Pop Culture #617

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Pop Culture #617

If you’re a fan of Australian film, you might have noticed over the last year or so a shift in the way the local product hits cinemas. Gone – or at least, somewhat reduced – are the days when your typical Australian film was thrown into a bunch of cinemas to compete with the best the world has to offer. Instead, we’re increasingly seeing Australian films given what distributors like to call “showcase” sessions. Often one-off or limited screenings that include Q&As with cast and crew or other added extras before or around the same time as the film becomes available on digital platforms. This is a response to a number of factors that have been getting a whole lot of press over the last year or so, and if you were about to say “piracy” you’d be dead wrong – even if that does play a part in all this.
Part of the reason for Australian films moving out of cinemas is that they just don’t do all that well in cinemas, but that’s not their fault. Yes, Australia does make a lot of duds and audiences are somewhat gun-shy when it comes to local product, but it’s much more that the kind of films we make – low to mid budget dramas, mostly – are the kind of films that people don’t go to the cinemas to see these days. Big budget spectaculars, dramas aimed at old people, and broad comedies are what put bums on seats, and we just aren’t that good at them.
So the cinema market has changed; still, what’s the harm in putting an Australian film on in cinemas for a week or two just in case? The problem there is that our cinema owners have a rule whereby a film that goes to cinemas can’t appear anywhere else for 90 days – no DVD release, no digital, no TV, nothing. It’s meant to stop those other formats from taking away cinema business, and it works just fine for blockbusters as they wait until they’ve finished up in cinemas before turning to other formats. But smaller films these days can’t afford to wait, especially in Australia. In the US now it’s generally expected that a smaller film will come out in cinemas and on digital at the same time (for no other reason than it won’t be appearing in that many cinemas so the advertising will cover digital too), and once something’s available on digital it’s pirated. In Australia if you go to cinemas you can’t go digital for 90 days: during those 90 days your film will usually be released overseas digitally, be pirated, be watched by everyone in Australia who wants to see it because unless you’re a blockbuster you’re only playing in a handful of inner-capital-city cinemas anyway, and then when you come out on digital no-one buys it. That’s why Australian films are avoiding Australian cinemas as much as possible in 2015: cinema owners would rather have you watch a pirate copy than allow the distributors to sell it to you legally. Kinda puts all those “piracy is killing the Australian film industry” stories in a different light…
Written by Anthony Morris