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Reply to `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’

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So – in the Spectator Australia, (Oct 23rd, 02019), there was an interesting article:

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It’s a fascinating article, and I commend it to you.

It’s online: here.

I guess it’s an Opinion Piece..?

(My own Opinion on it, is: below.)

Suggestion: Maybe go read it, in full, & then: come back here…?

[Reading music]

[Reading music]

[Reading music]

…Did you read it?

[Yes?] Okay, good.

Okay so – let’s see how I summarize it. Then analyze parts of it.

(Some parts of it, anyway. Overall, I like it. Raises some GREAT questions.)

The key points of the article (as I see it) are:

(1) Aussie movies do badly in Aussie cinemas, comparatively.

(2) They used to do: great. Or, pretty good, anyway.

(3) …Why is it so?

(4) Because now, Aussie films are mostly: downers.

(5) We need to make more feelgoods, not downers – like, say, films like: Crocodile Dundee, Priscilla, Strictly Ballroom, and Gallipoli.

[Q: Wait – Was `Gallipoli’ a feelgood? I loved it, but, also recall it as: a downer…? Historically, also (the actual event)-? But; anyway. – JTV]

and

(6) Bring back 10BA, Screen Australia helps, but: Aussie films need more finance.


So, that’s the main gist. (I hope I haven’t missed any key points? I’m setting up a steel man here, not a straw one.)

Anyway – down to details…

One good point (i.e. seems: a true fact-?) in the article:

`Between 1973 and 1992, six Australian films were the most popular film of the year at the Australian box office.’

Yes but 10BA was in the middle there, let’s not forget.

So, Aussies were able to compete better with other global movies:

`In the eight years from 1980/81 to 1987/88, during which the 10BA concession was at least 120 per cent with at least 20 per cent of income from the investment exempt from tax, production budgets secured through 10BA totalled $959.7 million, an average of $120 million per year. A total of 896 projects were financed through 10BA during that time, including 227 feature films (or 92 per cent of Australian features produced in the period).’ (Source: ScreenOz, online)

Also, there wasn’t Netflix, streaming, and the internet. So, culture (the media landscape) evolves.

Then another good point is made:

(…er, note how, I find empirical facts to be: good points, LOL)

`Ponder also what were the most popular Aussie films in the top 50 most popular movies at the Australian box office in each of the last five years:’

In 2018: Only 2 Australian movies… in the top 50, most-seen (aka: popular) movies, in Aussie cinemas.

In 2017: 1 Australian movie… in the top 50 most-seen (aka: popular) movies, in Aussie cinemas.

In 2016: No Australian movies, in the top 50 (most-seen) movies, in Aussie cinemas.

In 2015: 6 Australian movies… in the top 50 most-seen (aka: popular) movies, in Aussie cinemas.

In 2014: No Australian movies, in the top 50 (most-seen) movies, in Aussie cinemas.

[I took the actual film names out, as: 1) I’m summarizing, and also 2) They [the details] will distract you, at this point, and I don’t want that. Stay focussed, people. Look sharp there, soldier! This is not a drill.] 

Part of your problem is: Evolutionary Survival-Tournaments for Movies in Cinemas. (See my PhD, on that.)

Part of it’s Budgets. (Including: Marketing Budgets.)

Part of it is: Story, Content & Style.

Anyway – Here comes the core argument of the article:

`At least three fundamental attributes of these popular films (1980-1995) jump out:

  • They had a unique and positive Australian flavour;

  • They were well-told stories with original Aussie character; and

  • The main thrust of this article — they were benevolent in story and tone.’

Nothing wrong with those first 2 points, but I’m just not so convinced about the 3rd…

Read on.

The article argues further, for:

`…audience grabbers that induce claps and cheers.

Many older Australians might also proclaim that classic Aussie films like Crocodile DundeeThe DishThe Castle, and Mao’s Last Dancer generally had better stories than current Aussie flicks. If you agree or disagree, make a comment below [on the Spectator Australia article webpage].’

