Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Here to Save Screen Australia Time and Money

Followers of Australian cinema may have heard that Screen Australia, the country's primary government funding body, has decided to launch an internal review into the how and why of the film's disastrous box office.

A Screen Australia board member prompted an internal review into the box office failure of the agency-backed drama Two Fists One Heart earlier this year.

The informal inquiry – headed by Screen Australia chief executive Ruth Harley – comes amid an economic downturn which has lowered private investment and slashed production budgets across the industry.


The $8 million film (which included a $4 million investment from Screen Australia) grossed just $295,000 at the local box office, according to the agency. (The Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia recently updated the figure to $305,300.)

Amazingly Two Fists One Heart did cost $8million. I'm not so sure as to where all the money went because it certainly wasn't on the screen, and it sounds awfully similar to the $7million boxing drama The Tender Hook making less than $70,000. Yes, LESS THAN $70,000! But we're not here to talk about the many failures of that movie.

Apparently Screen Australia can't quite fathom how this movie failed with audiences and so I decided to take some of my own time and try to save Screen Australia some of their time (and money - government tax payer funded money) by letting them in on some of the reasons why. I doubt Screen Australia's investigators will think of these as negatives since this is the same organisation that hand out payments to directors each year who have no desire to make product that is in any way "commercial".

1. "Two Fists One Heart" - You cannot tell me that anybody, outside of the person who came up with it, thinks that that is a good title for a movie. Actually, I'm sure there's quite a few people out there who would like to see this movie if it were about a doctor and his naughty nurses, but Screen Australia isn't gonna start funding those movies. I know your film is about boxing and Two Fists would have worked somewhat better than the sickness-inducing blahness of "Two Fists One Heart". Nobody wants to see a movie with that title.

2. The trailer - When I mentioned the film and it's trailer earlier in the year I said this: "the trailer's penchant for sickening title cards like "FAMILY" and "LOYALTY" don't illicit much enthusiasm." Watch the trailer below and just try to tell me that you don't agree. It can't be done.

3. The Release Date - Granted, the producers and the distributors couldn't have known that in just a few months the fortunes for Australian films would take a (comparatively) massive turnaround in the public eyes (eight $1mil+ grosses so far in 2009 compared to two in 2008), but there were far more obvious reasons to withhold release of Two Fists One Heart.

Jessica Marais is one of the stars of Two Fists One Heart and you know what else she stars in? Packed to the Rafters, the highest rated show on Australian television with a rough average of 1.9 million viewers a week (figures here). The second series premiered in July 2009 and yet Two Fists One Heart was released in March. Seems like a big mistake when you consider the details.

The other thing to consider in regards to the release day is that that the NRL season began on 13 March and the AFL season two weeks later on 26 March. I'm not sure on the exact statistics, but aren't they prime times for people to be staying in on Friday and Saturday nights to watch their favourite teams play for the first time since September? I know if I was far more interested in watching my beloved Geelong Cats trounce Hawthorn than I was seeing naff-sounding movie about boxing.

4. Boxing - I'm not sure boxing is a sport that people want to see. Am I crazy for thinking that? Not even Cinderella Man, starring "our Russell Crowe", couldn't muster much enthusiasm with audiences. It's useless to bring The Tender Hook into this discussion, but perhaps it should. Movies about boxing just aren't that interesting to audiences in 2009.

5. Marketing - This is obviously the big reason. I've already looked at the trailer, but what else did they do wrong? Disney Australia have this penchant for making bad movies (other recent released include Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger and Subdivision, which curiously wasn't even released in Victoria!)
5.a Let's look at the poster, shall we? It's shit.

So people who may have actually wanted to see a boxing movie won't know it's about boxing and those who are just on the lookout for a good movie to see won't see it because, well, look at it.

Throw in a confusing title/tag line combo and you have a recipe for failure.

5.b I believe it was around March that Samson & Delilah started the build-up to its May release. It screened at the Adelaide Film Festival in February and after that did regular advance screenings. We all know what happened after that. Two Fists One Heart should have, has I already noted, withheld its release and done ANYTHING to get noticed. Advance screenings being a given, but I don't remember reading any press. Shocking since its two stars are stars from two of the highest rating programs in Australian history. Marais in the aforementioned Packed to the Rafters and Daniel Amalm in Underbelly. Those programs don't even get a mention on the poster, which we have already established is a waste.

5.c He's not my kinda guy, but Daniel Amalm is half naked for a lot of the film. I imagine staring at him for a couple of hours would be far more entertaining for some audience members than the movie they went to go see instead.

6. The Movie - Lastly, it also didn't help that the movie just isn't that good. Sure, it received plenty of nice reviews, but nothing much in the way of raves, which is what a movie like this needed with the absence of good marketing. I know I wouldn't recommend this movie to people, but maybe that's just me.

Conclusion Hey, Screen Australia! How come you're doing an internal review of Two Fists One Heart and not, say, Cedar Boys? Serhat Caradee's Cedar Boys received government funding - although, nothing as high as the ludicrous $4mil of Two Fists - and was a far, far better film that deserved much more than it's $204,160 gross. Perhaps Screen Australia should be investigating why someone in their office gave four million of the government's money to a first-time feature director. Shawn Seet must have done one helluva pitch!

So there we go. No need for any grand investigations. It comes down to the same ol' same ol' when it comes to why an Aussie film fails. Nobody knows it exists, and those who do think it looks like crap. Investigation over.


Anonymous said...

