Category Archives: Film industry

Are you one of the 2 in a 100?

London's Prince Charles cinema – home to the 'Indie Mainly' crowd?

The UK film market has a new audience research model to contend with. Film3Sixty spent six months interviewing 18,831 people across the UK and digesting the results according to a report by Wendy Mitchell in Screen International, 27 January 2012. Their conclusion was that nearly 90% of film watchers think that cinemas are the best places to watch films – but that they think that cinemagoing is getting more expensive. The conclusion is that this reflects unease with 3D pricing but presumably it also reflects the impact of the recession.

The report summary makes for interesting reading. The sample was drawn from the most frequent cinemagoers – the 40% of the audience who account for 80% of admissions. The sample overall watched an average of just over 120 films per year of which just over 17 were in the cinema (the per capita figure for UK cinema visits is under 3). Two-thirds of the films watched outside cinemas were ‘not paid for’ – mostly on TV but sometimes via pirated copies. The research did however confirm the often quoted observation that those who admit to piracy are also the heaviest cinemagoers.

The headline finding/suggestion is the breakdown of these ‘frequent cinemagoers’ into four groups:

Blockbuster Only – 10%

Blockbuster Mainly – 59%

Indie Mainly – 29%

Indie Only – 2%

This breakdown can be compared to the ‘qualitative study’ of ‘avids’ for the UK Film Council, downloadable here. This was part of the UKFC approach which divided audiences into four groups – Mainstream, Mainstream Plus, Aficionados and Avids. The two sets of categories are actually quite similar, but this new research offers more detailed data. In both cases the categories run from the occasional interest in tentpole pictures through more diverse tastes to a rejection of Hollywood and an ‘obsession’ with specialised films (the avids). What’s quite interesting is that the new figures – based on a survey of the most frequent cinemagoers – demonstrate the commercial importance of diversity. We can see this in two ways. The majority may prefer blockbusters, but 31% actually opt mainly for ‘independent films’ – whatever that might mean. On the other hand, we can say that a bigger majority of 88% are interested in at least a range of films (i.e. not just blockbusters). This seems to send a different message than the usual assumption that the audience for more specialised films is only a tiny percentage of the whole.

The survey further tells us that the ‘Blockbuster‘ groups are more likely to be female (53-56%) and younger. The blockbusters they like are comedies and rom-coms. They are also more likely to watch TV, own games consoles, buy the most home entertainment products but also to pirate movies. It’s ironic that these audiences who prefer big budget films are less likely to see them in cinemas – these are the lightest cinema attenders. The heaviest cinema users are the ‘Indie Mainly‘ group who are 52% male with an average age of 44.5 years. They are also the most likely to buy DVDs, to stream films online and watch them on computers. They are also the heaviest Twitter users (whereas the Blockbuster groups are the heaviest Facebook and YouTube users). The report suggests that social media use is an area the film exhibition industry needs to think about much more – quoting a respondent who has 43 Facebook friends who he frequently persuaded to make cinema visits. A stand-out observation is that those who are influenced by social media are likely to make up to five times as many cinema visits as the average cinemagoer. Some people clearly take the ‘like’ button seriously.

So what of the 2%? We (certainly me – the others can speak for themselves) are most likely to be male (55%), aged over 54, least likely to pirate but also least likely to ‘consume’ DVDs. We prefer drama and foreign language titles and we are the lightest users of Facebook. Apart from the DVDs that sounds like me!

On the whole this looks like a pretty useful breakdown of the audience in terms of frequent cinema users. I do recommend the UKFC Research as well. The discussion of avids is fascinating and it’s interesting that the research did try to look quite carefully at the very frequent cinemagoers – many of whom work in the film industry or in film education (although quite a lot of the film teachers I meet seem to go to the cinema only occasionally). The real avids see two movies a week at the cinema – a figure I would struggle to achieve without the boost of festival screenings. Such dedication is of course only possible for avids if they live somewhere with a diverse range of films available in several cinemas rather than just a single multiplex with only Hollywood on offer.

2011 Global Box Office News

The closing figures for annual box office returns are starting to come in and very interesting they are. We’ve compiled an overview gleaned mainly from Cineuropa and Screen International. It’s an uneven picture with records being set in some territories and worrying falls in others.