So … I both agree AND disagree, but I didn’t make a Comment, as: I don’t want to subscribe to Spectator Australia right now (and that’s what would have to happen). Instead, I’m writing this StoryAlity blog post. (So far I think it’s going pretty good, but if you agree or disagree, make a comment below. Just kidding. – Or not? I’m never sure.)

Okay so – now I just need to cite a bit more, for the purposes of constructive, academic / scholarly criticism:

`Benevolence

Let’s move to what I believe undergirds the appeal of many of the cited Aussie film hits of the last 40 years and is intrinsic to their storytelling.

If you consult the list of the top 100 grossing Australian feature films of all time at the local box office, you will see that darker films such as Mad MaxBabadook, and Wolf Creek were not as popular (nor made as much money) as the many benevolent Aussie films that especially dominate the top 50.

True; maybe they didn’t compete as well in the “Evolutionary Survival-Tournament in Cinemas”, but they made a good RoI. Right?

A benevolent view of life is the belief that success and happiness are achievable — and that tragedy and failure are exceptions. If you translate that philosophical point to regular film speak, benevolent films have positive, uplifting characters and happy endings.

Yes, your typical film critic (and many other intellectuals) might throw up their collective hands and proclaim the (alleged) artistic worthlessness of such “feel-good” movies, but the stats above argue that the Australian viewing public strongly disagrees. They prefer to see Crocodile Dundee not Romper StomperThe Dish not Japanese Story and many of the Aussie films currently funded and released.

Look briefly at three classic and very popular Aussie films and you’ll see their benevolence.’

Then, 3 specific films are analyzed for benevolence: Crocodile Dundee, The Dish, and Mao’s Last Dancer.

(And, I have no real issues or problems or criticisms, of: that specific tri-film analysis…? All seems: fair enough? Yes. They’re feelgoods. So far, so (feel) good.)

But

Wait.

In 2016, did a PhD study of the top 20 – and bottom – 20 RoI (Return on Investment) movies…

Namely: the 20 most-profitable, and the 20 least-profitable movies.

(And now, allow me to cite: myself…)

`If we examine the top 20 and bottom 20 RoI movies in light of movie story audience-reach / creation-cost, then such story-power can be expressed numerically as their mathematical movie-story `benefit/cost ratio’.

Namely the benefit to cinema audiences of that movie story versus the cost of creating (telling) that movie story.

(Velikovsky 2016, p 22)

(The studio pictures are in bold text, the rest are indies. Independent films.)

Anyway – this is all in my PhD.

You should read it.

…What were some of the (30, or so) Findings of that (2016) PhD study?

Here’s a couple.

  1. 1 out of the top 20 RoI (ie most-profitable movies, ever) were Aussie movies… Mad Max (1980). (And, SAW (2004) was – technically – made by a couple of Aussies. So, let’s try and claim it, too.)
  2. All of the top 20 RoI movies are: villain triumphant stories. i.e., The “Bad Guys Win” trope. So, I suggest, in the (Spectator Australia) article’s terms, this would be the opposite of Benevolent, i.e., “Malevolent”…?

In short, if filmmakers, (or even good ole Screen Australia, who invests in Aussie films, and filmmakers – and more power to them) want to have a sustainable career, (as: most filmmakers only ever make 1 film, as their first film fails to make money – Ouch. See the PhD for details.

Sorry if this is too much reality. On the bright side, you can do what the most successful filmmakers did, i.e., read the PhD to see what that is. It’s only 350 pages or so.)

I wrote the PhD to solve: The Less Than 1% Problem in Movies.

The Less-Than-1% Problem in the domain of Movies (Velikovsky 2016)

(Yes, it is a real-world problem. The PhD shows how to solve it, if you are a filmmaker.)

