"Yes, the Australian film industry is having a rough year. But knee-jerk responses aren’t going to magically take us back to the halcyon years of the 1980s ..."News flash: it isn’t. There are good and bad Australian films. There are fizzers and turkeys. There are goofy comedies and pretentious, inaccessible dramas. But our national cinema is and will continue to be awesome, and our talent is extraordinary. There’s a reason Australian filmmakers such as Nash Edgerton, director of The Square (2008), and Patrick Hughes, director of Red Hill (2010), caught a one-way trip to America and were able to start working with the greats. Edgerton has made three Bob Dylan music videos since 2009, and Hughes, in the latest Expendables movie, directed a dream team of stars including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Jet Li and Sylvester Stallone. The Square and Red Hill are both outstanding Australian films, and they both tanked. In 2014 two terrific Aussie titles, among the best of this or any year (Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook) also drew blanks at the local box office. Were they “worth” any less than the Hollywood blockbusters they competed against? Of course not. If you imagine price gauged in terms of quality (given the subjective nature of cinema this might seem ridiculous; in a restaurant it’s de rigueur) those films are worth double or triple others on the bill. But of course, audiences didn’t come. There are many reasons for this, some of which Crikey Daily Review explored in September. But is one of the reasons that audiences don’t see local films that they think the admission price is too expensive? Imagine somebody in line at the box office saying "I’m not convinced about this Australian film, but it is $7 cheaper, oh what the hell". That feels just as implausible as the person positively reacting to all those doors, doors, doors. But let’s say such a scheme is introduced. What happens if audiences come back? Do prices go back up? What happens if sales get worse? Do prices keep going down? Yes, the Australian film industry is having a rough year. But knee-jerk responses aren’t going to magically take us back to the halcyon years of the 1980s when homegrown cinema averaged a yearly market share of 11.49%. A productive approach for Australian producers is not to denigrate their products by bunging on a discounted price tag, but to experiment with interesting distribution strategies. In 2011, low-budget thriller The Tunnel (which raised its budget by selling actual frames for $1) became the first Australian feature to get a worldwide release via the BitTorrent Network. Last year, director/producer Robert Connolly made his adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel The Turning an “event” by charging a premium price and screening it with an interval and a 40-page colour program included with the purchase. In the last fortnight, a World War I movie literally filmed in the director’s backyard -- William Kelly’s War -- opened on more than 20 screens, almost all of them in regional cinemas where the demographic is potentially more suited to the film than punters at CBD multiplexes. Later this month, dark comedy The Mule (staring Angus Sampson, Hugo Weaving, Leigh Whannell and Noni Hazlehurst) will bypass cinemas and go straight to digital in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. As the local industry continues to contemplate vexing issues such as branding, marketing and the saturation of overseas content, these films at the very least have attempted to find creative solutions. Their success or failure will help forge a way forward.
Discount tickets won’t save Aussie cinema — try innovation
Cutting the price of Australian film tickets won't make them more competitive, it'll cheapen the whole industry.