Monthly Archives: November 2008

Product Portfolio Management Of Australian Cinema

If PPM Was Applied To Australian Cinema…

Product Portfolio Management is a type of marketing tool that looks at where a product is in a 4 quadrant cycle. A product can be in any 4 situations at any given time. It’s really old hat in marketing, but it is an interesting tool with which to at least come to grips, in order to understand why Australian Cinema is in its current predicament.

One thing to understand about the PPM outlook is that it doesn’t really matter what your product is, it’s only looking at how it sits in relationship to two parameters: how much marketing budget is spent on it, and how much it returns. Under this system, there are 4 possibilities:

  1. High Investment, Low Return.
  2. High Investment, High Return.
  3. Low Investment, High Return.
  4. Low Investment, Low Return.

these 4 combinations provide the 4 quadrants a product might move through in its product life. As such, they each have a name, which brings into focus just what it is we’re talking about.

  1. Problem Child
  2. Star
  3. Cash Cow
  4. Loser

What’s interesting is that a product like Coca Cola, or a Porsche 911 equally has a product cycle, and can be judged by just how much marketing effort it takes to sell it, and what kind of returns it makes.

A Problem Child Product is something that is new to the market, or is a product that is getting re-launched under a new campaign. This could be a toothpaste or a new soap, or even a brand new movie release.

A Star Product is something like Coca Cola’s main product, going toe to toe with Pepsi Cola as both firms put in High Investment to yield high returns from the market. Or it could be the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie being released with a huge marketing budget. The risks are high, but if there’s one business that knows what to do with a Star Product, it’s the Hollywood movie business.

A Cash Cow is a product that keeps on selling in spite of minimal marketing. An example might be a Victorinox Swiss Army knife, where you never see an advertisement but every male seems to end up buying one at some point in their 20s, whether they needit or not. The Swiss Army Knife is a cash cow product for Victorinox.

A Loser is a product where there’s very little money spent on marketing, but at the same time it yields very little back from the market. Typically, a product at the end of its market life becomes a loser, as firms lose interest in further marketing it, and its sales go down as people move on to newer, fresher things.

A film of its own moves through these cycles as it gos from New Release at the Box Office to DVD rentals, to DVD sales and then eventually the sales bin where you can pick up an old movie for $7.99. What is great about the PPM analysis is that it is so abstract it can cut across the entire scale of products. You can do a PPM analysis of a specific DVD release, or you could look at an entire industry that sells stuff to the public in huge amounts. – Just by looking at the relative strengths of expenses and returns, you can place anything into these 4 quadrants.

So let’s just look at Australian cinema for a moment. Our films are small low budget affairs with minimal marketing that tanks at the box office one after the other… Hmmm… let’s see… How do we couch this?

Clearly, when you look at these four quadrants and think where the Australian Film Industry sits, you have to say it’s in the fourth, LOSER quadrant. The problem is that neither the government nor the various film bureaucrats looking at their overall branding of their product.The thing is, it’s stating the obvious, but it needs to be said out loud. Our industry is, no matter which scale you look at it, a LOSER.

If the powers that be want to have a thriving business, they need to think about PPM and see how they can turn the industry into a STAR, because that’s where any Film Industry should operate. And if they really want to get there, they need to start spending a lot more money than they ever have. If not, they need to find a way of getting money into the system pretty damn quick.

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Bill Bennett And His Auteurs-Are-Bad Theory

Describing Symptoms Does Not Make A Diagnosis

That’s the best bit of life-experience I got in my brief time as Medical student. It’s so true when you come up against a real suffering person, after spending time behind books and in the lecture theatre getting talked at by professors. If there ever was a chronically struggling patient, it’s the Australian Film Industry. Today, in the aftermath of the abysmal opening of ‘Australia’ in the US market, Bill Bennett has piped up with his own analysis of what is wrong with the Australian Film Industry and it is remarkably self-defeating:

The only way we’re going to have an Australian film industry is if we get rid of the auteurs. Baz Luhrmann is an auteur, George Miller is an auteur, Peter Weir is an auteur, Jane Campion is an auteur – by that, I mean that these film-makers speak with their own unique voice through cinema. And largely, they keep making the same films. But this does not an industry make.

We need a “modular” system, like Hollywood, if we’re ever to break out of the cottage industry mould that we’ve got ourselves into. By “modular”, I mean the antithesis of the auteur system which we largely have in place now – where a film is typically developed by a writer-director, or by a director working with a writer to put down his vision into script form. And then a producer comes on board and then the actors. In this system you cannot separate the script from the director, or sometimes the producer from the director. We have too much respect for the creative process. Big mistake.

Get that? Bill Bennett says what’s wrong with the business are the auteurs, and then he lines up Baz Luhrmann with George Miller, Peter Weir, Jane Campion and tries to run them all down. Let’s face it, these people are our success stories – they’re not part of the problem as I keep saying. If anything, it’s Bill Bennett and the system that keeps funding him over, say, me, that is the problem!

