Any Questions for Ben? Just one: why have audiences stayed away?

17 February, 2012 by Amanda Diaz

On this week's episode of popular game show Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation, host Shaun Micallef asked actor Josh Lawson how his latest film Any Questions for Ben? was performing.

"Tremendously well," said Lawson, who was dressed as Romeo as part of the episode's Shakespearean theme. "Yeah, no, it's doing very well."

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"I should explain," said Micallef quickly to the viewers at home. "We did pre-record this at a point before the film had opened. Can we do the alternative just in case?"

"Of course," Lawson agreed.

"Josh, how is the film doing?"

"People hate it," said Lawson promptly. "And they seem to specifically hate me in it."

The reality seems to lie somewhere in between these two extremes for the latest comedy from Working Dog. Audiences aren't united in their hatred of Any Questions for Ben?, but then again, not many of them have seen it.

The film grossed just $917,516 across 235 screens in its first week of release. The romantic comedy's distributor Roadshow is understood to have spent close to $2 million on the P&A, but it seems audience are yet to be convinced, despite flocking to Working Dog's previous films, The Castle and The Dish.

"They've created something that nobody is quite going to expect," Lawson told IF in January, before the film's release. "I didn't think it looked or felt like an Australian film, it felt so big, so epic. I just didn't know where it was going – one moment I was laughing, the next minute I was really moved."

Any Questions for Ben? stars Lawson as the eponymous Ben, a successful, if materialistic twentysomething who realises his lifestyle may not be all it's cracked up to be after speaking at a careers night where not a single student asks him a question.

The filmmakers' interest in the subject matter developed after spending time socialising with young comedians during the filming of improvisation-based series Thank God You're Here.

"We had plenty of ways to portray the perfect modern urban life but we hadn't come up with a way to derail it," says director and co-writer Rob Sitch. "Then one of us mentioned school. The 10 year mark. We tossed around those nights when you're invited back and fully expect it to be triumphant and then someone said, 'Any questions for Ben…any at all…come on.' We hadn't even worked out what the night was but we were laughing."

The film features a solid cast, including Rachael Taylor (Red Dog, Transformers), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and popular comedian Felicity Ward.

Both of Working Dog’s previous films have been box office successes and instant classics. The Castle earned $10.3 million in cinemas and The Dish grossed almost $18 million.

“Any film by anyone comes with so much pressure and effort that it dwarfs any other thoughts you might have,” says Sitch. “I’m just happy to make a
film that doesn’t start with The.”

As a romantic comedy, the film is not only different from The Castle and The Dish, but also from many other local stories.

“In a weird way, it’s a lot harder to make a romantic comedy in Australia than it is, say, to make a raw crime drama,” says Lawson. “So often filmmakers love to make films about the down and out. I’m really proud of being in something that captures a side of Australia that is rarely captured
on screen.”

Although acknowledging that Any Questions for Ben? is unlike the production company’s other offerings, Lawson believes the three films have one important thing in common. “The characters are so funny, but only because we know them,” he says. “We all have someone like [The Castle’s] Dale Kerrigan in our lives. That’s what Working Dog is so good at: reminding you that you’ve got these people in your life and so
therefore, maybe, this movie is about you.”

Any Questions for Ben? is in cinemas now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • TK

    I think there were a lot of bad moves on this film.

    You could give a thousand reasons why the film’s bad but lots of bad US films do well.

    Why haven’t audiences gone to see it?

    Well:

    – Nobody can remember the title.
    – The poster’s terrible (looks like an ad for depression or “guess which one of us has syphilis”).
    – The trailer lacks romance or laughs. The characters appear pretty shallow and there’s no real hint of drama or problems except those of spoiled middle class brats.
    – The reviews have been poor. Sure, this didn’t hurt A Few Best Men or countless American films but with those films you know what you’re getting. A broad comedy at a wedding with jokes about sheep and Livvy taking coke. You’re either in or you’re not.
    – What the hell is it? They’re saying it’s a romantic comedy but it seems nobody told the marketing department. Look at the posters for US romantic comedies and they make it very clear it’s a rom-com. They show the two leads (and usually nothing else) in a romantic pose. It’s simple but effective. This film has a bunch of people (who may be known in our film industry but wouldn’t be known outside of it) having a laugh. Who knows what they’re about to do? A jewel heist? A gangbang? Are they laughing because they just saw a cyclist get hit by a motorist?
    – The tagline “when life is perfect what’s to question?” also gets to the heart of it. Working Dog’s content always did well with audiences because it was modest and was in touch with the common person. Their audience don’t think of themselves as perfect and possibly have disdain for people that do. It reeks of the similar backlash that plagued Sex In The City 2 where they lost sight of why people were attracted to them in the first place and showed a dangerous disconnect from their audience.

