These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
During the debate Screen International reported that Paul Trijbits, who for several years was Head of the UKFC’s New Cinema Fund, cited a recent study by Oxford Economics which found that the total value of film to the UK economy was £4.5bn, but of that, independent British films only represent 1.3%.
There you have it. That’s just how bad things are for UK independent film-makers: 1.3%. That’s just how much of an American cultural colony we are. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if even French films have a bigger share than we do.
Oh yes – in France 10% of the turnover of every single broadcaster has to be spent on French film production and film acquisition.
Archive for the ‘Box office’ Category
These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
The UK Film Council has just published its Statistical Yearbook for 2009. In order to save you from the hassle of wading through its obfuscatory pages, here’s some of the key data – from which you’ll get some idea of just how foreign dominated the UK market is
Ten distributors had 92.2% of the UK market – slightly down on last year. Of these one is French (Pathe) and one English (Entertainment). Almost all of Entertainment’s films involved their acquiring UK rights from major US distributors – Warners, Universal, and New Line in particular.
All together these ten companies had a total box office gross of £1billion (near as makes no difference). The other eighty-three (yes, 83) distributors shared £83.5 million.
Nine of the ‘other 83 companies’ were the largest distributors of foreign (i.e. non-English language – funny how ‘American’ is not classed as ‘foreign’) films, distributing between them a total of 62 films with a combined box-office gross of £17.2million. Foreign-language films are particularly attractive as, if of EU origin, they are heavily subsidised.
Of course foreign films featured widely in the portfolios of other distributors as well, but the UKFC doesn’t bother trying to give a clear picture (of anything, really); however it would be safe to assume at least £20million+ (i.e.25% of what the ‘other 83’ share).
This would appear to suggest that approximately 75 distributors had a bit less than 5% of the box office – a total of about £60 million gross. Subtract from that both what the cinema owners take and the distributors’ prints and advertising costs and you’re left with a net of, what? Less than £20million? And don’t forget, that’s not from 75 films, but from the total portfolios of 75 companies.
From all this it’s clear that, if your film wasn’t acquired by one of the American majors (or Pathe) the chances of it grossing even £100,000 (and you therefore seeing maybe £10,000) at the box office are remote.
But what we really want to know is, how much do films make on that all important DVD market? The UKFC provides us with virtually no data at all on this. All they do tell us is that a film with a box of gross of £100,000 would sell, on average, 20,000 copies – from which the filmmaker might see £50,000
The UKFC provides no data on the straight to DVD market – even though that’s where most UK films go. Nor do they provide any data for revenues from TV sales or any other markets. But it is safe to say that it must be really, really hard for a filmmaker to net just £100,000 – and that’s the measure of just how American dominated our film market is.
My good friend Jenny Inchbald, of Asha Media, Manchester, pointed out to me that the US multiplex monopoly means that the Arthouse circuit represents the only theatrtical opportunity for independent British films. Unfortunately the UK Film Council adopted the line that the British filmakings failure was due to the failure to make multiplex fare. The result has been an endless parade of derivative genre films made on a tenth of their US equivalents’ budgets which, despite often being no worse than the dross they aim to copy, fail to secure any form of widespread release.
But it has also resulted in the UK Film Council losing increasing amounts of money as this ‘dumbing down’ strategy backfires and blows up in their face.
What’s more by being mainstream they have no arthouse appeal, will never make it on to anyone’s ‘must see list’, and are not attractive to discerning European audiences who’d much rather watch anything by Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, or Shane Meadows. As a result these films have no backend either. So, strangely, making films we’re actually proud of is probably makes better commercial sense.
Recently the UK Film Council has been trumpeting the fact that Hollywood has recently outsourced several blockbuster, such as The Dark Knight and Warner’s ‘Harry Potter’ to UK production facilities as being somehow a triumph for British Cinema. And this trumpeting reached a farcical volume with its now ex-chairman, Stuart Till’s wild claims that British films had 15% of the box office. When there’s that much noise it makes you wonder what they’re trying to cover up with the racket.
And the bare facts are nothing short of appalling. The Film Council invests soft loans in British films, but it does have a target to make back around 30%. The trouble is it’s now nowhere near this target – which is hardly surprising given how for British filmmakers Film Council policies things made things go from bad to worse, with now maybe forty-nine out of fifty British films losing money.
Ah! But then they point to ‘Slumdog’. OK, so its UK revenues go to Pathe, and the rest of the world to Fox; but, as Screen International terms such films, it was made ‘outside of the US’. The ‘Slumdog’ effect was to boost independent film’s box-office returns by more than 6% in the first half of this year. But take Slumdog out of the equation and you discover that the indie box-office share has plummeted by over 25%.
There’s a recession going on, private investment has dried up, soft money’s being cut, and it’s Hollywood with the resources to clobber the rest of us with 3D blockbusters we simply can’t compete with. Already this year Hollywood’s global market share has jumped by a third to over 66%.