Let’s be clear about this. About a decade ago, Bill was boasting that he gave advice to funding bodies so that their criteria for selection would favor him the most. Subsequent to that boast he made ‘Spider and Rose’, which must be the quintessential Australian film people stayed away from in droves.

Let’s be even clearer about this. 20th Century Fox bankrolled ‘Australia’. It’s an American film. Its wins and losses are already part of the Hollywood system, and not really part of the Australian system. Even though it flopped and will shrivel away in the market place, it’s actually not our industry’s big loss. It’s Rupert and Fox’s problem, for having bet on Baz Luhrmann this time. It won’t be the last time.

So Bill’s got a gall trying to call out George Miller, Peter Weir and Jane Campion on the back of Baz’s one commercial failure.

Bill Bennett goes on to describe the Hollywood system as he sees it and then hits a point where he realises that he, as a director would not be served by it too well.

The Hollywood system has its own pitfalls and to an extent they treat a director as merely part of the manufacturing process – but hell, what’s wrong with that? That’s what we’re doing. We’re manufacturing entertainment and playing with budgets of millions of dollars. And even within this artless box-office driven factory, filmmakers can still keep their own voice. Look at how Peter Weir has continued to make his own unique films within the Hollywood studio system. Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show and Master And Commander could only have been made by Weir. And George Miller has continued to keep control of his movies while getting the Hollywood studios to pick up the tab. Happy Feet broke the Pixar mould and got an Oscar for best animated movie in the process. And then there’s Australia – which both supports and denies my “kill the auteurs” theory. Baz Luhrmann has taken too damn long to make that movie. He should be working more. We should be seeing more Baz Luhrmann movies. He has to stop being a writer/director and take on some Hollywood crap. Turn it into gold. Like the fabled directors of the 1940s and ’50s: William Wyler, George Stevens, even Alfred Hitchcock. As Picasso once said, if you go to work and you’re an artist, then what you’ll do is art. If you’re not, then at least you did a day’s work.

That’s really weak. He starts off arguing that it’s the auteur’s fault and then gets to the last bit and comes to the point that it’s the fact that there’s not enough stuff being made. Yeah, well, I’ve been saying that or about a decade, while you’ve been pulling down chump change from the funding bodies to make your cruddy films, Bill – I don’t have the box office returns of ‘Kiss or Kill’ and ‘A Savage Land’ and ‘The Nugget’ on my conscience.

Bottom line for me is that the Australian Film Industry lets Bill Bennett make loser films, while I would’ve made a bunch of genre movies in its place that might have had a real chance of making money; but the funding bodies backed him instead of me.

Auteur or not, the real problem with the industry is that it can’t make quantity for various reasons, and when it does, that small quantity it does make is largely crap in the eyes of the domestic market.

If Bill Bennett wants a clearer picture of what’s wrong, here are my 5 pointers:

1) Government should stop trying to make development decisions. They keep making movies that bomb in the market place. We know this. They should get out of that pretension and business altogether.

2) The ATO has got to play ball properly. The Tax office has to play by the rules the government has set with the tax break legislation. Without it, the investors won’t return.

3) There has to be a domestic market created through artificial means. Australian films should be cheaper at the box office, and exhibitors should be made to screen them. Distributors who handle Australian films have to be protected. This is a must.

4) Make lots of genre pictures. That is to say, more Australian Horror, more Australian Action, More Australian Crime, more Australian Science Fiction and so on. You know, the kinds of pictures people actually watch as their movie staple.

5) Make More. We just don’t make enough to know how good we really can be.

If these changes are made, it won’t matter if Baz Luhrmann is an auteur or not, or for that matter if, that one picture succeeds or fails.

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(Appropriately,) The Cultural Cringe Sets In

It’s Now Official
‘Australia’ is a flop. With a budget of $197million, the picture has taken in a paltry $3.4million in its first weekend at the US Box office.

Figures quoted from US entertainment newspaper Variety said the movie made a paltry $3.4 million on its Thursday opening in the key market.

That worked out at a per screen average of $1318, compared to the $35,055 per screen earned by teen movie and box office leader, Twilight.

Talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey has promoted the movie on her show.

Thanksgiving weekend is a traditionally tough weekend in the US, and Australia is also competing with the Reese Witherspoon comedy Four Christmases (renamed Four Holidays in Australia) and Transporter 3.

Australia is the most expensive movie ever made in this country, with a price tag of $197 million.

On its opening day in Australia on Wednesday, it made the respectable figure of $1.3 million.

The new James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, made $2 million on its opening day the week before.

That’s just no good at all. It’s not like it was a story that had an underlying international audience that was interested in it as a subject matter or content. It’s not as if it was ‘Lord of the Rings’ where 2 generations of kids grew up acquainted with the story. It’s not like it’s a marvel comic either. Instead, the damn film is called ‘Australia’, and its title on the posters has a typeface that is so obscure and parochial that it wouldn’t evoke a rat’s fart overseas. It’s no wonder it got soundly beaten by a James Bond movie, even on its home turf of Ostraya. It’s as if they went into a casino, found the longest odds and plonked down their $197million on that one bet.

