Paris vs Sydney: An Actor Compares

by Florence Florens

"Australia is not such a good place to be an actor… Why don’t you move back to France?"
As one of the few French actresses in Australia, this is the recurring comment I hear from fellow Australian actors.  Well, everything is a matter of perspective. Positives can turn into negatives depending on how you look at it...and negatives can turn into positives.
I would be lying if I said that France doesn’t offer more acting opportunities than Australia. The French government just announced that 1.1% of the State budget will be injected into Culture and the Arts next year. Because the French population is almost four times larger, and its residents pay more taxes than their Australian counterparts, far more projects get funded. Film makers can access a range of financial help, from tax credits to proper funding. The Centre National du Cinéma (the equivalent of Screen Australia), assists film makers and allocates funds to film projects. Each administrative region (the equivalent of a county) also has a budget dedicated to the Arts. Film makers can take advantage of reinvestment from production companies or develop international collaborations when the budget requires it (Belgium is a big co-producer).   As an actor, that means more auditions, but it also means more, and increasing, competition. The number of registered actors has more than doubled since 2009, reaching over 30,000 in 2014. These 30,000 people are the lucky winners:  they have worked enough days in the year to access the extremely advantageous status of Intermittant du Spectacle, entitling them to unemployment benefits when they are out of work (75% of them are theatre actors, 25% are screen actors). We're not counting the many struggling actors who are ineligible to register despite their excellent training at Lecoq or some other renowned school.  
Still from Between You and Me (UK)
France's other great-seeming advantage is that employers must pay a minimum syndicated salary. In reality however, many short films still offer unpaid work due to limited budgets and a system of deferred payment exists for many low budget features, just like in Australia.  Unfortunately, the Australian government doesn’t offer a similar "registered actor" status and safety net because the Arts are not considered a priority and the country is less socialist than France. The French people receive a lot of help and compensation from their government, but there is of course a cost for this: the highest tax rate in the European Union.
The French screen industry is largely concentrated in Paris, with all that this entails. I am very protective of my quality of life, as it is conducive to good mental and physical health, and because it feeds my creativity-- and it's the main reason I chose Sydney over Paris or London.  Yes, I am passionate about my craft and storytelling, but that is not enough to support my happiness and health if everything else fails me. In Australia, we have the luxury of choosing between sunny Sydney, and the slightly less sunny Melbourne, while Parisians have to put up with an almost constant blanket of clouds above their heads,  a high risk of terrorist attacks, a high crime rate, less green space and a very different mentality. Let’s be honest, we've all heard the bad reputation that French people have for being unfriendly-- well I won’t contradict you on this one! Most jobs in Paris are offered to the director’s/producer’s/decision maker's girlfriend, so if you are married or into gender equality like me, you will be disadvantaged. I find life in France much more stressful, and the people to be quite pessimistic and aggressive -there are always exceptions obviously.  Like Londoners, Parisians are very career driven, work long hours (except in the public system where going on strike seems to be a hobby) and suffer the typical Metro/Boulot/Dodo (Underground/Work/Sleep) routine . Let's not get into the endless traffic jams or the pushing and shoving on public transport. Australians have a “no worries” culture that I really like: I find them more friendly and easy to work with. On the downside, that also means the number of perfectionists per square kilometer is much lower than in France…which is good for me, because I’m one of them!

On Set, Chasing Comets, alongside
Footie legends Jason Stephens
(Producer, TV Host) and
Beau Ryan (Actor, TV Host)
Film genre and acting style are also quite different. France is well-known for its independent Cinéma d’Auteur (Art House/independant). As opposed to commercial films, these projects are innovative and possess a personal universe. Scripts tend to be more character-based, which requires a naturalistic acting style, and offers a higher number of strong female protagonists. Nudity is more often required however, so French actresses who are not comfortable being naked on camera are more limited than in Australia. Just like in Australia, many French directors must alternate between commercial projects and Art House films in order to survive and finance their next project.
AM?I at the Edinburg Festival (Amnesty Award Finalist)
From my point of view, the biggest negative in the Australian screen industry is the lack of diversity. Many actors from African and Arabic backgrounds have gained prominence on French screens in the last 10 years, and the industry has made a place for non-native speakers like the British actress Jane Birkin and the Italian icon Monica Belluci.  In the same way, Hollywood reinforces its openness to showcasing actors from various backgrounds and languages: Wonder Woman, Inception, Black Swan, Jurassic Park 3, and Casino Royale to name a few. Though things are slowly shifting in Australia, I still come across those who struggle to think outside of the box. I have to remind them that I can play the wife, the love interest, the professional, the friend, the step sister, the step daughter – anything except the (Australian) daughter or sister. One third of Australians are born overseas, which means that producers and TV channels have yet to reach more than 30% of the Australian market. The industry is starting to recognize this, and we are seeing more and more Asian, Aboriginal, Lebanese and non-Anglo-looking Australians on the screen.  One of Sydney’s well-known casting directors Faith Martin recently confirmed to me that “Diversity is everywhere at the moment”. The very successful and avant-garde production company MatchBox Pictures, known to adapt roles to an actor’s background, offered a recurring role to a native Italian speaker in their new series Pulse, and cast some Persian, Maltese and Arabic speakers in the heart-warming Ali’s Wedding (currently in cinemas, check it out!). Even if the industry is not as diverse as in France, things have started to shift positively.
On the set of a National Geographic shoot (NatGeo People Australia)
In conclusion, Australians tend to put Europe on a pedestal and don’t realize the potential of their own industry or the luck they have to live in such a safe, healthy and beautiful country. Although the screen industry is undeniably smaller than in France, there is also much less competition – there are not a lot of European actresses in Australia, especially with the same level of English as me! And let’s not forget that the French screen industry wasn’t built in a day. It resulted from the hard work and rebellion of thousands of artists and entrepreneurs who led the way and forged the path for their contemporaries. The French are advantaged because artists and crew members constantly fight for their rights and for better conditions by campaigning, going on strike and marching in the streets (although I am not recommending it, I've even witnessed some Intermittants du Spectacle taking over the set of a live show!).  Australia is such a young country, which means that everything is yet to be made. It is so exciting to think that we are the game-changers, that we are taking part in the youth of the country’s artistic industry, that we are witnessing the current shift in diversity and local content initiatives, such as MEAA's Make it Australian campaign. It is our responsibility to make things happen, to create content and to change mentalities. To write, to foster collaborations, to develop international co-productions, to campaign, to challenge gender inequality and the lack of diversity. And I am determined to be one of those people.  

Photo by Stephanie Saar

For more on Florence Florens, check out on IMDb or at 

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