As an aside, I also published a book chapter (in: a book..! of all places), called:

Velikovsky, JT (2016), `Popular Australian and International Movies at the Australian Box Office’, (2016) chapter in Popular Culture in Asia and Oceania, Jeremy Murray and Kathy Nadeau (Eds), Greenwood, New York.

Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania (2016)

Anyway – back to, analyzing the Spectator Australia article… (Not that, I wasn’t, above. Still. There you go. To cite a top 20 RoI movie at random: “Stay on target… STAY ON TARGET!”)

https://tenor.com/embed.js

Here’s another bit of the article, after it analyzes 3 feelgood (benevolent) Aussie films:

`The ultimate benevolence of these three films is that their characters have free will and are efficacious. They make choices, selecting their own goals and actions. Then they struggle to achieve them. These characters are not the doomed product of “the system”, their biology, environment or emotions. They don’t have tragic flaws. These characters are real human beings who think, choose and value. They struggle in the world and they succeed.’

And I guess that’s all good…?

But in 6 of the top 20 RoI movies, all the heroes die…?

And they’re all Villain Triumphant movies.

This reminds me – for some reason – of some random Australian cultural icons / heroes.

Like say, Captain Cook (stabbed to death by Hawaiian natives), Ned Kelly (shot by the cops), Burke & Wills (starved to death, lost in the desert), the ANZACs at Gallipoli (who mostly, got slaughtered), Henry Lawson (who died: broke), the Eureka Stockade rebels (who mostly: got killed), Steve Irwin (who died, tragically), The Ribbon Gang (who all got hung in Bathurst) –

…heeyyy, wait a minute,

It’s like, there’s some kind of pattern emerging… but – not sure?

Let’s come back to that later. (There’s surely a pattern in there, somewhere. I mean – hah! It’s almost, as if, Aussie “national stories” are like David & Goliath myths, where: Goliath always wins… But, anyway.)

Anyway – the Spectator article also suggests:

`This leads us to consider the expression in some films of a malevolent worldview. This view is the dramatization of the belief that life is pain, failure and tragedy. How many Aussie films have you endured the last 20 years that portrayed tragedy, cursed Australians or their history, ended in death or mayhem? Want a downer, see an Aussie flick.’

Here’s some Aussie flicks I love: Bad Boy Bubby, Chopper, The Babadook.

`Downers’, but: great movies!

The Spectator article asks:

`Is it just coincidence that of the 94 films the national government film body Screen Australia had invested in up to 2017 not one had made a profit? ‘

Well, maybe – but –

See, the thing is, 99% of screen ideas (screenplays): fail to get made.

And of the 1% made? 70% of movies lose money.

The “Less-Than-1%” Problem – in Screenplays and Movies (Velikovsky 2016)

(This is: The Less Than 1% Problem in the Movie Industry.  …See my PhD for details, and the solution.)

But, hey wait – the top 20 RoI movies all made over 71 times their budget… (!)

Comparing the Top – and the bottom – 20 RoI movies

And, they’re: Villain Triumphant. (…Bad Guys Win.)

…What’s up with that-?

(Read the PhD, there’s a quote in there by the great Steven Pinker, that explains it. It’s on: page 288.)

Anyway I totally agree with the article – we need 10B(A) again… If companies could use movies as a tax write-off, we’d have more money to invest in more movies.

It’s simply: a mathematical law of large numbers. (Did I mention how I love Maths and Science? I do.)

 

The film industry modelled as a system

The more films (or movies, or even filmovies) that come out of the system (any system), the more likely that some of them will be good, or even great.

(Or even top 20 RoI movies, that make over 71 times their budget!) i.e., That’s how evolution (i.e. creativity) works. Systems theory, in biocultural ecosystems. (Read the PhD.)

 Anyways, the Spectator article (which has lots of great points in it, don’t get me wrong!) concludes, asking a great question: (and, I salute the author, for asking it…)

`Do we want the Australian film and television industry to head the way of drama in live theatre or create a resurgence in the popularity and importance of Australian screen stories?