David Dale has this article.

While her debonair Australia co-star Hugh Jackman has the media wrapped around his little finger, the same cannot be said for Nicole Kidman.

Her appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman is doing the rounds on YouTube and the results ain’t pretty.

Call it baby brain, but Kidman appeared unable to string a sentence together. Things went from bad to worse when the veteran talk-show host insisted on talking about anything but Australia, repeatedly questioning Kidman about husband Keith Urban and New Zealand.

Kidman was forced to respond “I made a film called Australia – not New Zealand”. Letterman quipped: “Right, are they making a film called New Zealand?”

The bumbled interview pales in comparison to the attacks from the overseas press on Our Nic. Leading the charge was Melanie Reid, a columnist with The Times in Britain.

“Australia the movie … has one huge problem: it stars Nicole Kidman,” Reid wrote. “She’s one of the most overrated actors in the world, a woman who has been the kiss of death in practically every movie she has starred in.”

In a review, New York magazine savaged Kidman’s performance. “In one scene, she haltingly sings Somewhere Over The Rainbow to an orphaned half-caste; but watching that big immovable forehead, I thought of another bit from The Wizard Of Oz: ‘Oiiil caaan.’ “

I’ve only seen the trailers, so I won’t judge the film, but I did get the feeling she was miscast. She’s looking too old and not sounding English enough. The time she might have gotten away with it was 10 years ago. The film actually needed a fresh face, but instead they cast Kidman who is young and fresh in surname alone these days. In this day and age of globalisation, you have to go find the right actor with the right background to get past the bullshit detectors in the savvy audience.

I mean, even in the same age group, wouldn’t Kate Beckinsale or a Kate Winslet been a better choice? Apart from the fact that they’re actually English and can act. When you think of the vast number of actresses out there who could have played this role, you start to think, maybe this was the single worst decision Baz Luhrmann made with this film.

Okay, time for a baseball metaphor: Casting Kidman for this role is a bit like, you’re rebuilding a pitching rotation from scratch and you sign a league average pitcher who once fluked a Cy Young season to be your ace. It’s a wing on  prayer that that pitcher’s going to turn into an ace but you’re betting on hope (and track record). If she was like any of this year’s free agent crop of pitchers, I’d say she was Bartolo Colon 2008. Sure he’s won the Cy Young once, probably about the same time Kidman won her Oscar – which goes to show the voting members collectively know squat about what they see in either baseball or movies.

Bottom line, this picture needed somebody much better than Kidman.

To Cringe Or Not To Cringe

The brazen Australiana-on-parade approach of the film’s trailer kind of had me sinking in my seat as I waited for the Bond Movie last week. It’s not like the Bond movie was selling itself on how British it was – it was selling itself on Bond-being-Bond. The parts where it is Bond’s charm that he’s British, well that got established a long time ago that it’s simply not an issue. People from all over the world like Bond because he’s Bond – not because he’s British. The thing with the trailer for Australia is that the Australia being portrayed on screen doesn’t exactly include a lot of contemporary Australians today. Contrary to it being an inclusive film because it tries to deal with the Stolen Generations, the bottom line is, “my people” were the guys dropping bombs and blowing up navy ships. I didn’t feel particularly included by that, I can assure you.

The point about Bond is that Bond is only a fragment of what constitutes the National Branding of the UK. There are the various Rock acts, the theatre, the films, the comedy, the TV shows all of which go to define a broader sense of the Gross National Cool and therefore the National Branding of the UK. Just how cool is this Gross National Cool of the UK? It’s so cool German car makers have appropriated it to make their own version – the current best-seller Mini Cooper.

The problem with the National Branding that is being launched by Tourism Australia in tandem with the current ‘Australia’ movie is that it is inherently retrogressive, and hardly the stuff to send out to the world. Nicole Kidman (she who draws scathing reviews), together with Hugh Jackman (who was only ever really cool when he played the Canadian ex-pat Wolverine) present an Australia that harks back to the Utopian days of… the White Australia Policy and the Stolen Generations. The fact is, we don’t have much of a National Branding because we don’t make enough stuff that travels out to the world. Our history is too short, and we haven’t put anywhere enough effort into our cultural projects to have a proper National Branding. Basically, our Gross National Cool is so low, it’s probably in deficit – and we’ve been living on the credit of Mad Max and Crocodile Dundee for way too long.

Not that those two should define our masculinity or cultural epicentre, but they wouldn’t be asked to be if there were more and others. Bond isn’t the only British spy character. There’s a whole genre of them, and they exist because of genre fiction. And collectively, they make up the spy part of the British Gross National Cool. What have we got? Nothing. Why? because we just haven’t done genre fiction in spades. Instead we have ‘Home and Away’ and ‘Neighbours’ and ‘Water Rats’ defining our Gross National Cool, with this latest fiasco of a film to add to the catalogue. It’s not that cool.

