So considering my recent 21st Birthday (plus soon to receive my certificate for my Bachelor of Film degree), I’ve been reflecting on myself as a person and my career as a filmmaker. This has been bothering me to the point I feel writing this will heal me.
So despite having been born in Australia and lived my entire life here-I’m not very Australia. I don’t have the accent, I don’t drink beer like water and I don’t watch much Australian media. As a child I didn’t watch a lot of Australian programming, I mainly watched Transformers, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Yu-Gi-Oh! My favourite childhood films are Spirited Away, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Batman. And in modern preference, my favourite films include: Akira, Apocalypse Now, Only God Forgives, A Clockwork Orange, Lawrence of Arabia and Pacific Rim being my absolute favourite. Yes I like Australian films: the Mad Max franchise, Wake in Fright and Mystery Road definitely…but even then, those are unique outliers to the point Wake in Fright was from the Canadian director of First Blood and Weekend at Burnie’s. I never really gravitated or cared for Australian classics like The Castle or Muriel’s Wedding. Maybe it’s a genre thing as comedies and dramas are less my jam than sci fi, action, horror, noir and art house stories. In college, being told by lecturers to “make Aussie stories” felt weird to me. I understood concepts of “The Aussie Battler” but was bored by it. I always enjoyed stories of detectives, soldiers, monsters and robots over the average day life. I gravitated towards a more global cinematic culture than a contained one.
In studying global culture, I also noticed a pattern in terms of endings.
-American Cinema (a culture based around patriotism, gun worship and war victories) would mostly have big bombastic “The Heroes Won” endings like Star Wars, Independence Day and the Avengers. Although you’d sometimes get a dark ending like Taxi Driver, Seven and Nightcrawler, but those are reactions to heroes winning endings as opposed to part of it.
-European Cinema (A convenient whose future and constant wars create an uncertain atmosphere) often have ambiguous endings where you’re not sure what happened or what will happen next like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Inception and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
-Asian Cinema (countries who’ve mostly be influenced by cultural shifts, philosophies and concepts more than state) often have meditative and reflective endings over bombast or foreboding atmospheric endings like in Ran, Grave of the Fireflies and Ghost in the Shell.
But as for Australian cinema-our ending have this lazy, relaxed “Walking into that Sweet Night” feel of falling asleep in a rocking chair. Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Babadook and even Mad Max Fury Road have that clam, relaxed effect where even thought what I watched was great-often times those endings just make me feel like nothing mattered. The Babadook especially felt that way as it wasn’t a scary, reflective or dark ending…it just ends. Personally I’m more a fan of dark, ambiguous, heartbreaking and meditative endings, my favourites being: Nightcrawler, Wind River, Enemy, Blade Runner or Chinatown. Speaking of dark…
MY CREATIVE SPARK
As I stated, I’ve a strong affinity for mature, dark and disturbed stories: Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Mother!, A Cure for Wellness, Fury, Enter the Void, Sicario, 8mm, Watchmen, Zodiac, Drive, Perfect Blue, Blue Velvet, Splice, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That’s the stuff I like to see and stuff I want to make. I find them more artful and suiting towards my creative style and aesthetic. And yes I’m aware you can make mature subject matter without going disturbed like The Shape of Water or Good Night and Good Luck…but that’s again where aesthetics and stylistic preferences come in.
I like the hyper contrast and neon colour pallet, I like my gore ultra nasty with chunks and I’m not afraid of showing perversion in all forms. I like my stories to tackle the darkest parts of humanity, unique concepts and storylines and yes-a partial desire to just see how far I can take the medium of film as art in the belief of “No Restraint”. Now I don’t think this is just Australia, but it’s definitely promoted here from what I’ve seen-directorial stylish and flourish is not promoted anymore. Auteur directors and unique visionaries are abandoned and forgotten in favor of every filmmaker being inter-changeable. I’ve seen young talented filmmakers with a unique vision…but they’re not find the success as some less visionary filmmakers who are nothing more than glorified cameramen. We’re taught to shoot the same way…and that’s a problem. The language of cinema is established-but if every filmmaker shoots the same way, edits the same way and colour grades the same way…everything will be the same. You KNOW filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Zack Snyder, Ridley Scott, Wes Anderson and many others-just by the way there films look…but it feels like today the auteur is being thrown out.
