September 02, 2003


Urban blackouts are all the rage. And now a blackout of a different kind; remember a mention here of the film Deckchair Danny, that was going to halt the American cultural incursion into Australia? Pulled from screens after just three weeks.

Posted by Tim Blair at September 2, 2003 02:45 AM

Yes, but thats becasue it was a load of shite.

Posted by: Andy at September 2, 2003 at 10:02 AM

You're right. Even Margaret Pomeranz couldn't stand it.

Posted by: tim at September 2, 2003 at 10:37 AM

Pomeranz couldn't stand it! Why? No Kiddie -porn I guess.
Would have thought being bagged by Pomeranz almost guaranteed its success.

Posted by: Lawrie at September 2, 2003 at 11:28 AM

Here are the stats for Danny Deckchair according to (they don't incule the last week, but there won't be much action in the tail-end):

FOX, 2003
U.S. Cumulative $

Remember, although this is the Australian Box Office (BO) history, it's expressed in US$. Chances are the columns above are displayed poorly on Tim Blair's comment page, so you might need to copy and past them into your favourite plain-text editor (Notepad etc) to see it all ordered. Or go here to see the original Variety chart:

You'll need to sign up for Variety's free two-week trial to see that web page though. No credit card info required.

In a nutshell - the BO figures for Danny Deckchair look appalling at first, and they are indeed very bad (the film earned just over a million Australian dollars at the Oz BO - given that it probably cost anywhere from five to twenty million to make, that's not so hot). But the really depressing news is that this is actually pretty typical for an Australian film at the Australian BO. In fact, compared to some recent Oz films, this is far from the worst example - many films last only two weeks, some even less. I try really hard to see Australian films in the cinema, just because I like to see film in that environment, but by golly you have to be quick!

To put Danny Deckchair's performance in perspective, check out these figures for the much higher profile film The Night We Called It A Day:

U.S. Cumulative $

OUCH! Australians are staying away from this film in droves, which is remarkable given the cast and the publicity, but not so remarkable after you've seen the film (it's OK, but it's a bit of a mess, and a tad slow). The Night We Called It A Day will probably make far more money overseas than here (which is backwards - the few Australian films that get an overseas release make EVEN LESS money overseas that their lacklustre Oz BO). I don't see Danny Deckchair doing any significant business overseas - for the producers' and investors' sake I hope I'm wrong.

As you might have guessed, I'm currently in the middle of trawling through Variety's database looking at the performance of Australian films, partly out of personal interest (I'm soon to start pre-production on a self-financed indie feature) and partly as research for a rant on my website. I knew that looking at the Oz BO wouldn't be pretty, but it's been a sobering experience. In general, Australians do not like Australian films. At all. And neither does anyone else, generally. Sad. Most of the exceptions to this rule are films with wide appeal ("commercial" or "non-arty" films), many of which had minimal or no government funding. Yes, I'm starting to see a pattern, but it's difficult to generalise.

Thanks for the great site Tim - keep talking about Australian films - even if it's to poke fun at their dismal BO performance. Anything is better than just letting the status quo continue...

Skevos Mavros

Posted by: Skevos Mavros at September 2, 2003 at 01:15 PM

Skevos said:

'In general, Australians do not like Australian films. At all. And neither does anyone else, generally.'

This is a beautiful statement.

But then why are we forking out so much cash to fund film institutes, film studies, film festivals, fringe film festivals, womyn's fylm festivals, short film festivals, long film festivals, you name it.

Tha taxpayer funds an industry that teaches impressionable students to make shit films.

The taxpayer does not want then to pay after-tax dollars to watch more shit films.

Posted by: ilibcc at September 2, 2003 at 01:43 PM

I like The Wiggles. Do they qualify as members of the Australian film industry?

Posted by: Irena A. at September 2, 2003 at 03:28 PM

ilibcc brings up a good point: if people wanted to see these films, they wouldn't need tax dollars to support them.

Posted by: John Nowak at September 2, 2003 at 03:44 PM

The Wiggles are self-funded, highly successful and contribute tax dollars to the country. Go Wiggles.

Posted by: ilibcc at September 2, 2003 at 04:11 PM

Never seen the Wiggles, I'm afraid. Any good?

Posted by: John Nowak at September 2, 2003 at 04:28 PM

ilibcc said:

* This is a beautiful statement.

It does have a sort of terrible beauty to it, doesn't it? Alas, it's not said often enough by enough of the right people. Mind you, the recent even-worse-than-usual BO of Oz films has resulted in a lot more people daring to say it, even some people within the government funding system (they're not all bad - soem genuinely want Oz films to succeed, but the current system doesn't give them the tools to help - that's the rant I'm working on).

The sad part about the recent downturn in popularity of Oz films (or to put it another way, the sad part about the recent spate of bad Oz films), is that this year was supposed to be a banner year for Oz films. I think there were a record number of Oz films getting cinema runs this year (23 of them I think?), but so far most have sunk without making much of a dent. Even ones that got mostly positive reviews (for what reviews are worth).