The point of all this, is that there isn’t enough cultural cringe, simply because we don’t have a culture industry. And in this light, perhaps it is a little too much to hoist onto Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman… hey, have you noticed they’re all -men? … to shoulder the responsibility of raising our Gross National Cool and National Branding.

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Michael Lewis Rides Again

The End Of Wall Street Dreams

Walk-Off HBP sent in this link. It’s a piece written by Michael Lewis, famed author of ‘Liar’s Poker’ and ‘Moneyball’ on portfolio.com.

When I sat down to write my account of the experience in 1989—Liar’s Poker, it was called—it was in the spirit of a young man who thought he was getting out while the getting was good. I was merely scribbling down a message on my way out and stuffing it into a bottle for those who would pass through these parts in the far distant future.

Unless some insider got all of this down on paper, I figured, no future human would believe that it happened.

I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they’d be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running. What I didn’t expect was that any future reader would look on my experience and say, “How quaint.”

I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale, but if you got a few drinks in me and then asked what effect I thought my book would have on the world, I might have said something like, “I hope that college students trying to figure out what to do with their lives will read it and decide that it’s silly to phony it up and abandon their passions to become financiers.” I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea.

Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liar’s Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They’d read my book as a how-to manual.

In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?

Gerry Harvey of the Harvey Norman chain recently complained that he didn’t see the point of why there were short-sellers. Nobody could explain why they existed. He needs to read this bit, because this bit just got me:

That’s when Eisman finally got it. Here he’d been making these side bets with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank on the fate of the BBB tranche without fully understanding why those firms were so eager to make the bets. Now he saw. There weren’t enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors’ appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman’s bet to synthesize more of them. Here, then, was the difference between fantasy finance and fantasy football: When a fantasy player drafts Peyton Manning, he doesn’t create a second Peyton Manning to inflate the league’s stats. But when Eisman bought a credit-default swap, he enabled Deutsche Bank to create another bond identical in every respect but one to the original. The only difference was that there was no actual homebuyer or borrower. The only assets backing the bonds were the side bets Eisman and others made with firms like Goldman Sachs. Eisman, in effect, was paying to Goldman the interest on a subprime mortgage. In fact, there was no mortgage at all. “They weren’t satisfied getting lots of unqualified borrowers to borrow money to buy a house they couldn’t afford,” Eisman says. “They were creating them out of whole cloth. One hundred times over! That’s why the losses are so much greater than the loans. But that’s when I realized they needed us to keep the machine running. I was like, This is allowed?”

This particular dinner was hosted by Deutsche Bank, whose head trader, Greg Lippman, was the fellow who had introduced Eisman to the subprime bond market. Eisman went and found Lippman, pointed back to his own dinner companion, and said, “I want to short him.” Lippman thought he was joking; he wasn’t. “Greg, I want to short his paper,” Eisman repeated. “Sight unseen.”

Eisman started out running a $60 million equity fund but was now short around $600 million of various ­subprime-related securities. In the spring of 2007, the market strengthened. But, says Eisman, “credit quality always gets better in March and April. And the reason it always gets better in March and April is that people get their tax refunds. You would think people in the securitization world would know this. We just thought that was moronic.” .

As you read on, it gets better and better. You come to realise that the ratings Agencies were totally lying and being arbitrary as to what exactly was AAA or BBB. It bears thinking about because the current NSW government won’t allow itself to go into deficit to fund projects because these very same ratings agencies might downgrade the state of NSW to AA from AAA. Well excuse me, but that would not affect the state in any real way if the money was invested properly into important projects. The fact is, these ratings agencies don’t know what the fuck they are talking about, which is clearly evinced by the events we have seen in the last 15months. Nathan Rees (or for that matter Barry O’Farrell when he gets elected) would do well to borrow the money and spend it big. The state needs it and the people of NSW are good for it. A downgrade from a AA rating by these schmucks is nothing to fear. It just doesn’t matter, because they have no credibility left.

I have to confess that the two books written by Michael Lewis that I mention above have changed the way I look at Wall Street and baseball – and while neither of those industries are places I’ll ever work, I’ve managed to take away a kernel of understanding about the world from his work in a way that is totally unlike any other author’s work. You’ll have to read the entier 9 page article to get a feel for his writing.

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I Told You So!

Australian Taxation Office Hates The Film Industry

In one of the earlier posts here I pointed out how the ATO has been anything but helpful, and how their idiotic, myopic, insane rulings have scared away investors into Australian films covered by tax schemes. Some years go I was at a lobbying function to meet the then Federal minister for Small Businesses, Joe Hockey to explain just how these rulings were impacting the film industry, all of which were small businesses, with a disproportionate number of them (300+ ) holding offices in his electorate of North Sydney.

