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Filmmaker Richard Lowenstein points to an outdated mindset among sections of the screen industry.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.

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10 Comments

  1. Uggggh…stop making movies that look and sound like an episode of Neighbours (I’m looking at you, Felony). Stop making movies that look like lame copies of Euro-trash art-house movies(eg. Love Is Now, My Mistress, Galore, Fell). Stop making movies where grumpy bogans swear at each other and take drugs (Son of a Gun, The Rover, Healing, These Final Hours, Cut Snake). Not quite sure how Kill Me Three Times is going to fare – it has a zero rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

  2. You point it out in the story..
    The Producers offset of 40%. Why even bother advertising.. just pay for it to appear in a minimum number of cinemas and get 40% back from the government.
    And yes it should be investigated, as you can see its broken. Its not being used as intended.
    From my understanding it is also abused with companies setting up their own internal companies they charge against. Inflating the costs..
    And at the end, the 40% pays for the full production plus change.
    the model is ripe for abuse.

    It needs to change.

  3. “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”

    There’s just no advertising. I’ve been keeping an eye out for Charlie’s Farm and I didn’t even know it had been released. I don’t think it even came to my city.

    As for the others, I’ve never heard of them, let alone know what they’re about or when they’re released.

    Okay, I just checked every cinema in my city. Not one has been showing Love is Now, Charlie’s Farm and Turkey Shoot. That’s five cinema chains in my city alone that aren’t showing these movies.

    How do you expect films to make money if they’re just not being shown?

    And don’t start blaming piracy for it either. It’d be interesting to see if The Mule is making any money. I think they’re model is probably the best.

  4. Why does this idea to skim movie tickets to subsidize the film industry keep popping up as an idea? We are already one of the most generously subsidized film industries in the world, and if we can’t make do with that then I’m not sure how yet more subsidy would help. Better we try and stand on our own two feet and tackle market pressures by adapting OUR existing methods for getting films made and marketed and seen, not blaming or trying to get distributors, exhibitors, critics or audiences to solve problems that are actually the responsibilities of filmmakers.

  5. Completely agree with previous comment written by Shane.
    This is really very simple, start writing better films. Now Aust cinema is competing with such high quality TV shows as well. The industry needs to lift its game and it all comes down to the writing. Australia has some of the best crew in the world, the same goes for our actors.
    Support for up and coming writers In Australia is non exsistent. Writing is hard and takes time, take Pixar for example they will spend minimum 2 years just developing the screenplay & that is with some of the best creative minds in the world. No wonder their films win oscars & make millions.
    So let’s start nurturing, supporting & discovering some creative writers willing to put in the hard work to write half decent films or TV series about something unique not another drug taking biker shot my lover heist.
    Something that will inspire and dare I say it, make you think.

  6. As a theatre owner I would not run films with titles like The Babadook or Charlies Farm. On our large highway sign they’d look like kids movie titles. Terrible titles that cost the film makers a pile of money. Tip number one film-makers, talk to some cinema owners before you make your movie and we’ll tell you if they have a chance of success or not.

  7. To take a position on audience satisfaction . Yes we can raise the bar.. With outstanding photography , a story line with a journey so real we feel , we believe . Take us out of daily life into the unique .. Inspiring psychological , deep thinking , mystery. Adorn us with real Australian talent in filmmaking , make our Australian actors reach their full potential. Don’t get me wrong their are some wonderful films eg A beautiful Mind, Dead Poets Society, . Rally looking forward to the Water Diviner and yes there are also more recent films. I agree with past comments because sometimes our films feel like propaganda , brain washing as with ridiculous behaviour, bogan language , blood killing action, . Our film industry both television and film sets are a wash with this. Time to lift the bar and show exceptional talent.

  8. It should always be time for a rethink of Australian Cinema. The art of theatre is one that requires constant rethinking, and Film is a very powerful branch of theatre. The vital component is mystery, the essential ingredient is climactic, and the pathway is the characters and their associated needs.

    Too many film makers are overly interested in essentially ancillary components of mood and action and star worship. Generally, too little time is given to the story, the needs of the characters, and the vital trimming and embellishments.

    Some of the deeper elements of the problem are associated with the struggle to get money together to produce the work in the first place, this leads to compromise and poor decision making after the event.

    Australian films should be good stories, theatre that just happens to take place in a country called Australia, not some kind of travelogue with a cultural message and colourful vernacular, set against a backdrop of the bush myth and assorted Oz icons.

    It might also help for writers and directors to get over the rather obvious fear of sentimentality and romance, two key phenomena that set human beings apart from most animals and from all flora and machines.

  9. Theatre owners, more accurately, Cinema owners may have valuable points to make regarding Australian Film, but the more valuable contribution would be to support the local industry even at a cost.

    The titles that you think are most attractive to the customers, are based upon the US market , which is the imposed norm for Australian viewers. What about My life as a dog? or Tin drum? Do they sound like kids’ movies?

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