Boomers boost Oz box office

SYDNEY — Not so long ago, Aussie distribs would pounce on any film with “Wedding” in the title, but their strategies shifted after the breakout success of “Death at a Funeral” and their growing awareness of time-rich baby boomers.

“Any film with ‘Funeral’ in the title we’ll buy,” quips Richard Payten, managing director of Transmission Films. He’s only half-joking. Transmission, launched in February by ex-Dendy co-toppers Payten and Andrew Mackie, has a joint-venture deal with Paramount that’s already notched success with John Curran’s “The Painted Veil.”

“‘The Painted Veil’ had a body count, it was aimed at that older market, but it played broader,” Payten says.

Icon was the top indie distrib in Oz during the last 12 months, grossing $30 million, half of which came from “Death at a Funeral” ($12 million, since its October bow).

Icon’s success came despite considerable corporate upheaval. Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey’s distribution outfit acquired Becker Group’s Dendy Films, Becker Intl. and Dendy Cinemas earlier this year. Shingle, run by Greg Denning in Oz, is working through a significantly larger release slate (which now includes Dendy titles) and is itself the target of a takeover by ex-Polygram boss Stuart Till, who has plans to build Icon into an international indie circuit.

As the global financial crisis begins to be felt within the production sector, indie distribs expect some projects being shopped at the American Film Market will not be made. And fewer titles could eventually drive prices up.

At the same time, Oz distribs are concerned about the dropping value of the Oz dollar, which tumbled from a high of about 95¢ against the U.S. dollar to about 64¢ in October.

The boss of Oz’s third-biggest indie, Hopscotch’s Troy Lum, says that, with his pic prebuys due for delivery in the next two years, “Our acquisitions budgets have blown out. I’ll have to be very careful at AFM.”

VOD and Web distribution are not yet making an impact in Oz because dominant market player BigPond, major telco Telstra’s VOD platform, isn’t very aggressive. Dominant feevee platform Foxtel, in which Telstra has a 50% share, is, however actively plowing the same market.

Also, bandwidth in Australia is slow compared with other developed nations and, culturally, Aussies have not embraced the technology.

2008 B.O.

$507 million (to Oct. 12)

Top title

“The Dark Knight” ($31 million)

Recent pickups

“Alpha and Omega” (Hoyts)

“Broken Embraces” (Transmission)

“Fame” (Icon)

“Gomorra” (Madman)

“The Wrestler” (Hopscotch)