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).
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.