‘Why does nobody go and see Australian-made films?’ is a question that perennially dogs our country’s movie industry, and as of this past weekend, there is another casualty to throw on the pile. Crave report that Josh Lawson‘s heavily-hyped comedy The Little Death made just $77,700 in three days – not a total disaster, but probably not the breakout hit that the film’s producers were hoping for.
“My greatest concern and my biggest challenge is to get Australians to watch the film,” Lawson said before the film’s release, addressing the very obvious elephant in the room. “And that seems to be mission impossible. It’s tough to get Australians to trust Australian films. I think they have been burned a lot of times.”
Where does The Little Death‘s $77,700 put it in the scheme of things? Consider the fact that, the weekend before, second-tier Hunger Games knock-off The Maze Runner made almost $3.6 million in Australian cinemas, while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in its second week of release, made well over $2 million. Even Lucy, which has been out forever at this point, cleared $148,000.
True, The Little Death is a modestly-sized and budgeted romantic comedy, so its relative success needs to be judged on those terms, but it arrives in what has been an a slow year for Australian films at the box office. Crave report that only three of them – Wolf Creek 2, Tracks and the Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth drama The Railway Man – have cleared the magic number of $2 million.
Admittedly, there are still a few months of the year to go, but Aussie films are currently tracking a 2.3% share of overall box office, “the second lowest figure since 1977” and as far back as published records go.The lowest figure comes from 2004, when only two Aussie films – Somersault and Strange Bedfellows – took over $2 million, and overall, Aussie films tracked at 1.3% of total box office.
A few weeks back, after a pair of high-profile box office disappointments – the Joel Edgerton-starring Felony and the thriller Predestination – we took a look at some of the more successful Aussie movies of recent years, in an attempt to find out what the hell it takes to get Australians interested in our own movies.
When looking at a film like The Little Death, it’s worth remembering that a small-scale indie film was always facing an uphill battle against Hollywood blockbusters. An independent film’s production costs are drastically less than that of a blockbuster, so it doesn’t need to make anywhere near as much money in order to be profitable.
Comparing The Little Death and Ninja Turtles might be a mug’s came, so instead, it might be more apt to compare it with a different, more small-scale movie: Zach Braff‘s Kickstarter-funded indie film Wish I Was Here.
When Braff’s movie came out the weekend before Lawson’s, it made a comparable $85,000 dollars in its first four days. That amount is higher than The Little Death, although not by a whole lot, especially when you consider the fact that Braff’s movie was much better publicised and more widely exposed.
Josh Lawson himself has a pretty good track record in Australia – his comedy Any Questions For Ben made upwards of $650,000 its first weekend when it opened in Australia in 2012, and went on to make in more than $1.5 million by the end of its local run. Anchorman 2 – which, admittedly, would have done well with or without him – made north of $16 million locally.
We’re certainly willing to go out and see his movies, so it could simply be that The Little Death wasn’t advertised well enough, or it could be that Australia’s hunger for whimsical, talk-y indie films is simply not that great. The word ‘death’ right there in the title of Lawson’s latest could also have been a deterrent for movie-goers hoping for something comedic.
So is there any hope of the Australian film industry turning things around at the box office? In the short term, probably not. Following the latest series of high-profile failures, Hugo Weaving‘s comedy The Mule is skipping a cinematic release and going straight to video on demand. Fat Pizza vs Housos, due out later this year, might goose local box office takings a bit, but that’s about it.
Longer-term, who can say? Many of the Aussie films that succeed at the local box office tend to feature foreign actors – The Railway Man and Tracks being two excellent examples. There is currently a big stoush going on in Australian screen circles about the need to re-evaluate the process by which foreign actors are cast in Aussie movies, and its outcome could determine a lot about the future of our film industry.
Surprising though it may be, many in the Australian film industry are in favour of bringing in more overseas ringers, for the simple reason that it will mean more movies getting greenlit, more production jobs, and ultimately, a bigger share of the pie for everyone. In short, overseas talent will give our own industry a leg-up.
In a recent piece for IF, Roy Billings said that Australian Actors Equity are impeding the ability of Aussie producers to cast foreign actors, and called for the guidelines surrounding this to be relaxed. Zoe Angus of Actors Equity attempted to offer a rebuttal in a subsequent piece of her own, although based on the comments thread, many agree that more foreign actors are the way to go.
That alone is probably not enough (keep in mind the fact that British import Tom Wilkinson was in the box office failure Felony), but something needs to change, and that would be a start.
Either way, it seems that The Little Death, like so many before it, failed to capture the nation’s imagination in any real way – a pity, because those who’ve seen it all say it’s a witty and charming time at the movies. We may need foreign stars to give our film industry a boost, but at this point, the old cliche about how Australian films are just auditions for our actors before they make it big overseas still appears to be true.
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