Let's face it. The producers of TWO FISTS AND ONE HEART ensured they got paid very well. That's what happens here. The budgets are high for such miniscule films. Have no idea where it goes.

BTW. I will be heading to US next week and spending a week on New York. You went last year, right? Any good finds?

Glenn Dunks said...

Be sure to check out The Met and MOMA. Fantastic museums. The Guggenheim is great to visit, but the show they had on earlier this year (I was there in April) was generally quite crap.

Great tip is to catch the subway to Brooklyn (first stop) and go to Grimaldi's pizza restaurant. Delicious pizza. Then cross the Brooklyn bridge (you don't need to go both ways, honestly). Google "grimaldi's pizza brooklyn" to find a map. Such delicious pizza and the view is amazing, especially if you go at dusk and get the view of the city lights coming on.

Try and see "August: Osage County" if you're seeing a show. it's a 3hr play, but it's so very very good and you'll be able to say "oh I saw that on Broadway" when the movie gets made.

Make sure you leave plenty of time to line up for the Empire State. It can take hours, honestly. Although if you take the skyride you can skip the outside line. And, really, try and get there so you can be up there when the sun sets. it's gorgeous!

But seriously, I could go for days and days on that city. Love it. HAVE FUN!

Michael said...

Two Fists one heart was generally an average film. I don't think it helped that 2009 was the year of the interracial lovestory (Combination, Cedar Boys)
But why aren't australian films marketed. I must admit i thought Balibo would fare better than it did, due to the Balibo story being in the newspapers, but it was not to be. I agree with you that the buzz for samson & Delilah has built dramatically from the Adeliade Film Festival, and you've got to look at its screen-averages for its opening week, to say that there was alot of interest in the film.
What the australian film industry is having trouble doing is getting yuonger people seeing australian films. I've only seen 4 aussie films in theatres this year, but i've watched alot more on dvd. You'd think that due to the success of Underbelly, there would be interest in 2F1H, The Combination & cedar Boys, but no advertisiing and it playing indie theatresgenerally didn't help. All i can pray for is April Fools Day, and to see how much of the youth turn out for Wog Boy 2, assuming its marketed right.

Just one additional note, i really can't understand how no australian films can get distribution in america. I mean, have you heard of the australian/US co-production Broken Hill that got a release in america and made 54,000?
Also, alot of australian films aren't marketed as having australian stars.
Kudos to the marketing of Mao's Last Dancer - an adaption of an aussie best-seller that was advertsied print, bus stops and television and is set to reach 15 million. yet the awful The Tender Hook, stars Rose Byrne & hugo Weaving. No advertisement; no mention of stars. relegated to the arthouse circuit.
What we need is Australian films to start reappearing in the mainstream cinemas. Let's face it, generally no one under 35 will got to an indie cinema.

murrayNE said...

Allow me to further the analysis of this venture by adding my thoughts upon finding this article:

(I) "Never heard of it"
(II) "Hang on, he's got that title wrong, hasn't he? Two fists, one heart is the standard human package, surely - shouldn't there be some sort of clever wordplay here?"
(III) "oh... boxing"
(IV) "Oh shit... family... integrity... it's another 'lets fund Australian films of the style that America only makes as TV biopics!' effort. Why oh why are people not flocking to it?"
(V) Someone from "Packed to the Rafters" is in it? Surely the only possible way for an Australian film to make money is to put someone from Packed to the Rafters in it and advertise it during the show. Oh... I see... they didn't think that that was worth waiting for. Excellent."

Lynden Barber said...

I havent seen 2 Fists (it closed too fast!) but nonetheless I think this is a good piece, very well argued.

Why don't you forward it to the folks doing the review for Screen Australia? I'm serious - they should read this and take it on board.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked Two Fists, One Heart. It inspired me to start running and working out again.

I agree that the title wasn't very inspired though and I think more publicity was definately in order.

They should have utilised "2 time Logie winner" Jessica Marais more as well.

Glenn Dunks said...

Lynden, perhaps I should, yeah?

Anon, while I'm not sure "Logie Winner" is ever something that should appear on a movie poster, I do think "Daniel Amalm from 'Underbelly' and Jessica Marais from 'Packed to the Rafters star in" should have, basically, been the entire crux of their marketing campaign.

Michael, to be perfectly honest with you... I didn't even make it all the way through Two Fists One Heart. I was watching it on DVD and realised I have better things to be doing than watching it when I knew exactly where it was heading.

Balibo.. yeah, it should've made more. I was expecting at least $3m and am genuinely surprised it didn't take on in the multiplexes like Look Both Ways or Ten Canoes or Oyster Farmer have done in the last few years. I actually thought they were planning a more Kokoda-style release.

Mao's Last Dancer is mission accomplished, but they did have Village Roadshow muscle behind them. The Combination should be praised for getting over $700,000 at the box office and should be seen as an example for films like Two Fists.

I remember reading about how The Combination was specifically being aimed at Lebanese audiences in the outer suburbs and less arthouses in the cities. I don't remember reading a single thing about the Two Fists marketers targeting highly Italian areas. Although I did see a poster at Nova in Carlton :/

Ben Rylan said...

Personally, I shall like to spend the rest of my life staring at a half naked Daniel Amalm. Though just plain "naked" would be better. Ahem...

It's straight-forward; bad publicity, no buzz, and too much investment in what would be a niche film even if it were directed by Spielberg and starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

BTW. The Empire State is pretty to look at, but the whole viewing experience is far better from the Rockefeller.