Distribution of films in the Australian industry is reaching alternative media platforms, utilising them as a tool to move away from traditional methods. Distribution Through a New Lens is a critical analysis of emerging distribution trends within the Australian film & television industry. As a student, this will guide your journey through the Australian media industry and prepare you for what challenges lie ahead.
Bodey, M 2014, “Film release strategy the mule and turkey shoot are different animals”, The Australian, viewed 13 October 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/film/ film-release-strategy-the-mule-and-turkey-shoot-are-different-animals/story-e6frg8pf-1227142456328
Groves, D 2014, “The Mule packs a kick on VoD”, IF Magazine, viewed 12 October, http://if.com.au/2014/11/24/article/The-Mule-packs-a-kick-on-VoD/XBJQUJUPBW.html
West, M 2015, “Australian filmmakers find success with the digital-only release of The Mule”, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 13 October 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/business/comment-and-analysis/australian-filmmakers-find-success-with-the-digitalonly-release-of-the-mule-20150205-137mef.html
Screen Australia, 2015. Issues in Feature Film Distribution,, viewed 13 Oct. 2015, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/9598b9f7-321b-45f3-b5e8-7870166487fc/IssuesInFeatureFilmDistribution_2015-07-30.pdf
Screen Australia, 2015. Online and On Demands: Trends in Australian Online Video Use, viewed 13 October 2015, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/video_on_demand.aspx
Swift, B 2012, “Do Australian films cost too much to produce?”, IF Magazine, viewed 14 October 2015, http://if.com.au/2012/08/17/article/Do-Australian-films-cost-too-much-to-produce/UEILRYWODL.html
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2008, Australia Falls Short of Box Office, viewed 13 October 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2434699.htm
Bolt, A 2008, “Column – Baz steals a president”, The Telegraphy, viewed 15 October 2015, http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/andrewbolt/ index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/column_baz_steals_a_president/asc/P20
Maddox, G 2008, “Films’ marketing its own epic”, Brisbane times, viewed 14 October 2015, http://www.convictcreations.com/culture/ movies/australia.html
Sams, C 2008, “Why you’re fooling the bill for Luhrmann’s Australia”, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 15 October 2015, http://www.smh.com.aunews/entertainment/film/why-youre-footing-the-bill-for-luhrmanns-australia/2008/12/13/1228585174538.html
Duff, B 2008, “Australians still want Australian films”, FilmInk, viewed 15 October 2015, http://www.filmink.com.au/features/australians-still-want-australian-films/
With the rapid expansion of the internet, marketing for film and television has evolved into interacting with audience as a ploy to advertise the product, and a new mode of distribution marketing. Instead of just stills of the films, or even visual trailers, audiences can interact with some form of the film in their daily lives. This is evident in The Dark Knight Campaign (2008) that was an interactive online game for audiences to go through and uncover hints and secrets of the plot of the new film, The Dark Knight. The campaign even employed a fake political tour bus, that promoted one of the film’s central characters.
This interactive form of marketing is again employed in this years The Peanuts Movie, a new take on the classic cartoon. To engage audiences, early, and before it’s worldwide November cinema release, the distribution/marketing sector of the film created away audience could get a personalized peanut version of themselves to have as their profile picture of the internet sensation Facebook.
This way it engages audiences, but always bringing awareness to other users on Facebook about the film when the are able to see their Facebook friend get their own personalized peanut.
