When you open up the Tropfest website, the first thing you see is a picture of Toni Collette, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Nicole Kidman standing at the event grounds, ready to watch a showcase produced by the best unrecognised talent in the Australian film industry.
It’s the kind of prestigious, but illusionary display that has convinced filmmakers to specifically produce and submit films for the competition over the last 23 years. As far as they believe, the people behind Tropfest are thrilled by the opportunity of presenting their work to industry heavyweights at home and overseas, along with the 100,000 public attendees who may just become your legion of fans by night’s end. They’re going to be stars!
The truth is that while Tropfest certainly started with good intentions, and that its reign as the world’s biggest film festival was well deserved, over the years it’s become nothing but a rotation of predictable content that has left filmmakers and fans dissatisfied as they wait for a usurper to take the throne.
Still, nothing could have prepared us for Tropfest’s decision to launch a Pozible campaign in early 2016, asking for $100,000 to develop a sustainable business model for future events. That’s $100,000 to hire consultants and run market surveys. Not a cent is actually going to be directed at the event which, only a few months ago, looked like it had been cancelled permanently following a gross mismanagement of funds.
The breakdown of their plans to spend the funds is telling:
Strategic review and business model restructure: $45,000
Finance & governance review: $7,500
Research – filmmakers, industry, audiences, supporters: $20,000
Fundraising plan development: $17,500
Travel & accommodation (domestic): $5,000
Project expenses – conferencing, research materials, printing, transcribing, admin: $5,000
So, after outsourcing the management of the company and losing “6 figures”, you now want to raise 6 figures to outsource the strategic planning of the company?
Reality check, guys.
This is what running a business is. The job of a CEO and of the Directors of any business is to build a profitable strategic plan and then implement it. That’s what they’re getting paid a wage / directors fees for. Not for hanging out at festivals with famous people. For actually, you know, running the business.
The tale of What Went Wrong With Tropfest is exactly the reason The 8 Percent was born. Because when you outsource the business element of your business, you’re always open to being ripped off. No one running a business can afford to outsource the strategic planning and money-making part to someone else.
You’ve had 23 years to come up with a sustainable business model.
Does that mean it can’t be done?
But $45,000 for a business model restructure?
You could throw a brick and hit 200 young startup founders who are constantly reviewing and restructuring their business model in order to make it more profitable – for free.
$20,000 for research into your marketplace? You’ve been operating for 23 years. How can you possibly not have that information?
If you’d attempted to fund the festival via crowdfunding, you have had a significantly higher chance of hitting your goal. Tropfest has a lot of goodwill with attendees, and people would have jumped to have helped.
But to attempt to crowdfund consultants fees to make your business sustainable?
It’s not your fans responsibility to find a way for you to pay your bills. That’s the whole point of a business. You’ve had 23 years to come up with a sustainable business model.
On February 3rd, with 16 days left to go, the campaign has raised less than 2% of its target.
I wonder if John Polson and his team are surprised? From Damon Gameau’s inane and derivative Animal Beatbox, which won in 2011, or Bamboozled, the 2014 winner that was called, at best, unfunny, and at worst, transphobic, public outcry has warned of Tropfest’s downfall for years. Even as far back as 1998, the cliche fundamentals of a successful Tropfest film were well known. Paul Fenech, who would later go on to create Fat Pizza, entered under the fake name of Laura Feinstein once he heard Polson planned for the year’s winner to be a female. He won.
Aspiring filmmakers, who had once spent their entire year raising the budget for their next Tropfest entry, were turning elsewhere, fearing their artistic ambitions and desire to make well-rounded films no longer fit the criteria. Tropfest’s terms and conditions, which include giving the company perpetual license to the film’s rights, weren’t helping either.
Still, Tropfest founder John Polson would take to the stage year after year and exclaim how great the event was as a platform for rising Australian talent making their films on spare change. It’s a lie fans stopped believing the day they saw underwater car crashes and films shot entirely in green screen studios. Budgets totalling in the thousands has been the norm for some time, and going on about how it all started in a tiny Sydney cafe is nothing but a disservice to the filmmakers who have taken extraordinary efforts to be part of the competition.
When the festival was cancelled indefinitely in 2015, it came as a shock to most, but the intermittent calls of support that followed came primarily from the audience, not the industry. Filmmakers were ready for the next competition to take Tropfest’s place, hoping that it would represent the kind of values that had made Tropfest such a pillar of Australia’s cultural landscape in years gone by. That didn’t change when Polson announced the 2015 event would now be held in February 2016 thanks to funding from CGU Insurance, which the majority predicted would be their last.
The crowdfunding campaign has failed to gain traction in its crucial opening days, and is very likely to go down as an embarrassing gaffe that proves Tropfest is no longer relevant. That Polson hasn’t received a call from the four megastars on the Tropfest homepage, or any of those who the festival claims it set up for glory, says more than this article could.
Here’s to Tropfest saying goodbye in 2016 with a winner deserving of the festival’s legacy, before making way for the next big thing in Australia’s burgeoning film industry.