Thursday, 29 April 2010

My week in London

On Tuesday I attended the Foreign Language Film Conference in London, organised by Media Desk UK, at the lovely Cine Lumiere, housed inside the Institut Francais in South Kensington. It was a day of panel discussions with a list of specialised cinema luminaries, exhibitors, distributors, policy makers and experts.

The topic of debate was: how can we increase the market share for foreign language films? And although that was the overriding subject, it quickly turned to the new emerging technologies, the internet, piracy, different platforms, and how to capture that audience. It seems that is the ONLY topic on people's mind these days: how do we deal with the new game? What are the rules? Or is the lack of rules the new paradigm?

Peter Buckingham, from the UK Film Council, as always, was good value, and had very interesting and controversial things to say - if only the policies of the body he represents were in line with his clearly ahead-of-its-time thinking. For example, the website, which has been touted as a huge, innovative platform, but is instead a clunky, user-unfriendly site which really doesn't replace IMDB. What about financial incentives for small distributors to venture into multi-platform releases? Compensate their lack of TV sales with a cash cushion which will accelerate the transition to the brave new world of no 'windows'. So much to discuss, so little time. There should be a week-long conference like this every year.

On Wednesday I attended a very different affair: the Disney Trade Show, where the studio showcases its upcoming slate to cinema owners/operators, and they showed us PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME. From the earnest chin-stroking at the Lumiere the day before to the fast-talking 'product' rollout at the Odeon West End. The presenters insisted on calling all their films 'product' and used the term 'so hot right now', much to the horror of any arthouse cinema managers in the room. The thing about Disney is that they really don't try to hide what they're all about: making obscene amounts of cash. Their main saving grace is that they have the Pixar studio 'product' to distribute, but their emphasis on merchandise and marketing leaves not such a nice taste in one's mouth.

Mike Newell introduced the screening of PERSIA, and much to the surprise of everyone there, he seemed like an old chap someone had picked up at the pub and asked if they'd like to speak to some 'youngsters'. The $150 million turkey then proceeded to die on screen, right there, in front of us. A full review of the film will be in the next Splendor podcast.

Digital Screen Network Catch Up

The Digital Screen Network was an £12 million scheme to install digital projectors in over 200 cinemas in the UK back in 2006-2007, in an effort by the UK Film Council to promote 'specialised' cinema (foreign language, documentaries, classic, cult, British, independent, etc). The scheme was controversial at the time, as it included many multiplexes (over half of the recipients were one of the three big chains) which used the taxpayer-funded projectors to show 3D rather than arthouse cinema, giving them yet another advantage on the independents.

The money for the DSN is all gone, and now over 300 cinemas have no money to buy digital equipment, while multiplexes are swimming in 3D-generated cash. Arthouse distributors have often complained to the UKFC about the lack of bookings they are getting from the DSN sites, which are contractually obliged to show a higher percentage of specialised cinema (it varies from site to site). The UKFC have just extended the timetable by 16 months for the DSN to hit their targets before they start removing equipment. Nobody really believes they will actually remove anything - which makes the contracts completely useless and undermines the very purpose of the network.

The real effect of the DSN has been a purely industrial one, giving the UK a huge advantage over its European counterparts when it comes to the digital conversion, which isn't a bad thing, but will be a tragedy if it comes at the cost of hundreds of indie cinemas closing over the next few years.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Who's Best for Film?

It seems that the outcome of the election is quite uncertain; and I asked myself today: which of the three main parties would be the best for the film industry? I scanned through each of their manifestos and analysed their past records on the subject.

Their manifesto is very focused on the digital economy, and includes a commitment to broadband for everyone by 2012, and 'super-fast' broadband to 90 percent of the populaion by 2017. There are vague statements about the importance of the creative industries. In terms of their record, its a mixed bag. They did increase funding for the arts by 73% in the last ten years, but they've also cut funds for the Olympics.

