With a fortnight to go to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, the UK film industry is buckling down for what promises to be a daunting Olympic fortnight (27 July to 12 August.)
Last week, exhibitor Cineworld warned of a potential Olympic setback with chief financial officer Philip Bowcock predicting the Games will have a “negative” effect on box-office.
Feature film production in London itself is grinding to a standstill over the Olympic period.
The number of new film releases is reducing sharply. There are only six films going out in UK cinemas on 27th July (Olympic opening day), of which two are revivals and two are documentaries. (Normally, there would be as many as 10 to 12 new films.)
“Obviously, you’ve got the Friday evening (Olympic) opening ceremony that will attract an enormous audience to BBC1 on that Friday. Also, the first weekend of live coverage is going to be an immense distraction,” acknowledged Mark Batey, Chief Executive of the Film Distributors’ Association.
Distributors are also fretting about logistical issues as the pressure mounts on London’s transport system. Prints, digital drives and foyer display material will all need to be transported to venues around London by transit van at a time when there may be near gridlock in the UK capital.
“It’s fantastically important. London is a quarter of the whole (UK) market) One delivery missed is a catastrophe,” Batey commented.
However, some in the film industry also see the period of the Games as an opportunity.
Exhibitors are banking on the appeal of The Dark Knight Rises (out on 20th July) and The Lorax (27th July) to keep the multiplexes full. Other studio titles being released over the Olympic period include Universal’s Ted and Fox’s Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. The Bourne Legacy and Brave are going on UK national release on Monday 13th August, immediately after the Games finish.
Meanwhile, independent exhibitors are using the Olympic period for some adventurous programming. For example, Jason Wood, Director of programming at Curzon Cinemas, is launching “The Curzon Twelve.”
“We have selected twelve culturally disparate films for our audience over the summer as we believe that audiences do exist in the capital for challenging titles,” Wood commented of titles ranging from Electrick Children to Swandown, from Nostalgia For The Light to El Bulli: Cooking In Progress, from Searching For Sugar Man to The Imposter that will run through late July and August.
“There was traditionally a feeling that in the summer, distributors were loath to release art house films because of the tentpole studio titles,” Wood observed. “That has changed. Over the last three to five years, arthouse distributors have realised they need to take the summer dates. The whole idea of counterprogramming has become quite paramount.”
Certain cinemas will also be showing the Olympics. Vue CEO Tim Richards has confirmed that certain cinemas the Vue chain will be screening some Olympic events, albeit not in 3D. These screenings, taken from a BBC feed, will be free.
“It is not going to be every single site but it will be a wide coverage,” Richards commented.
Richards is also predicting bumper business at Vue’s Westfield Stratford site, close to the home of the Olympics, in spite of car parking restrictions
“We are gearing up there for a very, very busy period,” Richard said, adding that alongside regular customers and tourists, Vue was also hoping to attract “even the athletes themselves, looking for a break.”
Film London CEO Adrian Wootton and his team say they have “spent the last four years” briefing film companies about the likely challenges the Olympics would provide to feature film production in central London. “The studios that ring London and are outside London are essentially unaffected,” Wootton commented.
Bond picture Skyfall has finished its London shooting. Ridley Scott’s The Counselor is in pre-production at Pinewood, due to start production shortly and isn’t expected to be affected by the 2012 effect
Despite the Olympics, Euro 2012 and the Jubilee, Batey predicts that UK cinemagoing will remain buoyant. “It is a challenging period, no doubt about that,” Batey said, adding that when the next heatwave hits, British cinemas are bound to suffer. “People have had enough of this absolutely shocking torrential rain.”
Tim Richards also remains upbeat. “I am not going to say that The Olympics won’t have any impact. I suspect they probably will, but with the release of a film like Dark Knight, I think we’re going to have a very, very robust period throughout the Olympics,” the Vue boss suggested.