Wednesday, February 03, 2016


It's very easy to give yourself a complex these days.

To be bent double with worry. Fretting to the point of exhaustion at how it all went so wrong. Even when that's not the case.

Even when events are actually turning in your favour.

There is so much scrutiny, on the trifling minutia of every second, that bad news is often massaged into existence. The old adage 'it sells papers' has never been more relevant, ironically as we've never read less newspapers.

We are an ADD culture, hooked to a drip of the 24-hour news cycle. It's a dangerous addiction. Losing big-picture perspective is seldom helpful, after all.

Take the Australian film industry as an example.

There is so much hand wringing about 'the state of Australian film' it is almost comical. It's like someone locked all the manic depressives in one room, and then made that room the hub of Australia's film sector.

Now, we all want Australian films to perform well within Australia. There is nothing better than a film that addresses Australian themes, in an interesting Australian narrative, that is also embraced by Australian audiences.

But this is our unicorn, I'm afraid. Seldom seen and nigh impossible to catch.

And it is this rejection of Australian films by Australian audiences that has let the doomsday patrol off their collective leash. The headlines are hysterically self-conscious missives like 'Australian films deserve more than cruel critics killing their chance at the box office', or my personal favourite:

'Why won't we watch Australian films?'

Oh, the woe.

But what is really going on?

For an Australian film like 'The Babadook', for example, the local press are quick to point out that the box office return from local audiences was less than stellar. Early box office numbers were somewhere around AU$250,000.


But then, the international market took over.

And the foreign audiences clamoured for The Babadook. Depending on who you ask, the foreign box office return is said to be somewhere in the vicinity of AU$4M. Give or take some loose change.

On a budget of only $2.5M, with a very limited marketing spend, that is noteworthy return. And yet, still the angst about The Babadook's Australian run abounds.

On one hand, I guess you can justify the mourning. AU$4M isn't $100 million, I suppose.

But where I vehemently draw the line, where I point my finger and distribute an arc of spittle at the double standard, is when the Australian experience is held up as a unique failure of a film ecosystem.

It's not.

Not even close.

Not even a failure, really.

What is REALLY happening, is that Australia is doing business exactly the way it is being done in the broader film world.

In Hollywood, a failure used to mean low box office dollars domestically. If Americans didn't turn out for their own films, the movie was deemed unsuccessful in their press, and branded with the dreaded "flop". Sound familiar?

Today, that is far from the case.

Now, the international market for Hollywood films is almost always bigger than the domestic returns. This year alone, of the top ten films, only one of them (Disney/Pixar's 'Inside Out'), has sold more tickets locally than overseas. For the majority of the top ten, the foreign box office is actually the lions's share, enabling the breakout success of the '2015 billionaire's club' (namely, 'Fast and Furious 7', 'Jurassic World', and 'Avengers 2').

Meanwhile in Australia, when the exact same trend in box office performance occurs for a local film, with a much higher return internationally than domestically, it's an unmitigated "disaster". The local high-gear news cycle laps it up, and the ceremonial funeral continues unabated.

A totally unnecessary exaggeration.

It's part of the reason why, at a recent event I attended, a film selector from the Toronto International Film Festival stated: "I love Australian films, but you guys are really down on them. The same thing happens in Canada to Canadian filmmakers, and I don't really understand why."

I'll tell you why. Because of dangerous double standards, reinforced by a false perception, grounded in nothing.

So, for the filmmakers out there, do yourself a favour. Before you give up, sell your laptop, and move to the countryside to become a dairy farmer, take a second to breathe.

There are a lot of reasons why someone would label your film a failure, despite the fact it is actually successful, and none of them have anything to do with your work.

They're just trying to sell papers.

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