Blackwood, G 2007, ‘Wolf Creek: an UnAustralian Story?’, Continuum; Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 489- 497, viewed 8 October 2015, http://www.academia.edu/3701565/Wolf_Creek_an_UnAustralian_Story
‘Box Office/ Business for Wolf Creek’, IMDB, viewed 5 October 2015, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416315/business
‘Box Office/ Business for Wolf creek 2’, IMDB, viewed 5 October 2015, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2004432/business
Culver, C 2013, ‘Return to Wolf Creek: Does Australia Care?’ Kill Your Darlings Journal, 29 July, viewed 5 October 2015, http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/2013/07/return-to-wolf-creek-does-australia-care/
Ebert R, 2005, ‘Wolf Creek,’ Roger Ebert, 22 December, viewed 5 October 2015, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/wolf-creek-2005
Eeles, M 2014, ‘Interview: Greg McLean,’ Cinema Australia, 20 February, viewed 5 October 2015, http://cinemaaustralia.com.au/2014/02/20/627/
‘Fear Dinkum!’, Slasherama, viewed 24 September 2015, http://www.slasherama.com/features/wolfcreek.HTML
Nowell, R 2014, ‘Merchants of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema,’ Bloomsbury Academic, New York, USA
Taylor, D 2014, ‘Interview: Wolf Creek 2 Director Greg McLean on Development, Working With Blumhouse, And Quentin Tarantino’, The Playlist, 17 May, viewed 24 September 2015, http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/interview-wolf-creek-2-director-greg-mclean-talks-the-long-development-process-working-with-blumhouse-and-whether-or-not-quentin-tarantino-has-seen-the-new-movie-20140516
‘Wolf Creek,’ IMDB, viewed 5 October 2015, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0416315/taglines?ref_=tt_stry_tg
‘Wolf Creek- Interview with Director Greg McLean,’ 2005, Horror, 9 December, viewed 24 September 2015, http://www.horror.com/php/article-1055-1.html
The nature of film distribution and promotion has been changing from the traditional model, and now viral ideas and guaranteed fan bases take priority over perfectly executed ideas in the minds of distributors. The objective quality of a film is less important than whether a film can generate enough interest to ensure support and success upon release and distribution, from a business standpoint, and this is how many are approaching film making today. With more clever promotion strategies and ways to get the audience interacting with the content, creatives are competing for fan bases rather than good reviews, because fan bases largely determine notoriety, and monetary return success. One of the earliest examples of this being the case is the 2005 Greg McLean film, ‘Wolf Creek.’ Though it received mixed reviews from critics, and despite its limited budget, clever marketing and a dedicated cult following guaranteed great monetary reward as well as a sequel being made, ‘Wolf Creek 2.’ This case study will explore the success of Wolf Creek, and how the hype and support generated for the film opened opportunities for the film maker.
Despite being a low budget film, Wolf Creek made $27.8 million USD at the box office, a huge amount more than its budget of $1-1.5 million (Box Office/ Business for Wolf Creek’). However, it was not made during a run at various cinemas across the world in 2005, rather, it was distributed to various countries over the span of four years, from January 2005 to August 2009 (Wolf Creek IMDB). Premiering at Sundance Festival, it made its way to Cannes before premiering in its country of origin, Australia. Director, Writer and Producer, Greg McLean suggested “it was successful in Australia because it was successful overseas. Its success relied on overseas distribution. As a result people in Australia were desperate to see it” (Nowell 2014). This implies that Australian distributors only became interested in the film once it had a following and support from overseas. This could be seen as some assurance that the film is good and that there is validation of that, but reviews for the film actually weren’t very impressive. Australian distribution companies supported this film not because of its positive reviews, but because it already had an emerging fan base. There was security in promoting this film despite its average reviews from critics, as it had already proven to be popular among movie goers. Regardless of technical brilliance, the audience formed a cult following around this film, and engaged with it. McLean suggests this may be due to the nature of the horror film, stating that “the great thing about horror films is that they’re audience reaction movies. […] comedy and horror are very much focused on getting reactions from the audience. If you make either of those films you can tell whether they’re working or not based on what’s happening in the audience” (Eeles 2014). This means that audiences were more likely to get attached to the film because of the exciting reaction of experiencing it. Memories of horrific imagery linger in their memory and illicit an emotional response long after the film is over. But perhaps the cult following emerged from a fascination with the premise.
