While the screen industry has plenty to celebrate as Australian films are set to finish the year with around $87 million in B.O. takings, the results show a sizable number of films failed to address fundamental questions.
Namely: Who precisely will watch my film and which cinemas will play it at a time when theatrical release here increasingly is a sure way to lose money?
Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason is delighted with the range of films and documentaries that have resonated with audiences this year.
Mad Max Fury Road, The Dressmaker, Oddball and The Water Diviner all grossed more than $10 million, and Paper Planes just under. Last Cab to Darwin, Blinky Bill: The Movie, That Sugar Film and Holding the Man performed well, although Mason believes Neil Armfield’s gay-themed romance, which grossed $1.2 million, deserved to make double that.
Still, Mason questions the mindset of a sizable section of the screen industry. “The sector still largely wants to make what they want to make, irrespective of audiences or the state of industry in 2015/16,” he tells IF.
“This is most pronounced in the more experienced part of our sector – which is gobsmacking. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Why should I care who goes to see it?’ However we need to not expect all titles to be a) good, or b) work with audiences.”
That’s a fair point. But some films that were no doubt made with the best intentions, and involved talented creatives, either struggled to secure cinema release or rapidly faded off screens. That list includes Now Add Honey, Partisan, Manny Lewis, Kill Me Three Times, Cut Snake, Ruben Guthrie, UnINDIAN and StalkHer.
To be fair, as IF has consistently said, the Australian B.O. should not be the only yardstick. Local and international festival exposure, international sales, ancillary sales and talent development are all important.
Perhaps crime thrillers are more suited as TV miniseries or telepics, where there is a huge potential audience. The Seven Network’s Catching Milat, for example, drew 2.55 million viewers.
Mason continues, “This year more than the box office the real success is the number and variety of films that did reach a good audience. Obviously we would like there to be fewer that don’t work out creatively as we hoped when greenlit – but this does happen and is impossible to guarantee
“Obviously we would like fewer to miss finding a good audience – but some of those that don’t are still good movies. People should be allowed to try and fail, because of a lot of the real successes in our world have been surprises.”
Mason has a blunt message for filmmakers: “I would ask people to look at their slates and ask, ‘What is it that is going to make this special?' If you are doing it on the back of the cast you have to be certain that cast will make people buy tickets.
“I want anyone who comes in with a project to think about where it will play, how it would play and who would go to see it. What I don’t want is people thinking, ‘this is what it was like in 2002 when I did my last film.’
“You need to be looking at what is working at the box office, what are people watching on television, what are people downloading, and how will you reach the audience that you want to share the story with.”
Veteran producer Antony I. Ginnane points to the value of stars and branding in the success of The Water Diviner, Paper Planes, Oddball, Last Cab to Darwin, Mad Max: Fury Road, Blinky Bill: The Movie and Holding the Man.
“It is cast or brand that creates the theatrical proposition,” he says. One distributor puts it another way when he says films need to be of a certain “scale” to justify theatrical release.
According to the MPDAA, the Australian films and feature docs released this year plus holdovers have racked up $84.178 million, in dollars eclipsing the previous high of $63.4 million in 2001.
What will 2016 bring? Who knows, but festival acclaim for The Daughter, Looking for Grace and Sherpa ought to guarantee a reasonable audience for each. Beyond that I am betting Garth Davis’ Lion will be a critical and commercial hit, while Red Dog- True Blue looks like a winner.
The line-up includes A Month of Sundays, 2:22, A Few Less Men, Ali’s Wedding, Berlin Syndrome, Jasper Jones, The Nest, The Legend of Ben Hall, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Jungle and Down Under.
Click here for Australian box office figures.