Australian Invasion: Australians in Hollywood
Australia has always had a rich cultural voice in the arts. From well-known novels like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and plays like “Cosi”, Australia as a nation has always been fairly vocal about its identity and has had no trouble expressing itself creatively. The same can be said for film and television.
Early Australian Cinema began with films such as “The Story of the Kelly Gang” and moved on to unique films such as “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, “Strictly Ballroom”, and “Muriel’s Wedding”. And while Australia has always had a cult following for its films and television (like widely acclaimed series “Underbelly”), it could be said that in the world of film, Australia has never been considered much of a contender in the international film industry.
Although a number of big budget films are shot in the Land Down Under each year, and in fact the spending in Australia rose 25 percent in 2011, these are not necessarily Australian stories starring Australians or featuring their production teams. While this means more revenue for Australia, it also means that key locations are unavailable for homegrown productions, and resources are stretched thinner for local filmmakers, which draws away from the quality of content produced in Australia.
If you look at the entertainment industry today, and particularly focus in on Hollywood, which is still considered the mecca of film and television, you will notice something interesting. Australians are dominating. Australians are no longer relegated to playing the “Crocodile Dundee”, True Blue, or Fair-dinkum characters of entertainers past.
Australians are landing bigger and better parts and competing with international talent for leading roles. Look at new actors like Margot Robbie and the Hemsworth brothers, and established actors like Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, and Nicole Kidman who are all over film and television. And that is just in front of the screen.
Behind the scenes Australians are also making their presence known. Just look at Australian writing duo James Wan and Leigh Whannel who wrote the original “Saw” (which has spanned into a multi-million dollar franchise), and Australian directors like Baz Luhrmann (“Romeo and Juliet”, “Great Gatsby”), Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), and George Miller (“Mad Max”), who are representing strongly behind the scenes.
So why is it that we find more Australians in the international film scene? It boils down to two related elements: money and audience. Australia is a small country compared to the U.S., with only 23 million people versus 320 million in the United States. The audience numbers of each country are significant, due to the amount of money a film or television series can gross. With a limited audience (as in Australia) the amount of money a locally produced film can gross domestically is reduced, and therefore affects the salaries of cast and crew and the quality of the overall content.
Therefore, it is not necessarily an option for our homegrown talent to stay under the Southern Cross to perfect their art in today’s competitive market. Cassandra Magrath wrote that being an actor in Australia is a struggle and detailed her experiences on spookmagazine.com. Like many performers before they get their big break, Cassandra discusses having to have more than just film and television in her wheelhouse due to the limited opportunities in Australia.
Unfortunately the market for talented Australians is not as full of potential as it is in the international market. What we find is that Australians in the entertainment world feel the need to test their talent and ambition in an overseas marketplace to be taken seriously, not only at an international level but also at home.
On a positive note, those entertainers who have left Australia to make a name for themselves overseas often come back to Australia to find many more doors opened to them because of their overseas exposure. They can choose projects that they are passionate about because they are not relying solely on the Australian film markets to support them. This is why you find top-tier Australian actors like Guy Pierce in smaller indie projects based in Australia like “The Rover” (12 Million dollar budget, only grossed $2.2 Million Worldwide)
Australia Is a Hard Market For Filmmakers
Australia is a hard market for more than just the actors. Producers and directors have a hard time here, too. That’s why many of them look to the international market instead.
Bringing a film into the world is a lot like bringing a human being into the world. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and when you finally have the finished product, you want to show it off to the world; you’re proud of your baby. That’s why international film festivals are so important as an avenue for garnering more support for the Australian film scene. This year, six Australian films were screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Co-productions are another incredible way Australians have taken advantage of expanding into an international market and gathering a wider audience. The new film “Strangerland” (starring Australian darlings Nicole Kidman and Hugo Weaving) played at Sundance this year and was an Irish/Australian co-pro. While many filmmakers start out making films in an effort to tell a story, there is no denying that to make real money a filmmaker needs to find a bigger fish than just one market, in this case, Australia.
It is for these reasons that you find much of Australia’s talent leaving home to find work in bigger markets, be that the U.S., the U.K., or Canada. As Australians, we are fortunate to speak the same language as other major film and television havens. And people seem to love Australians.
Increased Australian Presence in Hollywood Is Good for Australia
The Australian invasion of Hollywood (or Europe, or Canada, or Asia), cannot be viewed as a bad thing. Although perhaps driven by the desire to seek bigger markets, the result of our talent moving abroad for opportunities is that Australians are using their networks and experience overseas to funnel more money and investment back into Australian film and television and to continue to bring passion projects to light.
Australians are known to be easygoing and hardworking, and amongst Australian international entertainment professionals there is a culture of helping one another out. In Los Angeles, for example, there are often networking events held for Australians to find one another and form mutually beneficial relationships, and there are social media groups and events geared towards fostering Australian relationships abroad.
The talented, creative individuals, who leave Australia to pursue their careers, are shining a light on our diverse and versatile industry and as a result, films like the recent “Strangerland” or 2010’s critically acclaimed “Animal Kingdom” are garnering attention. We can only hope that as the population of Australia grows, so too will the domestic Australian film and television industry, allowing our best and brightest to choose to stay home for their creative careers, rather than moving away.