I Dunno Lady, But You DO Get Slack Cut By Being Rachel Ward
This article came in courtesy of Walk-Off HBP.
I have a film now braving the marketplace. It does not comply with the dictates of mass marketing. It is not trying to be “entertaining enough for mainstream audiences”. It does not try to compete with the million-plus audiences turning on television for Packed to the Rafters and Underbelly. It cannot compete with the marketing budgets of US studio fare. But, I believe – and my distributors and funding bodies believe – that given a fair chance, there is a healthy audience for Australian films. Uneasy, complex, unsettling ones at that. Always has been.
If anything, Australian film made its name with them: Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and The Devil’s Playground, Bruce Beresford’s Breaker Morant, Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. New Zealand did it this way, too, with the likes of Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.
I don’t know whether filmmakers from other years have suddenly felt this insidious wet blanket of negativity for making films that demand and confront and haunt an audience (which is certainly my idea of entertainment) rather than providing simple escapism and the ubiquitous ”feel good” factor.
Feel-good films have their value and their place. Like a big, buttery box of popcorn, they have no trouble selling themselves.
But as the Herald’s film writer, Garry Maddox, went some way to point out, niche movies are dependent on how well they are made. They are also hugely dependent on an accumulation of great reviews, multiple stars, inordinate publicity by deeply committed actors and filmmakers, inventive and passionate distributors, inclement weather and robust word-of-mouth recommendations.
Removing any of those things can spell disaster. In other words, such films are extremely fragile beings.
I am not bleating for insincere reviews or coverage. I don’t need them. As with Samson and Delilah, The Black Balloon and Somersault, my film, my fragile, beautiful egg, is being propelled towards the try line (decent box office returns) by positive reviews and good word of mouth. Reviews are not the problem.
What I did not count on was a succession of last-minute spoilsports, dumping doom and gloom and threatening to squash my precious egg before those in the audience could make up their own minds.
Well, let’s see now…
Nobody is saying Rachel Ward shouldn’t be allowed to make her movie. It’s just that every time a niche movie is made with government money, it’s an opportunity lost to have made a movie that might have a wider audience appeal.
And every time a niche movie goes into the market place and doesn’t make it’s money back, it puts another nail in the coffin of the Australian Film Industry being viable as an industry. And frankly, we’ve had 30-odd years of that going on thanks to really strange choices made by the AFC, FFC the various State-based agencies, and most likely Screen Australia. These strange choices informed by non-market biases and a very strong sense of wanting to be seen funding the ‘correct’ projects, combined with the ATO’s very strange rulings on what constitutes Australian films, have all but destroyed the creatives in this country. We’re dead, we’re fucked – so much so in fact that we’re dead-er and fucked-er than ever before.
So I kind of think Ms Ward is pretty lucky to have been able to make her film, good or bad, hit or not. It most likely won’t be a hit. It most likely won’t make its money back, but she got her work out, and likely got paid to do it. I think she’s been given way more of a fair crack of the whip.
Here’s some sobering news for you all. ‘Indie’ is dead. That’s straight out of LA. Don’t even bother writing your small-time scripts with little actions tailored for small budgets. They’re not getting made. The marketplace is rationalising itself around big pictures that are based on proven commercial properties – read comic books and toys – and the biggest demand outside of that scope is in the $20million budget picture.
The kind of films we make in Australia simply don’t fit that category. It’s time to accept that even the international market that used to exist for our films is rapidly disappearing with the GFC.
So do I think Rachel Ward is off-base? Yeah, I do.