The December 4 launches of Love is Now, Charlie’s Farm and Turkey Shoot are yet another illustration of the utter futility of releasing Australian films on a handful of screens with minimal marketing support.
That trio adds to the list of the casualties which have resulted in Australian films’ share of the national box-office this year falling to 2.07%, well short of 2013’s 3.5% and the 10-year average of 3.8%.
Through last Sunday 37 local features and documentaries released this year, plus around 20 titles that carried over from 2013 or earlier years, had generated $20.4 million.
The nationwide year-to-date gross is $1.008 billion so the 2014 total won't reach last year’s $1.099 billion. The local films’ market share will get a late boost from Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, which opens on Boxing Day, but is destined to be the lowest since 2004’s 1.3%.
The Mule is trialling the new model of launching a title on digital platforms for sale at $24.99, followed by VoD, DVD and Blu-ray.
There is an urgent need for more flexible release windows for Australian and other indie films and to remove the requirement that films get theatrical exposure to qualify for the producer offset. Expect movement on both fronts next year.
But the more fundamental question facing the industry is to examine the kind of films we’re making and how to better connect with audiences, particularly young males who usually only go to cinemas for the spectacle of US blockbusters.
Filmmaker Richard Lowenstein points to an outdated mindset among sections of the screen industry. In an in-depth review of the Australian cinema year in IF’s December/January issue Lowenstein says, “Producers, distributors and funding bodies have been partially responsible for allowing films that look like they have been written and made in the 80s to go into production and then blame audiences or marketing budgets when no-one goes to see them.
“Internationally the quality of cinema and TV drama is extremely high or involves huge spectacle. Audiences will not pay top dollar to see some tired old genre rehashed at a quality that barely reaches the quality of an episode of The Sopranos, True Detective, Masters of Sex, Boardwalk or Peaky Blinders.
“Raise the bar, fund quality and talent and not hype, subsidise our industry with a dollar off every ticket and use the money with intelligence, or it will die.”
Last year Aussie films and docs accumulated $38.5 million, inflated by The Great Gatsby’s $27.4 million. This year only The Railway Man (which opened on Boxing Day), Wolf Creek 2 and Tracks surpassed $2 million and no other title cracked $1 million.
The wooden spoon for 2014’s lowest-grosser goes to John Doe: Vigilante which took just $958, according to the MPDAA. After their second weekends Love is Now had earned $33,730, Charlie’s Farm $27,201 and Turkey Shoot $6,537.
A romantic drama directed by Jim Lounsbury and starring Claire van der Boom and Eamon Farren, Love is Now was released on 23 screens and has been extended for another week at a number of cinemas.
"Release windows and marketing budgets are factors but the domestic cinema release is only a part of the Love is Now business strategy," producer Behren Schulz and Lounsbury's manager Keith Sweitzer told IF. "As a self-released title, this is the domestic result we expected, and paired with DVD/VOD and an international sales strategy with partner Universal Pictures, Love is Now is forecast to be in profit within six months, due to a low break-even point."
The cut-off point for our chart is $10,000 so it excludes several films including William Kelly's War and My Cornerstone.
As IF has consistently pointed out, Australian theatrical returns should not be deemed the sole determinant of any film’s bottom-line because pay TV, home entertainment and international sales can be significant.
Son of a Gun, Felony, The Rover, The Little Death, Kill Me Three Times, Lion, The Dressmaker, Charlie’s Country, The Babadook, 52 Tuesdays, My Mistress and Maya the Bee Movie were among the titles that sold to multiple territories.
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook has grossed more than $US2 million in the UK and $1.1 million in France, according to Box Office Mojo, eclipsing its $265,000 Australian B.O.
On paper the 2015 line-up looks far more diverse and potentially more commercial with Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road among the stand-outs. The slate includes psychological thrillers Backtrack, Cut Snake, Kill Me Three Times and Downriver; dramas The Daughter, Strangerland, Last Cab to Darwin, Manny Lewis, Sucker and The Dressmaker; comedies Now Add Honey and Oddball; sci-fi thrillers Infini and Terminus, zombie horror/comedy Wyrmwood and feature documentary Women He’s Undressed.
View the latest Australian box office scorecard here.