Archive for the ‘Media Studies’ Category

Shameful facts hidden in the UK Film Council’s Statistical Report 2009

July 23, 2010

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.


“Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age” with Scott Kirsner

February 5, 2010

FACT, Liverpool, 27 Jan 2010, 10am – 4pm , organised by Northwest Vision & Media

About two and a half years ago I was at a NWV&M event at Fact which focused on independent feature filmmaking. In fact I was a member of one of the panels and spoke at the event. It was held in FACT’s large cinema and the event was packed.

Since then interest in low/no-budget independent cinema has been growing exponentially, and all the talk is about ‘new distribution models’ through which filmmakers seek to connect with their audiences, utilise the power of the internet, cut out ranks of middle-men and (in some cases) actually make some money.

American journalist, Scott Kirsner, has quite a reputation as a commentator on these developments, and he’s best known for his book, “Fans, Friends and Followers”. Attendance at the event was free, but you had to reserve tickets – and, hardly surprisingly, they’d all gone almost as soon as the event was announced.

So I arrived at FACT full of anticipation. And I was particularly looking forwards to bumping into many old friends. I had to get my skates on too as I was ten minutes late.

But where was everybody? A few people were hanging around in the foyer, helping themselves to NWV&M’s free coffee and biscuits, or looking at the floor. Just what was going on?

We then were ushered into some side room. Quite large and capable of holding a decent number if it wasn’t full of regimented rows of identical maroon-coloured sofas. I kid you not. What was this, some storeroom for a particularly unpopular model from DFS?

OK, so it did have a large projection screen and a lectern, but no microphones or PA., which meant that NWV&Ms introduction by Lynn Kelly, their  ‘Head of Skills’, bumbled away somewhere in the background for a few minutes whilst I was looking around and seeing a few HD camcorders set up to record the event. “But no one’s got a mic on!” I thought, “Who is responsible for this display of incompetence?”

Scott did his standard powerpoint presentation. At least he was well used to addressing audiences, had an engaging manner, and did know that, under these circumstances, you had to speak up. I’ll return to what he had to say in a minute.

Scott was followed by Krishna Stott and Enda Carey. Someone probably introduced them, but I didn’t catch what they had to say. Krishna looked as if he’d been called that because his parents had lived in a commune. Neither he nor Enda stood up. After a while they stopped mumbling and it was time for our free lunch.

The afternoon was supposed to be devoted to helping people formulate new media-based ‘plans of action’. It was ‘facilitated’ by Krishna. At least he stood up, but beyond his repeating Scott Krisner’s list of key points, he didn’t seem to have anything to say. Still, Scott was still there with his laptop connected to the digital projector, and at one moment he opened up Krishna’s site –, which describes itself as ‘compelling interactive entertainment’. It turned out that Scott has had success making pop videos and the like; but other than getting him an Arts Council grant, ‘bellyfeel’ seemed to have hardly found an audience, let alone any ‘Fans or Friends’. In point of fact Krishna ended up confessing that he hoped he might be able to sell some of the content to kids TV… You could go and see for yourself by clicking the link, but I don’t like to be cruel.

The thing is, Mark Ashmore and Jenny Inchbald of Future Artists were there in the audience. They regularly speak at and organise events around this sort of stuff – and they do it miles better than this yet another example of NWV&M incompetence. Obviously I have nothing against Krishna and wish him every success, but just why did NWV&M put him in such a position in the first place? Have they no idea about what’s going on?

Still, back to Scott. There’s a few things that you need to bear in mind: the USA is a vastly bigger market, filmmakers can release films ‘unrated’, if you don’t want what you’re watching interrupted every five minutes by adverts (or to see any intelligent factual material) you have to pay, and people give more to charity.

Social networking, etc, is growing like wildfire. But when it comes to audio-visual material the market is still absolutely dominated by DVDs. Selling DVDs from your own site means you get most of the money, but shifting 1,000 copies this way adds up to a major achievement. By way of contrast “The Football Factory” has sold over 600,000 copies through High St shops. Drama, even when it’s micro-budget, still costs money to produce, and it’s only things like the Finnish sensation, Star Wreck, that’s generated decent incomes for its rights owners – and that’s because most of the SX content has been provided free by legions of enthusiastic hobbyists.

Documentary/factual material is another matter. It is possible to operate as a one person HD crew, and you don’t have to pay the people you film, you just have to get them to sign release forms. And there is money to be made selling to niche markets: fishing (that’s a major hobby), antique aircraft, religion, UFO’s, conspiracy theories, classic cars, all of these are communities easily reached via countless websites where you can advertise your DVDs. Your DVD on old Porsche sports cars might well be classed as ‘automotive porn’ – and it damn well should be if you hope to make money – but you do have the benefit of not having to give the BBFC £1,000 before you can legally sell it.