Wolf Creek generated a lot of interest due to its basis on a true story, and heavy Australianism. Many elements of the story were based off of the Ivan Milat case (Wolf Creek; Interview with Director Greg McLean), including one of the film’s most popular and iconic scenes, the ‘head on a stick.’ Taglines for the film include “30000 are reported missing in Australia every year. Some are never seen again.” And most popularly, “based on true events (Wolf Creek IMDB),” which was featured on posters and promotional images. The reality of what was happening in the story made the film feel more immediate to the audience, thus scarier, which also directed attention toward the place of the films creation, as well as where these murders occurred; Australia. McLean talks about how the films are “government-funded. A horror film, by definition, should be semi counter-cultural, content-wise. So to have a government making a film which criticises or destroys the very culture they’re building, just isn’t going to happen” (Fear Dinkum!). But in this case, the film drew attention and interest to Australia. Traditionally, it is thought that “ﬁlms with positive themes inspire tourism while ﬁlms with negative themes scare travellers away. Those working in the tourism industry, however, acknowledge that this is a logic that has yet to be proven: on the contrary, tourism research shows that frightening or negatively themed ﬁlms have been able to create travel to ﬁlm locations, and not scare people away” (Blackwood 2007). The horror elements combined with the heavy emphasis on Australianisms seemed to engage the audience. Overseas, there is a recognisable image of the ‘Australian Person,’ and the way the antagonist, “Mick Taylor epitomizes and contrasts from the stereotypical ideal of the hypermasculine ‘Aussie bloke’ that has been successfully commodiﬁed in the recent marketing of the nation” (Blackwood 2007), creates an icon that is both familiar and unsettling. The idea that this person could really exist and possibly has enhances the experience of the film and the story. The combination of image and confronting reality creates a novelty for overseas audiences, but also allows Australian audiences to identify with the film. The sense of ownership and national pride of such a successful film is perhaps what caused Wolf Creek to become so successful within Australia, but the stereotypes that entertained and connected with overseas audiences were still appealing to audiences at home. McLean thinks “Australians are as sick of the whole stereotype as anyone else, to a degree. Despite the movie being such an aggressive cinematic experience, it’s been fun to put a huge cliche up on screen, then tear it right down” (Fear Dinkum!). Though Mick Taylor embodies the stereotype strongly, both Australian and foreign audiences were able to enjoy the fresh take on a recognisable figure, and engage with the realism of the premise.
The twist on an overused Australian stereotype also may have contributed to the film’s success in Australia. The ‘true events’ marketing, and the film being based on a true Australian story brings the narrative closer to home for Australians. But what makes it so relatable is the nature of Mick Taylor; the murderer. Before the main tonal shift in the film, he behaves mostly like the Australian bloke stereotype would inform. Greg McLean explains he “tried to blend clichés and icons from Australia – the Steve Irwin or Mick Dundee character, all of these big broad Australian characters recognizable in the States” (Wolf Creek; Interview with Director Greg McLean). The friendly, laid back Australian figure that is so widely regarded as typical Australian. This iconography is impossible to separate from Australia, thus the success of the film was felt and celebrated here. The love for the film overseas instilled a different, more patriotic love in Australia afterwards. This angle of playing with who is supposed to be the ‘typical friendly Australian,’ also enhanced the horror for many. The figure is recognisable, and it is plausible that the protagonists would grow to trust him. “When people would meet him he’d be the nicest guy in the world because he had to be nice enough to get them to come with him in the first place” (Wolf Creek; Interview with Director Greg McLean). The truth in much of this story was strongly promoted, and the horror stemmed from that idea, “If this stuff goes on every day, what would it be like to watch it? (Fear Dinkum!)” The reasons for the successful promotion overseas and home in Australia both stem from the idea of the ‘true story,’ and the way the film incorporates Australian stereotypes. The combination of the two, which were both heavily promoted for the film led to more interest and excitement regarding it. Bur how important was this following in terms of the films overall success?