But has all this caused the Film Council to grapple with reality, campaign for similar quotas to France, Germany – and anywhere else that wants to preserve its own filmmaking, to call for a quota for British films on terrestrial TV, to advocate the introduction of an optional ‘un-rated 18′ as in America which would be of real benefit to no and micro-budget filmmakers and to UK distributors as well? No it hasn’t. Instead they chalk all this up as one great big bloody success.
The following is very much based on an entry in US indie film producer, Ted Hope’s blog: Truly Free Film.
Ted was dealing specifically with the American context, which does have many similarities with that in the UK, but I’ve attempted to make it more UK specific.
Here’s my version of his ‘first the bad news’ beginning.
- US arthouse admissions are down 66%. I’ve never found details for arthouse admissions in the UK, but I would not be surprised if the impact of both ‘indiewood’, centralised programming, and the decline in decent film journalism had not had a significant impact here.
- Ted estimates that now only 4% of independent US features get traditional distribution. In the UK the chances are considerably less.
- Even if a film obtains a UK distributor or sales agent acquisition offer, it will not include an advance.
- Private investment has ‘withered on the vine’.
- International sales prices have dropped by 40% and presales have all but dried up.
- Recession hits non-profit making arts organisations and festivals particularly hard, they are one of the first places where cuts fall.
This isn’t the result of a ‘Hollywood’ conspiracies. If there’s a decline in the number of indie film oriented magazines and critics, then it’s hard to get exposure for indie films. If you’re an exhibitor, why should you take a chance on a film with no ‘A’ or ‘B’ list stars, little or no media coverage and no marketing budget? If you’re a distributor, why should you acquire, let alone pay an advance for, a film which is unlikely to make you any money?
And if you’re an audience member who’s a fan of indie films and who doesn’t live in London, the easiest way you can see them is to download them from the internet – and if the bootleggers seem to care more for you than the ‘industry’ you’ll have few qualms about downloading for free.
That’s the current state of ‘the old model’ – it’s going nowhere other than off the edge of a cliff.
The good news though is, there’s maybe an alternative.
The social media which enable peer to peer dialogue exist. Word of mouth is far more important and far less ephemeral. You cannot afford to ignore these technologies; you have to develop a fan base, to enter into a dialogue with your audience. We have to start thinking and acting more like fringe theatre companies and bands.
But we need more than just facebook or twitter, we need a more precise knowledge of our audiences, where they are and how to reach them. In America many theatrical screenings of ‘Four-Eyed Monsters’ have been the result of fans campaigning for their local independent cinema to put the film on – or maybe it would be better to call such people ‘friends’?
When it comes to such as music, theatre, or fine art, it’s the writers, performers, musicians and artists who’ve been the innovators – whether in form, promotion, marketing, design, experimentation, or event organisation. As filmmakers we have to do the same.
Once we saw film festivals as how we’d try to sell our films to sales agents and distributors. But that’s changed. Now they can play an important part in publicising your film, your website, your social networks, of building your fan base – and communicating that it’s available on DVD.
Phil Hawkins has been drawing lessons from his low/micro-budget adaptation of Philip Pullmans’ novel, The Butterfly Tattoo. Phil’s sales agent negotiated a limited theatrical + DVD release in the USA and the film has sold to several other territories. As we’ve come to expect it has not sold to the UK.
But now the film is being illegally downloaded in very large numbers – already more than 200,000. Phil writes about this, taking the line that it’s inevitable and that filmmakers have to learn how to connect with this – and how that’s difficult if you are looked into a conventional sales and distribution deal.
His post has generated at least 30 comments. There’s much food for thought here as well as some very good ideas and suggestions. Check it out at:
When we were working on Diary of a Bad Lad, Michael and I kicked around the idea of doing a trilogy of genre-bending moc-docs – with a the possibilities of each release revitalising sales of the others, of bringing out the ‘three volume box set’, the ‘connoisseurs edition’ and so on. And the ideas weren’t bad either.
Second in the series was “Serial Cannibal”, a film set in a near future in which small documentary crews could get the chance of interviewing a convicted serial killer, held in a special ‘secure house’, and awaiting deportation to France in exchange for a batch of asylum seekers; with their efforts being recorded, ‘Big Brother’ style, by hidden cameras. A sort of modern day version of throwing Christians to the lions, only with desperate filmmakers.
But the last was to be the sickest of all, the ‘were we really going too far this time’ moment. And we started telling people that the basic idea was: Fred and Rose West’s home videos.
But there was much more to it than that. It involved a return to our Bad Lad creation, ‘Tommy Morghen’. Tommy had become an executive producer, credited not only with Bad Lad, but also Serial Cannibal. Tommy gets a surprise visit from one of the children (a son) of a couple modelled on the Wests, but obviously with different names, who is offering the tapes for sale; and he reckons Tommy Morghen may just be unprincipled enough to buy them. But what the son fails to reckon with is Tommy’s decision to make a documentary about all the issues this raises and which will, amongst other things, cost him his soul.
