Irish eyes not smiling enough at the box office

Echoing our last post there’s a bit of a debate going on in the Irish film industry about whether local films are doing as well as can be expected at the box office.  Writing in the Irish Times, veteran Irish film industry commentator Ted Sheehy observes that “The criticism that many of the films aren’t good enough to perform in the marketplace is the elephant in the auditorium which many people in the trade will not address on the record.”

Adding fuel to the fire are the box office stats showing a decline in the year-on-year box office for Irish films from a shade under €2m in 2007 to around €600k in 2009.  While this might look like a major cause for concern,  actually that kind of volatility is to be expected when you are dealing with a release slate only just above double figures.   If you look at box office performance over a longer time period, the smaller the number of films released per year the greater the year-on-year volatility.  In other words you’re bound to have boom years and bust years.  Not much consolation to filmmakers, distributors and audiences but an important fact to bear in mind when trying to analyse why one year was better than another – it’s almost certainly down to the ‘stochastic’ nature of box office performance where there are so many determinants, some small, some big, on an idea’s evolution into a film and then its reception once it’s released that performance is, literally, unpredictable, except in aggregate (whcih is only helpful if you are a studio).

Of course all this doesn’t mean no-one and nothing influences the outcome – there’s good writing and bad writing, good directing and bad directing and good marketing and bad – just that none of these can reliably guarantee a particular outcome at the box office.    If you make 100 films enough of them will be good enough to get people recommending them to their friends and survive opening weekend to make a reasonable return while a pile of them won’t get distributed and will be forgotten about. Make ten and everyone expects all of them to be succesful or ‘questions will be asked’.  Well theycan ask, but they will be hard pressed to get a useful answer other than – make more films and keep trying to make them as good as possible.


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