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EDITORIAL - 5/11/2009: THE DEBATE WE HAVE TO HAVE RE OZ FILMS & AUDIENCES: THE AFTERMATH. By Andrew L. Urban.

The ball has started rolling … the Metro Screen ‘Ozfilm’ Forum on October 22, 2009 which I had the pleasure of moderating, has launched public discussion on several key issues that have been unresolved in the Australian film industry; many of them for years. Veteran producers sigh with ennui when hearing the same old problems brought to the surface.

OZ FILM VS. OZ FORUM presented by Metro Screen from Metro Screen on Vimeo.

We want the debate to continue – and to continue in public, hence our commitment to publishing divergent views. Here are a collection that have come our way in the past week, together with refinements to ideas already expressed. Here are two that demonstrate how the Australian film industry is rapidly polarising into High End and Low End projects.

HIGH END
Make more films intended and suitable for released on over 100 screens in Australia; that’s another key point proposed by Ruth Harley, CEO of Screen Australia.

LOW END
Reduce the minimum budget of $1 million for feature films eligible to apply for the 40% Producer Offset (the rebate from the tax dept. which is the major form of production funding now) … perhaps to $500,000, encouraging not only emerging filmmakers but established ones generate more output. Producer Phil Avalon says he could move two feature films into production: “At $500k we can shoot a film with a full crew & small cast and keep the wages & fees in line with awards.”

Both suggestions are valid: as SPAA President Antony I. Ginnane said at the forum, larger budget films will drive larger box office takings. On the other hand, low budget films provide valuable experience and the volume needed to sustain industry activity and provide opportunities for the surprise hits to emerge.

This is why it is imperative to consider how to expand the distribution pathways open to Australian films. Of the many low budget films which are produced, very few will end up in cinemas; some may get onto DVD, but audiences will have to seek them out. This is a great time to explore how to make new (and old) Australian films available to people who want to see them. In the digital age, storage is no longer a physical limitation; a virtual store does not have limited capacity shelves.

Digitised films can be replicated for physical distribution at a fraction of the cost of film prints, and with greater security. Digitised films can also be delivered to individual audience members around the country and around the world at low cost. And digitised films have a long life, both in a physical sense and in marketability. The Long Tail is there – but it’s not yet wagging our films.
 

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Andrew L. Urban

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