The following is the transcript to a You Tube screen cast that will be released shortly.
Hi, my name is James, and today I will be convincing you why the Australian screen industry should co-produce with China.
What Australian films have you seen recently? Was it Sen’s ‘Mystery Road’? Which was received very positively by critics, but experienced a very restricted release. Or perhaps it was the critically acclaimed ‘Animal Kingdom’ by David Michod, which failed dismally at the box office? Maybe it was the 2008 Baz Luhrmann film/tourism advertisement, Australia. Perhaps it has been that long since you have since an Australian film, that the last one you saw was Crocodile Dundee – which was actually intended for American audiences.
The future of the Australian screen industry has repeatedly been speculated by the media. With article titles such as Canberra Times’ ‘Delving into the decline of Australian Films’ (Low 2012) or Crikey’s ‘Australian Cinema is still big, it is the audience that got small’ (Buckmaster 2014). It might lead us to believe that Australians are not as interested in Australian film as, say, 10 years ago; or even that the whole Australian Film Industry is dying. But as Jake Wilson of Senses in Cinema states, “Journalism about the Australian film industry goes in cycles” (2003) where in one part of the year they applaud our Oscar winners, and in the other half “predicting the death of the local industry” (Wilson 2003). As a matter of fact, Film Victoria published a study showing more Australian films are released now at the box office since the golden age of the late 1980s, however, their performance has historically peaked and declined spontaneously (Film Vic 2009).
So what is a good way to fix this? Oddly enough, there is an audience for Australian film outside our domestic boundaries. And no, it is not in America. Reg Diplock of Film Ink magazine makes several arguments to consider a market in Asia (2014).
- Asia is an increasing segment of the Australian population
- Asia is our closest neighbour
- contains a ‘burgeoning’ film and TV industry
- size of the Asian market
- Co-production treaties with Singapore and China.
These points were also reinforced by Screen Australia in their response to ‘Australia in the Asian Century Issues Paper’ (2012). The 2012 paper identifies that the Australian screen industry is “well positioned to take advantage of economic growth in the Asian region, particularly China…” (2012). Furthermore, the paper recognises that many Asian nations have a rapidly increasing middle or let’s just say consumer class. EY in their ‘Spotlight on China’ industry report notes that with a growing consumer class, also comes a growing disposable income, particularly towards the media and entertainment industry (2012). For instance, in 2010 spending on the media and entertainment industry was at US$350 billion, by 2011 this rose to US$547 billion (EY 2012).
A very recent film that undoubtedly performed well in China was of course, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Not only did Transformer’s earn more in China then is it did domestically in the United States, but it is also the highest grossing film in China’s history so far. Paramount pictures worked with CCTV’s China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises (Shackleton 2013) to release the film to approximately 12,000 screens in China (Yecies 2014). The film also included several Chinese actors and locations, such as Hong Kong.
This kind of practice is actually becoming common for Hollywood. Some of 2014’s blockbusters such as The Amazing Spiderman 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Godzilla all feature China is some form (Homewood 2014). This can range from Chinese actors, locations, production teams, inserting localised scenes or localised content.
As Chris Homewood states, a recent incorporation of Chinese elements within popular American film is not only an attempt to pull in larger Chinese audiences, but also to “garner favour with China Film Group (CFG), the state monopoly that runs cinemas, produces, finances and distributes films, and controls the import of foreign titles”(2014).
That last point is very important, as China only allows 34 foreign films to screen throughout the country annually. And considering films such as Transformers 4 earn more in China than anywhere else, that makes those spots very valuable. However, films made in co-production don’t count towards this quota. In fact, Transformers 4’s extensive use of including localised content qualifies for ‘unofficial co-production’, which allows for greater creative freedom, whilst also “circumventing the ‘official co-production’ processes” (Yecies 2014).
But how can Australia take advantage of the booming media and entertainment industry in China? In fact, we already have. The Australian-Singaporean film, Bait, is a recent example that proved to be very successful in Asia. I guarantee that most Australians haven’t even heard of this film, let alone seen it. Nevertheless, Bait is the most successful Australian film ever released in China to date, having earned over AU$20 million within the first 2 weeks of its release (Soundfirm 2012). Bait, was exhibited in over 28 countries total, where in China the Chinese distributors, “Yunnan Film Group and Enlight Media, produced a special localised version for the Chinese market” (Yecies et al. 2014).
