Are we making art or a profit?
Before the budget the Australian media whipped itself into frenzy around the Government’s Commission of Audit. And rightly so we had been waiting months for its findings and being delivered prior to the budget meant newsrooms had plenty of fodder to make predictions by.
As a producer I was keen to read the Commission’s suggestion for the film industry. It argued we streamline arts organizations to create efficiencies, this included in Screen Australia.
It said; “Bringing together the Australia Council, Australian Business Arts Foundation Ltd, Screen Australia and the Bundanon Trust into a single arts council would also reduce administrative costs and support closer collaboration within the arts community. It will provide improved capacity for grant and procurement processes to be centrally and professionally managed.”
Now the idea of merging Screen Australia with the Australia Council was bound to be controversial. Here are two separate bodies that deal with two fundamentally different streams of work.
Yet before we scream ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’, let’s take a look at the current state of play.
In the budget the Government proposed the Australia Council lose $30m over the next three years. Meanwhile Screen Australia will lose $38 million over the next four years. The prediction is the fall out will mean smaller pools of funding for the arts and film sectors.
Perhaps if the two organizations did merge we could soften the blow. They could find efficiencies in staffing, programs could have an overhaul and those filmmakers who argue they are making art will be right at home.
As for the rest of us, we’d have to find more private investment, get our broadcasters (who are profiting from our work) to pay a bit more and we’d become comfortable with the word commercial.
At least in a commercial world if we made bombs at the box office we’d have investors to answer to. Right now if we make bombs we’re not shun from government or state agencies. Instead the opposite happens and we’re given another go at it because it’s about how many screen credits you have not how many dollars you earn.
Now I’m not shirking the problem we have with getting audiences to see our films. Hollywood does have a lot to answer for. Their blockbusters have marketing budgets bigger than our production budgets and that’s hard to compete with. But there is something else we’re competing against – investors.
Private investors and big corporations back the Hollywood system and they demand a return. A box office flop will not make you in that town – it will break you.
The do or die attitude forces filmmakers to make movies that reach wide audiences, with stories that are universal and engaging.
And here in lies our problem. Cinema has the potential to be a huge income earner for producers and investors in Australia yet we are falling well short of the mark. Unlike other art forms, films can actually make a return. But we’re not and theory is that’s because we are not looking at ourselves as a commercial proposition but art.
You see when art does not make a return we argue its importance based on cultural value. Sure Australian cinema has cultural value and we love to see our stories on the screen. All of our broadcasters have their own break out Aussie series or mini-series to prove that.
So why isn’t this translating to cinema?
We have an industry full of talent in front and behind the camera. Our audiences should be smashing box offices, but they won’t while we persist in making art and not profits.