Archive for February, 2010

the future is here

As its Friday time for another lucky dip in the archives – see if you can guess the year these three statements were made…

There are lots of regional centres now turning out dozens of films a year and that means that if even only a third of them are any good there is still a real film culture springing up which can be sustained over the course of the years and built into the kind of indigenous industry this country has been looking for since the 1920s”

“What I’m trying to do is find a local audience for locally made feature films.  If I can find that audience, then maybe we can get more films made here.”

“The British film industry was actively preparing this week for the imminent introduction of a potentially massive new market for feature films – Pay-TV”

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Gone for a Burton – alice through the release windows

The widely reported spat between Odeon/UCI cinema and Disney which has resulted in the former boycotting the latter’s Tim Burton-helmed Alice in Wonderland reveals just how topsy turvy film business models are becoming.  Disney want to release the movie on DVD five weeks earlier than the normal window of 17 weeks which they hope will increase their take from DVD sales and limit the loss to pirates, while the cinemas’ view is that reducing their exclusive window by a third will seriously erode their revenues – hence the boycott.

What this dispute reminds us is that the film value chain (from producer to distributor to exhibitor, TV and retailers) is composed of a number of discrete players who, although they usually operate in reasonable harmony, from time to time have divergent interests.  This often happens around the introduction of new technology and so, from the wiring of cinemas for sound in the 30s to the installation of 3D projectors and screens today,  issues about who bears which costs or how premium ticket prices or revenue from sale of 3D glasses  are split can break out, as in this example, into open conflict.

The bigger threat to cinemas’ place in the once rigorously enforced release window chain is simultaneous/non-exclusive release across multiple distribution platforms – cinema, DVD, TV, VOD etc. which some in the industry consider the only way to counter the threat of file-sharing etc.  Echoing the ‘freemium’ model in other entertainment media, music in particular, this way of pricing films is premised on the idea that you pay for the added value of the experience context (big screen, going with your mates, 450 varieties of confectionary in the case of the cinema;  the DVD packaging and extras;  the Wii tie-in version and so on) as control of physical copies becomes harder.  (That said one of the big attractions of 3D to the studios is that is is, for the time being, much harder to pirate).

However no-one really knows how destabilising this will be to the still pivotal role of theatrical release in establishing the perceived value of the movie in other media, with few exceptions box office correlates to the (larger) revenue from DVD etc and remains the key opinion former after the opening weekend.  So we can expect more conflicts like the Disney/UCI standoff if Pay-TV/VOD operators no longer get their exclusive window and their customers can get the same content cheaper somewhere else. 

 Some  say the music industry has already shown that these more complex business models work but the big difference is that music comes in handy bite sized 3 minute chunks and you can afford to give away some chunks (tracks) if it gets people sampling then buying bigger chunks (box set albums with nicely designed lyric sheets) and ancillary merchandise and paying over the odds to see the act live and checking the fansite everyday and thus generate click through advertising revenue and…well you get the point.   Movies dont easily fit this model – there’s very little repeat business  (franchise movies like SAW etc. being the exception that proves the rule) and customer loyalty is practically non-existent.  About the only people making money out of new movie business models are the people running courses on…how to make money out of the new business models.   Of course that in itself is a business model.

From the archives: Tory and communist MPs back Scottish film industry

…well they did in 1948 when the House of Commons debated the Cinematograph Films Bill and Scottish MPs united in calling for a Scottish voice in determining the future of film in Scotland.  Perthshire Tory MP Colonel Gomme Duncan and renowned Fife Communist Willie Gallagher found a common cause in their desire to see a ‘Scottish Films Council’.  One of the former’s concerns was that Hollywood films were painting a distorted view of the Highlands, a view shared by his English Tory colleague, the member for Weston-Super-mare, Mr I.L Orr-Ewing:

 “It is the question of the misrepresentation of the way in which Scottish people live which is resented.”

Ah how times (dont) change…  for more see the Glasgow Herald archives.