  • Randall Berger

    The Dogs should have called it THE CASTLE II: DALE GETS A LIFE and there would have been lines around the block …

  • ashtrayboy

    You’d think with a two million dollar p&a spend, they could have come up with a better poster. it’s sad to say it out loud but a good portion of the potential audience this film is seeking will make their judgement on the poster alone. The single sheet is dull at best looks like an ad for Lindeman’s wines. The outdoor advertising is even worse. They’d have been better placed hiring a decent advertising agency to have a crack at it. (let’s hope they didn’t)

  • Stuart

    Horrible title, horrible trailer, horrible posters, an unappealing lead and just a general state of confusion about what the hell the movie is about. Someone messed real bad with this one.

  • ausfilmfan

    Part of the problem is Josh Lawson I’m afraid. He’s not leading man material and comes across as a bit annoying. That’s a big problem when he’s the character the audience needs to root for. The marketing issues raised above are valid too.

  • HJK

    This sounds like a job for T.I.F.T.A.F. – The Institute For Titling Australian Films

  • Daphne Jones

    Weak title, weak poster but most of all, weak premise. The Castle was about a family about to loose their home. There was so much at stake! This film is about… what exactly? Young Libs at the races, going skiing, having sex in badly lit hotel rooms… It’s film about nothing that leads nowhere, just goes round and round in circles – and a very poorly written one at that. Both leads are two-dimensional and at one point the female lead goes missing from the film for 40 minutes. The support characters are pretty much interchangeable. The actors tried hard but they simply couldn’t do anything with a screenplay that poor. And all of it shot and edited like an episode of Top Model. Disaster-ville.

  • Jessica

    After ‘Snowtown’, ‘The Eye of the Storm’, ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Oranges and ‘Sunshine’ + the ‘Red Dog’ last year, why would I want to see this movie? Hopefully, 2012 is not going to be a dud year for Australian films! Silly, ‘giggly’ films for the suburban vombies will not do the local industry any good!

  • alison wotherspoon

    The title is just so uninspiring it hasn’t registered, or if it did it was in an instantly forgettable and negative way. I just looked at the trailer and it is fine in comparison almost makes me want to go and see it, or at least look out for it if I was on a long haul flight.

  • Graeme

    As a friend pointed out so eloquently last week, “no one wants to see the guy who was a dick at school and is still a dick be the lead in a movie”

  • Jessica

    Comedies are about concepts and tone and it simply wasn’t Australian like a Red Dog or a Bran Nue Dae. What was the key marketing message? A metrosexual going through a quarter life crisis? Yea, that will have audiences lining up. Plus A Few Best Men opened a few or so earlier and took that percentage of Australian audiences that feel obliged to support at Aussie film a few times a year. Lastly, reviews weren’t glowing, even if working dogs track-record offset some fallout here (and rightly so)

  • ninny

    If you’re looking for answers to why no one wants to see this film then I agree wholeheartedly with Stuart above…

    “Horrible title, horrible trailer, horrible posters, an unappealing lead and just a general state of confusion about what the hell the movie is about. Someone messed real bad with this one.”

    …and it looks like bad tv.

  • Don Percy

    I can’t comment on the film – having not seen it – but the trailer seems to lack any ‘visual’ moments – either ‘wow look at that’ or ‘funny shot of guy falling in the pool.’ Like it or not, most American Rom-Coms still involve a bit of slapstick and chase / action…!? The trailer gives no hint of this possibility. It’s those moments in a trailer that give you the little ‘that looks funny’ buzz…

  • Jessica

    Marketing. Even if the movie was weak. Marketing could have saved it. The trailers gave me no idea what this film was about. I had to search hard to find anything out. What I find was what posters above have repeated. A weak premise. Nothing to hook you in. And the marketing helped in no way.

  • carisu

    that bloke on the poster looks so smug. and he’s got lots of smug friends. if the film was about him getting punched in the face every five seconds I might go see it.

  • Corndogs

    Is it such a surprise that they have stayed away? I only saw the trailer because I know one of the cast members, otherwise I would never had known that it was released. Nobody at my work-place had heard of it.

    It’s awesome to assume that “if you build it, they will come”, but it’s probably a good idea to let people know that you’ve built it. I concur with Jessica – MARKETING!

    The trailer makes it look rather banal too, and maybe it is: a story about a rather smug guy who is a bit of a jerk, sleeps around, realises he’s having a quarter life crisis, may or may not fall in love at the end… whoa! Moreover, I didn’t laugh once, and I wanted to laugh (I laugh easily, I’m primed, ready to go).