Maybe you’re less commercial? You can always make your material available as free downloads and invite donations (in the hope that you may build enough traffic to start selling DVDs) – but the word that’s comes to mind here is ‘busking’. Other strategies, such as asking people to give you money to (maybe) make a film might be called ‘crowd-sourcing’, but I can’t get the word ‘begging’ out of my head.

Sure, all of this building relationships with audiences and so on is important, and will become more so. But I can’t help wondering if the UKFC’s current focus on ‘The Digital Economy’ is little more than a smokescreen – a way of going, “So what if Hollywood completely dominates our cinema screens and our High St DVD retailers? We don’t have to do anything about challenging any of that. No, we can run digital economy workshops instead”.

UKFC announces that London will now only get 15x more film-funding than the rest of the UK. Big Deal…

December 29, 2009

One of the stated aims of the UK Film council’s policy document for the period from April 2010 to March 2013:  UK Film: Digital Innovation and Creative Excellence, is that at least 25%  on funding will go to “non-London originated film production” – which is perhaps as much as a fourfold increase on current levels. But what exactly does this mean?

In the first place the overwhelming majority of UKFC funding is spent in London and the South-East; so things could, in fact, remain pretty much the same: 75% for London, maybe 20% for the South-East, and the same pittance for the rest of the UK.

But let’s assume for once that this isn’t another of the UKFC’s cynical exercises in moving the goal posts, it’s still worth considering what it adds up to.

Maybe 16% of the population of the population lives in London – so it’s 75% for them. The rest of us, some 84% get a quarter. Now if you work the maths out it means that, on a per capita basis, Londoners will still get some 15x more than the rest of us.

Looked at that way it obviously is another one of their exercises in re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic….

American bullying knows no bounds.

December 29, 2009

According to the Hollywood Reporter (29.12.09), “The Chinese government protects local films by limiting the number of film imports on a revenue-sharing basis to 20 per year, a quota that effectively limits Hollywood blockbusters to 20 slots annually.”

What arrogance! Just how many blockbusters does Hollywood make annually? And what about films from the rest of the world? The obviously don’t think that those count at all!

So what’s happened? The US government has complained to the World Trade Organisation that China was ‘obstructing trade by forcing foreign suppliers to distribute … through state-owned companies.’

“Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox (complain that) the Chinese rules cost them tens of millions of dollars each year in lost business opportunities.”

It should come as no surprise that the WTO has come down on their side.

What hypocrisy! Foreign films have no access to the US market unless the rights have been acquired by the Hollywood majors – and on their terms as well. Theirs is a 100% obstruction of ‘foreign suppliers’.

What a bunch of government-backed bullying thugs.

2009 – Swedish Films take 1/3rd of the box office

December 23, 2009

Swedish films’ share of the box office went up from 19% to 32.4 over the past twelve months.  Much of this was down to the success of the Millennium trilogy of crime thrillers based on Stieg Larsson’s best-sellers. Hollywood’s share fell to 54%. But, guess what, Hollywood has announced its intention to acquire the remake rights to these thrillers – yet another example of how the Americans see the rest of the world as a source of raw materials for them to exploit with the same logic as an oil giant or mining corporation.

The Swedish experience is far from unique with local productions seeing major rises at the box office pretty much across the world. Of course the one exception is the UK which continues to be 95% US dominated – to the shame of everything from the British government to the UKFC

Time for a reality check – a posting to Shooting People. org

December 14, 2009

Recently two completely different things have been being conflated in these bulletins: productions for which a market exists (e.g. advertising, corporate, training, factual for large niche interest groups, wedding, etc) and which should thus be realistically budgeted; and productions with no access to any markets (short and long narrative fiction, ‘art’) which, if left to their own devices, could, and would, only be made on a spare time ‘hobby’ basis by people with other sources of income (state benefits, bar work, part time teaching, pension).

Access is the key word in the above. Clearly there is a fair amount of interest here in short films, as instanced by the fact that ‘short film nights’ have become a regular feature in many towns and cities. But that isn’t a market because, in its present form, it generates effectively no income.

Now I know that many rather bristle at being referred to by words such as ‘amateur’, or ‘hobbyist’, but that’s what we are.

Right now there is only one market for short fiction: the UKFC – either directly or by proxy through the tiny amounts it gives to its RSAs, or to whatever are the currently fashionable minority groups – largely as a  meaningless exercise in social engineering.