If it is the second, then I humbly suggest we return to telling good Aussie tales (produced in a free market) that express the most fundamental key to their story appeal and popularity: Benevolence.’

I mean, I’m all for, such “Benevolent” films…?

Feelgood (fantasy / non-realistic) movies are: Fun. Nice. Happy?

And (personally) I adore the original Crocodile Dundee (the sequels: sucked). And, loved The Castle. And, Bad Boy Bubby. And a bunch of others. Predestination was interesting. (But I like mindbenders.)

But I still suggest, 4 points:

  1. Let’s be real. (as: Story + Reality = StoryAlity). Life is: really tough. 99% of stuff: fails… (99% of species have gone extinct over Earth’s history.) Society & the system currently basically sucks: e.g., The top 8 richest guys have more money than the bottom 3.5 BILLION people. (What a stupid, cruel, dumb, world-?) For Australians – it’s even tougher. Droughts, and bushfires, and stuff (I was a firefighter – which is one reason I don’t stand for bullsh*t, and see pretty much everything as Life & Death… This is Australia.). And – We also currently have a bunch of right-wing (climate-change denying, lying) jerks (eg: Scummo, etc) running the country. Like those lying dipshits: Trump in the US, and Boris in the UK. That all: sucks monkey-balls. Hard. Read Michael Moore’s great review of Joker to understand why the world needs more truth and reality shoved in its face. (But – anyway… other than that, it’s: all good.)
  2. Suggest – If you want to turn a profit with a movie, then make a Villain Triumphant film. (Go make a feelgood movie, after that. First, get some coin in the bank. 70% of movies lose money. Study what the $uper-$ucce$$ful ones did (…read my PhD)).
  3. As of now, 28th Oct 02019, Joker‘s now made about 10 times its budget in cinemas already ($850M, against a $70M budget). Most “successful” big-budget Hollywood movies only make about 7 times their budget. And, it’s: Villain Triumphant…! So are, the top 20 RoI movies. So is Titanic, for that matter (Spoiler Alert: It sinks, and most of ’em die). The fact is, we live in a dangerous, evolving universe… There are at least 292 things that can kill you. So – “downer” endings reflect: the Times. Reality.
  4.  Crocodile Dundee (which I love) is: the #23 top RoI movie ($328M on an $8M budget). But – Paul Hogan & Strop first spent 10 years, honing their comedy art & craft – and, his laconic Aussie character (`Hoges’) – in TV comedy (btw, all of which is now deemed: sexist and un-PC as hell, so – times have changed, and most Comedy is practically outlawed now, as it always offends: somebody). And, so did, the guys behind The Castle and The Dish, spend 10 years, honing their comedy in TV. …Comedy is the hardest to do. See (1) The 10-Year Rule in Creativity, and (2) in Screenwriting, and (3) in Stand-up Comedy, for example. So, the Q becomes – How do you have a 10-year career, in films-? Answer: Make a high-RoI movie, first up. Q: How do you do that? A: Read my PhD.

…Or, don’t?

What do I care? Anyway – thanks for reading.

All I’m saying is: Everything you think you know about movies & success (i.e. creativity) is probably: wrong? (They don’t teach the stuff in my PhD in schools, nor in most screenwriting manuals, nor even in film schools.) So, I dunno, read my PhD. Get some Science and Truth and Facts, instead of all the woo-woo. (…Or don’t?)

Still, the Spectator article was pretty good.

Apart from the parts that: weren’t?

Point Being: You can indeed have, a great “downer” movie…! See most of Kubrick’s films. See most of Ingmar Bergman’s. Or Ozu’s. They’re art.

Note: Here, I’m not defending the whole pile of, actually, boring, “downer” (realist drama!) movies, that have been made in Oz over the years. I’m just saying: the Villain Triumphant story trope doesn’t have to be: a downer… (It’s just: realistic 🙂

~Thanks for reading that part too.

