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EDITORIAL – 29/10/2009: THE DEBATE WE HAVE TO HAVE (OZ FILMS VS OZ AUDIENCES)

We are making more and more films – but fewer and fewer are getting to audiences via cinemas; the Australian share of the box office is as meagre as ever; young entrepreneur filmmakers with low budget films (under $1 million) are denied access to the 40% producer offset rebate; some of our stories are ‘more of the same’... But there are some things the industry can do to effect change for the better, suggests Andrew L. Urban. (As long as it’s not afraid of change.)

Some 350 people packed Sydney’s Chauvel cinema 1 on Thursday evening (Oct. 22, 2009) to be part of the Metro Screen-sponsored forum ‘Australian films v Australian audiences’. Moderated by this writer and led by an industry panel*, the two hour debate ranged (and sometimes raged) over 1) Australian storytelling and 2) marketing & distribution – and identified several positive proposals to improve the connect between our films and our audiences. (See below)


Panel(l-r): Susan Horlein, Gary Maddox, Anthony I. Ginnane, Ruth Harley, Rachel Ward, Margaret Pomeranz, Troy Lum and moderator Andrew L. Urban

A week later, on October 29, 2009, Andrew Scarano’s doco, Into The Shadows, is released. This forensic deconstruction of the traditional distribution and exhibition system goes a long way to explaining how the disappearance of art house cinemas have and will continue to negatively impact on Australian films getting to audiences.

We at Urban Cinefile argue that Australian films will continue to be made in greater numbers but find fewer audiences if the Old World distribution system remains the ONLY way to connect films with audiences. The Old World system is enormously expensive, prohibitive for small Australian films that are nevertheless worthy of attention. You’ll soon be hearing more about our plans on this subject. And it’s not just Australian films that are suffering: all indie (art house) films face the same problem around the world. But that doesn’t help our filmmakers.


The audience at the Chauvel - filled to capacity

Some of the key action points that emerged from the Metro Screen forum (to be circulated within the film community and among its stakeholders). But we need to see a willingness to tackle changes in mindset and attitudes to embrace and if necessary, refine them:

  • A) Filmmakers should focus on ‘making our myths’ not ‘telling our stories’: the difference is scale, dynamics and ownership. (1) Metro Screen adds: there should be space to include "stories" alongside the myths.
  • B) We should debate and resolve the question of a relevant and sustainable benchmark for assessing filmmaking outcomes; we can have both ‘cultural remit’ and ‘box office success’ as measures, but not in a confused blend. (2)
  • C )The industry to lobby Government to lower the eligibility for the producer offset production rebate below the current level of $1 million to enable emerging, entrepreneurial filmmakers to access support. (3)
  • D) The Australian Writers Guild believes the funding system for screen writers should ensure that the process delivers the intended level of financial support to the writers without undue loss in admin and infrastructure, and explore funding writers from pitching stage. (4) Screen Australia puts it like this: Encourage a development culture that is highly skilled in the craft of screenwriting.
  • E) Accelerate understanding and use of digital marketing for Australian films to better connect with target audiences and drive interest in our films. (5) Metro Screen adds: Explore what the other screens have to offer in better understanding cinema's position and future within the screen sector. We feel that there is some fertile territory to explore when looking at Oz content and audience response when it comes to TV ratings. And how online media has both positive (marketing and promotion) and negative (piracy) impacts on big screen film. This is not off in the future - its happening now.

1 – Proposed by Dr Karen Pearlman, Head of Screen Studies, AFTRS (see an edited version of her essay, Make Our Myths)
2 – Proposed by Victoria Treole, Director, Filmmarketing
3 – Proposed by from Antony I. Ginnane, President, Screen Producers Association of Australia
4 – Proposed by Louise Carlin, Australian Writers Guild
5 – Proposed by Martin Walsh, producer & consumer marketer

Additional points that were raised and which Metro Screen wants to pursue:

  • F) Examine the role of distribution and marketing when it comes to box office. Can things be done differently to ensure local films get a better chance?
  • G) Further examine the notion that 'Australian Film’ is a brand that needs its own marketing campaign. Could also look at comparisons outside the US industry- Israel, Korea and Denmark where very real solutions have been realised in audience building.

The idea of Australian films being a brand was not entirely accepted by some of the panel members, and while it’s clear that people go to the movies to see films that appeal to them, irrespective of nationality, there is anecdotal evidence that there is some negative branding of Australian films. In other words, people who have this view do indeed behave towards Australian films as they do towards a brand they don’t enjoy.

Published October 29, 2009
 

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Andrew L. Urban>
(Photo by David Morgan)

PHOTOS FROM THE NIGHT

WATCH THE FORUM


from FORUM and scroll down the page

Your comments welcome: Subject: OZFILM
COMMENTS

What the audience twittered: see #OZFILM

Metro Screen will be continuing the conversation started at this forum through a series of smaller events in 2010. These events will be run through the Metro Screen Network which coordinates similar events every few weeks at Metro Screen.

* The Panel:
Moderated by Andrew L. Urban

Editor, Urban Cinefile

Antony I. Ginnane
President, Screen Producers Assoc. of Aust.

Dr Ruth Harley
CEO Screen Australia

Susan Hoerlein
Publicity & Promotions, Tsuki PR

Troy Lum
Managing Director Hopscotch Films, distributor
>br> Garry MaddoxFilm Writer, Sydney Morning Herald

Margaret Pomeranz
At The Movies, ABC TV

Rachel Ward
actor/director

(Kath Shelper, producer of Samson & Delilah, was unwell and unable to attend.)



Ruth Harley

Antony I. Ginnane

Margaret Pomeranz

Troy Lum


Dr Karen Pearlman
Excerpt from her essay
MAKING MYTHS







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