I can’t say I was very surprised to read that Danes have been flocking to the cinema to see Armadillo, Janus Metz’s documentary portrayal of Danish troops in Afghanistan. The Danes, like the Scots, are a nation of five million or so, and avid cinema goers like us, but the big difference is that they have a steady supply of Danish films to watch and watch them they do. With Danish films averaging an impressive 27% audience share of the Danish box office only France has a bigger appetite (38%) for its own cinematic produce.
Of the many factors that might account for the popularity of Danish films on home turf, the buoyant state of production could be a primary cause or is it an effect – or both? Either way from research that I will be presenting at a conference of (mainly) cultural economists in Copenhagen next week, there can be little doubt that there is a correlation between the two. Or to be more precise we can see a close relationship between domestic production levels and audience share once a nation’s film output rises above the level Scotland (or indeed Ireland) currently sustain.
Here in Scotland we make so few (typically five) films a year that the annual audience share for local films fluctuates wildly depending on the presence or absence of a single hit film. In a good year it can be as much as 7% but on average its less than 1%. Ireland, making around eighteen films a year, still only manages an average 5% market share. It’s only when production regularly exceeds that level that a country appears to be able to sustain an audience share above 10%. As production rises the market share follows (see graph) but does so more slowly, particularly above 25% (the UK level) and it takes considerably more films per percentage point of audience up to the ceiling of just under 40% found in France.
LINK TO GRAPH: Film output and market share
Perhaps the most significant point about this relationship, for Scotland at least, is the relatively steep start to the curve. Quadrupling Scottish film production from its current average of five to around twenty a year could see the audience grow by a factor of fifteen or more and produce a much healthier return on total investment than we currently expect or get. As, if not more, importantly it would greatly expand opportunities for new filmmakers to prove their talents and existing filmmakers to move onto their second or third film, a crucial point in career development both critically and commercially.
For many years filmmakers and commentators have spoken of a magic figure of around ten to twelve films a year as a kind of ‘take-off’ point for a sustainable (Scottish) film industry. Well the evidence suggests this is not quite enough to get off the runway. But get the speedometer up to twenty and things could be different. Another task for the Creative Scotland ‘to do’ list and a challenge for all of us concerned with the fate of Scottish film to secure the stories, the finance and the distribution if we want to see ‘chocks away’.