    Notwithstanding the fact that I don’t think I’d pay money to see the movie based on the trailer; I could be convinced, if only I were bombarded with MARKETING. Having said that I will probably pay to see it in order to see the talented cast member with whom I am familiar 😛

    Anyway, fire the MARKETING guys, or give them sufficient funds to do more than a quarter-assed effort of convincing people to go and watch it.

    In conclusion: MARKETING

    ps. MARKETING

  • Nick

    I went in with high hopes and I’ve given Australian cinema more forgiveness merely on budget. I think Bad Eggs is still one of the best written Aussie films even with sub standard acting. AQFB lacks good writing, woeful acting and shocking editing. The music enough was agony, like a movie with Fox FM playing in the background. I didn’t mind the premise, but to seriously expect us to empathise with these pretentious jerks was a grand oversight. Aussie audiences like champiions like Daryl from The Castle or Cliff from The Dish…..and sadly a red cattle dog had more depth in character development. But one miss in a stable of winners was bound to happen. Looking forward to the next one Working Dog.

  • Christopher Stollery

    Can’t believe how superficial the Australian public is. Judging the film on it’s trailer?
    Go SEE it then give an informed opinion.

  • Bob

    It will find its place on dvd good movies usually do

  • Lisa

    Loved it! A clever insight into the young mind and very realistic portrayal of the older generation. I identified with so much of this movie. Laughed a lot and really enjoyed it.

  • Anna

    A terrible title, an uninspiring premise, a smug twat as a main character and a trailer that makes the film look humourless and bland.
    While I’m sure a film about Gen Y twentysomethings having a quarter life crisis could be a hit with audiences, it has to have something authentic about it. As a 27-year-old myself, I can say nothing about this story spoke to me or my friends. All the characters seem like obnoxious, smug, rich brats you didn’t like at school.

  • Jessica

    I disagree with all the comments above. I just saw it and I thought it was great!! I loved the story, the acting and the comedy. Josh and the rest of the cast did a great job. And boy did they ever make Melbourne look good. There appears to be a group of Aussie movie snobs who are too stuck up when it comes to what they think should and should not be contained in what they consider to be a good movie and story.

  • amanda

    The trailer makes the film look like it’s trying too hard… or maybe the film is simply trying to hard (I haven’t seen it). But I think the major problem is in your male lead – he does appear smug, and nothing puts Aussie’s off more than a wanker. My boyfriend actually said when he saw the trailer: “He looks like a private school wanker”. The subject matter is also trite and superficial (a quarter life crisis? First world problems…) and we get enough of that from reality TV/bad US movies. I think if this film appeared to be parodying his lifestyle and shallowness more (and suggesting he might ultimately learn something), people might go see it… you have to remember, what most US rom coms do right is establish the male/female lead as being a loser/dork or having some other personality fault that is stopping them from finding true happiness/love, so audiences get to watch their demise/humiliation and finally see their ‘lightbulb moment’ before their ultimate triumph (i.e. getting the guy/girl). Unfortunately this trailer doesn’t appear to be parodying his lifestyle so much as celebrating it (friends toasting him, lots of party scenes/cheering, shots of him in spa baths and skiing, women throwing themselves at him…) So audiences are nauseated by what appears to be a trailer for a movie about a smug wanker and his first world problems. And no one wants to sit through 90+ minutes of that!

  • disappointed

    I agree: they got it wrong with the title, trailer, posters. It’s ironic that the Ben character is a Marketing guru

  • sal

    sorry but the male lead is not leading man material – not attractive at all and awful acting…. the female lead aint much better either. But yeah, bad choice in these two – and whomever put money into it should have picked it up.

  • sheesh

    -Can’t believe how superficial the Australian public is. Judging the film on it’s trailer? Go SEE it then give an informed opinion.
    Posted by Christopher Stollery. 18/02/2012 03:19:34 PM

    Er, this is an article about why audiences stayed away. And obviously the trailer is contributing to that. What do you expect people to use to determine if they want to see a movie, if not the trailer? People don’t have endless amounts of money to spend, or the time to see everything.

  • Richard

    Why audiences stay away? because they
    1. Don’t know the film is released,
    2. Don’t know what the film is about, and
    3. If they have seen a trailer or poster, the marketing missed the target.

    I have not seen the film, but I have no problem with the premise of bon viveur dickhead has lightbulb moment, gets his act together and wins the girl. From the actors’ earlier work I would assume they’d be good in this too.
    The title? I don’t care, the original Arthur (1981)and Alfie (1966) both did well with a nothing title and similar themes.

    Was there really $2million P&A on this film? Where did it go?

    AQFB could be another case study in how Australian movies fail due to poor marketing. If Hollywood can teach us anything, it’s that with strong and intense marketing audiences will pay money to watch a polished turd for 2 hours.