The winners in Europe appear to be Norway, France and the Netherlands, all three experiencing their best returns for a very long time. Norway’s admissions for local films are the highest since 1976 and this is good news for the world’s first ‘digital only’ territory. Local films (40 of them released in 2011) are driving the Norwegian market. The French admissions total is the highest since 1966 at 215.6 million with 20 local films attracting over 1 million admissions each and the top two films of the year were both French – Intouchables and Rien à déclarer. In the Netherlands admissions were up to 30.4 millions – the highest figure since 1978 – with local films taking nearly 22%. It’s worth noting that these three territories are amongst the leaders in the switch to digital distribution and projection. Cineuropa also reports that the Netherlands has benefited from an expansion in screens and seats over the last 5 years. Norway is perhaps in the strongest position re the current recession but there are concerns that because local production depends on public sector funding to a large extent, the current austerity programmes may have an impact in 2012/3.

French films did well in their local market – as did Italian films (though the overall Italian market was down). In both cases American films suffered and the domestic market is down in the US to its lowest level since 1995 with admissions at 1,276 million. Box office is also down 4% and with anxiety about the decline in the DVD market, Hollywood is looking down the barrel. The studies must hope that VOD grows quickly in the next couple of years. 3D has not proved to be the magic bullet though production totals are keeping up and 3D market share is holding.

In Spain, local films increased their market share to 15% and the overall box office was up.

In Denmark, overall admissions fell slightly to 12.6 million but local films, especially comedies, took 28% of box office.

Czech Republic admissions 20% down with local films and other European films suffering most. Multiplexes have digitised projection faster than single screens and Hollywood blockbusters are benefiting. Romania is another territory where the audience is ignoring local productions in favour of Hollywood. Although Romanian productions continue to earn plaudits from film festival juries, the domestic audience for some of these films is only a few thousand.

Portuguese admissions fell by nearly 900,000 to 15.7 million with a 3% fall in takings. US films took 80% of the market, European films only 5%.

In Finland the fall was from 7.6 million to 7.1 million with local films suffering most, losing 10% of market share.

The biggest film across Europe appears to have been the final instalment in the Harry Potter franchise. This is good news for the UK film industry (which makes the films even if Hollywood takes the major profits) with The King’s Speech also doing well. Overall it’s been a good year for British film in both commercial and critical terms. Admissions rose slightly  to 171 million and British films (including co-productions) took nearly a third (£295 million) of total box office. Besides The King’s Speech, the biggest winner and biggest surprise was The Inbetweeners, a TV sitcom adaptation about a group of ‘lads’ on holiday between school and university which took £70 million. The film has now been sold to an American independent but otherwise has hardly been seen outside the UK. Is this the UK equivalent of those blockbusting French hits that don’t seem to travel?

Meanwhile, Australian box office revenue is down by 3% and admissions fell by nearly 8% to 85 million (still a strong figure on a per capita basis). Screen International suggests that this fall is due to the lack of a big Hollywood box office driver like Avatar during 2011. Harry Potter was again the No 1 film. A rare Australian local success, Red Dog, took over Aus$20 million, but overall local films won less than 5% market share. In New Zealand box office revenue was down 9% in 2011.

Early reports from Japan suggest that box office will be significantly down in 2011. Mark Schilling in The Japan Times forecasts a fall of as much as 20%. Only part of this can be attributed to the tsunami and nuclear power disaster. Once again, the lack of a blockbuster title like Avatar is mentioned. Local productions have also fallen back . (But it’s worth noting that anime took the top two local slots with the latest Studio Ghibli and a new Pokemon title.) Hollywood must worry though. Japan, like Australia, is a major market and if audiences are getting fed up with sequels, the future doesn’t look good.

The Celluloid Ceiling – Women in Hollywood

Screen International reported today on the findings of the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego University. The centre’s survey of employment on the Top 250 domestic films at the US Box Office in 2011. Although the survey found that there were marginal increases in the overall employment of women – a 2% increase in total employment since 2010, but only 1% since 1998 – the striking figure is that only 5% of the directing roles on the 250 films went to women. Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar success is still likely to be an isolated incident for American films unless something changes dramatically in the mind-set of studio executives. As it is, the report comments on women’s opportunities thus:

“Women were most likely to work in the documentary, drama, and comedy genres. They were least likely to work in the horror, action, and animated genres.”

Teachers and researchers can download an executive summary of the findings from the link above. The same website has a useful list of links and books/articles on women in the film and TV industries here.

Apologies to Europe!

