and Cleverman etc) are succeeding at this, there seems to be a struggle between the responsibility to tell Australian stories in order to enrich national identity and creating Australian content  that doesn’t have to be identifiably Australian in order to be successful.

The success or failure of the Australian film and television industry is dependent on multiple issues like the audience, tall poppy syndrome, lack of funding, advertising and policy making. These will all be discussed in future weeks as this topic is explored in depth.