Moving into production may seem like an astute move for distributors but they underestimate the challenges they will face.
Back in 2002, veteran director Alan Parker, attacked the UK film industry for suffering from “Little England” disease and being too parochial in its outlook and ambition.
“Distributors believe that by being involved early and having much greater say over the film, they will end up with a better product that will play to bigger audiences”
Parker, then the chairman of industry body the Film Council, said distribution companies, not production companies, would have to spearhead the growth of a powerful UK film industry. Producers, he argued, were “talent” - rather than business people - whose ambition was too often simply to get a film made, and that more of the public investment in films should go to distributors, who could deliver significant audiences for films and the “sustainable” base which the UK film industry talks about but seems incapable of delivering. “Direct subsidy solely to production will never, ever form the basis of a successful film industry,” he said.
Today many of the problems that Parker identified in British film remain.
Despite years of significant public funding, the ambition of too many British films is confined to minor festivals or straight-to-DVD audiences.
And Parker’s comments from earlier this decade echo this week as we report on the UK distribution operations moving into direct and full film funding.
Parker believed the distributors would be a better driving force for getting the right kind of British films made, and it’s a view the distributors themselves now seem to share. Optimum Releasing’s production slate includes Rowan Joffe’s remake of Brighton Rock, while Lionsgate UK is fully funding the Jason Statham crime movie Blitz, currently shooting in London.
The distributors’ ambition is clear. They believe that by being involved early and having much greater say over the film, they will end up with a better product that will play to bigger audiences locally and internationally. They will own more of the product, and ultimately take more of the profit.
But the scale of the challenge is significant. Last year the top 10 distributors in the UK had 95% of the market, with more than 80 other distributors competing for the crumbs off the table - with 368 other films taking only 5% of the box office. It has never been tougher to get funding, and never more difficult to make a movie stand out in a crowded multiplex market.
There will be risks in this move into production for the distributors who go there. We will see how strong and durable distributors’ appetite for production remains once a few titles fail to perform as hoped (and this will certainly happen).
Any move into production is also likely to lead to reductions in the total number of films being made, as distributors will need to balance their production and distribution slates and budgets, with the result that some will be investing in fewer films in total. But a reduction in the total volume of films in the market would be a price worth paying if the industry can trade quantity for improved quality.