In 1906 Australia produced the world’s first ever feature film “The story of the Kelly Gang”. At the time no one realized the precedent these silent moving images would have on the world. Despite this cinematic discovery, Australia’s film industry finds itself struggling to produce films with domestic and international recognition unable to match other production markets such as Hollywood. By closely analyzing a few key areas around popularity, funding and identity we can understand the factors which have contributed to this situation and perhaps prevent the Australian film industry ceasing to exist entirely.
Whenever I think about the Australian film industry I reflect on it and consider it as a brilliant array of stories. Australia has made some pretty great films and I do believe they are highly underrated. We have the potential to tap into the market and flourish in the film world. From the 1920’s-1970’s Australian films were modest bouts of local production in conjunction with the saturation of English and American products. Under the Gough Whitlam administration, the film industry was given a major resurgence. He stressed the importance of Australian based activity in film art. With the aid of a supportive government the formation of the Australian Film Commission, to subsidize the cost of film productions, was created. It was a favorable gesture “In which the government of the day could expect to win some esteem by launching an arts assistance programme with provision for film” states film historian Ina Bertrand in her 1989 ‘Cinema in Australia’ book. The Fraser administration who gained office after the Whitlam government, continued to support the arts like his predecessor. Filmmakers were given major subsidies to support them in the process; paying half the tax on their initial investments, the production and location also had major subsides.
Through my own personal understanding I believe the major law governing these taxes is the 10BA. Film financers were given a major incentive to invest in films, ‘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 … 92 per cent of Australian features produced in the period’. The 10BA tax concession helped to create a platform where major international renowned films were produced such as Crocodile Dundee (1986) and The Man from Snowy River (1982).
Currently funding for Australian film productions are run by Screen Australia whom are responsible for the development and demand of Australian productions dealing with the analysis of the current market place, audience and technological evolution. On the site they claim to focus on the finance and production side of things which foreshadows how hard it is to be granted money to make a film. There is a lot of convoluted policies and information surrounding the alternations to the tax laws for Australian films, the criteria and how eligible you are to make an Australian film on the Screen Australia website. However to comply with the demands of the government requirements have been put in place.
In order to receive funding from the Australian federal government, Screen Australia has put forth a set of criteria to reach eligibility for a film must meet. The first and foremost thing the project must have a significant level of Australian content. On the surface it seems simple enough to comprehend but the further you ponder over that statement you realise its flaws. How can you categorise Australian identity into a singular definitive when the country houses a diverse range of national identities. It is an ambiguous brief to follow and problematic on a cultural and social level. In fact, I believe this further hinders the Australian film industry by placing limitations on what it means to be ‘Australian’ thus worthy of creating a cinematic story.
Today, the Australian film industry is in a downward spiral. We are failing in our domestic market and Australians do not seem interested in their own content. This is reflected in the drastic difference between the expenditure put towards the film investment and the profit made back. Between the years of 1988 and 2008 $1.3 billion was invested into the production of Australian films and we only made $274 million back. In 2016 Australian feature films only earned $24.1 Million in the box office and made up 1.9 % of the overall Australian box office takings. In 2017, the number has increased to around 4.1% which is good but definitely could be better. 84% of the box office and content that is being screened is dominated by Hollywood films. These statistics demonstrate that the content in film is not engaging with audience members.
Our film industry is already in a fragile place and survival is essential if we want to continue to tell the Australian stories. I find it quite shocking to see the current government’s belief in proposing further deregulations. Thus it becomes a refreshing thing to witness Australian talent defend the film industry by adding their support to the “Make it Australian” campaign, which has been lobbying to convince the federal arts minister, Mitch Fifield, of the industry’s cultural and economic worth. This an open letter signed by 215 big shots in an attempt to get the government to preserve the screen industry. The government is refusing to help cut tax incentives “We have huge global potential. But if the government doesn’t get the policy settings right, very soon we won’t have an independent Australian screen industry at all” states Screen Producers Association’s chief executive, Matthew Deaner.
In conclusion it is obvious that the Australian film industry is struggling. In order for us to continue to produce our stories the government needs to provide more support in funding and create better tax incentives. We need to restructure the terms and conditions in the eligibility criteria and be less ambiguous in the expectations. This all can be fixed with better policy making and more financial assistance. There is no denying that change needs to occur otherwise the Australian film industry will fail and potential cease to exist in the future.
ABS, 2018, 4172.0 – Arts and Culture in Australia: A Statistical Overview, 2014, Commonwealth of Australia, http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/Home/%A9+Copyright?opendocument
Bertrand, Ina ed. 1989, Cinema in Australia: A Documentary History, University of New South Wales Press, Kensington.
Brennan, B. 2015, MYEFO: Arts sector ‘horrified’ by cuts to Screen Australia, literary council, ABCNEWS, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-16/myefo-government-slashes-50-million-from-arts-sector/7033296
Burns. A, Eltham. B, 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, The Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘Race to the Bottom’, Media International Australia, 103-118
Graham, S., JACKSON,S. , 2018, THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG, The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
O’Regan, T. 2005, Chapter 2: Theorising Australian Cinema, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, p.p 9-30.
Screen Australia, 2018, GUIDELINES, ELIGIBILITY, SIGNIFICANT AUSTRALIAN CONTENT, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/funding-and-support/producer-offset/guidelines/eligibility/significant-australian-content
Screen Australia, 2018, CINEMA INDUSTRY TRENDS BOX OFFICE IN AUSTRALIA, 1977−2017, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/fact-finders/cinema/industry-trends/box-office/australian-box-office