It seemed only appropriate that I complete my 8-month Producers Attachment with Joanna Werner on the very day her teen juggernaut hit Australian cinemas: April 6th 2017.
Supported by Film Victoria and Open Channel, last September I commenced a part-time Post-Production and Marketing Producers Attachment at Werner Film Productions on the movie Dance Academy (2017, dir. Jeffrey Walker).
The film, a continuation of the hit ABC children's television series, was a title I was genuinely excited to work across because of its enormous invested fanbase.
If you don't remember (SPOILER ALERT), the tragic death of Sammy in Season 2 catapulted the series beyond its already cemented hit status to another level. The #RememberSammy hashtag became an expression of collective grief for the show's young audience, a movement. Five years on this plot point is still so very real to the Dance Academy audience. Sammy remains omnipresent in the comments and 'crying face' emoji's of the show's fans. Their investment blows me away (the comments!).
(Without a dime of paid spend, the official Dance Academy Facebook page has over 320,000 followers to date and averages anywhere between 1,000–5,000+ Post Likes.)
The film capitalises on its audience's investment by answering the question left hanging at the end of Season 3: what happened to the cast of dancers after graduation?
Tara Webster was destined to become one of the top dancers of her generation before a devastating injury crippled her career. In her quest to defy the odds, and make her comeback, Tara will discover what being defined by a dream really means.
"OK, I’m just going to say this right at the start: Dance Academy, a feature film sequel to the successful Australian television series, is better than La La Land."—Stephen Romei, The Australian (4 stars)
At a time when audiences are more fragmented than ever, thanks to infinite online access to the long tail, it's rare for an Australian feature film to be approaching its theatrical release with as much promise as Dance Academy.
Distributors StudioCanal had their work cut out: crack this film open beyond its fanbase. I would have expected some really forward-thinking, interactive and long-lead uses of social to do this, but it begs a larger question: what resources do boutique Australian distributors (or film production companies themselves) have to properly capitalise on audience investment in the online space? Surely...transmedia extensions are...the future?
At its aspirational heart, Dance Academy should resonate with broader audiences, if StudioCanal can just get them into the cinema complex. Stephen Romei puts it well:
"Dance Academy asks: is the dream worth it?"
Screen Australia reported that the frequency of cinema attendance was on the decline: in 2016, the average attendance of Australian cinema-going audiences dropped to just 6.6 visits from 7.3 visits in 2010.
It's such a post-generational question for a young person to be asking themselves, after a childhood of being told they can be whoever and whatever their hearts desire. And it's this question really hits the core of why Dance Academy is relevant outside the dance community. I only hope the film can nuzzle its way into the news feeds of high school students contemplating what subjects to choose or fretting over their mid-year exams: it's primed better than most Australian films to show producers why we continue to make movies in this country.