The critical reviews for Wolf Creek do not align with the popularity it gained from the general public. Online, the popular film websites provided mixed reviews, Rotten Tomatoes giving it 53%, IMDB with 6.3/10, and Meta Critic with 54%. Prominent figures such as famous film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a thumb down, and commented how he “wanted to walk out of the theater and keep on walking” (Ebert 2005). However, the film is still thought of fondly by fans, is widely recognisable as an iconic Australian film, and had great success at the box office. In this case, general popularity proved more powerful than the reviews, with average to poor reviews not reflecting the success and love the film received. Whether the film is good or not is a subjective choice, however, this didn’t seem to matter in regard to success on this occasion. “there were some comments from people who said it was slow at the start. [Greg McLean] actually believes that’s one of the best parts of the movie, [and he] thinks people are commenting on it because it’s unusual. Producers or studios would push to get into the action a bit more or sooner” (Wolf Creek; Interview with Director Greg McLean). It’s these technical decisions about the films quality that would traditionally be of paramount importance in the decision making process of whether a film should be supported by the company or not. Whether it is a worthwhile investment or not. But investments on films such was Wolf Creek have paid off without the critics praise. The general public are the people who will be seeing the film, talking about it and promoting it amongst each other, and if the film already has their support, production companies, such as the ones in Australia, are more confident in investing in the film. The Australian distributors that took an interest in Wolf Creek did so because of its success overseas, and support for the film in Australia, which was found through clever marketing of true stories and recognisable, even disturbingly relatable characters. And “thanks to Wolf Creek and its world famous outback serial killer, Mick Taylor, Greg Mclean has become one of Australia’s most recognisable directors” (Eeles 2014). Additionally, a sequel has been made; Wolf Creek 2, with a bigger budget than the original (Box Office/ Business for Wolf Creek 2 IMDB). McLean “had an offer right away to do a sequel” (Taylor 2014). This illustrates that the success and fan base surrounding the film was powerful enough to provide financial backing and enough interest for another feature length film. It has become a career defining film for McLean, and continues to be remembered as iconic and successful, not by the reviews it received.
This shift in importance between technical brilliance and popularity has a great effect on how distribution is approached. Distribution companies have been shown, through the study of Wolf Creek to place a lot of value on secured popularity and success, and the existence of a fan base before the film is even released, as was the case in Australia. The film did not receive much interest there until it already had generated a following. This following grew and the same situation occurred in various other countries, with distributors taking interest and feeling confident supporting the film that had already found success from the general public. This led to the film being released over the course of 4 years, across different countries at different times. The implications of this importance on popularity is the opportunities afforded to low budget films. Distribution companies traditionally would feel more confident backing a film from a large production company that had proved itself to be successful, but Wolf Creek shows that low budget films can find the same broad distribution through the help of a fan base. Generating interest from people before the film is released means the distributors see the film in question as a more secure investment.
It is however worth speculating on the nature of hype, and the implications of this type of promotion. Hype is a form of hysteria, and typically doesn’t last for a long time. “Leaving aside the inevitable scepticism about whether a sequel can live up to the original, a more pressing question, in the case of Wolf Creek 2 (also directed by McLean), is whether Australian audiences actually care” (Culver 2013). Despite the novelty of scaring overseas audiences that came with the first film, “It could also be that the common Australian horror concept of our landscape as a deadly and dangerous place doesn’t impress us in the same way it does audiences abroad” (Culver 2013). The success of Wolf Creek is undeniable, but the type of promotion it had turned it into a novelty. This opened many doors for the film, but after 8 years the hype appears to have dissipated to an extent. Wolf Creek 2 received a lot of media attention, but only made $4.3 million at the box office, this time having a $7 million budget (Box Office/ Business for Wolf Creek 2 IMDB). Carody Culver ponders the nature of horror films and longevity.
“Wolf Creek perhaps offered audiences something a little different, combining the popular trend for ‘torture porn’ horror with the Australian tradition of films that unsettle us with landscape rather than crazed killers. The fact that Australia seems to have made an unfortunate name for itself as the place where backpackers go to die might have helped boost the film’s appeal, in a grisly, I-bet-this-could-totally-happen kind of way.
