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Thursday, November 6, 2008

This pissed me off...

The Courier Mail today (November 6th) published an article written by Paul Syvret titled "Embracing The Horror" - an article discussing the emergence of Australian horror films over the last five or so years; an article written to coincide with the release of Dying Breed - a Tasmanian-set cannibal feature with Nathan Philips and Leigh Whannell.

It contained these paragraphs:
"The rebirth of the Australian horror film began in earnest in 2004-2005 with the release first of Saw, then the Outback chiller Wolf Creek. Saw was dreamed up by two struggling filmmakers, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who had only enough money to fund a seven minute short film featuring Whannell with his head caught in a gruesome trap.

They hawked it around Hollywood and Twisted Pictures agreed to fund a $US1.2 million feature. Saw grossed more than $US100 million at the box office and spawned a film franchise that has so far raked in more than $US1 billion in worldwide box office and DVD sales."

Omitting the fact that they were completely snubbed by all Australian financing bodies/companies and making it seem as if Hollywood was their first port of call. And yet it's still an "Australian horror movie".

But this seems to be part of trend when it comes to reporting about Australian horror movies now.

Now Aussie horror is a subject that's personal to me. I was a fan of it before it suddenly became cool again. I love every inch of the Spierig Brothers' Undead from the first moment I heard about it. It was positively inspiring to me. I felt the same way seeing that movie as I did when I saw El Mariachi/Desperado - I could see and feel the filmmakers' love and affection on every element of every frame of every reel of the movie, even if it was just a silly zombie/alien flick. These guys wrote it, produced it, shot it, edited it, did the special effects themselves (which were damn impressive considering the low budget) and they raised the money totally independently. They shot it in their hometown north of Brisbane, they used local actors, they used local crew. And it got a significant following via the web and film festivals and is a cult film now.

I consider Undead to be one of the best Aussie horror movies, because it's fun, it's scary, it's impressive and it's locally made. I really get a sense of pride and inspiration out of it.

I also loved the first Saw. None of the sequels have held a torch to the original. The sequels have been all about the gore, but with little of the tension or character or mystery of the original. And none of the movies have matched the first one's ending twist. Saw II was okay, but a helluva lot gorier.

Like I said, I loved Aussie horror movies pre-Wolf Creek. In 2005 I wrote an essay on Australian horror movies for my Australian Cinema class, and I got top marks for it because, at the time, it was a fairly "unresearched topic". And I was interested because Aussie horror movies presented this combination of the two ideals of a national cinema: developing a national identity (for ourselves and to show to the world) and to be commercially viable (i.e. a bit of dumb fun and thrills). Indeed, there was very little research done at the time. Australian horror was a very cult property - on I discovered an Australian Horror Boxset including Patrick and Long Weekend being marketed to the Americans as a niche item. I discussed primarily Undead and the woeful post-Scream slasher Cut. I got to see Patrick, which I had heard about but never had the opportunity to see it till I chose this topic.

But I omitted Saw from most of the discussion for this reason. It got a mention, but I didn't discuss it in detail, even though it would have been the hot "Aussie" horror movie at the time. And I omitted it for this reason: I don't consider Saw an Australian film.

Now I mean absolutely no disrespect to James and Leigh - if anything, I have so much respect for them, it hurts. I respect any filmmaker who has the balls to go out and just make their movie. These guys are cool. They did it. They had an idea. They did it on a low budget. Between the two of them, they covered the script, the production, the acting, the directing, and probably some uncredited editing as well. They made their movie themselves. And it paid off big time.

But when Saw first came out, all I remember hearing was two things: 1) it was going to make people sick, and 2) these two young Australian filmmakers couldn't get their foot in the door with Australian investors. They had to take it overseas. And there's no doubt that it's paid off well for them.

But now every time there's an article in the Australian press about an Aussie horror film that's being released, there's an inevitable reference to either/both Saw and Wolf Creek. And every time I read them, there's a complete omission of the fact that James and Leigh were completely shut down at every turn in Australia by the film investment bodies. Oh how the times have changed.

Even though these guys were Australian and wrote/produced/directed/acted in their own movie, I do not consider Saw an Australian movie. It may Aussie connections with the crew, but it wasn't shot in Australia and it doesn't have an ounce of Australian financing in it.

And it really pisses me off when I read articles that gloss over the fact of their rejection.

Did it kickstart the Aussie horror trend? Probably, meaning that the quote from the Courier article is probably correct: financiers learned from their mistakes. I don't know if Wolf Creek was greenlit before or after Saw - probably before with a large amount of trepidation and hesitation.

But it really really shirts me when we forget that Leigh and James HAD to go overseas - not just wanted, but HAD to. And the continual publication of quick retrospectives like the article I read today means that sooner or later, we won't remember at all.

(I don't mean to pick on the Courier Mail article solely, but it's just the last one that I read and it was the stimulus for this blog/rant. It's part of a sad trend where we pretend like it never happened that annoys me.)


Steve said...

That is frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Most people will classify a film based on where the money has come from. Harry Potter, Bond and Charlie and the Choc factory - US movies. Saw is a US movie. I don't care that it has Australian crew in it - it is US money.

It is a sad fact that this happens everywhere. There is a huge amount of UK films a year that end up having to get $$ from elsewhere. There is a huge amount made that will barely even have a BFI screening - let alone released in more than 1 chain, or independant cinema.

The fact is it is damn risky to create a movie with unknowns. There are many many many films made, and pitched each year that could do better than things out at the cinema - but no one wants to risk their hard earned cash.

What can we do - continue to work damn hard and hope we get somewhere. In my case I intend to work where I am and buddy up to distributors and finance people in the hopes maybe one day my stuff will be made. Or at least I will get enough cash behind me to consider opening my own company to distribute and make indie films - but I expect I will snub good films on occasions.

Wolf Creek was green lit after Saw and the main reason it was made was a single famous cast memember had the script sent to them and was on board before the pitch began. Without him Wolf Creek may never have been made. Sucks - but it that is how the game is played.