Which, by the way, isn’t the first case a film has been localised for the Chinese Market. In 2013, Iron Man 3 included an extra 4 minutes of footage which featured notable Chinese actors Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing, as well as some Yili Milk for product placement (Yecies 2014).
To gather a deep understanding of how major films are using localisation to appeal to international audiences, I decided to show the Chinese Transformers: Age of Extinction trailer to both Australian and Chinese students. As assumed, none of the Australian students recognised any of the non-Western actors, whereas the Chinese students most certainly did. Furthermore, the Australian students could not identify the locations used within the trailer, which the Chinese students recognised as Kowloon, Hong Kong. I then asked the Australian students if they could recognise any Chinese elements. Most noticed the random calligraphy and the oriental imagery.
So the Australian film industry needs to decide whether we continue to, and to a greater extent, co-produce with China. We are already seeing the overt influence Chinese soft power is having on the media, particularly in Hollywood. And it is up to Australia to take advantage of this overwhelming market or sit in this historical limbo of ups and downs.
‘Bait 3D Highest Grossing Australian Film To Date In China’ 2012, Sound Firm, 26 October, viewed 25 October 2014, < http://www.soundfirm.com/industry/bait-3d-highest-grossing-australian-film-to-date-in-china/>.
Buckmaster, L 2014, ‘ Australian cinema is still big, it’s the audience that got small‘, Crikey, 2 September, viewed 24 October 2014, < http://dailyreview.crikey.com.au/australian-cinema-is-still-big-its-the-audience-that-got-small/11426>.
Diplock, R 2014, ‘What’s Wrong with the Australian Film Industry?!’, Film Ink, 14 July, viewed 27 October 2014, < http://www.filmink.com.au/news/whats-wrong-with-the-australian-film-industry/>.
‘Emerging markets middle class: the new consumer / APEC 2012 / Ernst & Young’ 2012, video, ksanlab, 4 October, viewed 1 November 2014, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UibduT_SXkI>.
Ernst & Young, Spotlight on China: Building a roadmap for success in media and entertainment, http://www.ey.com, 2012, <http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Media_and_Entertainment_-_Spotlight_on_China/$FILE/Spotlight_on_China.pdf>, viewed 27 October 2014.
Film Victoria 2009, ‘Australian Films at the Australian Box Office’, Film Victoria, viewed 28 October 2014, <http://www.film.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/967/AA4_Aust_Box_office_report.pdf>.
Homewood, C 2014, ‘ Transformers 4: China is using Hollywood to take on the world’, The Conversation, 4 July, viewed 30 October 2014, < http://theconversation.com/transformers-4-china-is-using-hollywood-to-take-on-the-world-28817>.
Low, C 2012, ‘Delving into decline of Australian films’, Canberra Times, 24 January, viewed 31 October 2014, < http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/delving-into-decline-of-australian-films-20120124-1t6jf.html>.
Screen Australia 2012, ‘Response To Australia In The Asian Century Issues Paper’, Screen Australia, viewed 20 October 2014, < http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/getmedia/d96483a2-9104-419b-b062-7aeb21db9133/AsianCenturyWhitePaper_2012.pdf>.
Shackleton, L 2013, ‘Paramount Partners with China on Transformers 4’, Screen Daily, 3 April, viewed 30 October 2014, < http://www.screendaily.com/paramount-partners-with-china-on-transformers-4/5053525.article>.
Wilson, J 2003, ‘ Unpopular Populism, or The Decline and Fall of the Little Aussie Battler: Notes on Australian Film Comedy in 2003’, Senses of Cinema, no. 29, < http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/australian-contemporary-cinema/australian_comedy/>.
Yecies, B 2014, ‘Product Placement and that Sucking-Up Feeling in China’, Asian Creative Transformations, 25 September, viewed 17 October 2014, < http://www.creativetransformations.asia/2014/09/product-placement-and-that-sucking-up-feeling-in-china/>.
Yecies, B, Yang, J, Berryman, M & Soh, K 2014, ‘Marketing Bait (2012): Using SMART Data to Identify E-guanxi Among China’s ‘Internet Aborigines’’ in M Nolwenn, C Tirtaine & J Augros, Film Marketing in a Global Era, London: British Film Institute Publishing.