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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

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The bulk of contemporary Australian films are not the types the majority of Australian (or international) audiences will pay to see, and filmmakers are not in tune with what consumers and audiences want, claims producer and consumer marketer Martin Walsh. Walsh’s comments coincide with the public forum organised by Metro Screen (Oct 22, 2009, Chauvel Cinema) which explores this very subject.

The problem, says Walsh, is that marketing is either being miss-targeted and or insufficient or left too late. The upshot is an inhibited release through limited screens and an underdone distribution outcome for filmmakers largely focused on only securing a “traditional” theatrical and video release.

Walsh cites Balibo as a great example – “a well made and performed film that should have connected and appealed to audiences more than it has but ‘fell to earth’ commercially.

“I am not saying that Australia doesn't make great films, I think we have some of the finest filmmakers and artists in the world and that we have made some brilliant films,” says Walsh, a veteran marketing executive with senior roles at Microsoft, BMG and News Ltd to his credit, and who is producing Bruce Beresford’s Battle of Long Tan.

"digital marketing sessions"

Walsh is also leading two digital marketing sessions at the annual conference of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) at the Westin Hotel in Sydney on November 17-20.

“Australian films should and can make money domestically and internationally, but aren’t. They are simply not resonating with audiences. And there are four main reasons, in my view.

“First, the filmmakers fundamentally didn't care whether or not the film reached a significant audience. Secondly, they produced a film that fell short of the expectations of the intended audience. Thirdly, they produced a film that would have met the expectations of the intended audience, but they either marketed it poorly, to the wrong audience, or left it too late – or all of the above.

“And fourthly, the filmmakers failed to develop and/or optimise their distribution plan according to where and how their intended audience consumes content and the reality of the distribution opportunities available for their particular film based on its strengths and weaknesses.”

"sad, frustrating and a salient lesson"

Walsh says it is sad, frustrating and a salient lesson when Australian films like Disgrace, $9.99, The Proposition, Romulus My Father, Balibo and Beautiful Kate - to name a few – “fail to make a meaningful dent at the Australian (or overseas) Box Office even with critical acclaim and seemingly favourable reviews.

“By any logical definition, for a film to be ’successful’ it would need to break even or make some kind of return to exhibitors, distributors, filmmakers and any investors, whether they are government or private,” he comments.

“Well, it seems that audiences and the reasons why they pay to go and see films are in some ways irrelevant to the vast majority of filmmakers in Australia. If this statement is wrong then why are we not producing films with better box office returns?”
Walsh says the 21 Australian films released in Australia in 2008 captured just 3.8 per cent ($35.5million) of the total Australian box office - down from 4 per cent on the figure for 2007.

Indeed, had it not been for the box office success of Australia ($26.5 million), the figure would have been a record low share of the Australian box office last year. And the situation is not exactly going gangbusters in 2009. The 30 Australian films released recently, with a combined production budget of approximately $108million, have generated only $26.1million at the box office (as at 19 October) but one film, Mao’s Last Dancer already represents 34% of the entire total.

"to ensure they understand who the audience for their film is"

“As a marketer and filmmaker myself, I feel that Australian filmmakers are not being responsible or realistic if they keep thinking that their job is simply to make a movie (build it and then trust that audiences will come). Filmmakers (and film agency assessors) need to ensure they understand who the audience for their film is, why audiences watch movies and build the paths and bridges to get the audiences to their film. Ironically, every step in filmmaking is a collaborative effort and this should be no different when it comes to distribution and marketing the film. Sadly, and all too often it seems that the audience is considered an afterthought and the primary effort is put only into the craft.”

One of the other key problems is very few Australian films are getting a moderate to wide release, argues Walsh. “There are 1,980 screens in Australia as at February 2009. Beautiful Kate opened on only 29 screens and has taken only $1.4 million after ten weeks; Balibo opened on only 23 screens and has taken only $1.2 million after nine weeks, Van Diemen's Land opened on only nine screens and has taken only $161,000 in three weeks and $9.99 opened on only eight screens and has taken in only $47,520 in four weeks.

“Occasionally there are exceptions to the rule of opening with a wide release for example Samson & Delila, which originally opened on 12 screens but expanded to around 40 screens, has taken $3.2 million after 22 weeks and films like Lost in Translation premiered on just 23 theatres in the USA and then mushroomed to 882 theatres at its peak taking in around USD$120 million at the box office.

"small glimmers of hope"

“There are small glimmers of hope, but unlike the films mentioned above the following films were supported with extensive marketing investments and had more broadly appealing storylines so they got a wide release in Australia,” Walsh adds.
“Mao’s Last Dancer opened on approximately 266 screens across Australia and took $4.3 million in its first week - a whopping screen average of $16,300; and the recent Paul Hogan film Charlie & Boots opened on around 113 screens and has taken around $3.6 million after seven weeks.

“Contrast international movies, which were on just about everywhere with Australian film releases - District 9 (187 screens), Harry Potter (510), Ice Age (422) and Transformers (457 screens).”

Walsh says ploys such as releasing a trailer 4-6 weeks before a film’s release or launching a website 30-45 days prior to release which is typical for Australian films, is “almost a complete waste of money.

“You cannot build a 'groundswell' of interest 30-45 days out from a film’s release. And, even when Australian films do utilise digital marketing elements like social media, they have no strategy,” he argues. “All we see is the usual focus on tools and networks like a Facebook and MySpace fan page; a Twitter account and basic website with a synopsis and trailer - this is not a strategy.

“In addition, most of these pages and social network accounts simply remain static without any real insight into the story behind the film, the filmmakers or anything else. They also take time and need cultivating and like a movie you cannot simply build it and expect people and fans to come.

" to inspire the conversation and interest"

“You need to inspire the conversation and interest (usually through advertising and videos), but you also need to keep energising the groundswell and conversations to keep up momentum. You need to think of TV, Radio, Print and Outdoor advertising as a contact strategy to get potential eyeballs into your engagement channels/tactics. “Special or exclusive content also needs to be given to fans across these networks on a regular basis and importantly the 'filmmakers' must engage with the fans.

“Social media by any definition is about engagement and interaction, and treating the digital channels/networks simply like newspaper advertisements is a waste of time and money. For example a Twitter account is not an RSS feed! If marketing mavens want to reach younger moviegoers when promoting their films, they need to embrace social networks and digital marketing or risk being ignored.”

Walsh’s sessions at this year’s 2009 SPAA Conference titled - Making Movies that Make Money: Begin with the Audience in Mind – Part I & II will include two of Hollywood’s leading digital/new media marketers - Gordon Paddison, Principal, Stradella Road and former Executive Vice- President New Media, New Line Pictures (District 9, Lord of The Rings trilogy, Sex and The City, Snakes on a Plane, Austin Powers) and Stephanie Bohn, Director of Worldwide Marketing, Digital Distribution Warner Bros (The Dark Knight, Sex and the City, Hangover, Harry Potter).

Published October 22, 2009

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