At the time, Mr. Hockey claimed that sometimes a government would legislate particular schemes and incentives but the ATO as a bureaucracy would adjudicate it entirely against the spirit of the legislation, much to the Federal Government’s chagrin. At the time I reported this remark, I got a lot of people telling me that this couldn’t be true – that a government Executive was responsible for everything done in its name and had to cop the blame. Sadly, our institutions are a lot more complicated and difficult than what is on paper because people interpret the letter of the law which ever way suits them best, including institutions.

With that in mind, I want to present to you more evidence the Australian Taxation Office is hostile to the Australian Film Industry. Pleaides sent in this link this morning.

THE Australian Tax Office has denied a key alteration to the new producer offset for the film and television industry, prompting a withering response from the Screen Producers Association of Australia and causing the government agency Screen Australia to work as an industry advocate.

The ATO has advised the association it will not make any changes to the timing of the acquital requirements of the producer offset, meaning film and TV productions must bear interest costs on productions until the year following the completion of the film or program.

On a modestly budgeted (say $8 million) Australian film that completes production before Christmas, this additional interest could cost more than $250,000 while waiting for the offset to be paid.

“The ATO has argued it requires political intervention and legislative amendments to the Tax Act. They should have told us this eight months ago, when this review was called,” association executive director Geoff Brown said. The introduction of a quarterly acquittal process, as in business activity statements, was seen as a logical and necessary amendment to legislation rushed through Parliament this year.

If quarterly acquittals, or reconciliations, are not allowed, the industry will be strained as producers try to finish productions before June 30 each year, resulting in unsustainable bottlenecks and possibly inflationary pressure on all facets of the industry.

The association is expected to lobby the federal Government to remove the ATO from the process and establish a rebate system beyond the tax system, as in New Zealand.

One producer said this was particularly pressing, given the tax office’s colourful history of harsh judgements and retrospective legislation against the film industry.

Mr Brown went further: “I doubt any policy support for the industry from government can be effective while responsibility for financial acquittal remains with the ATO.”

In this regard, new Screen Australia chief executive Dr Ruth Harley will be helpful. Her last role was chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission.

“It’s always a long process and it’s hard to achieve these kinds of amendments, but if it’s bipartisan and if it’s done through the tax omnibus legislation, at least the mechanism is clear and relatively simple,” she said.

Screen Australia’s involvement in calling for an amendment is of heightened interest, as the deputy chair of Dr Harley’s board, Ian Robertson, last week said Screen Australia had no interest or duty to lobby government on behalf of the industry, on this or other matters. Dr Harley was quick to clarify that position in her first week in the job.

“There’s a clear distinction between lobbying and working together with the department on information. I know it sounds like weasel words, but I’ve had this experience, and agencies like us have to be careful to make that distinction and to work with the right tone.

“SPAA, of course, is free to take much more of a lobbying stance than we are, but we are free to be a competent adviser,” she said. “We do have a lot in common with SPAA on this issue.”

Changes to the acquittal requirements of the producer offset are of pressing concern, but Screen Australia’s hands-on involvement in the issue is just as consequential given Mr Robertson’s inflammatory comments at last week’s SPAA Conference (Media, November 17).

Already Dr Harley has confirmed there will be further consideration of Screen Australia’s draft guidelines particularly on short film development and wording of the guidelines.

I highlighted the bits to illustrate the point that my opinion of the ATO’s role in destroying my indusry is not something I’ve pulled out of my rear end. If this sort of thing was taking place with say, Mining or Wool, it would be on the front page news every day until it got resolved. Alas the Australian Film Industry is so small, it keeps getting sold down the river by the governments of the day.

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The Missing Review

I Wonder Why It Got Pulled

Fairfax published the following review on the Sunday Herald, and then it promptly went missing. Pleiades looked for it all over the Fairfax media site but couldn’t find it. It hadn’t been up long enough for Google to cache it, so it’s not in Google cache either. In the end, he and Mrs. Pleiades fished through the rubbish bin to recover this review of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’:

Australia is a big, gloopy mess of a movie; and overlong, overstuffed production and a prime example of egos gone wild.

Obviously no one had the guts to red-flag the problems to director-creator Baz Luhrmann of a 165-minute patchwork of simple-minded romance, generic World War II attacks, Stolen Generation themes, squirmingly kitsch song replays and flagrant ripping off from – oops, we mean, paying homage to – better epics such as ‘Out of Africa’.

Let’s not forget the many, many slow motion-shots, which make many, many scenes look like men’s aftershave ads.
Watching this is like being hit over the head by a giant glitter-coated marshmallow wielded by a director whose concept of epic romance is like a drag queen’s interpretation of what a woman is.

Except for one saving grace, ‘Australia’ feels like the movie equivalent of the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony: appropriation o Aboriginal culture blended with bush stockman clichés, to sell an image to the rest of the world. Make that unfinished image.