DEATH OF THE AUTEUR
Lately there’s been MANY arguments against auteurism from things like: justifying an ego, the racism in that most auteur directors are white men and many others: and most of those are decent discussions to have…but there’s always this argument “Film is a collaborative medium”. Sounds reasonable-not one person does an entire film (not one that’s good anyway) so what’s the problem of it? It’s basically disregarding that directors are a creative head. A director has the vision, the idea and the goal of the film in mind…not everyone can be that. Lighting and audio people don’t do their own auteur thing for personal goals-they do what they need to do for a scene, per director’s instructions. Director, cinematographer, editors and writers need to be on the same level. And sure multiple producers are on films often…but directors and producers clashing is BAD news. The whole point of a director is that people give them the responsibility to control the film. Auteur directors are often considered “crazy, insane filmmakers” and yes we are, but often times our films serve a personal goal more than just “make money”. While work for hire directors often care more about giving the studio the product asked, auteur directors often have a theme and narrative in the film that they want to capture a certain way-which is why they’ll often be crazy (thought abusing cast and crew is no excuse). But again, work for hire directors are in more popular demand as to create inoffensive, serviceable and decent content…not art.
COMEDIES AND DRAMAS-HORROR FOR THE BOX OFFICE
Australian cinema is mostly dominated by comedies and dramas ever since Strictly Ballroom (for the record I’m no Baz Luhrman fan) and in recent years we’ve gotten films like Kenny, The Water Diviner, The Great Gatsby, Jasper Jones, Ali’s Wedding, The Last Cab to Darwin, Spin Out, Oddball…and do you remember any of these? Likely not. These films so often feel the same, have the same actors and while they try some new things…they’re forgettable. Even horror in recent years withered out, Wolf Creek and Rogue gave a good starting point…but even the Babadook played more like a supernatural drama than a pure horror film. Why is this? Well aside from my theory that these aspects are to be as least offensive to Australian tastes in culture…these lack Set Pieces. Even small films like The Blair Witch Project, Reservoir Dogs or Monsters have set pieces and memorable moments. If you need a reminder of what a Set Piece is, it’s basically the biggest moment of a film that encapsulates that film’s goal.
2017 Film Examples:
-Kong Fighting the Helicopters (Kong Skull Island)
-Wonder Woman Stepping onto No Man’s Land (Wonder Woman)
-Sensory Deprivation Tank (A Cure for Wellness)
-Gladiator Arena (Thor Ragnarok)
Moments, Iconography-it’s what people make memes and epic fan art out of…Australia continues to make films that don’t fit that.
And in terms of Australian horror, even though the Babadook was a critical darling (but not without its detractors like me) it grossed only 7 million against a budget of 2 million. Meanwhile in 2017 alone
-Get Out made 245 Million off 4.5 Million
-Annabelle Creation made 306 Million off 15 Million
-Happy Death Day made 122 Million off 5 Million
-Jigsaw made 102 Million off 10 Million
-It made over 700 Million off 35 Million
Seriously, why isn’t’ Australia making pulling a Blumhouse and making 2-3 5 Million dollar horror movies by talented filmmakers every year and distributing them worldwide? “Americans don’t want Australian films” … well they would if they weren’t boring and had set piece moments made by actual visionaries. We barely releasing anything worldwide while Indian, Korea, China and other countries can do so.
In the past few years: Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kong Skull Island, Pacific Rim Uprising, Alien Covenant, Thor Ragnarok (and potentially the upcoming Dora and Barbie movies) were film in Australia…but Australia itself wouldn’t spend a quarter of those budgets on strong horror films, medium budget crime films or moderate action films of its own. There was even a news report about “Australians will be out of work because America wants our tax incentives to be better” …YOU THINK MAYBE WE SHOULD BE MAKING STUFF LIKE THAT?
BACK TO DARK AND DISTURBING
So, after all that-back to the main reason I’m feeling down about my industry. I feel like as an auteur director who prefers genres Australia doesn’t consume, making dark content Australia doesn’t like…I feel unwanted and undesired. “Go to America” they say…I need something to help me go there. “Change your style” so change myself? Look Australia is never going to be short of comedies and dramas…but there’s no David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn or Taylor Sheridan of Australia and I’d like to be that. I want to be the mad visionary form Australia who makes messed up, dark visual film people are split on. Unfortunately, recent failing in pitching a TV Pilot screenplay I’m proud of and failing to get funding for a short script I’m proud of makes me doubt myself more. I fear I won’t even get off the ground…let alone fall from grace.
I’m thankful to my friends and colleagues at home and abroad who support me, who work with me and of course my girlfriend/wife who supports her insane boy. But, I just want to create my films, my art in my industry and I feel like I’m failing that.