Been There, Done That, and Lived to Tell about It! in a Business Where Money Talks, Phillip Cenere Speaks with Jane Scott, Chris Noonan, John Weiley and Al Clark about Achieving Box Office Success and the State of the Australian Film Industry

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It 's the last great place in the English language to make a movie in terms of balancing work and private life in an environment that is so conducive to creativity and not fear. It's not fear-based, it's fun-based. I love it there. So does George. It's going to be hard to get rid of us. Producer Rick McCallum, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, 2005 (1)

It's hard to believe that he was describing Australia.

Given the despair and self-loathing currently surging through the Australian film industry, to hear anyone (let alone uber-producer Rick McCallum) speak with optimism about it is remarkable to say the least.

It is true that Australia is experiencing a boom in overseas productions: there were seven foreign feature films shot here in 2003/04, including Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005), spending $249 million, up from $169 million in 2002/03. Foreign films currently shooting here include Charlotte's Web (Gary Winick), Ghost Rider (Mark Steven Johnson) and Superman Returns (Bryan Singer).

However, the cold hard fact is that there were only sixteen new Australian films released last year, down from twenty-three in 2003. Of those, twelve were feature films and four were documentaries. Combined, these films grossed just $11.9 million, or 1.3 per cent of the total Australian box office, representing a drop from the previous year's 3.5 per cent and constituting the lowest market share since records began twenty-seven years ago.

The top-grossing Australian film, with $4.8 million, was Strange Bedfellows (Dean Murphy), followed by the multi-award winning Somersault (Cate Shortland) at $2 million. In comparison, the top-grossing Australian film of 2003, Ned Kelly (Gregor Jordan), earned $8.4 million. The total production value of the twelve features was $57 million, with an average budget of $4.75 million, down from $6.4 million the previous year. (2)

With the number of home grown productions to be made in 2005 looking just as dismal, Australian filmmakers have good reason to be depressed.

So what exactly are the problems, and how can the Australian film industry produce films that will achieve box office success? In search of answers, Metro decided to ask the Australian filmmakers who've been there and done that ...

Jane Scott

'How do you like your goanna? Mick 'Crocodile' Dundee (Paul Hogan)

Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, 1986) Budget: AUD$8,800,000 Gross: US$360,000,000 (Worldwide) US$174,635,000 (USA) AUD$47,707,045 (Australia)

Crocodile Dundee II (John Cornell, 1988) Budget: AUD$N/A Gross: US$239,700,000 (Worldwide) US$109,305,000 (USA) AUD$24,916,805 (Australia)

Shine (Scott Hicks, 1996) Budget: AUD$6,000,000 Gross: US$35,892,330 (USA) AUD$10,167,416 (Australia)

Crocodile Dundee is without doubt the most iconic Australian film of all time, and the most successful, having grossed a staggering US$360 million worldwide at the box office. In the United States alone it earned US$174 million in ticket sales (ranking as the 87th highest-grossing film), plus a further US$70 million in video rentals.

To place in perspective the significance of this achievement, it surpasses in US box office receipts such cinema classics as The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965), The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) and Superman (Richard Donner, 1978), and contemporary blockbusters like The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999), Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000) and X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000). (3)

Jane Scott, the line producer of Crocodile Dundee and producer of the sequel, says she doesn't profess to be able to put her finger on a successful film every time:

If I did know the answer my career would be assured. But I do think that to be successful, films have to have a passionate input, not only from the producer but everybody. You've got to really believe in them to go through the process because they take so much out of you. …