‘Australia’ should not have been released as is; it needs re-editing throughout and the junking of at least 30minutes. The opening is a disaster; fussily scripted, self-indulgently directed and boasting a soundtrack that never shuts up and seemingly includes every tin whistle and wobble board known to man.

This reviewer sat (literally) open-mouthed for the first hour,.

It didn’t help that, as the English aristocrat who travels to the Northern Territory to claim a remote cattle station is forced to replay the lock-jawed prissiness of ‘Moulin Rouge!’, her last film for Luhrmann.

Meanwhile, Jackman, the most natural and likeable of our actors, is reduced to gruff beefcake as the heroic Drover, who says “Crikey” every other reel in apparent image-branding imitation of Steve Irwin.

Add Bryan Brown (as ‘Strine’ as they come), David Wenham (his villain should have had a black cape), Jack Thompson (odd moments of poignancy) and Ben Mendelsohn (the only decent English Accent), bunched together like stampeding brumbies, they are hurled across the screen to establish, well, the Australian-ness of it all.

However, despite the relentless hyped contributions of ‘The Pianist’ scriptwriter Ronald Harwood and Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan, the support cast clearly had nothing to work with.

Midway, ‘Australia’ looked to earn those comparisons with ‘Titanic’ – but with the ship, not the Oscar winner.

And then, amazingly, something real slipped through the mess: incandescent 13-year-old debuting actor Brandon Walters.

He plays Nullah, the child of an Aboriginal mother and white father, and the he makes everyone look good; Kidman delivers her most warmly appealing moments, ever.
They rebuff Luhrmann’s unbearable replaying, in a noxious suck-up to US audiences, of the song ‘Over the Rainbow’ from ‘Wizard of Oz’.

Helped by magnificent ‘The Tracker’ star David Gulpilil, Luhrmann and cinematographer Mandy Walker capture the hallucinatory impact of the Australian landscape and translate (for non-indigenous viewers) a small portion of the rich spirituality of Aboriginal culture.

The rest of the movie might lumber along with fuzzy, computerized Japanese plane attacks and campfire scenes that look shot in the studio.

Only the theme about the Stolen Generations (Aboriginal children taken from their families) produces genuinely tense moments. Luhrmann has been lucky in his timing – and in a new Prime Minster who said “Sorry”.

However, the director deserves kudos for skill and unexpected restraint here.
Walters alone can’t redeem ‘Australia’s flaws. But for viewers who resent being represented by a wastefully expensive, American-pandering production, this one Aboriginal boy’s truthful presence puts soul into the film and justifies the over-reaching title.

And if you thought that was a bit mean, well, so did the editor, we think. Even so, this is a complete shellacking of the film and its pretensions. I’m thinking that I really don’t want to see this damn thing at all.

Still, it’s a little perplexing to see that it has done a complete and utter disappearance act, so in honor of the article itself, I’ve duplicated it entirely above. Not nice on my part, but I think it’s not nice to smother a bad review, just because it might affect business with 20th Century Fox or Rupert Murdoch. Besides which, if they don’t want it I’m entirely happy to present it to the world.

Pleiades also sent in this link:

She’s regarded by critics as one of the great actresses of our time, she’s sought after by the world’s best directors, from Stanley Kubrick to Wong Kar Wai, she commands a king’s ransom each time she steps in front of a camera and glamour mags can’t get enough of her. Yet few people will cross the street to catch one of Kidman’s movies.

Kidman has made big-budget studio pictures (Bewitched, The Stepford Wives, The Golden Compass, The Invasion), high-gloss art-house flicks (Eyes Wide Shut, Birth, The Human Stain), oddball indie comedies and dramas (Birthday Girl, Margot at the Wedding) and head-scratching avant-garde experiments (Dogville). Yet she has a near-perfect record of bombs, even when she gets good notices.

Those persistent failures since her Oscar win for The Hours culminated in Fortune magazine this year putting Kidman on the top of their list of Hollywood’s most overpaid stars.

I wonder which critics it is they’re talking about exactly that are regarding her as “one of the greatest actresses of our time”? Isn’t it more the case that most critics regard her as a sort of acting non-entity who married into Hollywood royalty and is reaping the alimony from the famous divorce? Sure she’s pretty but so are countless other women. The paparazzi obsession simply comes down to the residue of her marriages to Tom ‘The-Face-of-Scientology’ Cruise and her then subsequent marriage to Keith ‘I’m-a-reformed-drug-addict’ Urban.

There’s even a theory going around that Kubrick hired Tom and Nicole precisely because they were so plastic and inhuman in their pristine Hollywood world. The fact that their marriage broke down subsequent to the film lends some credence to the observation. Certainly if one were to start a ‘Hall of The Overrated’, she’d top my ballot followed closely by Baz Luhrmann, but what the hey? Simply invidia right?

