MARKETING AUSSIE FILMS: WHY THEY DON'T MAKE MONEY
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
“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
“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
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
"to ensure they understand who the audience for their
“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
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
“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
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
Published October 22, 2009
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Mao's Last Dancer