Short film schemes are part of the UKFC’s ‘talent spotting’ – a notion that someone somewhere might make something that Lenny Crookes (New Cinema Fund)thinks is worth watching, who can then be developed by the UKFC. This, of course, is seen as a joke; commissioned work is seriously under-funded and, on completion, put on a shelf to gather dust – they cannot be put anywhere else as they have no access to any markets.

Once in a blue moon someone in London does, as a result of courting nepotism, make it through to UKFC-financed feature film development (the UKFC has recently announced that, in future 25% will go to the regions, which is around about a 4-fold increase). The prospect of the resulting film breaking even is less than one in twenty, regardless of its quality or merit, as it will have no meaningful access to any markets. What’s more the highly-paid arts administrators see it as their duty to ‘train’ the producers of these films in the intricacies of film finance by making their awards dependent on ‘match-funding’. But no one is going to invest in any UK independent feature film by first or second time producers and directors who are Shooting People members. All it adds up to is ‘we’ll give you far less than your film would cost to make, but we’ll only actually give you half of that – the rest you’ll just have to get from deferrals and in kind’.

Does the UKFC do anything to create a sustainable market for British filmmaking?

Do they call for the establishing of theatrical exhibition quotas, which would simply bring the UK into line with most other countries?

Do they call for similar quotas to those regulating most other forms of terrestrial TV programming to be extended to films?

Do they call for broadcasters to restore whatever little support they once gave through regular UK short film seasons?

Do they call for the introduction of an “unrated 18” certificate, again in line with many other countries?

Do they complain to the monopolies and mergers commission about the whole raft of restrictive practices which disadvantage UK filmmaking?

Do they actively promote a UK film festival culture in which a hugely multi-award winning short like Chris Jones ‘Gone Fishing’, would be screened at more than only two ‘British’ festivals?

But, more importantly, do you? Are you an active member of any organisations which campaigns on your behalf on any of these issues? Do you ever even write to your MP or the press?

Or are you nothing more than an ‘amateur’ or a ‘hobbyist’?

Jon Williams

writer/producer Diary of a Bad Lad –

The campaign to reform the VRA

North-West New Wave – which is dedicated to raising the profile of new underground independent filmmaking, and which has already established itself as a major thread at both the Salford and Pennine Film FestivaLS.

Regular speaker/workshop leader for Manchester-based ‘Future Artists’ which is seriously dedicated to developing and communicating about new models for independent film production, distribution and exhibition.

And a 61 year old with ME and a heart condition…

Steve Perrin to lead UK’s Digital Funding Group – Screen Daily headline today

October 6, 2009

Ah yes, Steve Perrin, the man who was centrally involved in the UKFC’s lottery funded ‘Digital Screens Network’ which handed out a £multi-million susidy, most of it to the US studio owned exhibition chains, which was sold as the creation of a network which would benefit foreign (not American – isn’t amazing how people don’t think that those are foreign…) non-mainstream UK independent and classic films.
The one part of this deal which was delivered was the 3D projectors that Hollywood would have paid for if the British weren’t such total mugs. The fact that Perrin used to work for Warner Bros before robbing lottery players pockets on their behalf comes as no surprise.
All that the specialist filmmakers and distributors got out of all this was a very bad taste in the mouth.

American cartel controls British screens – the bare facts and the marketing myth

September 7, 2009

Today Screen Daily mentioned some devastating statistics – that 95% of the UK film market is dominated by only 10 distributors, leaving more than 80, yes 80, fighting for a share of the remaining 5% – that’s crumbs from the table which wouldn’t even feed one mouse!

What Screen Daily fails to point out though is how the top 9  are North American, with Pathe creeping in at number 10 with a meagre 2% – whereas the American majors occupy the top 5 and take some 70%. But this is hardly surprising when you consider that most Uk screens are American owned as well.

Many have claimed that this dominance is down to a mixture of better films and better and bigger marketing. It plainly isn’t. Besides the blockbusters most screens are stuffed with often very poor fare with little marketing besides the display of foyer posters which have been re-cycled from the film’s American run, re-cycled trailers, and printed details in ‘forthcoming attractions’ programmes. On top of that they’ve been able to re-cycle prints from the american run as well, rather than having to produce new dubbed versions for non-English speaking countries. These add up to minimal prints and advertising costs – the blockbuster advertising blitzes bring in the punters and the foyer adverts take it from there. It is impossible for any other distributors to compete against such advantages.

When it comes to other industries this is called ‘dumping’ and governments take steps to protect their own producers from it.

Don’t believe the hype…

August 26, 2009

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.

Filmmaker Magazine: Web Exclusives

July 9, 2009

Filmmaker Magazine: Web Exclusives.

This is a link to an excellent 2000 word article by Jake Abraham (ex-InDigEnt Media) on their really well thought out strategy for self-distributing “Lovely By Surprise”. Essential reading.