The Tories have a pretty bad record - many people in the arts and creative industries remember the dark days of the 1980s where culture was left unfunded and Downing St had no idea what to do with the film industry. Their current manifesto says things like 'we will ammend local media ownership rules' and 'returning the Lottery to its original purpose' - I have no idea what that means.

With no back record to speak of, the Lib Dems have the most attractive policies in their mainfesto, with this particular excerpt quite nice: "Diversions to pay for the Olympics have also lead to a reduction in lottery money available for the arts. We will ensure that National Lottery funding has real independence from government and reassert the ‘arm’s length’ funding principle. We would also change the way the Lottery is taxed to generate more money for good causes. We’d leave it up to artists, musicians, museums and galleries, and crucially the communities they serve, to determine what form culture takes.".

Unfortunately, none of them mention specifically the film industry, which is a pity, given the billions of pounds the business brings to the country, and the prominence that it brings to the UK worldwide in the form of Oscar-winning talent and global blockbuster franchises, from Bond to Potter, to Cannes prize winners Loach and Leigh.
What will it take for politicians to take film seriously?

Uk Box Office 23-25 April

Another week at the top for CLASH OF THE TITANS in an overall disappointing weekend, with no film taking more than £1 million at the box office. DATE NIGHT debuted strongly, showing TV stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey have pulling power. IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE and THE JONESES had minimum appeal and opened with poor averages. The real disaster is Mike Judge's EXTRACT, which opened with an awful £220 per screen average in 120 cinemas.

1- CLASH OF THE TITANS (£982,375)
2- DATE NIGHT (£929,977)
4- DEAR JOHN (£806,773)
5- KICK ASS (£631,556)
6- THE GHOST (£627,888)
7- NANNY MCPHEE 2 (£393,192)
10- THE JONESES (£244,386)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Obsessed With Film

Some of my writing and all of my podcasting is now going to be housed at the fantastic website Obsessed with Film, a very popular film reviews site which has recently re-launched and re-designed. Rob & I will be producing the Splendor podcast for them on a regular basis, and I will be contributing from time to time on specific films or themes. Rob has already been writing for them, including a really good interview with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

My first piece for them was an article about piracy and cinemas, and our first podcast episode is now up. Check them out.

This blog will continue as always, with the Uk Box Office every monday, reports from festivals and anything that tickles my fancy. See you around.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

UKFC 2010-2013 Plan

The UK Film Council released its three year plan this month, a rough outline of their priorities and spending plans for the next three years. They know (and they acknowledge in the report) that funding is in danger and that the outcome of the election will determine the flow of money. The Olympics have also drained Lottery money away from the UKFC's pot.

It's not really a huge change of direction, as their number one priority continues to be funding films. Sadly, distribution and exhibition are number FOUR in their priority list. So, no change there, eh? And they lump distribution and exhibition all in the same category, with a paltry £300,000 over three years for what they call 'cross-art forms venues'. Meanwhile, distributors (including major studios) are getting £2,000,000 in prints and advertising funds. It seems nobody has learnt anything.

The only support that exhibitors are getting is the lobbying, organisational and logistical support for the Digital Funding Partnership which is a buying group for digital kit for independent (but not arthouse) cinemas. What is the point in spending tens of millions of pounds on films that no cinema in Britain will play because they receive no funding to do so? The most successful British cinema is either Hollywood-backed proven properties (Harry Potter, Bond) or high quality arthouse (Loach, Leigh) and everything in between simply fails to find an audience. Don't believe me? The UKFC's own data says that only 44% of films shot between 2003 and 2006 found a theatrical release within two years of production. It's not enough to fund these films - we have to find cinemas to play them.

A free DVD for the first person who can name the cinema in the picture, a gorgeous 1930s palace now crumbling away.

