At the Screen Film Summit on December 1, one hot debate was about how to drive support for British films at the UK box office.
The box office is in an overall slump in 2014 (admissions are down more than 5% year on year) and marketshare for British films at home is only 8%.
One radical solution put forward recently by Lionsgate UK CEO Zygi Kamasa is to price cinema tickets according to a film’s budget level and origins.
“Why is Marvel’s Avengers, for example, the same price as a film such as What We Did On Our Holiday?” he asked. “A blockbuster can cost $250m and a UK independent film can cost $4m but it’s £10 or more to see both. I think we should see UK films priced at £4 and US films at £10.”
He added at the summit: “We need to have the debate and explore other opportunities. The market has changed dramatically and we must do something to bring consumers to the cinema.”
I admire Kamasa’s drive to get a discussion started, although I’m not sure ticket price is the answer.
As StudioCanal UK CEO Danny Perkins said about the pricing debate: “It’s all about films having to compete on the same level. I’m not sure someone would go to the cinema and choose to see a film because it was cheap.”
So it has to begin with great films. And then the industry has to figure out a way to champion those great films in a more effective way. Perkins’ suggestions include “a VAT break on theatrical returns or something like [Creative Europe’s] Automatic [scheme], which supports distributors for supporting European arthouse films. That scheme creates a virtuous cycle of investment and return.”
Those are smart ideas, and I also think bigger P&A support might be more useful than shifting prices. That way, smaller films get a boost in terms of attention, and might reach audiences without appearing to consumers that they are in a bargain bin.
The BFI Film Fund earmarks $6.3m (£4m) annually for specialised film P&A costs, working on foreign-language, documentary and more low-budget productions. The Distribution Fund is doing good work but more money would help.
Also, collapsing release windows on some smaller films will be essential to let consumers see films how they want, when they want and allow distributors to maximise their marketing spend.
BBC Films head Christine Langan pointed to the different ad budgets available to indies and studios as key to the challenge faced by UK films entering the market. “What we’re seeing is that there are almost two separate industries,” she said at the summit.
“The diary going forward for the next couple of years is full of enormous Hollywood films, which are branded goods. There’s another industry that’s much more personal, which is about auteur voices and human stories. Digital distribution is only so helpful for those pieces because they don’t have the advertising [budgets] to get above the parapet. Audiences often don’t know they exist.”
Vue CEO Tim Richards’ speech about how the UK can boost admissions for 2015 was mostly concerned with the big Hollywood blockbuster pipeline (although there are some British bright spots he highlighted, from Bond and Kingsman to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). He said Vue’s audience surveys show that parking is the number one concern about a trip to the cinema, which didn’t seem to inspire any of the filmmakers in the audience.
There are bright spots at the UK box office to champion this year - Paddington, Mr. Turner and The Inbetweeners 2 being just three. But there should have been even more - there are brilliant films such as Locke, Gone Too Far and ‘71 that should have connected even more with audiences.
So even if Kamasa’s suggestion isn’t the perfect answer, at least he has started a vital discussion.