Saturday, July 26, 2008

Garrett Gives Boring Film Industry Long Overdue Slapping

It's nearly two years since Kenny turned toilet humour into Australian box office gold.

No Australian movie since has come even close to turning the kind of profits Kenny did, though plenty of low budget American teen comedies have.

That Kenny ended up being so profitable for its makers and funders probably has a lot to do with the fact that Kenny was an ultra-independent movie, and the makers worked their arses off to promote it in hundreds of towns all over the country. Kenny was funded by private investors, and the first scenes were shot by with a crew of exactly one. If you want to see one of the best documentaries ever made about how two guys with a great idea turned out an impressively profitable movie, and created a new Australian icon in the process, get the Kenny DVD and watch the extras disc. It should be mandatory viewing for every film student in Australia.

If Kenny had crawled through the creativity-draining development processes that most Australians films (partly or fully) funded by taxpayer dollars have to endure, it would have been nowhere near as raw, and funny, and would have cost three or four million dollars, instead of a few hundred thousand.

Since Kenny, there has been less than 30 new Australian movies released in our cinemas. Most have bombed, lost money and turned even more Australians off trusting Australian movies to deliver the most important thing of all : entertainment.

Arts minister, Peter Garrett, is now supposedly slapping some sense into the rusted-on dregs of the Australian film industry who still believe it is more important for a movie to make a statement than to entertain, or to turn a profit :
Australia's federal arts minister Peter Garrett told the country's filmmakers on Friday that they must shoulder some responsibility for the industry's failings.

Some? If Australia's filmmakers aren't responsible for the lack of interest from many Australians in Australian movies, then who the hell is?

In his first speech to the film biz since he was appointed minister of the new Labor government late last year, Garrett told delegates of the Melbourne Film Festival's marketplace, 37 South, "It is time for the industry to re-examine the way it does business so it can aspire not only to cultural independence but also to new levels of financial independence, too."

Despite state and federal coin at near record highs, as a proportion of all film funding, Australian films are not doing well at home or abroad.

"You will be supported for developing productions that attract strong financial backing and are genuinely appealing to audiences," Garrett said.

"You will be rewarded for writing scripts that excite leading Australian producers, directors, cinematographers and actors to come back to Australia."

The establishment within the Australian film industry that supposedly acts as cinematic gatekeepers of our culture have failed us enormously. What's the point of spending millions making poignant, beautifully crafted movies when most Australians have absolutely no interest in seeing them?

Why do appallingly crap American teen comedies routinely make $4-$10 million at our cinemas? Because they're full of big American movie stars? Bullshit. Kids go to see them because nobody in Australia is making these kinds of movies. That is, teen comedies that teens are interested in actually paying to see at the cinema.

If you need an example of just how blind the old guard of the Australian film industry is to what audiences actually want to see at the cinema, and on DVD, look at the example of the Saw movies.

Two young Australian movie makers came up with the script and trailer for an obviously franchisable, and fairly original, horror movie, which could be made (and was) for a million or less and they were turned down by everybody here. They took Saw to Hollywood and quickly found the money to get the movie made.

The four Saw movies didn't make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide (from cinema, DVD, cable) because they were American movies. The movies were a massive success because they filled a hole in the marketplace. Torture-horror, full of great twists and real tension.

It was a hole that the Australian originators of Saw knew was there, but nobody in the Australian film industry could get their heads around that idea, and so the Australian film industry lost an entire franchise of incredibly profitable horror movies for a fifth of what it cost to turn out yet another miserable film about junkies that nobody wants to endure on a Friday night with their friends.

Movie industry people I've spoken to in the US just can't understand why our industry is doing so very, very badly. We've got the world's best actors, directors, special effects technicians, production designers and costume designers, and most of them have to go overseas to get work. They want to work here, and they will work for scale (or less), but the projects that will win their support and skills don't come along very often.

Seriously, it's fucking embarrassing when American movie producers mock our pissy little output of movies, and their appalling performances at the box office.

"You guys made 15 movies last year? Fifteen whole movies? Lithuania makes more fucking movies than you Aussies do, and they make more money."

Rant over.