Understanding Other Audiences: An Australian In America

Today's guest post is from Louise Smith, the producer of Nash Edgerton's THE SQUARE (out now in theaters in the US and highly recommended). I’ve just returned from a trip to New York & LA for the release of my film THE SQUARE.

In the lead up to the opening weekend, I was part of some Q & A sessions with Nash Edgerton (the director), and we were asked a couple of questions that I thought I’d share with you:

Had we ever thought to subtitle our movie (the lady who asked the question said she couldn’t understand our accents) Does everyone in Australia have a mullet Hmmm… no and… um, no.

The Square -Anthony Hayes (Smithy)-(p)MatthewNettheim_2

The cultural gap between Australia & America is always bigger than we Aussies anticipate – especially from the eyes of an American looking toward Australia. We however, consume American movies and TV all the time, so there’s no language or cultural things for us to learn about your characters when we watch them… we know them already because we’ve grown up on them.

This is my first feature as producer and my first experience of releasing a film in this market. It’s a tough gig to get an Aussie film on American theatrical screens – and I’ve been learning a lot, especially from Apparition, our distributors.

It’s corny to say it, but I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. It’s so different to releasing a film back in Australia. So many different things to consider – the population alone is staggering – and the number of key city centres across the country – just fantastic for a genre pic like this to hopefully find it’s niche.

It’s been a real treat for me (and relief considering the questions above) to have such a positive recognition and understanding of our film by so many American reviewers and industry professionals. I had an Australian film journalist ask me today why I thought this was? (ie that American reviewers understood the film in ways that reviewers in Australia hadn’t) and I don’t have an answer, other than to say that genre is a huge part of the cinematic experience for Americans in a way that it just isn’t for Australian audiences. I love how passionate American audiences are for genre.

I loved sitting in the cinema watching THE SQUARE and seeing the way people jumped and screamed and audibly yelled at the screen! (We are much more shy in Australia) and I loved the way in which people understood the dark humour that Nash brings to the screen. That part of our story telling needs no translation – and this excites me.

I love that we have been able to release Nash’s short film SPIDER along with the feature and that this is a real crowd enticer!

Actually, when we were trying to get a distributor on board for the US, Nash & I (along with Pathe our sales agent) set up 2 screenings, one in NYC and one in LA for various potential local distributors. We knew we wanted them to see it with an audience because we knew that it played at its best when there’s a full room reacting to the various plot turns. So we filled the cinemas with friends around the distributors.

We had also planned to show SPIDER prior THE SQUARE mainly to get people in the mood… let them know it’s OK to laugh at this film. However, right before our first screening, we hesitated. Someone had mentioned to us that we maybe shouldn’t show it to an American audience in this way and so we began to doubt our instinct.

Then in walked Chris Rock.

He had seen THE SQUARE in Australia when he was on tour and had gone out of his way to contact Nash to congratulate him on it. Anyway, the first thing he said to Nash was that he’d watched SPIDER on YouTube the night before and he thought it was great. (actually I think he said something about Nash’s talent for shocking people but I can’t really remember and I wouldn’t dare paraphrase Chris Rock!) I just know that suddenly the answer was clear… We ran up to the projection box and asked them to play SPIDER first.

And lucky we did – because it was the combination of these two films that made Bob Berney from Apparition sit up and take note. And here we are… our first weekend in the US and we had the 3rd highest screen average overall.

Anyway… it’s still a long way to go and my Australian sensibility says to delete that last paragraph… it’s too early to get excited… But maybe that’s one cultural thing I can take up from my American film friends… there’s no need to be shy.

Louise Smith has been producing  television commercials and feature films for over than ten years. Her debut feature film production THE SQUARE, just released in the USA, and was nominated for 7 Australian Film Institute  Awards as well as being only one of 12 films selected for Official Competition in the inaugural Sydney Film Festival‘s international Sydney Film Prize.

In 2002 she co-produced the feature film THE RAGE IN PLACID LAKE starring Ben Lee, Rose Byrne, Garry McDonald and Miranda Richardson. Smith currently has projects in development with directors Ben Chessell and Rachel Griffiths, with whom she has already made two short films.