The Australian film industry seems to have come to a drastic halt in recent times, despite Australian film and media content proving to be both successful and influential both domestically and internationally. Australian film is well known for generating greater levels of understanding towards Australian culture and identity, further showcasing that Australian stories are best represented on a global front. However, sadly the general opinion of the Australian film industry is underwhelming at best, even being referred to as ‘unpopular’ and a ‘failure of the domestic screen industry’ (Burns and Eltham, 2010).
Despite the widespread negative stigma regarding Australian film, it is highly evident that far greater issues such as; funding, the sheer way in which success is being measured and audience viewing habits which greatly add fuel to the fire. As such, the general negative stigma attached to the Australian film industry has led many people to believe a significant market failure has occurred. I agree, there are some massive adjustments that need to be made in order to effectively address matters of funding, protection and stimulation of Australian content, however, the industry hasn’t completely failed us yet! Instead, this situation calls for a few adjustments.
Australian films have a long history of being intertwined with government policy and this generally affects their success. Burns and Ethan have stated that ‘screen policy is highly evident in Australian cultural policy debates due to the screen industry’s cultural importance and media profile’ (Burns and Eltham, 2010). Such thing as the 10BA existed during the 1970’s and 1980’s, offering massive tax deductions of up to 150%, obviously generating a boom in the industry. Successful Australian films including Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max were created during this time, however, in saying this a whole lot of terrible films were also produced. This meant ‘skyrocketing budgets, dodgy deals, and fragmenting of Australian cultural identity’ was occurring in order to appeal on a global scale (Burt, 2004) and the 10BA concept is officially gone. In 1988, the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) came in to replace the 10BA acting as a type of bank for films, becoming ‘a major source of funding in the 1990’s (Middlemost, 2017). This FFC concept failed to deliver with only 25 movies produced in one year and very little profit. Screen Australia came into play in 2008, created under the Labour Government it’s a combination of the FFC, Film Australia Limited and the Australian Film Commission. As described by Burns and Eltham, it’s easy to see how the history of Australian film has either been in a ‘boom or bust’ state (Burns and Eltham, 2010).
Other issues associated with Australian films, is how we measure their success or failure. Should the success of a film solely be measured by the amount of money it makes at the box office? A research gap has already been recognised with respect to the changing ways Australian’s watch films. If an entire demographic of people are choosing to avoid going to the cinema to watch Australian movies due to the high costs associated, then box office success cannot be used as an indicator for film popularity. Personally, I prefer watching a movie or tv series on Netflix and eating my own snacks, also being more cost-efficient than going to the cinema. We should be asking questions like ‘how many people watch Australian films or tv series, or Australian content made for new platforms’? (Kaufman, 2009). By answering these questions we should be able to better understand the ways Australian’s consume media and incorporate a better way to protect and enhance Australian films. A possible way forward for the industry could be that of private funding, hopefully allowing for greater creative freedom and more individually with the industry.
Although previous behind the scenes issues can be easily recognised, it is also important to consider that our content needs improving to further protect the Australian film industry. An initiative sponsored by Screen Australia, Tropfest is an annual competition allowing people to submit short films with the hopes of encouraging upcoming talent to break into the film industry. Tropfest represents a way in which the Australian film industry can be improved, encouraging aspiring filmmakers to bridge the gap between small and large production companies. This makes it even more prevalent, that perhaps the industry needs more of a mix of private investors and government funding in order to stay afloat.
Australian films are unique and crucial to Australia and it’s culture. It is important that hybrid type films are able to evolve over time, allowing for individuals and innovative communities to access the industry. Policies and funding directly influence the perception of Australian films, as evident throughout 10BA tax, the FFC and Screen Australia. Therefore, I don’t necessarily feel as though a market failure has occurred, a few enhancements just need to be made in order to improve the Australian film industry’s current situation.
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian screen policy: 10BA, The Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’’, Media International Australia, No. 136, pp. 103-118
Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Shortcuts: finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro: media and education magazine, No. 163, pp. 6-8
Middlemost, R 2017, ‘Introduction, key terms, debates and assumptions behind Australian content’, Lecture Notes, BCM330, University of Wollongong, 4th December 2017
Middlemost, R 2017, ‘Funding and Policy: A History of Market Failure’, Lecture Notes, BCM330, University of Wollongong, 11th December 2017