Globalisation has increasingly changed the Australian content production for screen based media. Throughout the past century, production and distribution has been affected by government policy as well as domestic and international demand. The exponential growth of globalisation has created waves through the industry, both positive and negative. But does this really matter at all and should we embrace globalisation in order to produce Australian content?
Fore fronting the film industry, Australia produced one of the first films The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906). Already, we had begun the trend to dramatise the rugged ‘legends’ of Australia. In 1978 the 10BA law allowed investors to claim a 150 per cent tax concession and to only pay tax on half of any income earned. Approximately 896 projects were financed through this initiative during its peak, leading to the ‘Ozploitation’ boom in Australia. Turkey Shoot (1982) and The Man from Hong Kong (1975) are only two of such films. Many of these films were genre based, which had mixed reception, Hollywood as opposed to ‘art house’. Amongst these Ozploitation films were a number of hits for Australia, including Mad Max (1979) and Crocodile Dundee (1986). These films only furthered the international belief that Australian’s were gung-ho, hardened white men living in the outback. A few more ‘quality’ films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) emerged during this time but the 80s in Australian cinema was all about genre and quantity. Genre shouldn’t necessarily be negative, a ‘successful’ film is generally about the box office. Ryan (2012, p. 148) simply states it as “Genre works for audiences so what’s not to like” and this rings true commercially. In order for Australia to compete internationally, we have to be playing the same ball game.
The 1990s was when globalisation began to fully impact Australian screens. Many productions were internationally financed or had very little to do with Australia, but were claimed as Australian anyway. During the economic recession between 1989 and 1992, there was a policy shift towards greater international integration with 39% of investors being foreign (O’Regen 1995). This isn’t necessarily an issue as it did place Australia as a multicultural country. Strictly Ballroom (1992) and The Heartbreak Kid (1993) were “inescapably hybrid and mixed” as O’Regen (1995) defines. The nationality we had cultivated in previous years was being pushed aside in order to show a fundamentally diverse Australia. Adding onto these films were Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and Priscilla Queen of the Desert (2014) which paved the way towards a quirky and eccentric preview of individuality in Australia. Sexual identity (Priscilla) as well as the displacement of heterosexual romance as a plot goal (Muriel’s Wedding) broke Australia away from the norm. We were telling stories that were refreshing locally and internationally, demonstrating a kind of cosmopolitanism and the emerging globalized future of the industry.
Recent Australian productions have struggled in the domestic and international box office. The usual aim of 5% Australian productions made it as low as 1.3% in 2005. In 2008, the 3 bodies of content production, The FFC, AFC and Film Australia merged into Screen Australia which hasn’t faired much better with increasing budget cuts. A 10% staff cut in 2014 and the 2017-18 budget showing another loss of $2.6 million. Overseas release is incredibly important to Australian productions. Tomorrow When the War Began (2010), a genre film based on a popular youth series made AU$13 million compared to a US$6 million on opening (Ryan 2012, p. 151). Jasper Jones (2017), another Australian literature adaptation was considered a success with a box office of $1.9 million, even with its $5 million budget. Nowadays, successful ‘Australian’ productions seem to be ones that are only filmed here. The Great Gatsby (2013), Peter Rabbit (2018), Aquaman (2018), Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018) and Thor Ragnarok (2017) have all taken advantage of the government push for blockbusters filmed locally. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) can tap a 16.5% rebate on all the money they spent here (Boland 2018). This influx seems ideal as it will create jobs and advertise our industry, but it has also led to fear of the loss of the Australian identity on screen (Hornery 2017). The Make it Australian campaign emerged and underlined that content quotas, such as the 55% Australian content on free-to-air television, are being undermined by streaming services. There has been a push in Australia to force Netflix to have a local content quota as “the company has completely upended Australia’s TV industry without permanently employing a single person here” (McDuling 2018). But something over nothing is surely ideal in such a saturated market.
How Australian can you be in a multicultural, lightly populated country, fed by content from all other corners of the globe? Pay TV’s popularity over the 2000s subjected Australia to an international resource of screen content. This led to localized versions of successful transnational formats like The Voice. Australian companies are gaining support internationally an easier avenue than the government. The Australian company Matchbox Pictures, established 2008, brought to the screens acclaimed productions such as My Place (2009) and The Slap (2010). In 2011, NBC Universal bought a majority share of the company so that now, as Matchbox Pictures is an Australian company and are eligible for support from the likes of Screen Australia, the US conglomerate is reaping the benefits. Los Angeles based Essential II Media group, a partner of Australian company Essential Media, is making a US version of the ABC series Rake (2010-2018). In both cases, a multinational parent company gains access to the scripted format and the production expertise of Australia (O’Regen & Potter 2013, p. 10). “It is only when we emphasise the footprint and extent of multinational corporation involvement in Australian Production at the national scale that we see just how different the case for Australian content has become since it was first advanced” (O’Regen & Potter 2013, p. 11). What is this so called ‘Australian content’, our stories, our industry, our landscape or all of the above?
Globalisation has irrevocably changed the scene in Australian film and television. An Australian production can never be truly ‘Australian’ and thus the definition needs to be reconsidered. Filming box office hits in Australia will only be beneficial in the long run if it paves the way to Australia becoming known as a creative center. The Australian screen industry need to embrace this globalisation and work it in our favour, use international connections as a source of global distribution in order to create ideal Australian content.
Boland, M 2018, ‘Hollywood given $140m incentive to shoot blockbusters in Australia’, ABC News, 5 May, viewed 10 August, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-04/foreign-filmmakers-will-get-140m-boost-to-australian-production/9726798>.
Hornery, A 2017, ‘Time for the Australian movie industry to reflect Australian culture’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October, viewed 4 August, <https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/time-for-the-australian-movie-industry-to-reflect-australian-culture-20171025-gz7mce.html>.
McDuling, K 2018, ‘Will Australia be first to force Netflix to make local content?’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May, viewed 10 August, <https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/will-australia-be-first-to-force-netflix-to-make-local-content-20180504-p4zdgh.html>.
O’Regan, T, & Potter, A 2013, ‘Globalisation from within?: The de-nationalising of Australian film and television production’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 149, p. 7-11.
O’Regan, T, 1995. Beyond ‘Australian” film? Australian cinema in the 1990s’, Centre for Research in Culture & Communication, Murdoch University, Perth, <http://wwwmcc. murdoch. edu. au/ReadingRoom/film/1990s>.
Ryan, MD 2012, ‘A Silver Bullet for Australian Cinema? Genre Movies and the Audience Debate’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 141-157.