The changing landscape of cinema in Australia


If there are good movies, audiences will come: that’s the theory. It’s what Mike Baard of Universal said, and it seems like good logic. The Australian box office has been doing well in the past few years. 2010 had the highest grossing box office earnings for the third consecutive year.

A record $1.128 billion, up 4% from the year before. That’s success. It has to be remembered that a large part of that success is attributed to raised ticket prices and the big business the most marketed blockbusters and movies in a franchise brings in.

The latest superhero movies and Harry Potter flicks are wildly popular, but are they what the majority of the audience want? The number of astonishing independent films out there warrant viewing — or do they? Is there an audience, at least one deserving of getting to see these films lasting at the cinema? It could be argued that the low profits of independent films are due to the cinema not opening up their arms or the distributors haven’t marketed them enough (in many cases, they don’t have the funds). Or maybe the viewers just aren’t interested. Or maybe no one’s to blame at all.

It’s not a simple discussion. The cinema experience has been changing. In the past decade, viewing habits have changed. Movie-goers have changed. The movies, themselves, have changed. What hasn’t changed is that the young demographic is still the most important to attendance numbers, but they’re getting harder to pull in. Teenagers aren’t as starry-eyed as they may have once been about movies; they live in an entertainment-fueled world. They can now pick and choose with more discernment what they want to go see, as well as where they want to see it.

Many teenagers know how to pirate movies now and they can watch them — albeit illegally — from the comfort of their home, on their laptop. In the world of easily available DVDs and Blu-ray, the pressure to go see a movie as soon as it’s released is much less than it would have been years ago. There’s no rush. But even with the “watch it later” mentality, teenagers and young adults still seem to be buying tickets for the big “event movies”, such as the buzzed about blockbusters meant for the big screen instead of a laptop, such as Inception, Avatar, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which broke box office records left and right.

It’s still a harder sell than it once was. The diminished sense of urgency to run out and see movies that aren’t the smashing box office hits everyone’s talking about hasn’t been helped by steadily boosted ticket prices. Admission is almost twenty dollars in some multiplexes — not counting extra for bigger screens and 3-D movies. The newness of 3-D quickly wore off and many customers just don’t want to pay more for a tired novelty. Marketers have to be sensitive these days when it comes to 3-D and the changing movie-going landscape. When it comes to 3-D, movies tuned into the process and their horror, sci-fi audience have it right, such as Resident Evil: Afterlife. Audiences are aware that they don’t need to see regular family movies in 3-D when they get the full experience from 2-D.

HOW DO MOVIES GET SEEN?

So where do those smaller, independent films fit in? The trick might not be in how to attract audiences, but in determining what kind of movies attract audiences. Big ticket or small production, audiences flock in greater numbers to the spectacles of “event” films. Arthouse films like The Queen and The Iron Lady qualify and can be offered as something unique in that corner of cinema. It’s still tough to convince the average movie-goer that an indie, arthouse film is worth seeing on the big screen. The audience for limited release films seems to be older, but the interest in indie films is much more diverse. Younger people want to see quality independent films too, but the easiest source of information on such films is the internet.

They don’t always have the opportunity to see them on the big screen. Is there a way for distributors to monetise the internet niche of indie filmmaking? The way these movies get viewers is still old-fashioned word of mouth. But, some say, that’s all an arthouse gem needs. Oscar winner The King’s Speech was released through independent distributor Transmission. There’s often no reason well-made films can’t cross over from art house to mainstream, but it all depends on that crucial word of mouth and how well they do on their opening weekend.

It’s easy for these films to vanish before their target audience hears about them. Is there an answer? Free screenings help: word of mouth gets the chance to build and be buzzed about before the film’s official release. Film festivals can help with publicity, but at the same token, but risk wearing out the niche audience before the film is released. Film festivals are evolving along with the rest of the cinema experience; some of them are becoming more commercial than they used to be.

THE DIGITAL FUTURE

Now, on of the most important changes to cinema is the digital age. Cinema is going digital, a source of conflict within the Australian film industry for years now. While it winds up being more secure and makes a better quality film, independent cinemas have been stalled in following the bigger chains into digital. 35mm prints will stop being mass produced pretty soon, and if negotiations don’t get worked out, independent cinemas risk simply going out of business. Their transition would ensure they’re ready to screen films as readily as the multiplexes.

Regardless of what economic model is needed to make film distribution to work for everyone — big and small films alike — there’s ultimately one thing that remains necessary: good movies.


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