Maybe the sequel wouldn’t have gone ahead if the international market hadn’t shown such appreciation for John Jarratt and his pathological hatred of young travellers. But does this mean it’s simply going to pander to popular blood lusting tastes, rehashing the original with even more blood, torture and pig shooting? And will Australian audiences care?” (Culver 2013)
All valid questions about the success of the first film and how that affected the second film, if at all. Hype and popularity may be excellent ways to get noticed, but particularly in the horror genre, they may not guarantee long lasting success. This type of promotion is becoming more prevalent recently, with promotion and distribution being driven by fan bases and security of audience. But how long will these fan bases last? Have we sacrificed the drive for a technically perfect film for creating a hugely popular one? Wolf Creek is an example of how there has been a shift in the way distributors and audiences think about films and how they find their way to success and notoriety, by placing more importance on existing fantasies than potential, but not guaranteed ones.
Oddball is Australia’s 2015 quirky comedy about a mischievous dog trained to protect a seaside town’s penguin sanctuary from fox attacks, while attempting to reunite his family and the town. Oddball is a love letter to Australia’s box office smash ‘Red Dog’ (2011) which is centred around a dog uniting the community of a rural town while searching for his long lost owner.
Oddball is a unique narrative with a unique form of marketing and distribution. Unlike most films, particularly blockbusters, Oddball employed different marketing tools to attract audiences. Rather than having a abundant amount of film trailers, television adverts, and posters plastered through Australia, Oddball used the unique, yet powerful marketing technique of ‘word of mouth’. The advertising of this independently made Australian film relies highly on positive word of mouth.
Word of Mouth form of marketing has always worked for small budget films in the past, such as Pink Flamingos (1972), and Paranormal Activity (2009). Rather than using positive word of mouth like Oddball, these highly popular films used word of mouth of outrage of audiences, in attracting viewers. Pink Flamingos, even to this day, is labelled as ‘one of the most vile, stupid, and repulsive films ever made’, while Paranormal Activity employed the ‘scariest film ever made’ angle to attract audiences. This form of word of mouth was almost like a contest for the audience, making people want to see these films to see if they could handle the most repulsive film or scariest film ever made.
Oddball uses positive word of mouth, even that of critics to draw in an audience, while the minimal visual advertising of the film is that of a innocent, family loving white dog, with a penguin placed on its head. This image accompanies the positive word of mouth technique, with an image of wholesome, whimsical, and family friendly fun.
Even to have a small budget, the marketing of this film is strange as Oddball is the first film to be produced by WTFN, a television distribution company, which distributes Channel 10’s highly popular Bondi Vet.
Thus far, this marketing technique has be a success for the film as within a week at the box office, it had made $2,000,000. It was the second highest film at the box office, overtaking blockbusters, such as the highly produced sequel in the Maze Runner franchise. The screen average for Oddball was at $7,069.
These results prove that minimal marketing and distribution can make a low budget film successful.
Australia (Baz Luhrmann, Australia, 2008)
Cited the figures from Screen Australia, the average budget for an Australia feature film in 2013/14 is around 10.25 million. The issue of taking on a low-budget local film by local distributors has been discussed that it presents risk in the poor performance at box office. The president of Screen Producers Association of Australia Brian Rosen says, “there’s no doubt that our budgets aren’t in line with what’s been happening in the United States” (Swift, 2012). The truth is that they cannot compete with the big US films with heavy special effects or star casts. What are the ways to bring the Australian stories to big screen at low cost? Can only high budget film hit a box office bulls-eye?
