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.