Ironically, when British Cinema has had arguably its best year as a cultural producer for a long time, we are saddled with a Con-Dem government that makes me ashamed to whisper my national identity. The Europhobic zombies who sit on the Tory backbenches look as if they have managed to damage everything this last weekend by putting pressure on a cowardly Prime Minister who has used his veto to take the UK into exile while the rest of the EU tries to work co-operatively.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. The British film industry has often been slow to take advantage of European audio-visual support programmes, preferring to spend time worrying about Hollywood rather than looking towards our European partners. There are plenty of exceptions of course and this year we have celebrated the success of the new StudioCanal operation and the UK/French/Swedish co-operation on Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

Most independent film producers in Europe look for support from Eurimages – the fund set up by the Council of Europe and its 36 member states. Today it was announced in a Screendaily report that Eurimages, “the Strasbourg-based fund” had “an interest in working relationships with third countries who are close to Europe and have a European tradition such as Israel, Argentina, Canada and South Africa where you have a certain common understanding about film.”

This seems like a good idea. It’s interesting to note that only one European state is not a member of Eurimages. Which country could that be I wonder? See if you can find the UK amongst the 36. No? Well that will be because the UK is a ‘special case’. It’s pathetic really.

StudioCanal – a new European studio operation

As we suggested in our comments on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, StudioCanal are shaping up to operate as a pan-European producing and distributing studio. On 29 September an announcement in Paris outlined a three-year deal with a London-based private investment fund, Anton Capital Entertainment (ACE) worth €150 million and helping to create a total fund of €500 million for productions and acquisitions over the whole period.

Screen International, which broke the story included a quote from StudioCanal CEO and chairman Olivier Courson:

. . . productions could be divided roughly into four categories: international (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), family entertainment and animation (Samy), genre films (Last Exorcism, Unknown) and features aimed specifically at one of its base territories of Britain, Germany and France (Cloclo).

This is a significant move and establishes StudioCanal as a significant player in the international film market. Courson singled out Tinker Tailor as the kind of international production with a spread of European creatives that the company hopes to go on making. Two future productions quoted are a Coen Bros. US-set film (possibly via Working Title again?) and a starry Michel Gondry film with Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris.

UK Film Statistics 2010

It’s good to see that one of the most useful innovations of the UK Film Council, the free downloadable Statistical Yearbook for UK Film, has been taken over by the BFI – at least for now. The latest version, which deals with last year’s activity, is now available to download here.

I’ve long maintained that this is the best free resource for film and media teachers and students and the new issue fulfils that promise. Perhaps the most interesting change this time is that mindful of the downward trend of budgets for British films, the BFI have decided to take notice of ‘micro-budget’ films under £500,000. Previously these were ignored by UKFC but now they are a significant element in British filmmaking. In 2010 there were 147 films made in the UK with budgets under £500,000 – in fact half of these films had budgets under £100,000. This compares with only 79 ‘domestic’ features made on budgets over £500,000. Using these new definitions, UK filmmaking looks a lot healthier in terms of production numbers with over 200 ‘domestic’ features, not counting Hollywood films made in the UK (the bulk of the production spend of course).

The statistical guide is a must read. Download yours now!

The end of 35mm?

There were two news stories from Norway last week. One was so shocking that it completely overwhelmed everything else coming out of the country. But that other story will have long-term consequences for the film industry. Screen International reported on 22 July that Norway’s move to complete digitisation of film distribution and exhibition had been completed in just over a year. From now on the Hollywood studios and major European distributors will only distribute 2K DCI compliant prints in Norway. 35mm is dead as a commercial medium. (Also worth noting – 80% of Norway’s screens are 3D capable.)

The significance of this announcement has to be looked at in terms of Norway’s special conditions. There are only 420 screens in the country and there is a history of municipal ownership of cinemas which alongside heavy government subsidies has made the transition to digital more straightforward than in other larger territories with more complex infrastructure. But the first stone has been taken from the dam. The Netherlands will be next – a larger population with more screens (690) and possibly more small film theatres. The UK multiplexes will be all digital by 2013 leaving major question marks over the smaller independents.

I assume that Norway will still have a handful of screens with 35mm projection facilities so that archive prints will be screenable? The other important question is how small independent cinemas outside Norway will find the necessary investment to acquire 2K projectors – and manage to pay the VPFs (virtual print fees) for digital prints for the first few years to cover the costs of conversion. Norway is a rich country. Elsewhere digital conversion is arriving inconveniently during a severe economic recession in Europe and North America. If you are a film fan committed to diversity in film exhibition, now is the time to start supporting your local independent cinema in any way that you can.