Let the speculation commence

At last we know who the CEO of Creative Scotland will be – Andrew Dixon, currently head of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative.  Expect much pondering over what this appointment means for the arts and creative industries, will the appointment of an ‘outsider’ (to Scotland) bring a breath of fresh air, does he represent the triumph of economic development over arts for arts sake, etc.  There will be yay sayers and nay sayers and no doubt a few who manage to be both but in reality not much of anything will happen for some time yet as both new CEO and new organisation tiptoe forward into an embrace which must of necessity encompass a lot of baggage (its) and getting to know each other (both) and the Scottish scene (him).  ‘The sectors’ frustration at the time CS has taken to resolve its shape and leadership will be temporarily abated but perhaps not for that long.    Meantime there’s the question of who will be sticking with the new body and the new CEO and who will be departing for pastures new.

Sweet on sweetonsigmafilms

Fanblogs following movie stars, footballers and even bits of technology like the iphone are commonplace, but is http://sweetonsigmafilms.blogspot.com/ the world’s first (only?) film production company fanblog? Gushing with news of  the people behind Film City and their every move, it almost brings  a tear to the eye to see the generally overlooked world of the production office given the star treatment.  I just hope the relationship remains on the right side of the fan/stalker line…

Gillies and Bill do Berlin and the Bay

In one of those quirks of time and space one major and one minor classic of Scottish film will be simultaneously celebrated in Berlin and San Francisco’s Bay Area this week.  Bill Douglas’s great 1970s Trilogy , arguably Scotland’s single biggest contribution to world cinema, is featured in the Berlinale’s Four Decades at the Forum retrospective while across the pond Gillies MacKinnon (whose Pure screened at the Berlianle in 2002)’s  1996 feature Small Faces is apparently getting a rare screening.  Douglas died well before his time and MacKinnon’s work has for some time been confined to the TV Screen though many anticipate his return to the cinema, green lights permitting.

A bright new broadcasting future coming to a screen near you – perhaps

Whoever wrote Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop’s keynote speech for today’s “Where now for Scottish Broadcasting?” gathering in Glasgow got the topic trinity right – what will be the respective contributions of the longed-for Scottish Digital Network, the existing broadcasters and the public agencies in addressing the cultural, democratic and economic deficit that characterises the existing state of affairs. Addressing those themes the Minister made much of the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership (SCIP) which she and no doubt every one else in the room feverently hopes will bring a much needed joined-up approach to the broadcasting and creative industries nexus. Ms Hyslop was however noticeably less keen to pick up the gauntlet laid down by Blair Jenkins when he set out his vision for the future network’s role in Scottish life. In a speech redolent of Jeremy Issac’s famous 1979 McTaggart lecture (widely seen at the time as a job application to head up Channel 4 – in his case the pitch worked) Jenkins raised spirits with talk of how Scottish broadcasting had moved on from the ‘spiral of decline’ of just three years ago and was poised to enter a new future, one however that still had to be fought for as ‘nothing in life happens if you just cross your fingers and wait’.

Envisaging a service which would offer audiences the full spectrum of programme genres, provide new opportunities for programme makers and address social inclusion and the ‘digital deficit’, Jenkins reminded the gathering that our Parliament had unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission report over a year ago but that “consensus in Scottish politics is a rare thing and shouldnt be squandered”.

The choice of funding model – taking a slice of the proceeds from auctioning off released spectrum or top-slicing the BBC Licence fee – was up to Government but regardless of the route (the former being his clear preference) the commitment to fund a new service needed to be fought for and that was the implicit challenge to Fiona Hyslop.  Sadly it was one she wasnt prepared to take up, arguing (somewhat confusingly) that rather than argue over how the funding cake might in future be sliced up we should look to the growth of the Creative Industries as an economic goal and avoid too much emphasis on the cultural justification for public investment in a new broadcaster. This rather avoided the issue at hand, since the extra demand which a new channel could inject into the production sector and its wider creative industries supply chain can only be created by public investment in setting it up and a sustainable revenue model – precisely what Jenkins was calling on all present to sign up to. With advertising and subscription both effectively ruled out the only options left are the ones he set out which leaves the Scottish Government facing the question – will you vigorously pursue Westminster for a commitment to a Scottish Network, and the means to fund it, or not?

Jenkins is convinced that  such a commitment could be secured in this election year and the new channel launched in 2012. He could be right but it will take a concerted effort by not just the Culture Minister but a cross party coalition to keep such a prospect high up the political agenda. Judging by the evidence of today’s event, Blair may have raised the standard but the clans have yet to gather…


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