As if to chime in on the fun, ThatActionGuy sent in this review on slate msn:

It’s a mystery to me how Baz Luhrmann continues to be regarded as a director worth following. A long time has passed since I’ve regarded his lush, loud, defiantly unsubtle output with anything but dread. In Australia, his new romantic-epic-Western-protest-war drama, Luhrmann’s dedication to cliché has become so absolute, it starts to verge on a kind of genius. There’s not a single music cue that isn’t obvious (swelling strings to indicate heartbreak, wailing didgeridoo to signal aboriginal nobility). Nary a line of dialogue is spoken that hasn’t been boiled down, like condensed milk, from a huge vat of earlier Hollywood films (Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Out of Africa, and various John Ford cattle-drive pictures being the most obvious referents). But to marvel at the purity of Australia’s corniness isn’t to imply that the movie functions as so-bad-it’s-good camp, or guilty pleasure, or anything else involving aesthetic enjoyment. Audiences without a vast appetite for racial condescension, CGI cattle, and backlit smooches will sit through Australia with all the enthusiasm of the British convicts who were shipped to that continent against their will in the late 18th century.

There’s more, but you get the vibe.

I’ve now decided I’m going to wait out this one until it’s on DVD.

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So Much To Blog, So Little Time

Creepiness Of Asian Sex Tours

This opinion piece caught my eye in the Herald last week.

Prostitution in Thailand is comparable to cricket in Australia. It attracts legions of fans and armies of detractors, while an ambivalent majority wonders what all the fuss is about. But the most ardent fans of Thai prostitution are foreigners.

About 10 per cent of visitors arrive to get their rocks off. In 2005 a British journalist used Thai Immigration Department statistics to show between 25 per cent and 30 per cent more men than women arrive as tourists, concluding almost a million single men travelled to Thailand for sex each year.

According to World Vision, Australians account for 9 per cent of sex tourists arriving in the region. This suggests that almost 100,000 Aussies descend every year on Thailand alone.

Why the exodus to South-East Asia? In my view, it is simply a matter of taste. Some men – a lot of men – prefer Asians. What lies at the heart of Thailand’s sex tourism industry is the way we sexually stereotype Asians; about the way Asian women perform in the bedroom and act in a relationship.

When I told my squash partner I was going to Thailand, he said: “You lucky bugger. Sure you don’t want company?” He then told me about the good times he’d spent with “tight-bodied Asians”.

Maybe I’m just ridiculously naive – I have yet to set foot in a strip joint – but I was shocked to learn three people I knew had been to Thailand, paid for sex, and thought their actions were sufficiently ordinary to talk openly about it without fear of recrimination.

Aah, good old sexploitation, no? The rest of it is a fascinating read too. There’s a certain mindset that gets explored really well in the film. ‘The Beach’ starring Leo DiCaprio. It’s a really creepy film about creepy westerners who found a colony of pleasure and leisure, sustained on the marijuana trade. They live in a veritable sexual paradise founded on some kind of perverse utopianism. There’s something about Thailand and south east Asia that seems to *inspire* (for want of a better word) this kind of behaviour. It’s the stuff of songs like ‘Khe San’. It just leaves me cold, but it’s interesting it’s actually getting discussed in the SMH of all places.

There are plenty of these creepy Gaijins wandering around Roppongi in Tokyo, loudly talking of the Asian pussy they’re getting, as if nobody can understand their English. There was a mob of these guys in Hong Kong too, in pinstriped shirts, drinking their beer in Lan-Kwai Fong. I dunno what to make of it. It’s as if once in Asia, they know no shame.

More On The Screen Australia Criteria Issue

I found this on Screenhub. I’m sharing it here because more people ought to read it. It’s probably going to be frowned upon but what the heck. I want to show you something:

Screen Australia: where did these numbers come from?
by: Alex Prior

Multiple senior sources have confirmed to Screen Hub that key numbers Screen Australia’s draft guidelines were not the outcome of research.

Specifically, the sources claim that the eligibility criteria for writers, directors and producers applying under the Project By Project feature drama development were not checked against the evidence, and directly contradict the evidence from previous internal Australian Film Commission and Film Finance Corporation research.

The eligibility criteria, which are based on the amount of experience a filmmaker, determine who can apply for development funding. The program allows for multiple tranches of funding up to $50,000 in each round. Under the proposed guidelines, the only people eligible are:

An experienced producer must have at least one credit as producer on a feature film that has been released on a minimum of 10 commercial screens in one territory, or exceptional credits in other genres such as a primetime broadcast miniseries or telemovie.

An experienced executive producer must have at least two credits as producer or executive producer on a feature film that has been released on a minimum of 10 commercial screens in one territory, or exceptional credits in other genres such as a primetime broadcast mini-series.

A highly experienced writer or director must have a credit in these roles on at least three features that have been released on a minimum of 10 commercial screens in one territory OR one feature that has been selected for either Cannes, Venice, Berlin main sections OR Sundance or at least two network miniseries that have received significant ratings or critical acclaim.

