NAVIGATING NEW TERRAIN FOR AUSTRALIAN FEATURE FILMS

What do we hope for local films on the big screen? How can feature films continue to get made as analogue dollars turn into digital cents in the new distribution era? What are some new ways to help Australians find and connect with local films? Screen Australia CEO, Graeme Mason, today launched an issues paper on one of the hottest topics facing the local screen industry: distribution for local feature films.

Speaking at the 37°South Market in Melbourne, Mason said: “We are in the middle of an incredible run of Australian productions and talent. In terms of box office, 2015 is shaping up to be a remarkable year.” He cautioned, however, that: “We should not let this great run obscure the reality. Local independent films are facing an increasingly tough, and crowded, marketplace. Audience expectation of where and how they see these films is changing rapidly. The benchmark for specialist film box office has been drastically lowered. We are not alone here, these trends are international.”

He also noted that: “Long-heralded transformations wrought by digital disruption are well and truly upon us. Blockbusters dominate an increasingly crowded theatrical environment while the traditional DVD market is in sharp decline. Newer ancillaries, like VOD platforms, are yet to deliver back recoupment dollars into the ecosystem. It is becoming harder for independent films to find their audiences amidst an avalanche of content, and it is harder for them to attract marketplace finance.

A key part of Screen Australia’s role is to assist screen businesses to navigate these changes and to take advantage of the opportunities they present.

Today’s paper, Issues in Feature Film Distribution, outlines industry trends, with key data and analysis. It also provides recent case studies of some new distribution models that producers and distributors are trialling to help their films reach audiences. While recognising that theatrical release is still the main game for most films, Screen Australia is supporting innovative models and facilitating conversations with industry about this important set of issues.

Accompanying the paper are infographics on changes to the cinema market over the last decade.

Mason said: “Feature films have always been a high-risk, high-reward proposition. As the industry tries out new models and tests out new approaches for particular kinds of films, we have to accept that not everything will work. We must accept a level of failure and learn from those experiences: a model that works for one film may not be successful with other films; some films may not find a strong audience in any model. However, when a film connects powerfully with audiences the cultural dividends are huge, and can resonate for decades.”

Screen Australia is seeking input on the paper and will continue conversations with industry on these issues in coming months.

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