Thursday, January 07, 2016


Never trust the advice of someone paid to be wrong.

"But how can that be?" you ask.

Because, in times of great change, there are two diametrically opposed forces at work. The surge of those who welcome change, and the vested interests of those who wish to maintain the paradigm.

And always, ALWAYS, it comes down to money and power. The ones who want to retain it, and those who don't have it. The people who abhor revolution, and the people who seek transformation.

Interestingly, the tactics of the change averse have become extremely sophisticated. Flat out resistance is now archaic and useless.

Today, they come as innovators.

They disguise themselves as futurists.

They opine as forward-thinking luminaries.

But don't be fooled. It's a ruse.

In the modern age, the greatest trick the wealthy have pulled is convincing the proletariat that the rich have a stake in shared prosperity. Magnanimous terms like 'job creators' were developed to sell the trick and, ultimately, people bought it en masse.

"Don't tax the rich!" exclaim the poor and middle class. "They need more money to create jobs for us!"

Sounds absurd when articulated like that, doesn't it?

So it is in the world of film and content creation.

The entire landscape of producing, distributing and monetising films and screen content is tectonically shifting to an audience dominated world. And, as the continents drift slowly apart, the same two camps have arisen once more. Those who welcome new models and new ways of engaging audiences; and the 'old guard' who want this whole reformation to just slink away and die.

As if that was an option.
So, instead, the resistors wade into debates over new or revamped ideas for the film and screen sector. Despite the raging scream of their inner monologues, these detractors present themselves as supportive of new models.

And then, they proceed to Trojan horse the entire narrative.

The recent discussion about flexible pricing for Australian films is a perfect illustration of this strategy.

Faced with the disastrous results for Australian films at the box office this year, innovators have suggested a flexible pricing solution. The logic is that, when faced with the choice between a $210 million budget film (Transformers IV), and a $2.5 million Australian film (The Babadook), audiences would like their expected production value, and therefore expected film experience, reflected in the cinema ticket price.

When all films are priced equally, the innovators argue, people will always go for the biggest 'bang for their buck'.

The response of the entrenched players was to be expected.

Paramount Pictures MD Mike Selwyn tells IF. “Cinema is good value entertainment considering the quality of the infrastructure in Australia.”

Because that is what you think about before you buy a cinema ticket, right? The cinema infrastructure?

But Mr Selwyn wasn't the only pundit to shuffle from the woodwork.

It is also difficult to envision how to convince anyone that the best way to communicate the value of a product — in this case Australian cinema — is to say it’s worth less than the others.

A productive approach for Australian producers is not to denigrate their products by bunging on a discounted price tag, but to experiment with interesting distribution strategies.

So says Luke Buckmaster of 'Crikey', who's overall point is that 'Australian cinema needs innovative ideas, not cheap tricks'.

In order to encourage the discourse, you will need to put aside Mr Buckmaster's glowing logical deficiency in missing that flexible pricing IS an 'experiment with interesting distribution strategies'. You will also need to ignore that he has confused 'intrinsic artistic value' with 'economic value'.

Forgiving these oversights, however, you are still left with a nagging question: how exactly is his alternative, keeping the current pricing models that aren't working, innovative? By definition, doing exactly the same thing as we have always done is the antithesis of a new idea.

But that's the parlor trick, you see. Suggest you want to see new experiments in distribution, but then oppose real innovation in the same breath.

My favourite response, however, was the pulpit address by Hopscotch/eOne's very own Troy Lum. For the uninitiated, Hopscotch/eOne is one of the big film distributors, supposedly the guardians of audience engagement. Staring down the charge of the flexible pricing brigade, Mr Lum reiterated a well-worn defence of the current model:

EOne MD Troy Lum opposes any lowering of ticket prices, arguing that would devalue Australian films in the minds of moviegoers.

“Once you start playing with prices you are saying ‘our cinema is worth less than other kinds of cinema,’” Lum told C J Johnson, host of ABC radio’s Movieland.

Johnson had suggested eOne’s Son of a Gun might have sold more tickets if they were cheaper than US blockbusters. Lum responded, “I don’t believe you get a lesser experience out of Son of a Gun than an Avengers 4. It’s a different experience.”

Take note, 'The Avengers' was made for $220 million. I can't locate a budget number for 'Son of a Gun', but the average Australian feature budget is $11 million.

'The Avengers' made $54.4 million at the Australian box office. 'Son of a Gun' made $69,000.

And this box office discrepancy is all without, according to Mr Lum's logic, the audiences being told that 'Son of a Gun' was worth less through a lower cinema ticket price.

How did they get to that conclusion on their own then, I wonder?

And so, the cautionary tale for you is this.

The powerful will say anything to retain their status.

Beware the agendas.

Read between the lines.

And remember, only those on the side of the audience shall endure.

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