Monday, 19 April 2010

UK Box Office 16-18 Apr

Another week, another 3D box office bonanza. But exhibitors weren't happy as the good weather and the end of the easter school holidays kept people outdoors. Should be interesting to see what, if any, effect the volcanic ash phenomenon had on cinema admissions. DEAR JOHN debuted with a healthy take, despite its lack of household names. Newcomers THE GHOST did decent business while Ricky Gervais' CEMETERY JUNCTION failed to take off. REPO MEN didn't even crack the Top 10 (Alex Cox will be smiling somewhere)

1-DEAR JOHN (£1,995,093)
2-CLASH OF THE TITANS (£1,556,691)
4-KICK ASS (£908,931)
5-NANNY MCPHEE 2 (£886,996)
6-THE GHOST (£853,678)
9-THE BLIND SIDE (£297,993)
10-REMEMBER ME (£223,862)

Friday, 16 April 2010

Venice, the Sequel

Some of you will remember last year I was in Venice for a training course for arthouse managers. I blogged about it, and it was a career-changing experience. Mostly, because of the people I met. Cinema managers, programmers, projectionists, exhibitors of all shapes and sizes from all over Europe. It's a network of people that I am still in touch with almost every day - personally, but also professionally. I learned a lot, and developed about two or three projects off the back of it.

This year, I return to the Island on the coordinating team, (aka 'Dream Team') which is a selection of some of the trainees from last year. I'll be reunited with my roomate Francesco, and also Julie, Manuele, Cathleen and of course Sylvie and Sylvia...

The training takes place on an idyllic island called San Servolo in the Venice bay, during the Mostra Film Festival, with workshops in four languages, lectures, seminars and with a huge short film festival called Circuito Off happening in the background. But it's no holiday: there is a lot of work, and you're expected to put in a a good eight hours every day.

I'd encourage any exhibitors reading this to apply. The deadline runs until the 30th April for applications. Check it out here.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cannes 2010

I have never been to Cannes, but everybody knows this is the world's biggest film festival. I will be in Barcelona during the festival, but I am planning on attending next year. The line-up for 2010 so far includes Mike Leigh's new film, ANOTHER YEAR, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's BITUFIUL, Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE, Abbas Kiarostami's THE CERTIFIED COPY, and Doug Liman's A FAIR GAME - out of competition, Hollywood rolls out the big guns with Ridley Scotts ROBIN HOOD, Oliver Stone's WALL STREET 2 and Woody Allen's YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER.
Sadly Terence Malick's TREE OF LIFE is not included. We'll try and get reports from our friends at the Croisette for you.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cinemas in a Van

I just thought I would share with you a couple of projects from people I know which coincidentally happen to involve vans and cinemas. When I was a kid, my mom had a little project in Nicaragua where we took 16mm prints of films to neighborhoods in Esteli; we projected Chaplin classics, Cuban comedies (always comedies!) and audiences would sit on the street and watch it being projected onto a white sheet on a wall.

So the idea of taking movies to people (the mountain to Mohammed, if you will) is one I am completely behind. First there is Cannes in a Van, a motely crew of cinephiles who take cinema to the Croisette each year in a veg-oil powered transit van. Sam Clements (@sam_clements on Twitter), a projectionist, filmmaker and in general nice chap, is part of the crew.

And my good Dutch friend Maureen Prins (who I met in Venice last year) has a fantastic project, an entirely solar-powered van that travels around Europe showing films. CosyMo's Solar Cinema is exactly the kind of idea that keeps film culture alive - small but inventive, full of energey and enthusiasm. I am looking forward to Maureen's eventual arrival (and conquest) of England.

Monday, 12 April 2010

UK Box Office 9-11 April

This week continues to be dominated by family-friendly films, with CLASH, DRAGON, NANNY and ALICE all in the top 5. Drew Barrymore failed to make a big impression with her roller derby directorial debut WHIP IT!. Not in the Top 10 but with higher per screen averages this week are I AM LOVE (£4,500 per screen) and THE INFIDEL (£3,200 per screen average).