Australia (2008) was a historical drama by Baz Luhrmann featuring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman that has a recorded box office of A$37,555,757 (figures from Screen Australia). It took more than A$28 million at the Australian box office (figures from Box Office Mojo). The film production budget was roughly calculated $130 million AUD while the distributor 20th Century Fox put an extra $100 million for promotion. By showing spectacular Australian outback life and landscape, Tourism Commission and Australian government have committed around $280 million on its film related advertising campaign along with the tourism promotion (Fionalake.com). Tourism Australia has then hired Luhrmann to produce a series of ads which capitalize the worldwide promotion of the film. But seems Baz Luhrmann is more likely to benefit than the Australian tourism industry. With this budget way larger than most Australian features, it leads Australians to wonder how much of the impact this film can have and how it cracks the international market. The film Australia has launched in a global scale.
While Luhrmann was still working on the film and the film is not yet to be released in a month, all kinds of promotion have been started with TV commercial, trailers and intensive through Qantas (Maddox, 2008). The film was printed on the back of airline ticket. There was a 40-foot billboard for the film. When on the flight, it was playing a 30-minute video show on the film. This film Australia has been supported by its distributor plus its commercial partners, Tourism Australia, and Australian government with the blaze publicity, which has been expected to hit Titanic’s box office and the greats of Crocodile Dundee. The bet on the film is on the huge investment in production and distribution; which bolster the film along with the stellar casts and the massive scale of promotion.
“Luhrmann also had another miracle up his sleeve. This time, instead of making the sun come out, he made it rain – dollars,” said American film critic Shannon L. Bowen (Sams, 2008).
Marc Wooldridge, marketing director at the film Australia’s distributor 20th Century Fox describes that the movie, “it was always going to be a match made in marketing heaven” (Adnews, 2008).
Baz Luhrmann promoted the film to be based on historical truths as well as to reveal something about Australian identity – the myths of “the stolen generation”. When Luhrmann sold the film to the American market, he said (Bolt, 2008), “the President-elect of the United States is 47. If he was living in Australia, it is absolutely credible that the government, because he had one white parent and one black parent, could have taken him forcibly from his family. They would have put him in an institution, probably lied to him that his parents were dead, changed his name and reprogrammed him to be European, so he could have some sort of function doing something of service in white society. That would possibly have been Obama’s journey.”
The financial success of this film is made in American, instead of Australia. Costing more than a hundred million Luhrmann’s Australia is Australia’s most expensive movie, but there have been a lot harsh criticism especially from Australian reviewers because of its false representation of history after the film was launched. Before the film hit the big screen, the massive marketing campaign has undoubtedly generated local and international audiences’ interests. Luhrmann has been saying that he wanted to change the way Australians see local films, “let’s be proud of our culture, of our way, of our stories… let’s change the perception that ‘Australian film’ means ‘boring’.” Yet with the large budget it presented, Luhrmann clearly aimed to appeal global audience, more than local audiences. The exceptionally big money on production and distribution has been the gimmick to persuade people to go watch it in cinema. When Australian filmmakers who aren’t Baz Luhrmann try and make something, they don’t have that much funding so the marketing to the public is usually very poor despite the interest of the story itself. That poor marketing can damage a film. As found in a study by Bergent Research (Duff 2008) commissioned by the Film Finance Corporation of Australia (FFC), advertising campaign and forward marketing are to be the device for a local film to be regarded as successful or unsuccessful. It comes back to the problem of marketing and distribution – in which Australian films need more promotional funding because not every filmmaker is like Luhrmann who can attract that much money to promote their film. Bergent’s John Berenyi reckons, based on the findings, “People say that the Australian movie industry sucks, makes depressing arthouse movies about drug addicts that no one wants to go and see, but then they see a good ad and rush out to support the film.” It summarise the success of big films like Australia.
Does the story of the film Australia attract the audience or the momentum it built in its marketing campaign ? Australia has went through 18 months of publicity but as it has been said, “the experience with ‘Australia’ shows money can’t always buy good reviews”(The 7.30 report by ABC), it may find acclaim in overseas market but still a lot Australians found that amount of money can be expected something a little bit more. High budget films like Australia with star casts, esteemed director and extensive promotion don’t have to struggle to get a footing in local market. The film has been taken in worldwide markets and that is not possible for small budget films to afford. Yet as later discussed of another Australian film The Mule, being a low budget local film with minimal marketing expenditure, it achieved higher than expected.
