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Aust film bypasses the cinema - and, maybe, the pirates

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When South Australian filmed 100 Bloody Acres premiered at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival it did so to rave reviews.

However, according to IMDB, when it finally hit the Australian box offices it made just over $6,000. That is not to say it was a bad film; in fact just four months later it had reportedly been illegally downloaded more than 57,000 times.

“That people want to see Australian films so much that they’re prepared to break the law to do so, that’s pretty incredible customer behaviour,” says 100 Bloody Acres star Angus Sampson. “If (they’re) willing to break the law to access a story or see someone play dress ups – why don’t we make it a bit easier for them?”

Sampson is one of the creative team behind a new Australian film called The Mule, co-written and starring Saw creator and Australian actor Leigh Whannell. Set in 1983, it follows the story of a naïve drug mule holed up in a hotel room with Australian Federal Police waiting for the contents of his stomach to be dispelled.

Sampson stars alongside Whannel, Hugo Weaving, Noni Hazlehurst and John Noble in a well-crafted Australian film that you would expect to see in the cinemas.

“Yeah it would be nice to have it in cinema’s,” says Sampson. “(But) if we did that then the industry practice in this country is that you are not allowed to release it on any other platform for four months, 120 calendar days.

“Then my prerogative as producer is to say ‘you know what – I don’t know if that’s the best thing for our film’.”

The Mule will be released later this month solely on digital platforms for Australian audiences to download. It will also be replacing its red carpet premiere with a simultaneous online screening with cast and crew on the 7th December.

“We’ve been trying to work out ways to make it as easy as possible for the audience to watch the film on their terms,” Sampson says.

“For us we’re just trying to apply logic at every turn and logic states that more people have smart phones and tablets and digital devices like X-Box and Playstation and iTunes than are going to the cinema.”

The proliferation of online devices with which Australians can access films has come at a price to the industry.

The IP Awareness Foundation estimates that the one in three Australians illegally downloading films is costing the industry $575m a year.

Meanwhile, overseas distributors are acknowledging this viewing trend and are releasing movies simultaneously online and in cinemas. However, in Australia it is legislated that in order for producers to access a 40 per cent tax offset they must have a cinema release of their films.

Sampson will not disclose the budget for The Mule but says it is has already been sold to overseas markets, meaning the backers will not lose money.

“We made the film with the audience in mind – we’ve tried to put them first every step of the way,” he says.

“Fundamentally my job is to make people want to see the film and what happens after that is out of my control.”

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