And then what did we find out? Only that Film London had green-lit under their ‘Microwave’ scheme an openly ‘Wests-inspired’ (how could the Wests inspire anything?) film called ‘Mom and Dad’, which was a piece of pure exploitation; and that Film London had even fewer principles than Tommy Morghen.
But, unlike North West Vision, Film London had made a distribution deal with ‘Revolver’ who simultaneously released the film across all platforms on the Boxing Day 2008 weekend – the one weekend when no Box-office figures are collected because nobody goes to the cinema, which is pretty much the same as getting it all over and done with before anyone noticed; and before anyone started asking if this barrel-bottom-scraping was what Film London really should be doing in the first place.
Still, at least they were trying to be commercial, and they did green-light ‘Shifty’, which was critically very well received – but which you wouldn’t be able to see in a thirty mile radius around a very large town with a premiership football team like Blackburn.
‘Shifty’, £100,000 production budget from Film London, and then an additional £156,000 of marketing money from the Film Council’s ‘Specialised Prints and Advertising Fund’ awarded to the film’s distributor, Metrodome, so that it could open on 50, instead of only 25, screens – which works out as a subsidy of £6240 per additional screen. And, as the Film Council usually operates a ‘match-funding’ policy, it’s fair to assume that Metrodome was spending the same amount, and so the film enjoyed a marketing spend of over £300,000, as well as a lot of very favourable free media publicity.
But after only four weeks fifty screens had shrunk to five, with the film taking a site average of £568 -which is still more than Fast and Furious (£386) or 17 Again (£545) – and a current gross of £137,264. So it looks as though Shifty will close without even grossing its Film Council marketing subsidy.
I want to make it quite plain that I am not knocking ‘Shifty’. It’s a film that opened with a site average which put it well in the top ten by this criteria. And for anyone who cares to look at the figures they’ll see that the multiplexes routinely have Hollywood product playing on hundreds of screens racking up multi-million takings from smaller site averages.
This is what the problem is – without quotas most of us won’t be able to see British independent films with a profit making potential like Shifty in our local cinema. We have to challenge the likes of the Film Council, North west Vision and Film London who are using tax payer and lottery players’ money for what are ‘vanity executive producing projects’ whilst doing nothing that would actually make a difference.
We deserve better than this.
I just found this…
From: The Guardian, 29 April 2009
‘Mike Leigh, speaking at Queen Mary University of London this week… condemned the “tragedy that innovative, important, entertaining work is being made, but doesn’t get an airing on our screens – because we are flooded with material from the mostly sterile source of Hollywood”. In film, he added, “there is, and always has been, tons of unadulterated shit”.’
American distributors take more than 80% of a UK box office that’s almost completely dominated by American productions.January 14, 2009
Here’s the figures for the biggest distributors of 2008 at the UK box office (as published in the Hollywood Reporter). By the way, bottom of the list is British company, Entertainment Film Distributors who scored well from acquiring the UK rights to “Sex and the City”.
Still, here’s the figures for just how much money the americans took from the pockets of the British audience last year; read ‘em and weep…
LONDON — Universal Pictures International claimed the crown as the U.K.’s No. 1 distributor in 2008 on the back of a slew of hits, the biggest of them “Mamma Mia!” which secured a whopping 67.9 million pounds ($100.8 million) according to figures obtained from Nielsen EDI.
Overall, the 2008 boxoffice hit 952 million pounds ($1.4 billion), up from £905 million in 2007.
UPI, Universal’s overseas distribution arm, took 176.6 million pounds ($262.1 million) for the year, an 18.5% market share. It outgunned nearest rival Paramount Pictures International, which finished with 161 million pounds ($239 million), good for second place with a 16.9% market share.
PPI’s best performer was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which whipped up 40 million pounds ($59.4 million) at the U.K. boxoffice.
In third was Sony Pictures International, which secured a 12.5% market share and a respectable 119.2 million pounds ($177 million). SPI’s best boxoffice showing was “Quantum of Solace,” which bonded with audiences to the tune of 50.7 million pounds ($75.3 million).
Warner Bros. landed at No. 4 with an 11% market share and a 105.1 million pounds ($156 million) boxoffice tally. “The Dark Knight” proved Warners’ top release, earning 48.7 million pounds ($72.3 million).
Rounding out last year’s top five is Walt Disney Studios International, which secured a 9.9% market share and 94.7 million pounds ($140.3 million), with “WALL-E” topping its efforts and taking 22.8 million pounds ($33.8 million).
Fox took a 9.4% market share and 89.7 million pounds ($133.1 million), with “Juno” fast-talking its way to 9.7 million pounds ($14.4 million), the data show.
Entertainment Film Distributors again was the top indie in the territory, grabbing an 8% market share and 75.9 million pounds ($112.5 million). Its best performance came from “Sex and the City,” which sashayed to 26.4 million pounds ($39.2 million) for the year.