The Australian media content market is one that has been known to have experienced significant fluctuation for several decades in terms of its successes and failures, particularly within the film industry (Stratton, 1990). While Australia’s boom period of Golden Age cinema occured in the 1970-80s (O’Donnell, 2015), the industry has also taken weighty blows where very little money has been made at all, leading many people to question its ability to survive on multiple occasions.
But what is it that determines whether or not Australian Cinema experiences a boom or a bust? Why is it that the domestic film industry can rise and fall so dramatically? I aim to reflect upon these notions through the consideration of governmental bodies of power, funding sources as well as the concept Australian media content protection.
The 1970s showed great promise for the Australian film industry. With the production of: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Mad Max (1979), Gallipoli (1981), The Man from Snowy River (1982), and Crocodile Dundee (1986), it was the decade that introduced world to what we now know as Australia’s Golden Age cinema (O’Donnell, 2015). Uncoincidentally, it also happened to be a time where the Australian people recognised a Labour Party government, a government in full support of creative industries, with Gough Whitlam leading the country as Prime Minister since 1972 (Goldsmith, 2014). During this time, it was Gough who helped develop the film agency of the Australian Film Commission (AFC), which assisted in the promotion, distribution and preservation of Australian content, ‘prioritising cultural and artistic merit over the prospect of economic success’ (Goldsmith, 2014). This governmental strategy awarded the AFC substantial financial support with a budget of $6.5 million Australian dollars (O’Donnell, 2015), a scheme put into action with hopes of the industry then being about to support itself in the future years to come.
The AFC also set out to meet objectives that fostered the development and appreciation of Australian screen culture in order to shape and influence the national agenda towards maximum accessibility and participation within the Australian film industry (Barron, 2006). Within the early stages of Australian film production, there was a focus on building national character through historical events. In order to maintain the integrity of Australia throughout film production, the AFC sanctions conditions. Subject to the approval of the minister to make, promote and distribute a film depended on several conditions: whether it served purpose to the Department of State, whether it made reference to matters of national interest, and whether it illustrated or interpreted aspects of Australian culture and way of life (AFC, 1975, Sect. 5)
It was then during the 1980’s that 10BA tax incentive scheme was coined by the Fraser government. This allowed screen producers and investors to claim a 150 per cent tax concession, having only to pay tax on half of any income earned from the investment, a production subsidy (Screen Australia, 2018). These tax subsidies soon became common methods for attracting film production funding, a great boom of industry financing that translated to private investment accounting for 95% of feature film investment. This was an excellent start to transitioning away from government support (Burns & Eltham, 2010, p.105). Within this era, many of Australia’s films gain international popularity, with the audience share for Australian cinema being the highest in post-war history. In fact, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ helped drive the Australian share of the box office to over 23%. A figure that has not yet been achieved since (Screen Australia, 2018). However, while this incentive seemed to promised an improved financial infrastructure, the low profitability of Australian films as well as tax evasion scandals and the rising cost of the 10BA regretfully resulted in this infrastructure not being fully developed (Burns & Eltham, 2010, p.105-106). With tax concession reductions every few years, the industry saw a decline in budgets from $120 million a year and 896 projects being financed including 227 feature films, to a budget of $43.9 million a year and 382 projects being financed including 176 feature films (Screen Australia, 2018).
With the great financing that came from the 10BA initially, it saw the rise of what Australian film maker Mark Hartley calls ‘Ozploitation’ which refers to the period of time where the Australian film industry saw the production of a diverse series of genre films (Ryan, 2012, p.145). However, this great influx of films resulted in issues in terms of what is deemed as a ‘quality’ production, with a far greater focus on quantity in attempts to generate more cash flow. Entertaining genre films such that had a focus on explosive cars, gore and excessive nudity included that of ‘Turkey Shoot (1982)’, ‘Fair Game’ and ‘Road Games (1981)’ soon became received as an insult to Australia’s cultural identity, leading to a slow phase-out in by the AFC in order to promote films that reflect a positive national identity (Ryan, 2012, p.145).
Upon the eradication of the 10BA tax incentive, the Australian film industry succumbed to quite a large bust period. With the Labour party supported Film Finance Corporation (FFC) being established in 1988, the government once again became the major source of film financing (Burns & Eltham, 2010, p.106). However, during its 30 years of operation huge deficits have scarred the industry. Between 1988 and 2008, $1.345 billion was invested into film and television production by the FFC, who only saw a return of $274 million. Furthermore, the box office share of Australian features had declined from and average of 11.5% as seen in the 1980s, to 4.5% during the period of 2000-2008 (Burns & Eltham, 2010, p.107) with it’s worst performance in history illustrated in 2004 where local share of box office hit a low point of 1.3% (Ryan, 2012, p.146).
After these statistics it can be thought that one of the main issues was the significant divide between governmental policy and audience consumption practices (Ryan, 2012, p.146). As governmental agencies were the majority funding provider for the Australian film industry, production had always been driven by its policy objectives, however, australian audiences have not been found to steer towards films that advocate the government’s national cultural identity pursuits. Therefore, there have been misjudgements as to what the consumer wants compared to what the industry has provided for them, which has undoubtedly contributed to market failures despite generous funding.
Due to the fact that the FFC period has seen less feature film production as well as a declining share of cinema attendance compared to that of the 10BA boom period (Burns & Eltham, 2010, p.107), it can be suggested that maybe Australia might benefit from reverting back to its genre film, Ozploitation days. Perhaps not the the degree that it used to be, but it’s content grew the Australia film industry and boosted consumer interest in a way that the FFC era never did.
AFC 1975, ‘Sect. 5, Functions of Commission’, Australia Film Commission Act 1975 No. 6 1975, www.legislation.gov.au, viewed: 15 August 2018, <https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004A00228>
Barron, M 2006, ‘The Australian Film Commission’, Annual Report 2005/06, screenaustralia.gov.au, viewed: 15 August 2018, <http://afcarchive.screenaustralia.gov.au/downloads/pubs/annualreport0506.pdf>
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, No. 136, pp. 103-118, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/1448536/mod_resource/content/1/Burns%20and%20Eltham%20%282010%29%20Boom%20and%20Bust%20in%20the%20Australian%20Screen%20Industry.pdf>
Goldsmith, B 2014, ‘Australia’s film industry owes a debt to Gough Whitlam’, The Conversation, theconversation.com, viewed: 14 August 2018, <https://theconversation.com/australias-film-industry-owes-a-debt-to-gough-whitlam-33240>
O’Donnell, V 2015, ‘Speaking with: David Tiley on funding Australian films’ Speaking with, theconversation.com, viewed 14 August 2018, <https://theconversation.com/speaking-with-david-tiley-on-funding-australian-films-38037>
Ryan, M D 2010, ‘A silver bullet for Australian cinema? Genre movies and the audience debate’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 6, no. 2, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/1448927/mod_resource/content/1/Ryan%20%282012%29%20A%20silver%20bullet%20for%20Australian%20cinema.pdf>
Screen Australia 2018, ‘Box Office and Share by Year: 1977-2017’, Cinema Industry Trends Box Office in Australia, 1977-2017, screenaustralia.gov.au, viewed: 17 August 2018, <https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/fact-finders/cinema/australian-films/feature-film-releases/box-office-share>
Screen Australia 2018, ‘The Operation of 10BA’, Production Businesses In the Archive, screenaustralia.gov.au, viewed: 18 August 2018, <https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/fact-finders/people-and-businesses/production-businesses/in-the-archive/operation-of-10ba>