Feature: Drumming Up Business
By Adam Coleman
The rise of piracy, an international decline in both theatrical pre-sales and DVD revenues, along with dwindling audiences for Australian films, are just some of the issues the industry faces.
The former head of sales and marketing at the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), Kathleen Drumm accepts the current climate for Australian film is challenging.
“It is harder to get deals done and it is harder to collect on them,” she says. “It’s harder to attract financial partners and when you get them it can be very challenging to fit creative aspirations for a film alongside financial requirements.”
Since travelling across the Tasman to rejoin her compatriot and former boss at the NZFC – Screen Australia boss Ruth Harley – Drumm has been busy “researching the local market, meeting filmmakers and thinking about how I can best contribute”.
Appointed in September last year, after what Harley described as “a widespread international search”, Drumm says she is focusing her energies on four key areas: building audiences, international profiling, recoupment and supporting talent.
Working out how to improve audiences for local films is a significant challenge. With few exceptions, critical acclaim for the quality of Australian films released last year wasn’t reflected at the box office.
In building audiences for local films “we have to start thinking like a distributor”, Drumm says.
“We have to think about what audiences are responding to and how we can support distributors and filmmakers to give our films the best possible chance and, of course, that means marketing activity from the outset,” she says.
Asked whether Screen Australia would be revising its theatrical P&A fund – which is designed to enhance the theatrical distribution and marketing of Australian films – Drumm says “it is something that we will certainly be looking at and refining as we go along”.
She plans to collaborate with filmmakers and distributors to get films seen, and the agency plans to hold two market intelligence forums in Sydney and Melbourne later this month.
However, she says exhibitors are currently “missing in action from the discussion”.
“We are talking a lot with distributors and that is really important but when it comes down to it, exhibitors are deciding whether or not they are going to screen films and we need to really think about how we can bring them into the discussion and recognise their contribution and also get their feedback,” she says.
Despite now suffering similar issues to Australia in finding local audiences, the New Zealand film industry is widely regarded to have punched above its weight internationally.
Drumm says that despite its size, New Zealand’s industry has had “a single voice”, which was clearer than the multiple screen agency approach in Australia before Screen Australia was formed.
“Perhaps there were a number of voices out in the market which was a bit confusing. But that has definitely changed in the last year and that is a real advantage of having a single agency,” she says.
For an extended version of this article, check out the March issue of INSIDEFILM magazine.