On December 6, four films that few Australians have seen will vie for top honours at the 2008 Australian Film Institute Awards.
The Jammed, The Black Balloon, The Square and Unfinished Sky all received outstanding reviews, yet their combined box office takings were a paltry $3.9 million. Compare this with the Will Ferrell vehicle Step Brothers, an American comedy that was panned by critics, which alone took $8.7 million in this country.
As an aspiring filmmaker, one of my primary concerns is that I am competing with a large pool of very talented filmmakers for a very small share of the Australian box office.
At present Australian films garner only 4 per cent of box office takings. This leaves us in a bit of quandary over whether we should make films that are true to our personal vision or try to give the audience what we think they want.
At present it appears that what the film industry thinks the audience wants American style blockbusters and comedies. Hence, the proliferation of comedian-driven vehicles such as Takeaway, Boytown and The Nugget. These films had fairly large budgets by Australian standards, yet all failed at the box office.
I believe they failed because they attempted to exploit the earlier success of films such as The Castle and Crackerjack. But what these two films had, which others do not, is true to life characters and a genuine premise; in other words, character and script development.
Both these films told uniquely Australian stories and both were driven by an underlying message the filmmakers were keen to relay to the audience. In other words, the filmmakers had something to say.
Compare Australia's current crop with the Australian “New Wave” of the '70s and '80s. Films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant and My Brilliant Career appealed to audiences and critics alike, not only here but overseas.
Back then, The New York Times put such films' appeal down to their “distinctive national flavor, most obvious in their rich visual texture ... in a recognisably American format. Locale, custom and accent may differ, but the cinematic language does not ...
“Indeed, the solid, well-crafted plots, believable characters and naturalistic dialogue of the best of these films recall American movies of an earlier era.”
In other words, the films of the New Wave were better received because they were better made.
“It is a shame,” The Jammed director Dee McLachlan said of the modern day struggle for a slice of the Australian box office pie, “because we're competing against American, big star, $100 million films”.
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