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EDITORIAL – 8/10/2009: THE CRUSHING OF AUSTRALIAN FILM

The traditional, ‘old world’ distribution system is more a hindrance than help for most Australian films; it’s not enough to have our filmmakers make films, we have to be able to see them – and maybe not just in cinemas, argues Andrew L. Urban, but anywhere in the country or the world - with a broadband connection.

This week, the Australian psychological thriller, Crush, is being released on DVD (by Paramount Home Entertainment) without a cinema release. We’re reviewing it as we would review any new Australian film – and we’ve placed the pointer on the Home Page and in our weekly newsletter high among the new cinema release review pointers. The pointer sits exactly where it would sit had the film been released this week in cinemas.

Here are some commercial and critical facts about the film to put things in context:

Crush enjoyed a one week home town preview at the Piccadilly Cinema in Perth (where it was made) and grossed $13,051, the highest screen average for the week (ending April 29, 2009) of any film anywhere in Australia.

Crush was selected for the Focus Australia section of the 12th Shanghai International Film Festival (June 13 – 21, 2009). The jury for the international competition in Shanghai was presided over by Danny Boyle (Director of Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Sunshine).

The DVD, Cable Pay-Per-View, Premium Cable, VOD, TV and Ancillary rights for the USA and Canada have been sold to US distributor Phase 4 for release in the second half of 2010. “We can't give you specifics but the deal is substantial and our investors are extremely happy!” says writer/director John Soto. “We have offers on the table for UK, Germany and South Korea (negotiating) and expect to close these territories and others at Toronto or AFM later this year,” adds Soto.

But consider this:
1) releasing films in Australia is eye-bulgingly expensive. A modest release on say 40 prints might cost close to $400,000 in film prints and advertising. US studio films require about twice that spend and come with ready made marketing materials – unlike Australian films which require everything be made and produced from scratch. Australian films tend to be crushed underfoot …. And the irony is that the industry bemoans the fact that Australian films take a mere 3 – 5% of the box office each year. That figure might well be higher if more of our films got into more cinemas. But is that really the only question? Shouldn’t the industry be asking itself how to reach more substantial domestic as well as international audiences?


Matt Newton's Three Blind Mice ; Joel Anderson's Lake Mungo ; Mark Forstmann's Monkey Puzzle

2) several other Australian films recently have had very limited screenings in cinemas, and have struggled for attention. (eg Son of a Lion, Rogue, Storage, Three Blind Mice, Monkey Puzzle, Bad Bush, Lake Mungo, Men’s Group, The Jammed etc) Most recently, The Marriage of Figaro has not found a distributor and has been laboriously handled by the debuting filmmakers themselves – and proving it’s audience pleasing qualities, as we continue to report. Our own reviews of all these films are positive to varying degrees and they are collectively a good slate that is better than many overseas releases that DID get a release. This is a clear indictment of the failure of the traditional, old world system – as far as indie film is concerned. It’s not really the distributors’ fault – they’re stuck with it.

3) Australian filmmakers are not the only ones facing this problem: it’s the old world distribution method that simply doesn’t work for indie film. Securing a theatrical release is deemed the pinnacle of achievement and drives DVD returns. The fact is that the world is changing and filmmakers (and their distribution partners) need to change their approach.

This text you are reading is not available in print: we publish exclusively online and have done for over 12 years; the whole world is going online. So should indie film.

“ .. in the digital world – online, interactive, handheld or mobile – there is a single, easy equation: distribution + audience = commercial opportunities.” writes Jennifer Wilson in The Digital Deadlock, August 2009; a White Paper commissioned by Screenrights & AFTRS.

“The current state of theatrical distribution is dismal for most independent features and documentaries. Theatres are overcrowded with studio films and higher-budget independents,” said US consultant Peter Broderick – and that was in 2008; he started saying those things a couple of years earlier.

How else do filmmakers get their films before its potential audience? Television would be good work if you can get it, but it, too is part of the old world model.

Research in the US (July 2009) by Stradella Road, the entertainment marketing firm founded by former New Line Web guru Gordon Paddison found that:

a) While 62% of audiences now get their reviews online, only the over 50s rely on newspaper reviews.

b) The 18-29 group are digital natives that have grown up with technology and are more likely to go online for movie info.

c) Audiences in their 30s are time-constrained, with parenthood dominating their decisions. They split their moviegoing trips between their children and their spouses. They spend the highest number of hours online and represent the highest use of technology (Internet, broadband access, DVR ownership and cell phone).

And in Britain, advertising spend on the Internet has now overtaken that for TV. According to figures provided by the Internet Advertising Bureau and auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.K. advertisers spent £1.75 billion (US$2.8 billion) on the Internet in the first six months of the year, up 4.6%. TV, by contrast, took US$1.64 billion, down 16.1% on the same period last year.

This is as clear as a road sign pointing the way.

I wrote last week about the excellent experience I had watching my first movie (Fast & Furious) on my iPhone. There are literally hundreds of movies on iPhone – not one of them Australian.

Cinemas are not dead nor will they disappear any time soon; but Australian filmmakers (and distributors, Government agencies, the whole industry) must face reality about distribution. And old world media needs to recognise as legitimate the online distribution platform.

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CRUSH

TRAILER
The CRUSH trailer has (as at Oct 7) been viewed 403,384 times, making it 11th in the world for "Movie Trailers 2009" on You Tube from over 100,000 other film trailers.

There are no other Australian films in the top 100 trailers, with the majority trailers originating from the US studios.

The Crush trailer is averaging 2000 views per day with the following breakdown of views-by-country;
25% US and Canada.
21% Australia & NZ
12% UK
16% Asia
14% Europe excluding the UK
12% from rest of world

Over 50% of viewers are people aged 13 to 24 and the trailer's average rating is 4.75 out of 5.


The Marriage of Figaro


Rogue


Men's Group


The Jammed







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