  • Mudley

    Well I have seen it and it is one of the worst films I have ever seen. I feel like sending working dog an invoice for two hours of my time. Unpopular opinion? Well – 10 people in the cinema, 4 walked out halfway through and we poor fools who stayed were all muttering angrily at the exit.

  • Rex Macqueen

    I would hate to say it, but “The castle” had ZERO marketing, and was only released in a few cinemas initially and lucky to be. (In the industry they might refer to it as a creeper) However it was also successful TV’s guys doing a “FIRST TIMER” thing, which is probably the main reason. No one was going to spend money on the Castle for marketing. It was a huge Aussy hit, although it looked like it was shoot on a home video camera, runs only 85 mins because of the musical montages (under 75 and it’s not a feature film and can’t have feature film release), mostly nobody actors except the guy from the Sulivans, Chances and the kid from Frontline. To say marketing was involved in the success of The Castle is like blaming poor marketing for AQFB. Which is not to say there are many films which suffer from bad timing and/or bad marketing but AQFB is not one of them. It’s a just a crap film, average acting, no one liners to remember, no funny centre pieces to put in a trailer, nothing wacky, kind of pretentious, no characters we can relate too. But this is also not why it failed. Lawson could be a leading man (anyone could be a leading man, so long as he has X and Y chromosome), the film still could have had an audience, it could have had limited success or more so. I really wanted to laugh at this film, Working Dog are an original voice in Australia but not lately. 99% of what they produce is great. The Hollow Men was a real exception to the rule as is AQFB. They probably have one of the best batting averages. But if this films was edited slightly from outside the group it might have helped. Maybe Ben being hit in the head, more than once, falling down some stairs, driving into an old lady, a whacky serial killer. Above people have mentioned Arthur or Aflie, but both men were actually serious addicts, the film had a very serious downside and Alfie is not really a comedy, and the more recent Arthur installment was a bomb with one of the funniest guys in the world at the helm, Russell Brand. if there is a comedy about a really successful guy getting all the girl, then the dark side of his nature has to be really dark. Maybe an old friend gets him into a robbery, people are trying to kill him. This is one o one in the comedy rule book. Not an add for Melbourne, the greatest and most livable city in the world may have needed a few scenes from Brordy, Dandy ect… to even things up a bit. The film didn’t have this stuff in it. Meaning no disrespect to Stitch and Co the film is hubris and demeaning to most Aussies, and lets no forget that times a tough right now, maybe this film is not a fit for the market place at the moment? it works like this, The Dish wasn’t great, it was very average but still good and based on the Castle it was a huge hit, relatively speaking by Australian standards. It’s not clear how much the film actually cost, marketing, distribution ect.. it was no dundee but a good flick. The Castle was a great success because it looked like it was shot for 20 bucks on a tuesdaynight in the hols and made big money.
    The Castle had some great one liners, in fact many of which then became part of Australian everyday vernacular. But most of the working Dog comedy is very Australian. Always taking the piss, having a go at the cool guy, big guy/girl ect…
    Perhaps success has hindered their practice? It dose with most artis’s at some stage and they have to get it back. This Rom com was actually an attempt by working dog to prove they can make any type of comedy and people will go and see it. The Dish was a long time ago, Who lines is it? is an add lib TV show.

    One thing Australians forget about is that most other English speaking countries can’t even understand what the hell we are talking about when we do speak english, now of course we have a new breed of urban international middle class who want to wipe away every fabric or Australian identity we have left, but the truth is,

    “They are dreamin”

  • Peggy

    Well, I’d have gone to see it in the cinemas except the only things I get to see there are things with a G rating.
    I was really keen to see it although I had read all the terrible reviews, yet I was pleasantly surprised.
    I didn’t really like The Castle or The Dish particularly. I didn’t hate them, but I don’t really dig the whole retro, ocker, little-aussie-battler type thing. It always seems too much a caricature and a bit insincere.
    To me, this is the most enjoyable of the Working Dog films I’ve seen. It was easy to watch, I got caught up in the story, I did want Ben to sort his shit out and have a win. Of course the character was two-dimensional at the start, but that was the point, wasn’t it?
    I don’t really care if it bore similarities to the UK classic 90s Rom-Coms and I don’t see the need to compare it with them. I disagree that it’s just like them. Could it be that it’s just a movie – does it have to be one sort or the other? I mean, if I have an interesting anecdote, does it have to fall into a category?
    For me, this film was a very Australian telling of an interesting story and I was never bored and never doubted the integrity of the characters (Jerry Maguire never had ME at ‘hello’!) I liked the writing and I liked the performances. I was caught up in the story and I had a cry at the end. That’s my money’s worth.