The film industry was experiencing a boom when Encore launched 30 years ago this week, but the quality of the work left a lot to be desired says the magazine’s first editor Greg Bright.
When what has become Encore launched, as the fortnightly Australian Film Review in 1983, the film and television production industry was going through an amazing growth spurt.
The Fraser Government had introduced, as it turned out, overly generous tax concessions for investors in qualifying Australian films and TV drama shows. While the concessions were subsequently watered down, the upshot was that throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s more than 30 features, telemovies and miniseries were produced annually, giving rise to a robust production infrastructure, most of which has survived the subsequent downturn and the switch to digital.
There were two big film labs – Atlab and Colorfilm – as well as some boutique ones, three film suppliers – Kodak, Agfa and Fuji – and two camera suppliers – Samuelson and John Barry – and various other equipment and service providers.
While it proved to be a golden decade for employment in the industry, the quality of the output was generally considered to be poor. The tradition of quality which emerged in the 1970s, through classics such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Breaker Morant, Newsfront and the cult hit Mad Max, had been sullied by too many movies which were rushed into production so their investors could get the tax break.
Thanks to the strong employment environment, the bi-partisan support of the Hawke Government and the burgeoning service companies, Encore magazine and its annual directory flourished through the 1980s after a tentative start. The problem at the start was mainly my inexperience as a publisher. I had been an assistant editor at the Australian Financial Review and economics writer for The Sydney Morning Herald. But a publisher requires other skills too.
The initial premise for Encore was to link up, via subscriptions and advertising, the executive producers and producers of film and TV projects with the potential investors. Within a few months it was clear that this was not working. People invested in films not from advertisements or magazine stories but from word of mouth through their accountants and other contacts. Professional investors at institutions, which are the easiest to reach, didn’t invest in films at all.
So Encore quickly adapted to become a traditional trade magazine for the industry. We did two clever things. We started the Production Report, which listed every known project in development through production and was required reading by anyone looking for work, and we tried to do an ‘On Location’ feature on as many productions as we could afford.
We reported how films were being made in a way no-one had done before in Australia. And there was no direct competition, which helped.
In 1983 I attended a lunch in Manly, near where I lived, to launch a new kids’ film, BMX Bandits, which had been shot around Sydney’s northern beaches. I sat next to a tall 16-year-old girl who was in the movie. She told me she had just seen a copy of Encore for the first time and she wanted to subscribe to it, which she subsequently did. She was the first actor to subscribe. Her name was Nicole Kidman.
The three people who deserve most recognition for Encore’s early survival and subsequent evolution, through their organisations’ money and their personal advice and support, are: Paul Harris of Samuelson, Ray Beattie of Atlab and Joe Skrzynski of the Australian Film Commission. But we had a lot of supporters, due largely to the hard work and integrity of our editorial staff. The Encore editors and journalists – who numbered six full-time positions in the late 1980s – really did go the extra mile in the interests of the readers.
It was a fun time.
Greg Bright launched the Australian Film Review in 1983.
This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.