Archive for April, 2010

Our local hero in New York

National film treasure Bill Forsyth was in New York last week for a rare screening (part of a mini-retrospective at the famous indie cinema Film Forum) of the excellent Housekeeping and thanks to the wonders of New York’s flagship Public Radio station you can hear his interview with talkshow host Leonard Lopate here.   Amongst his musings Bill reflects on the irony that it was only after Gregory’s Girl opened in London that people in Scotland began flocking to see it (wouldn’t it be nice to think that things have changed…) and that he is currently working on a Scottish-set script with that  other great Scottish export, producer Iain Smith.    The pair first collaborated on Local Hero back in 1983 but whereas Bill’s Hollywood adventure proved to be a painful experience, Smith has gone from blockbuster to blockbuster and is currently in post-production on the A-Team.

Scottish features on the awards trail

Great to see Justin Molotnikov’s and Claire Mundell’s Crying with Laughter picking up the Best Feature Award at the Celtic Media Festival last week while this week Screen Academy Scotland’s first feature-length graduation film, Ian Waugh’s Leaves, was nominated for best UK debut feature at the East End Film Festival which closes today with the announcement of the winners.  Director Justin and Producer Claire are regular visitors to the Academy while Ian is a double graduate having first studied film as an undergraduate and returned some years later to complete the MFA in Advanced Film Practice.  Congratulations all!

Home grown Swedes breathe fire at the box office

Swedish films secured an unprecedented 33% market share in 2009 (compared  to a typical 20% share) bettered only by France’s 37%.    Meanwhile UK films dropped to 17% in 2009 after a particularly good 2008 share of 31% (the average between 2002 and 2008 was 25%).  What got the Swedes watching their own product?  In large part it was the phenomenal popularity of the three Steig Larsson adaptions The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, The Girl who Played with fire and The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest with over a million admissions for the first two and over half a million for the third.  Assuming it was largely the same people who went to see the three films that’s still over 10% of the entire Swedish population of 9 million that watched at least two of the movies and five percent who went to all three!

To put that in perspective its as if half a million Scots went to see a movie version of Rebus.  The only Scottish movie ever to achieve that kind of figure is Trainspotting which back in 1996/7 got 3.5m admissions in the UK and Ireland. Working on the basis (supported by the evidence) that on average 25% of the UK admissions for Scottish films are generated in Scotland that would suggest in excess of 875 000 admissions in Scotland).   The average (mean) cinema admissions for a Scottish film across the UK and Ireland is 187 000 which equates to around 50 000 in Scotland. 

To be fair a large proportion of very poorly performing films pulls the average down and so to get a true perspective on what a ‘hit’ in Scotland looks like audience-wise we should really look more closely at ‘successful’ films . If we take the top ten most succesful ‘Scottish’ films (i.e. applying a loose definition of what counts as Scottish) between 1993 and 2007 and look at either the calculated (i.e. converting the reported Scottish % of UK Box Office in cash back to admissions) or where this isnt known the estimated (at 25% of the UK admissions) we get this:

TITLE Year GB + Eire admissions Scottish admissions
Trainspotting 1996 3,504,422 876,106  est.
Last King of Scotland 2006 1,122,657 157,172  calc.
Mrs Brown 1997 890,080 222,520  est.
This Year’s Love 1999 827,474 82,747 calc.
Magdalene Sisters 2002 443,305 115,259  calc.
My name is joe 1998 237,901 95,160  calc.
Sweet Sixteen 2002 178,485 99,952  calc.
Young Adam 2003 174,616 43,654   calc.
The House of Mirth 2001 154,777 15,478  calc.
Regeneration 1997 153,844 16,923  calc.

Source: Lumiere Database, UK Film Council, Scottish Screen, Screen Media Research Centre at Edinburgh Napier University

So with the exception of Trainspotting a ‘hit’ Scottish film can typically expect to garner around 100,000 of the approximate 16 million cinema admissions in Scotland each year.    Of course the overall ‘indigenous’ share of the box office achieved depends on both the number and the individual performance of  Scottish films and so its the combination of not enough movies and not enough strongly performing movies that entice a significant share of the audience into the cinema that accounts for the rather disappointing overall audience share of somewhere approaching 2%.

Some way to go then if our home grown neeps are going to equal the Swedes popularity with  their home grown audience.

Festivals on demand

Sticking with festivals and Video on Demand (see yesterdays post) some query the wisdom of festivals pursuing a distribution platform that has been around for some time and appears to some not to have fulfilled its promise. Exactly a decade ago analysts were predicting  that ‘enhanced TV’ would be worth $20bn by 2004 (See The Hollywood Reporter April 28 2000).  Well ten years on Screen Digest estimates global VOD revenues in 2009 to have been a more modest $2.9bn (about a fifth the size of the DVD market) and to reach $5.3bn by 2012.

However according to  Screen International  VOD may be on the edge of a breakthrough as DVD sales fall, the multiplication of ways in which to access VOD content – game consoles, TVs with built in web connection – and more sophisticated pricing strategies secure its place in the domestic living room.  The rub here, though, is that contrary to what fans of the Long Tail might expect, ‘speciality’ films appear not to be benefiting from this democratisation of distribution channels.  Why?  because VOD reproduces the ‘aggregator’ role that distributors/video stores/online DVD rental outlets like LoveFilm etc. play in selecting, curating and promoting titles.

This is where Festivals could find a niche – with the potential to leverage their programming skills and ‘brand value’ in creating a VOD ‘label’ (and assuming they can do a deal with a carrier) a festival like Edinburgh could make like a ‘Metrodome/Soda/Optimum’ .  (I would have included Tartan Films but sadly they went bust in 2008).

