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.