The Mule (Tony Mahony & Angus Sampson, Australia, 2014)
Sometimes it is difficult to expect the Australian film screened on late night on SBS is too good not to have heard about it before. No matter how good a movie is, it would get buried if the marketing budget is not big like an Interstellar. It works like this, Australian films can be successful only if they get wide distribution, that is, the films have to be made accessible in more theatrical release which means they need larger production budget. It is something against the economic situation in Australian film industry at the moment.
Take a look at the recent Australian film The Mule as an example of a new strategy in distributing. The Mule is a dark comedy distributed by eOne in 2014. The ultimate goal when working on a film is always to get exposure in cinemas on the big screen. But The Mule’s team sees making the film more accessible to people all over Australia by went straight through a simultaneous iTunes and digital release for $25, which is not normally done by Australian films given the condition that Screen Australia requires films to screen in cinemas before they can be screened on other platforms (Bodey, 2014). They usually have to wait 120 days for the homes entertainment release after a theatrical release. The film was available for pre-order on iTunes from 29 September 2014, and for Download in Australia on 22 November 2014 on iTunes, Google Play, Dendy Direct, Xbox Video and PlayStation Store (Screen Australia, 2015). The film was available for online rental on the same platforms, and on DVD after 10 days.
As suggested, iTunes says the film is doing three times better than its estimates (Groves, 2014) and racked up no.1 indie title in iTunes Australia and US (West 2015). The film was released as a live event in which Angus Sampson (co-wrote, stars and co-directs with Tony Mahoney) and Leigh Whannell (co-wrote with Sampson) did a live commentary on the film on December 7, 2014 on Twitter and people were asked to give support by playing the film at 3pm and tagged tweets #TheMuleLive to join in. It reached over 2.5 million audience and trended to the fourth most tweeted hashtag in Australia during the event.
Certain levels of advertisement is still required to engage people on a certain level in order to ensure the marketing support for a box office success. Is it possible to market a low budget film with no noticeable marketing budget? Most common distribution scenario of low budget film is that it isn’t with prestige festival, no name cast, no large budget in marketing. It is a struggle for low budget film to secure distribution followed by reaching the audience. The cinema is made for the kinds of movies that have the budgets to afford and integrated media companies to produce. No matter how good a local film is, it is hard for them to reach audience through theatrical release with its lack of effective distribution support.
When the internet has opened the gates to inexpensive film production, it benefits filmmakers to target audiences and keep budget low compared to the traditional box office routine. Understanding the way viewers consume the content, it helps to stimulate the film industry. If Australian consumers do not head to cinema for local stuff, we should go aim for the online and post cinema markets, which is even better for low budget films.
It could be a fascinating approach for distribution for independent filmmakers considering a small marketing budget. It may be doubtful that it can guarantee similar revenue that conventional cinema distribution provides. According to Screen Australia’s report on Online and On Demand: Trends in Australian Online Video Use, audience engagement with screen content is heavily relied on video-on-demand (VOD) service. The report brings to attention that Australians are keen to watch any film or television content alone which allow them to pursue for more niche interests. Yet online viewers still spend comparatively more time on traditional platforms such as going to cinema, hiring DVDs and watching on television. Video-on-demand has explored the potential for films that have been failed to hit the cinemas to new audiences because it is clear that Australians are not going to see low-budget Australian films at the box office. We require a new distribution model for the digital age.
The film ‘Kenny’ was released in 2006 and took over $8M in the Box Office (Jacobson, C. 2015). There was not a person in Australia, who was not talking about, “The return of the decent Aussie bloke” (Collins, F. 2007). Audiences presumed that ‘Kenny’ was a documentary style film based on the true life of plumber, Kenny Smyth. A clever marketing technique for this ‘mockumentary’ comedy, as audiences fled to the cinema to have their own say about the authenticity of this film. ‘Kenny’ quickly became well known for its toilet humour and reference to Australian culture. Shane Jacobson, who played Kenny Smyth in the film, shot up in his career becoming an iconic Australian comic actor. The question remains, how did the filmmakers turn a story of an average portaloo plumber, into a financial success?
