There’s nothing Aussie about Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic
Whether you're a frequent movie-buff or the casual cinemagoer, it's most likely your next visit to the big screen will be for a Hollywood movie.
Or at least that's what you think.
Audiences often judge the "nationality" of a film by its content and star-cast. We go for our Hollywood A-lister fix and believe that we're in for an American treat. Yet we forget the fact that other key ingredients and personalities involved, like the director, may come from entirely different countries.
Australia has frequently played the role of this "other country" over the last two decades - to the extent that the line between an "Australian movie" and an "Australian-made" one has become very blurry.
Blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok and Aquaman are just two recent movies which used Australian federal screen incentives and received a specified tax rebate for running large portions of their production Down Under.
There's no denying that these big-budget films employ Aussie personnel and use Aussie locations for shoots, and in doing so bring profound benefits in local employment and sweet stimulus for our national and state economies. However, despite large portions of these products being made in Australia, does this really make them Australian per se?
This question was never a key concern in the Australian film industry - until Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.
By 2013, Australian-born Luhrmann had already made an outstanding name for himself in Hollywood. With works like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge under his belt, Luhrmann's decision to bring The Great Gatsby home meant - in many people's minds - a truly flagship Aussie production.
But criticisms about the film came into play when Screen Australia approved a $40 million tax-rebate for the production.
Naturally, the film's evidently American content and setting meant that its "Australianness" was questioned, primarily by Australian producers who felt they wrongfully were denied their own rebates.
And now, Luhrmann has his sights set on his homeland once more, with a Queensland-based production for his upcoming Elvis Presley biopic.
Much like the preceding Hollywood productions which docked on Australian shores, the biopic is expected to contribute 900 jobs and more than $105 million for the Queensland economy.
Like The Great Gatsby, this biopic is also a narrative with strong American roots. Yet, it too will largely employ Australian staff and filming locations. So does this mean Luhrmann can again receive the same tax-rebates? If the answer is no, then why was The Great Gatsby considered "Australian" in the first place?
The reality is - it never should have been.
At the time, Screen Australia justified The Great Gatsby as significantly Australian content by clarifying their SAC test factors in "whether a film is Australian in its DNA, rather than whether it has kangaroos in it".
Luhrmann too corroborated the movie's "Australian stamp" to its Australian vision, location and largely Aussie crew. Ultimately, however, it was based on American content with a number of international actors in prime roles, predominantly financed by US-based Warner Bros. Studios, and marketed towards the US domestic market.
It also did little to enhance our country's brand image or attract foreign tourists.
This means the only reason The Great Gatsby could ever be considered Australian is because of the Australian production input. But by that logic, it could be argued that all Hollywood productions which film in Australia should be branded as Australian.
But now, as undeniably foreign productions like Dora The Explorer and Godzilla V. King Kong come Down Under we're forced to confront this inconvenient truth all the more.
So when it comes to Luhrmann's upcoming Elvis biopic, any motivation to deem it Australian is a long stretch.
It may still be worth a tax rebate if the net result is to bring in more stimulus and employment opportunities than we'd otherwise receive without that incentive, but can our taxpayer-funded film agencies like Screen Australia just be honest with us? And can we finally be honest with ourselves?
Jay Bedi is an actor, screenwriter and founder of Nylero Entertainment and a research associate at the Australian Taxpayer's Alliance.