These sorts of BO figures are forgivable for low-low micro-budget features, say one or two million, that scrape a few hundred thousand back at the BO, several more on TV sales here and overseas, and more again on rental and DVD sales. Those sorts of films can actually make a profit (though, alas, most of them still don't). But the kinds of BO figures we;re seeing lately on 10, 20, and 30 million dollar Oz films are just not good enough. Something isn't working. Most people in the industry blame the scripts, and though as a writer it pains me to admit it, I think they're right. As for who's to blame for half-baked scripts getting made, well, that may not be the writer's fault (what writer is going to say no to a cheque offered for an unpolished script?).

My theory on the recent extra-bad Oz BO? I think Australians have been let down so many times by Oz films in the cinema, that even if the trailer and publicity for an Oz film looks good, they have learned, the hard way, to give them a miss and wait for them to show up on video/DVD/Pay/TV. Who can blame them? There are few more forlorn experiences than sitting in a quarter-filled cinema watching an Oz film on its first Friday night screen, listening to the audience fidget and sigh their way through it.

As you can ssee, although I share most Australians' low opinion of most Oz films, I take a strong interest in the sector and would really like it to succeed.

* But then why are we forking out so
* much cash to fund film institutes,
* film studies, film festivals, fringe
* film festivals, womyn's fylm festivals,
* short film festivals, long film
* festivals, you name it.

I don't know. I suspect it boils down to the Yes-Prime-Minister logic of "something needs to be done, this is something, let's do it". To be more precise:

. Oz films are important. Everybody says so.
. Something needs to be done to show support for the Oz film industry. Everybody says we should.
. Having a genuine rethink of the way films are made and exhibited in Australia is too hard and would rais issues that no one wants to hear.
. Throwing money at the problem makes it look like we care, so let's do that.
. Next please.
. Oz sheep industry is important. Everybody says so...
. etc


For what it's worth, I train students part time at the Queensland School of Film and Television. It's a craft-based, practical school that receives zero government funding. The only money coming in is student fees and the odd video production job (the latter is good experience for the students too). Think of it as a private TAFE rather than a private uni. The school is doing quite well, as are many of the graduates (despite the feast-or-famine nature of the Qld industry).

So it IS possible for aspects of the film industry to flourish without government help. But many in the idustry (or trying to break into the industry) just don't see it that way.

* Tha taxpayer funds an industry that
* teaches impressionable students to
* make shit films.

I agree, on the whole (there are always exceptions). I do talk about Oz films to my students, but often I speak about them as a lesson to be learned on how NOT to make films. Don't make films if the script isn't ready. Don't make expensive films aimed at 40-50 year-olds since that age group rarely sees more than four films in the cinema a year, most a lot less. Don't make films where all the central characters are criminals, and hence hard to sympathise with. etc

* The taxpayer does not want then to
* pay after-tax dollars to watch more
* shit films.

Yet most Oz films are at least 50% funded by tax-payer dollars, sometimes a lot more. So, as I think you're saying, in a way they've already paid for the films. Films are supposed to be a POPULAR art. We can argue a bit longer about government funding for other kinds of art that will always have small audiences, but films are mass culture (or at least, they're supposed to be).

Skevos Mavros

Posted by: Skevos Mavros at September 2, 2003 at 08:17 PM

Skevos nails the whole argument in the last line.

Films are mass culture.

But mass culture is anathema to the elites which stride the halls of film school academia, above excepted.

A film industry in Australia must break away from arcane academic influence otherwise we will continue to watch the same committee-written stuff reinterpreted over and over again.

Posted by: ilibcc at September 3, 2003 at 11:18 AM

"Pomeranz couldn't stand it! Why? No Kiddie -porn I guess.Would have thought being bagged by Pomeranz almost guaranteed its success."

Obviously a keen watcher of the Movie Show, ready and willing to be outraged.

Skevos is generally right though. From my own experience in the Oz film industry, there is far too much of a cargo cult mentality. "If we write it like this, then we might get Government funding."

Some genuinely good and profitable films have been partly/mainly funded by the tax payer - but it's the flicks where they just went out and did it, hustling sector private investment without waiting for govfunding, that really work internationally - like 'Mad Max I', 'Crocdee' and now the Sperigs' 'Undead'- just for starters.

If you can sell the idea to hard-nosed businesspeople instead of PC bureaucrats - you already know the finished work has got a better chance getting at bums on seats.

Bring back the 10BA scheme in its full glory I say. That's what got "Goodbye Paradise" made.

If yer really wanna make an art movie, go ahead and make it. The technology is very affordable now - and you wouldn't want yer vision corrupted by funding body guidelines now, would you?

Or as Roger Corman (a large courtly Southern gent) once told me, "Find out what you can do that people want to see. Then sell that to the distributors. They'll point you at the money."

Rant switch to off now.

Posted by: Elitism For The People at September 4, 2003 at 12:13 AM