‘Kenny’ began as a short film that was slowly being developed by Writer, Producer, and Director, Clayton Jacobson. The short film was submitted into the St Kilda Film Festival in Melbourne. In 2004 ‘Kenny, Self Proclaimed Scatologist’ won the prize for Best Comedy (St Kilda Film Festival, 2015). An eager investor who envisaged the film as a feature length success approached Clayton. With a high offering of $1M, Clayton predicted he would only need close to $500K in order to produce the film (Jacobson, C. 2015). ‘Splashdown, corporate bathroom rentals’, sponsored the production, providing many sets (toilet blocks), props, crew (employees) and many more. Clayton was very clever with his approach to the production, marketing and distribution of the film. An independent distributor, ‘Madman Entertainment’ locally in Australia, distributed ‘Kenny’. Other distributors for an international release include, ‘Lightning Entertainment’ (worldwide), ‘Odeon Sky Filmworks’ (2007, UK) and ‘Xenon Pictures’ (2007, USA, DVD) (IMDb, 2015).
The successful release of the film relied heavily on word-of-mouth and clever marketing techniques that generated interest and intrigue. Close to double the budget used to produce the film, was spent on marketing (Jacobson, C. 2015).
We went nuts with the marketing. There wasn’t anything we didn’t try… We did everything from viral campaigns… to getting dolls made up (Jacobson, C. 2015).
‘Kenny’ used a very innovative model of distribution focusing on targeting a wide audience. Clayton is aware that over the past eight to nine years marketing and distributing films has changed immensely. He found exposure through television interviews where Shane would remain in character throughout. Audiences saw Shane (Kenny) in the spotlight, out of context of the film, which evoked interest and enhanced the humour of his character. Modern forms of exposure can now be found through various social networking sites and multiple television platforms. Consumers are absorbed in their ‘screens’ and therefore distributors can use these as a tool to gain exposure and generate interest.
Measurements of success
To measure the success of a film depends on figures and the rise and fall of popularity. A feature film only has a nine-week window of opportunity in a big cinema chain, to make as much money as they can. The term used most frequently is counting the “Bums on Seats” (Hipwell, J. 2015) as a measurement of success. Other than popularity, the success of a film is also determined by the length of time in which it gains its profits. For example, a big blockbuster film may have a big opening weekend, encouraging a lot of people to come and see it. After this weekend, the ‘word gets out’ that the film was not as brilliant as was expected and the numbers run low from there onwards. At this point, the film has still made a significant profit, although the time frame in which it accumulated its profit is quite short. ‘Kenny’s’ success extended into the DVD release where more profit was made, making it a success beyond its initial release.
Films such as Kenny, which are aimed at a family audience, will always have a far better chance of reaching out. (Bosanquet, 2007)
Alternative Distribution Methods
An alternative model of distribution is to distribute the film slowly by screening the film at Arthouse cinemas in order to build momentum. If the film gains traction then here is less of a risk to distribute through big cinema chains.
Palace Films’ Zeccola warns, ‘once you go large you can’t go back. The amount of risk involved in releasing an Australian film is so great that you have to take extreme care.’ (Bosanquet, 2007)
…Distributors are now very wary of pushing local films into the main- stream theatres. This has meant steady, cautious campaigns where a film will spend a long, slow run in the arthouse cinemas and, if it proves itself, can then go into the larger chains. (Bosanquet, 2007)
Clayton grew up in a very theatrical household that encouraged creativity. His passion for the comical aspects of the story and the potential success of the film was the driving factor that propelled the film forward.
For me [cinema] was the temple of entertainment (Jacobson, C. 2015).