Australian film is in trouble  – and here’s what we can learn from HBO to fix it

HBO is currently asking itself a very important question, and it's one the Australian film industry also needs to start taking seriously: quality or quantity? Film maker Luke Jacobson explains the link.

HBO has just been bought by AT&T, a company that’s primarily focused on telecommunications, and AT&T’s new direction for the successful network is to make more content. Maybe too much content.

Whether or not AT&T want HBO to become a direct Netflix rival is still to be seen. But many people are worried that with the focus on growth, HBO might lose the thing that makes their network so special  – that their creations are extraordinarily good.

HBO’s creative team are responsible for some of the greatest series ever made, such as The Wire, True Detective, Westworld, The Sopranos and of course Game of Thrones. It would seem smart to throw a ton of money at them , yelling “More! Make more! MORE!!!”

The problem is that HBO might go from creating a smaller amount of epic content, to a larger amount of… pretty decent content.

This is the trend that’s occurring worldwide with the content subscription services that are battling for viewers’ eyes and dollars. It’s looking like that in this fight, the sufferers will first be the quality of the creations, then of course the quality-loving audiences. Yes, Netflix is spending eight billion dollars on originals, but remember that money is going towards things like Fuller House and the controversial Insatiable.

Cut to   Australia  –  a country that seems very far from all this. Yes, we have our own little battle between our local Stan, Foxtel and Netflix (with Amazon soon to join the party), but the fight is tiny in proportion to the Disney/HBO/Netflix battlegrounds.

Australia is in trouble. Our film industry, although full of vibrant and diverse stories  –  is struggling to be a contender financially and generally on a global scale.

Maybe we can learn from what’s happening on the global content front.

Yes, Netflix does get a hit every now and again with things like Stranger Things – but Season 1 had years to develop. If you read the original pilot script online you’ll see how far it’s come. With the Netflix team under immense pressure with the incredible amount of content in such a short time, can anyone argue that Season 2 lived up to the hype?

(…Sorry Eleven).

Netflix has some wins, but it’s a very small amount of wins in amongst a crowd of B-grade losses.

So what’s the point of all this? Sue Maslin may agree with the comparison I’m making here between HBO and Australian film. Sue is a producer responsible for the titles such as the incredibly moving Japanese Story & the worldwide smash The Dressmaker. To quote Inside Film’s Don Grove, Sue stands for “greater investment in development to bring work to fruition with the best possible collaborative teams and strategies to find investors and markets and connect with audiences.”

Screen Australia is doing an amazing job at giving opportunities to first-time filmmakers from all walks of life.

To summarise Sue Maslin: what’s the point of releasing a bunch of new films a year if they’re not that great and nobody sees them?

Less is more, and the same can be said for HBO.

HBO right now is making a relatively limited amount of content, but it’s amazing content. If it focuses on more, I guarantee the quality will drop. Audiences don’t need more TV and film, we need better TV and film.

Australia doesn’t need more TV and film, it needs better TV and film. And the answer to that is a much, much, much greater focus on development.

By this I mean an immense amount of support for script editing, and an even greater amount of support through mentorships.

But it’s easy to say we should focus on development. Unfortunately, with the lack of resources, that would mean less Australian stories being told, at least at first. In order for us to survive, I believe that’s necessary. Less content, but what we would make is strongly developed, fresh and diverse, top quality content.

We have a huge amount of talent within Australian filmmaking. Let’s mobilise that talent and help the new voices tell their stories.

HBO is at a crossroads right now and is facing the same question we as a storytelling country are facing. And it’s an age old question: quality or quantity?

Luke Jacobson is a writer, director and producer living in Melbourne, Australia. 

Editor’s note: Screen Australia changed its development guidelines in July to be able to service both emerging and high-end projects. 


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