‘Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan.’
Most Australian films are caught in a catch-22: Independent distributors are constrained in how much they can spend on P&A. The upshot: Films suffer from lack of visibility and find it tough, if not impossible, to achieve their box office potential.
That’s according to Red Dune Productions’ Martin Walsh, who produced Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan with Deeper Water Films’ Michael and John Schwarz.
The Vietnam War movie starring Travis Fimmel, Luke Bracey, Richard Roxburgh, Daniel Webber, Nicholas Hamilton, Aaron Glenane and Anthony Hayes has grossed $1.75 million in 13 days on 235 screens.
Walsh has no quarrel with the distributor Transmission Films, telling IF: “They have done a sterling job with the resources they have, we love working with them and they were the only distributor willing to support our film.
“There would be no Danger Close without the support of Andrew Mackie and Richard Payten and their great marketing team.”
But the producer, who spent 15 years getting the film made, contends: “The majority of audiences who would go to see the film if they knew it existed, simply don’t know about it.
“Our box office performance to date is doing better than the P&A the film has access to. The industry can’t expect a high quality and highly reviewed film to do a certain level of box office if it doesn’t have a commensurate P&A.”
By his reckoning, to achieve a $20 million gross for a wide release in Australia, the marketing spend would need to be at least $1.2 million – $1.5 million.
He estimates the typical P&A budget for Australian films at between $360,000 and $750,000, which equates to 3 per cent- 5 per cent of a $15 million production budget. The smaller the film, the less risk a distributor is willing to take on P&A.
“In defence of the remaining independent distributors in Australia, they don’t have the cash resources available to risk and commit the required P&A for larger films compared to the majors, even when accessing the P&A loan facility through Screen Australia,” he says.
“But what is the point of making a movie, having screen agencies invest in Australian films and filmmakers raising private investment for a film if there is no adequate P&A resources or commitment, or a sophisticated strategy/campaign to support it?”
The producers and Transmission Films planned the release date well in advance, 10 days before the August 18 anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. So they were not happy when Universal shifted Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach from July 25 to the same day.
Universal switched dates after exhibitors told the distributor it could not book the number of screens it wanted on July 25 against the second weekend of Disney’s The Lion King. For the same reason, Roadshow moved Late Night, the Mindy Kaling/Emma Thompson comedy, from that date to August 8.
There were no ads for Danger Close on metropolitan free-to-air TV channels, radio or print, just some on pay TV and digital outlets, unlike the full-court campaign for Palm Beach.
Stenders’ movie is getting extremely positive reactions from moviegoers, especially in rural and regional areas. For example, the film is performing well at Majestic Cinemas’ locations in Port Macquarie, Singleton and Nambour.
Majestic Cinemas CEO Kieren Dell is adding the title to his other sites in Nambucca, Sawtell, The Entrance and Inverell, and two other locations he books, Armidale and Huskisson Sussex Inlet, on August 29.
“A lot of our viewers in regional areas are Vietnam vets and their families, or Vets/men’s groups,” he says. “We have a few largish bookings from Vets groups and other men’s groups over the next week or so, so I hope that means it will hold well from here and have good legs.”
Stenders believes it can take up to three weeks for word-of-mouth to fully kick in, noting: “We are following up with more targeted WOM marketing over the coming weeks so there’s still ‘legs’ in us yet. One thing is certain, the film is playing exceptionally well with audiences and their reactions and responses have been incredible.”
Similarly, Michael Schwarz tells IF: “The biggest and most important thing is the incredible effect the film has had on veterans of the Vietnam War and their families. We’ve had such an overwhelming response from both inside and outside the military community and to make a movie that affects people in that way is a once in a lifetime accomplishment. From here, we just hope exhibitors give the film a chance to grow as word of mouth spreads.”
The international sales agent, Mark Lindsay’s Saboteur Media has sold the title to multiple markets including the US, China, Japan, Spain, Germany, Benelux, Taiwan, Indonesia, India, Scandinavia and the Middle East. The movie will open in US cinemas and on VOD on November 8 via Saban Films.
“America will be an important market as we’ve seen a huge percentage of our online activity, including trailer views, come from there. There’s a real interest in Australia’s involvement in the war and the way Australians handle themselves,” Schwarz says.
Walsh is running an extensive social media campaign, which he says has been a “crucial foundation for us to build awareness and interest in the film, but the majority of Australian simply don’t know the film exists and is in cinemas.”