Why bother with Cable/Satellite VOD when you could do the whole thing online?  Well there are a variety of reasons including anti-piracy, security of payment, the ‘installed base’ of things like hotel Pay-TV but also marketing and ‘perceived value’ advantages.  In any event go-ahead festivals like Tribeca and others are trying to test out where and how they can use their market knowledge to create additional revenue streams that get the movies they love to show seen more widely. 

Not content with getting a slice of the distribution action, not a few festivals – such as Adelaide and Melbourne – have also set themselves up as financier/producers.  That some of their investments result in films that then premiere at their festival neatly closes the loop from production to distribution.  Following that model the EIFF could become a rival to  (or perhaps more accurately complement) Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland and the existing production companies…

Film festival seeks out screens nearer you

With recent volcanic activity reminding us of how much we take air travel for granted, cineastes trying to reduce their carbon footprint may be cheered by the Tribeca film festival’s determination to extend its audience reach through Video on Demand.   The much-loved festival was founded in 2002 (by Robert De Niro amongst others) as a cultural riposte to 9/11 and is now launching an online presence which offers not just clips, comments, reviews and bookings but a dozen full-length films simultaneous with their festival premiere .  Reaching potentially 40 million cable-TV homes courtesy of deals with the likes of Time Warner and Comcast, the Festival aims to extend its brand into online, DVD and theatrical distribution.

Beyond the festival box office

The Tribeca move reflects the upheaval in film distribution generally and its impact on festivals in particular.  Feeling the squeeze of declining sponsorship and public funds, an ever more crowded festival calendar, new platforms to profile films before they are picked up by distributors and, at the same time, new opportunities to  reach audiences hundreds if not thousands of miles and not a few dollars away from a festival, taking the festival to those eyeballs and leveraging its hit-picking expertise down thevalue chain to distribution and sales is rapidly becoming the festival survival strategy of choice.

Edinburgh – the moving image centre of the north?

Where does this leave our own and the word’s longest continuously running film festival?  Well that’s a question which will no doubt be put later this month to the candidates for the newly created post of CEO of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI).  The CMI brings together the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse in a new corporate entity with designs on exhibition, education, incubation and possibly a great deal more.  Bulging at the seams of its Lothian Road premises the desire to find a new, bigger and better base has been around for some years but extending the Festival/Filmhouse brand into virtual space is likely to feature strongly as well.

EIFF faces some very significant challenges in the coming year – not the least being the end of a very substantial three year uplift in funding from the UK Film Council.  The £1.9 million over three years that the UKFC awarded the Festival in 2008 runs out this year and there is virtually no prospect of a remotely similar sum becoming available again – not the least because the UKFC has been told by the Government to lose £25m from its budget over three years to divert to the Olympics.  In an effort to protect production investment the Council, says CEO John Woodward in Screen International got rid of a number of things which were nice to do but in the cold hard reality of having less money, we just couldn’t do any more.”  And amongst those “there was a big festival fund and a digital archive fund which have both gone.”  That leaves the EIFF with a drop in income of around £600K a year – not much fun for Artistic Director Hannah McGill or the incoming uber-CEO at precisely the time when raising its game and expanding its reach in time and space  is absolutely imperative.  Likewise a bigger, better building with the potential to add a third dimension to EIFF and Filmhouse is a critical component in any development plan but would seem to be as far away as ever.

Will Creative Scotland and its new CEO Andrew Dixon play a (benign) deus ex machina in this local staging of a global drama?  Not to the tune of £600k a year one has to wager but some serious investment allied to a far-sighted vision and coherent strategy on the part of both CMI and Creative Scotland is clearly required if the twin stars of EIFF and Filmhouse are to shine brighter in these occluded times (and that’s not a reference to the Icelandic ash cloud which not surprisingly has been a headache for film festivals as well).

Boost to UK film producers may spell bad news for Scots

A recent proposal by PACT, the Producers Association for Cinema and Television, to strengthen UK film producer’s businesses by allowing them to retain 100% of the revenue earned on public investment in their films has, on the face of it, much to recommend it.  Like the ‘automatic’ schemes in France and other countries it would give producers a greater equity stake in their productions and, for those (few) that are successful, generate more funds to reinvest in future projects.  On the other hand the film funds, like the UK Film Council and Scottish Screen, would lose out as they would no longer see a financial return on successful investments with which to top up their (declining) Lottery investment pots.

But there is a hidden and rather more worrying aspect to this proposal which would directly impact on Scottish producers.  Of the £37million of Lottery funds which Scottish Screen disbursed between 2002 and the end of 2009, over a quarter (£9.5m) went to London based companies. (This compares to just over £1m of UK Film Council feature film investment that went to Scottish based companies in the same period). Should PACT’s policy be taken up in Scotland then its entirely possible that profits from investment by (what will soon be) Creative Scotland in projects produced by companies in London or elsewhere in England will then be recycled into projects with no direct benefit to Scottish film industry or culture.  The present system, whatever its other failings, at least ensures that the admittedly meagre returns (approx 5%) are retained for investment in either Scottish based projects or Scottish based companies.

Let us hope that this downside features in Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland’s discussions with PACT.

Interactive TV all the rage – in 1953!

Yes, that’s right – thanks to the ‘magic’ of static electricity and with a small investment in crayons and a rectangular sheet of transparent plastic back in 1953 lucky American children  could ‘interact’ with CBS cartoon character WinkyDink.  For some reason this early example of interactivity didn’t exactly catch on – perhaps due to the reaction of those parents whose kids forgot about the plastic sheet part and used indelible ink pens directly on the screen…

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