The criteria are intended to ensure that finance goes to the filmmakers who are most able to deliver successful feature films. They have been highly contentious, with the Australian Writers’ Guild in particular mounting a public campaign against the writing criterion. The Australian Directors Guild has also questioned their validity.

Multiple senior sources have told Screen Hub that the level of three feature films for a writer was never checked against the evidence.

These sources claim that the level of three feature films for writers was first mooted in a position paper written by Screen Australia Project Manager Megan Simpson-Huberman, and eventually incorporated into the guidelines.

[Please note that Screen Australia has replied to this as follows: “Revisions to the draft guidelines based on industry feedback are being considered at today’s board meeting, so Screen Australia cannot at this stage respond in detail to the comments made in Friday’s article ‘Screen Australia: Where did these numbers come from’. However, we wish to immediately place on record how inappropriate and unprofessional it was for the article to name Project Manager Megan Simpson- Huberman as the ‘author of the ‘3 previous credits’ eligibility criterion’ for writers. This is not the case, although Megan, along with other senior staff, has been participating in the thinking and planning behind the guidelines’. The Executive Management team and the Screen Australia Board take full responsibility for the draft guidelines issued for comment last month, as well as for their eventual final form.”]

They also claim that a number of other Screen Australia staff questioned the validity of this criterion for predicting the future success of a screenwriter, and requested that it be reviewed. It was not reviewed.

Another senior, former employee of the Australian Film Commission also questioned this level. The source told Screen Hub that internal research conducted by the AFC between 2000-05 revealed that first-time Australian writers, directors and producers had a much higher rate of success than second-time filmmakers. “You have to do it [fund second features],” the source said. “But it’s a great way to lose money.”

This research was confirmed to Screen Hub by a second source who had worked for the Film Finance Corporation. The FFC had also concluded that second-time projects were much more likely to fail financially than projects from less experienced filmmakers.

The Australian Film Commission had drawn a startling conclusion from this research: that the level of experience within the Australian film industry was too low for one, two or even three successful projects to act as a predictor of future success. Experience levels needed to be higher for accurate predictions to be made.

Based on this research, the Screen Australia guidelines actively exclude the filmmakers most likely to be successful.

The FFC reached a related conclusion. Screen Hub’s source claimed that part of the research had been incorporated in a position paper prepared by the former CEO, Brian Rosen, and provided to Screen Australia. This position paper argued that the focus of Screen Australia’s guidelines should be on supporting talent, rather than experience.

Multiple senior sources also confirmed to Screen Hub that no research had been undertaken by Screen Australia to determine what festivals [Cannes, Venice, Berlin main sections OR Sundance] should count towards a writer’s experience. “This list is made up,” one source said.

The Sydney Film Festival has publicly questioned the validity of this test as a predictor of future feature film success.

The Australian Directors Guild also provided a submission that questioned the validity of the experience levels. The ADG submission provided a list of films by their internationally famous members (Fred Schepsi, Jane Campion among others) that could not have been made under the proposed guidelines governing experience.

President Ray Argall noted the problem. “The thing is,” he said, “that within the Screen Australia research data – all ours [research] was taken from the Screen Australia databases. It’s not hard to see that our successful films have been made by directors who have worked on their films for many, many years. Some of them for ten years. These were directors that drove the project. Their commitment and driving of the project is not reflected in the current guidelines.”

Argall noted that there was a tremendous willingness to change, and an acceptance of the need to change, among directors. “But we’ve made too many mistakes in the past. We have to get it right,” he said.

In an interview late today, Dr Ruth Harley, the new CEO of Screen Australia, confirmed to Screen Hub that the level of experience required for eligibility had not been determined by research: “I think that is correct,” she said. All development of the draft guidelines took place prior to her taking up her responsibilities on Monday.

The bold bit is something I wanted to highlight; I’m quoting all this just to say, I’m not the only one saying the stuff I’m saying here on this blog.These film bureaucrats are irresponsible idiots with way too much power over the careers of people, and no accountability for their stupid, moronic, imbecilic, retarded decisions. This Screen Australia business is turning into a nightmare from day one.

Look at it this way. If the Australian Film industry has been producing roughly 15 films a year for a decade, that’s 150 films we’re talking about. If there was one credit per film we’re talking about 150 writing credits. divide that by the requisite 3, and suddenly you’re talking about a poll of only 50 writers, assuming the optimal 50 writers who all participated and scored 3 writing credits each. Less so, with shared credits.You’re talking about a pool of 20-30 writers at best.

No wonder the Writers’ Guild is up in arms: it excludes the vast majority of its members, and that means the very future of the Guild is at stake. It’s simply not workable to have the Guild narrow down to a Club of 20-30 and still sustain itself.

The other issue is this: the vast majority of those 150 films would have been market flops. By demanding the 3 credits from that motley crew of misbegotten films, aren’t the Screen Australia criteria REWARDING FAILURE instead of success by holding such arbitrary standards?

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