1 - CLASH OF THE TITANS (£2,434,983)
2 - HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (£1,396,100)
3 - KICK ASS (£1,186,450)
4 - NANNY MCPHEE & THE BIG BANG (£1,177,394)
5 - ALICE IN WONDERLAND (£673,300)
6 - BLIND SIDE (£537,821)
7 - REMEMBER ME (£519,325)
8 - WHIP IT! (£351,
9 - SHUTTER ISLAND (£336,155)
10 - BOUNTY HUNTER (£222,627)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Digital Economy Bill

Even as I write this, there is a late night debate happening at the House of Commons on the Digital Economy Bill, which is being rushed through without proper scrutiny or debate. All you need to do is switch on BBC Parliament to see the small amount of MPs present.

There are many troubling aspects to this bill, most of which make record companies and movie studios happy but seem to punish collectively all Internet users. Now I am no expert on the technicalities, (you can find a great letter to Des Turner addressing the specifics here) but the biggest opposition to the bill regard the disconnection of Internet connections with no right to appeal if someone is suspected of copyright infringement (check details here), it turns ISP providers into spies on their own customers, and in general is a clampdown on internet freedom and a big stomp on the creative industries and their possibilities for new business models.

I am no advocate of piracy. I would never download a film for free and watch it at home, I understand that every cinema ticket sold, every rental of a DVD and every legal, copyright-protected viewing of a film makes sure that films get made. It makes sure cinemas stay open. It makes sure that my favorite filmmakers (from Michael Mann to Ken Loach) have a job. But at the same time, burying our heads in the sand and pretending that the way people consume entertainment isn’t changing radically would be a mistake.

I know for a fact that thousands of Brightonians, many of whom work in new media and the creative industries, have written to their MPs opposing the bill. I too oppose this bill not only for its sleazy stand on human rights, but also because I believe that the future for content providers is through the free flow of information on the internet, not the establishment of 20th century business models in a platform that will not and can not sustain them. If you want to find out more or get involved in protecting your digital rights, visit the Open Rights Group.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

UK Box Office 2-5 April

The long weekend brought huge riches for cinemas across the country, with four full days in which to attract audiences and a varied slate of releases. The winner is CLASH OF THE TITANS, which despite terrible reviews and a lot of criticism about its retro-fitted 3D, proved once again that the appetite for 3D refuses to go away despite the cries of 'gimmick'. And it still left some space for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which took what would in any other week be a number one spot gross. KICK ASS fared less well despite the really clever Universal campaign - its 15 certficate shut out a lot of the Easter holiday audience.

1- CLASH OF THE TITANS (£7,407,607)
2- HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (£5,647,789)
3- KICK ASS (£4,530,017 - this includes a whole week of previews)
4- NANNY MCPHEE 2 (£3,601,402)
5- ALICE IN WONDERLAND (£1,796,494)
6- THE BLIND SIDE (£1,339,391)
7- REMEMBER ME (£1,286,404)
8- SHUTTER ISLAND (£915,014)
9- BOUNTY HUNTER (£672,394)
10- THE SPY NEXT DOOR (£377,034)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

iPad: game changer? - UPDATED

UPDATE: since my post, Slate have posted this: Taking the iPad Pill'

I'm no gadget expert - there are plenty of others in the blogosphere who can tell you all about what's hot and what's not in the world of technology. I am however interested in the way content is delivered. A couple of news stories on Deadline Hollwyood Daily caught my eye, as they point to the newly launched iPad as a game-changer in terms of being a new platform for cinema.

Warners, Netflix, ABC/Disney and Marvel Comics have all created iPad - specific applications which will push forward other content providers to do the same very quickly. iTunes obviously already has a movie content site, but the small iPhone screens are really not cutting it. The bigger iPad screens should incentivise consumers to download more films more frequently, potentially expanding the market for video on demand significantly.

As I have mentioned before, the world needs all the platforms it can get right now - and as long as the variety of titles available is as wide as something like Lovefilm or Netflix, it can only help the business. The faster producers and distributors embrace these changes and get in early (before Murdoch et al raise huge walls around the platforms) the better for diversity and arthouse films.