The much-touted notion of recession-proof cinema can look like a bad joke for much of the business. The queues that have been exciting attention at theatres in large parts of the world are a million miles from the experience of most of the industry.

There is little more than a passing acquaintance between blockbuster box-office success and the health of any given national industry, never mind individual producers.

What limited degree of trickle-down exists from box-office revenues is itself precarious in the current financial climate. The traditional hope that strong studios will make more films in international locations is undermined by a logical concentration on fewer but bigger franchises. And the fact Hollywood investment in 3D and other digitally enhanced products that cannot be seen in much of the world will not help.

Trickle down is not a concept that works well for film, except in the broad sense that going to the cinema is habit forming.

So there is no escaping the fact these are tough times. If the recession doesn't slap you on the face, it's likely to bite you on the bum. Everyone knows it and typically the recession is already being felt as a series of incremental problems that accumulate quickly rather than one giant crash.

Complacency is not a characteristic you bump into much these days. Even when you find people talking up the prospects for film, they've got someone round the back battening down the hatches and nailing down the furniture.

But there's a real danger in safety first, because in all the confusion and uncertainty the industry could miss the fact there is something fixed in a recession - an immutable truth it cannot afford to ignore. There may be dealers who can sell unrepayable loans to financial institutions but even they cannot alter the fact there are only 24 hours in a day. And of those 24 hours, only a proportion can or will be devoted to leisure.

The competition for that leisure time will become tougher than ever during a downturn. Consumers will assess the value of the time and money they expend and there are plenty of rival claims on those precious minutes.

There has been growing recognition this year of the importance of finding new ways to reach and mobilise customers - even if there are few bona fide examples of that thinking in action. Yet innovation is more necessary in a downturn. It would have obviously been smarter to pull the finger out in the better-off years but the need remains.

The immediate task is to focus on the missing ingredients for business success. For investment that comes down to a number of factors, but there are a few essentials on which to concentrate.

These include a fatal lack of transparency. The disclosure of finance and business models and credible performance criteria is something the film business has been reluctant to do. The industry has not really had to rely on the free market. The majors have found finance through international tax funds and, when they dried up, hedge funds. Much of the international business has survived on subsidy, where the criterion for funding has come down to an artificial test of cultural importance rather than audiences.

This is not an argument in favour of doing away with such an approach - pure free markets would have lost much great cinema. But all forms of funding will be scrutinised and even government largesse has limits.

What is true, however, is that if film is to thrive, to bring in new talent and reach new audiences, then it will have to face up to the realities of global economics.

At the very least the market mantras of efficient distribution, control of production costs and transparency of business will have to become part of the culture.

'No-one knows anything' is a funny line in a book, not a business model that might attract new investment. The great thing for film is that the starting point in terms of investment is horribly low. The only way is up.