When Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced late last year that the Australian Government will invest $47 million to bring the next productions in the Alien and Thor franchises down-under, advocates of ‘Australian content’ expressed considerable contempt.
Former CEO of Film Australia, Sharon Connolly (2016), argued that the investment is a “symbolic and insulting move” that will silence Australian stories and leave little cultural legacy to the nation. This mirrors larger cultural policy debates in Australia about Hollywood’s runaway productions that have provoked fears of U.S. cultural imperialism (Burns & Eltham 2010, p.109).
These debates focus on the Government’s policy decisions from a macro perspective. This is illustrated by the way industry commentators discredit the subsidies for overseas films on the basis that Australian cinema has a cultural impact on “imaginary audiences” (Bowles 2007, p.248) in comparison to the demotic content produced by Hollywood transnational cinema. Not only does this narrative inadequately conceptualise the interests and diversity of Australian audiences, but it lacks insight into the micro impacts of these policy decisions on the individuals employed as creative workers in the film industry (Ingersoll 2014, p.44).
People who work in the film industry face conditions and challenges which are not commonly experienced in other industries (Jones, Kriflik & Zanko 2005). The tables below are five-year calendars depicting the work history of three of Australia’s most highly-skilled and sought-after film department heads (Court & Tabone 2015).
As the tables show, employment in the Australian film industry is characterised by irregular work patterns and the need to travel overseas in order to sustain a living (Court & Tabone 2015). While attracting large-scale film productions to Australia may only create temporary jobs, it ultimately helps to reduce the problematic ‘white space’ – the 40 percent of the year that Australia’s skilled, creative thinkers spend unemployed (Court & Tabone 2015). It’s their jobs that will be created when Alien and Thor come to Australia (Court & Tabone 2015, emphasis in original). In this way, understanding the individual experiences of those most impacted by cultural policies (i.e. the workforce) is essential to appreciate the national significance of the Government’s overseas film investment strategies.
However, for the proponents of ‘Australian content’ concerned about ensuring national cultural integrity, the employment of Australians in foreign productions also produces residual benefits for the local screen ecology. Alien: Covenant will deliver $60 million to the NSW economy and director Sir Ridley Scott will employ local technicians, visual effects companies, businesses and actors to work on the film (‘Sir Ridley Scott’ 2015). This will provide skill development opportunities for local cast and crew and allows companies to invest in equipment and training which can be used on Australian productions, leading to a higher quality Australian product (Jericho 2015).
Understanding the work and employment experiences of those involved in the area of cultural production is critical in ongoing debates and assessments of Hollywood’s runaway productions in Australia. Rather than supporting screen content purely with cultural merit, a new emphasis on innovation and the need to invest in the film industry’s strengths will help to reposition Australia as a high-performing partner in the global filmmaking market. A reassessment and redefinition of the ‘public good’ arguments traditionally underpinning screen content policies will also allow areas that are not in the social and cultural interests of Australia, yet offer significant job opportunities, such as gaming, to thrive in a competitive global environment. The cultural objectives of the local film industry, however worthy, should not serve to inhibit the formation of forward-looking policies that promote economic growth and unlock new jobs.
Bowles, K 2007, “Three miles of rough dirt road’: towards an audience-centred approach to cinema studies in Australia’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol.1, no.3, p.245-260.
Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, ‘Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation, and Hollywood’s ‘Race to the Bottom”, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, vol.136, p.103-118.
Connolly, S 2016, ‘Subsidies for foreign blockbusters while Australian voices are silenced’, Age, 7 January, viewed 17 January 2016, <http://www.theage.com.au/comment/subsidies-for-foreign-blockbusters-while-australian-voices-are-silenced-20151230-glwsyr.html>.
Court, D & Tabone, A 2015, ‘Call the specialists: What Thor and Aliens could really do for the Australian film industry’, The Conversation, 29 October, viewed 17 January 2016, <https://theconversation.com/call-the-specialists-what-thor-and-aliens-could-really-do-for-the-australian-film-industry-49750>.
Ingersoll, L 2014, ‘Work and employment in the Australian film industry: A research agenda’, International Employment Relations Review, vol.20, no.1, p.44-55.
Jericho, G 2015, ‘How much does Australia really subsidise overseas films? And is it worth it?’, Guardian, 26 October, viewed 17 January 2016, <http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2015/oct/26/how-much-does-australia-really-subsidise-overseas-films-and-is-it-worth-it>.
Jones, M, Kriflik, G & Zanko, M 2005, ‘Understanding worker motivation in the Australian film industry’, in Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM) Conference, Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management, Canberra, 7-10 December, viewed 17 January 2016, <http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1088&context=commpapers>.
‘Sir Ridley Scott keen to film next three Alien prequels here’ 2015, The Screen Blog, weblog post, 27 November, viewed 17 January 2016, <http://thescreenblog.com/2015/11/27/sir-ridley-scott-keen-to-film-next-three-alien-prequels-here/>.