Streaming services blamed as audiences shun WA movies despite boom in local film production
Paper Planes, Bran Nue Dae and Red Dog are some of the recent success stories for WA cinema. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
Why are West Australian films struggling at the box office?
It is a question leaving many in the industry scratching their heads after several recent high-profile local productions failed to attract people to the cinemas.
Perth film reviewer Mark Naglazas told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth it was a problem being felt by filmmakers nationwide.
“The bottom has fallen out of the Australian film industry,” he said.
“Films that were once making $800,000 are now making $50,000.
“It’s quite extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it in my time.”
Mr Naglazas said the feature film 1%, a thriller set in the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs, was a great example of a recent WA production that failed to attract an audience.
“It opened on 58 screens and made about $50,000 which meant there were probably about three or four people at each session, which is just miniscule,” he said.
Industry struggles to sell itself
He said the rise of on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Stan were driving audiences away from cinemas.
“It’s a global shift towards streaming; it’s the death of old media,” Mr Nagalzas said.
“Old media was the engine driving a lot of these films — you’d pick up the newspaper and read the review of [2017 WA film] Breath and send people along.
“People are not even getting the newspaper anymore, so how do you even know these films are even on?”
Perth filmmaker Sue Taylor said a greater effort was needed to sell the films to audiences.
“The distributors just don’t have the money and resources to spend on marketing,” she said.
“We make prototypes basically — every time you’re making a film, you’re making it for the first time so you never really know what it’s going to be.
“Once you deliver a film, the distributors make a decision on how much they’re going to spend and what they think they’re going to get back, and in most cases they are incredibly conservative.”
The popularity of streaming services like Netflix is being blamed for poor ticket sales. (ABC News: Matt Eaton)
Mr Naglazas said the marketing of WA films needed to be reviewed.
“Our industry doesn’t know how to sell itself.
“It doesn’t have to be Facebook posts — we can insist on actors walking down Hay Street for half an hour.
“We’re paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars to be here, why aren’t they selling the place?”
WA’s natural beauty attracts filmmakers
ScreenWest interim chief executive Willie Rowe said the State Government’s Regional Film Fund had triggered an explosion in locally produced content in country areas.
The fund delivers $16 million over four years to films produced outside of the metropolitan area.
“It’s an outstanding thing for us and I think we’re the envy of the country,” Mr Rowe said.
Willie Rowe says local film production is surging despite low ticket sales. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
“If you put a shot of Perth on the screen, I think people would go, ‘Eh, another city on a river somewhere’, which is really unfortunate.”
Mr Naglazas also said WA’s natural beauty offered a point of difference for filmmakers scouting locations.
“I think the industry has figured out that Perth may not be what the world wants to see, but they certainly want to see the Kimberley.
“I remember 20 years ago Mel Gibson wanted to film up in the Kimberley but it was just too expensive.”
Local TV the key to successful industry
Mr Rowe said despite a lack of an audience, film production in WA was booming.
He said seven locally produced feature films were set to be delivered by 2019 and the intention was to market them at international festivals.
“We see it as an opportunity for overseas investors to see Western Australia so they understand what we have here to offer and prepare to come and have productions down here.”
Actor and director Simon Baker with his young co-stars from Breath filmed in Denmark, WA. (Supplied)
The success of Fremantle-based Prospero Productions’ TV series Outback Truckers was an example of WA content thriving on an international stage, he said.
“Outback Truckers rates like you wouldn’t believe in Europe in particular, and that’s why there is a series being produced every year.”
Ms Taylor agreed that the focus should shift away from feature films.
“The real problem is that feature films are always just one-offs,” she said.
“What we really need is these longer-running television shows.
“That’s what builds infrastructure and builds the kind of ability for people to learn their trade and really the level of experience they need.”
Filming is underway at Cape Leveque in the Kimberley for the film adaption of Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music. (Supplied: Tourism Western Australia)