If they haven't sucked the entire galaxy into a man-made black hole by the time you read this, do you think the boffins attached to the new Large Hadron Collider might shift beyond the minor matter of understanding life, the universe and everything to the task of explaining a workable system of independent distribution'
Reading the recent reports you could have found enough doom and gloom to suggest that the whole of known existence being simultaneously reduced to its constituent parts would be a blessed relief. But we can reduce the state of the market to a relatively easy scientific equation: if a is demand for product and b is the ability to service that demand at a profit or at least within the financial restraints of tax breaks and subsidies, then a+b=c (a workable industry). QED.
The problem is that film doesn't like to reduce what it does to mere mathematics. Business science is too often discarded. For example, commentary on the current troubled indie sector spends a lot of time trying to read changes in taste without really bothering to look at the broader picture. The aesthetic is much more interesting than the economic.
A couple of foreign-language films make it in a market and that is taken as a signal of a radical shift in public mood. When that market is then opportunistically flooded with foreign-language films, for example, subsequent failure is taken as a sign that people have changed their minds.
But the truth is that taste is only one part of the discussion, and given the increasing marginalisation of the critic as arbiter it is a decreasing one at that. There is no evidence that anyone has fallen out of love with cinema in any way, although one can argue about the quality of the current glut of film, produced through hedge-fund bubbles or subsidy.
Yet just because there is more rubbish about, that doesn't amount to a coherent commentary on overall quality, or more significantly people's desire for that product. The serious question is whether we have the infrastructure to meet demand and it's been pretty clear for some time that the answer is no.
At one level, the acquisition of the international arm of Icon by Stewart Till's Stadium group offers part of the answer (see In Focus, page 10). How successful the new Icon or others such as Wild Bunch or Entertainment One will be with ambitious distribution networks is another matter, but at least the creation of a new tier of business below the studios asks the right questions. They all seem to fill a gap in the much discussed polarisation of the market into franchise giants and arthouse minnows.
Now we will have a number of businesses convinced there is a middle ground worth occupying and with the business plan to match. They are banking on the existence of an audience for a certain size of quality film and on their ability to match that demand to supply.
It won't be easy but it provides one missing link: a business logic that seems to match the realities of a global market. Einstein reckoned no theory was worth the name unless it could be described to a six-year-old and the film industry has been failing that one recently.
But a basic formulation, of studios focused at the top end on fewer but smarter franchises and 3D films; a long tail of smaller specialist film finding audiences, often through the internet; and a middle tier of businesses capable of efficient multi-territory distribution of quality commercial fare looks suspiciously like a plan.
Apart from global financial collapse, exchange rate fluctuations, demographic change and scientists bringing about the end of the world, what could go wrong'
It's not particle physics, after all.
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