PS – My favourite Aussie movie is, probably, Wake In Fright. But who cares.

PPS – If you liked this post (or even if, you didn’t…?) you might like:

Question: What Are The 20 `Greatest’ Feature Films?

  1. StoryAlity #2 – What Are The Greatest 20 Movies (Feature Films) Ever..?
  2. StoryAlity #3 – The Top 20 RoI (Return on Investment) Films of the Last 70 Years
  3. StoryAlity #3B – Trailers of the Top 20 RoI Movies
  4. StoryAlity #3C – Trailers of the Bottom 20 RoI Movies
  5. StoryAlity #4 – Is `Casablanca’ (1942) the `greatest’ film ever made?
  6. StoryAlity #4B – On `Mindbender’ Movies

On The Methodology:

  1. StoryAlity #5 – Background to the Research Methodology of this study of polar extremes of movie-RoI
  2. StoryAlity #5B – Almost Everything You Think You Know About Movie Screenwriting is: Possibly Wrong

On Creativity:

  1. StoryAlity #6 – What is Creativity and How Does It Work?
  2. StoryAlity #6B – Flow Theory, Creativity and Happiness
PPS – Hey – in Game of Thrones, the bad guys win. Aussie stories are mostly “about”: Pyrrhic victories. 
Anyway, I loved Joker. By coinkydink, for all the same reasons Michael Moore loved it.
It was like Fight Club meets Taxi Driver. (2 of my fave flicks.)

Ryan Reynolds’ Joker-congrats poster

(And, oddly, also recently loved: Under The Silver Lake. It was like: Inherent Vice, meets Eyes Wide Shut, via Vertigo, and The Number 23). Actually, those are all Villain Triumphant, too. And I love ’em all. …What’s not to love?

Under The Silver Lake (Trailer)

Anyway – cheer up.
Here’s a random funny Aussie comedian, talking about why you’re offended, and why it doesn’t matter:

And now here’s a great new Aussie movie (true story):

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PPPPS – Also – this was an interesting article, that feeds into this whole debate.

Australian cinema is the car industry with nice sets (A. Patrick, in the Financial Review, Nov 1st, 2019, online)

 

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~ Dr JTV 
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie & Transmedia & Cultural Artifact Researcher
& Evolutionary Systems Theorist 
& Transmedia Writer-Director-Producer: Movies, Games, TV, Theatre (also: Theater), also Books, Comics,
& Whatever else I’m up to 
& Script Consultant ǀ Scriptwriter: Script Editor ǀ Script Assessor ǀ Script Developer ǀ Story Consultant ǀ Former Producer
Writeur
Some of the above is (probably; knowing me) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral dissertation: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, screen-media-making and creativity researchers.
For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky 
JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter, and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild.
For more of his Transmedia Writing stuff, see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/

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REFERENCES

McConnell, S. (2019). `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’ Spectator Australia, Oct 23rd, online

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema: A comparative study of the top 20 Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies and the Doxa of Screenwriting’. PhD Thesis, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia.

 

My PhD goes into a lot of detail – it’s a free PDF, online here:
Or, here:

One thought on “StoryAlity #160 – Reply to `Why are Australian films now so unpopular?’

  1. Your PhD and this website virtually present a rationale and a process for making ‘first-time’ films that will return high ROI. However, when comparing the actual gross earnings of such films (though there have been exceptions, like ‘Star Wars’) with the gross earnings of possibly more benevolent films, the second category tends to win. Surely, what we would like in Australia is to create an environment where both can happen: 1) first time filmmakers are encouraged to follow your ‘script’ for making high ROI films and thus obtaining entry into the industry, while 2) more established filmmakers are assisted in creating high earning/popular films, which tend to be ‘benevolent’. That way, we would have ‘villain wins’ and ‘villain defeated’ films in their appropriate categories (first-time cf established directors) and a healthy Australian film industry.

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