The Australian FIlm and TV industry is an inconsistent “little bugger” (Aussie slang seemed appropriate), and when I asked friends and family what their thoughts were on Australian made screen content the responses I received were “I don’t know, I don’t really watch a lot of the stuff” or “OH LOVE IT! You’ve got to support the arts in this country! Have you seen the latest episode of Upper Middle Bogan?”. An art student who has a vivid interest in the arts, specifically drama would like to argue that for not only my personal love of Australian TV and despite the rocky past of our productions, there is very much a bright future for our screen industry. In order to judge fairly, a look back in time of the trends and content produced (not all successful) is necessary when the challenge is accepted in predicting a bright future of our Film and TV industry.
Film critic David Stratten uses the phrase “boom and bust” to describe the nature of Australian screen production (Ryan 2010, p. 143), this is reflected in the periods Australian screen content has thrived and on the other end of the spectrum failed. The 1950s saw a slump in film consumption with the arrival of the first television, a bust for the Australian film business but a win for Australian TV. In 1956 a number of channels aired for the first time in people’s loungeroom, including the longtime running television network ABC, which from rising popularity in Australia allowed the network to grow internationally, opening a bureau in London, New York and Port Moresby. The ABC has continued to grow in scale, now broadcasting a total of 4 channels and on-demand provider ABCiview. To measure ABC’s success against numbers, an average of 9.4 million people per week in the metropolitan regions tune in to the ABC channels. ABC has upheld the reputation of producing content for Australians, telling stories revolving around who we are rather than what people stereotype our way of life to be, TV series such as Baracuda (2016), Rake (2010), The Secret River (2015) and Rosehaven (2017). To support this statement, Screen Australia commissioned research to find out Australians’ thoughts on how important it is to produce homegrown film and TV content, 1002 people were surveyed to evenly represent the population of Australia and 56% percent of participants believed it was very important to have local film and TV industry.
Taking a look at the Australian film industry, The 1940s set the scene for Australian content, often occupied with the goal of producing films that encompassed a strong sense of Australian identity, often idolising the masculine male figure and exploring the brut and harsh characteristics of our landscape and wildlife, and this sense of “Australianess” has continued to be adopted through the years of screen production in Australia. Since the 1970s there has been a boost in the production of genre films and these fall into two categories. The first category is the genre films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), The man from Snowy River (1982) and Crocodile Dundee (1986) that uphold a strong sense of Australian identity, often focusing on the Australian outback, our culture’s history and representing characters that reflect our ocker attitudes. The cultural policies put in place to ensure there is quality storytelling representative of our nation, over the commercialism and entertainment in a film (Ryan 2010, p. 143). Despite these film’s high success rate in terms being well known Australian born productions, both locally and internationally, their “Australianess” agenda has created negative assumptions on the Australian film industry. Screen Australia (2008) states in order to receive funding for a project it must contain ‘Significant Australian Content’. People are disinterested in the themes explored in Australian films, finding the humour and characters outdated and stereotypical, the constant setting of films in the Australian outback unrelatable and the history boring. The Film Finance Corporation, established in 1988 and reigned for 20 years, saw unfortunate numbers in profit over this period with only 274.2 million return on a 1.345 billion investment on Australian screen productions (Burns & Eltham 2017, p. 108). In an article written by Tina Kaufman (2009), Australian films are referred to as a brand and if people cannot connect with it then the brand is a failure and in order to turn things around you need to redefine the brand (p. 163), which brings the focus to the second category of Australian genre films.
The 1970s marked a New wave for Australian cinema the introduction of the 10BA incentive in the 1980s rebooted the rise of Australian films that made the shift from feature, quality films to commercial entertainment. The term ‘Ozploitation’ was invented by filmmaker Mark Hartley to label the films of the 1970s and 80s (Ryan 2010, p. 145). During this period saw a high influx of low budget moves that made a fast profit but at the expense of glorifying social anxieties, basically a lot of the time “taking the piss”. Despite critics claiming these films were defacing the cultural identity of Australia, these films aimed to rebel against the classic Australian aesthetic and aspired to produce exciting and bazaar content that would gain the attention of local and international viewers, and no one could complain they weren’t entertaining. Films such as The Man from Hong Kong (1975), Long Weekend (1978), Roadgames (1981) and Howling III (1987), are just a few to name amongst a number of highly popular films.
The future of the Australian film and TV industry is dependent on our producers and writers ability to create new content that includes the right balance between entertainment and Australian culture. Taking a look back at the content produced post-1970s and allowing these films to influence the future of our screen industry could improve possibility for success, so instead of audiences feeling repulsed by the stereotypical and cringe-worthy storylines and setting of the Australian made film and TV, Australian people need to be surprised and intrigued by the content we are creating.
Kaufman’s article (2009) addressed the need to change how a film is considered to be successful, a movie that is commercial and screened for weeks at the cinema versus a movie that wins awards but fails to succeed at the box office, are both successful in their own right. Kaufman (2017) argues that a box office rating does not constitute a film’s success, especially now with the introduction of online streaming websites such as Netflix and Stan. In the new age we are living, the films we watch should rather should be analysed by assessing ‘the total audiences who are watching the film across all different platforms over its life’ (2009, p. 163). In another survey conducted by Screen Australia in 2011, people were asked if they would miss Australian TV and Film if it ceased to exist, 35% strongly agreed and 40 % agreed. People are behind the content produced in Australia because it is capable of capturing insightful, endearing and entertaining in its content, and with the advancement of the internet allowing people to view on all types of platforms and even becoming the creators themselves, there is high potential for Australian productions to excel.
- Ryan, M D 2012, ‘A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate’, Studies in Australasian cinema, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 141-157
- Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and bust in Australian screen policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s race to the bottom’, Media International Australia, no. 136, pp. 6-8
- Kaufman, T 2009, ‘Shortcuts: finding Australian audiences for Australian films’, Metro: media & education magazine, no. 163, pp. 6-8