Open the window a bit, let some air out.

Click on the picture and you can rent Terry Gilliam's new short film instantly.

One of the things the recent film policy review by the Department of culture media and sport tried to address was how British exhibitors might better support British film. The report was suitably vague on how this might be achieved and as you can imagine any whiff of government interference in relation to what plays on our screens makes exhibitors incredibly nervous.

British quota was introduced as far back as 1927 and insisted that UK cinemas played a minimum percentage of British films in a year. Those exhibitors old enough to remember quota still wake up in a cold sweat, petrified at the lack of suitable movies to make up the 30% British product required by law. Only to snuggle down cosily when the realisation dawns that it’s all in the past.

The main upshot of British quota was cinemas forced to play a load of rubbish films. It became a real joke after the UK entered the common market in 1973, as films from Europe counted towards quota, hence the proliferation of Emmanuelle type soft porn films at your local Odeon, an outcome that nearly killed off cinema in this country. See this previous post.

If you ever find me chained to the railings of the National Film Theatre you’ll know British quota has been re-introduced.

The DCM doesn’t suggest returning to British quota thankfully.  This from the report: ” The Panel recommends that exhibitors and independent distributors discuss how to bring about changes to current practices and agreements regarding theatrical windows and other exhibition terms, in order to distinguish between different types of films, and to support independent British films in particular.”

Basically they’re suggesting that exhibitors lighten up about theatrical windows on low budget British films, thereby allowing them to be made available on a variety of platforms simultaneously, including download, but not precluding them from any kind of theatrical screening.

We’re a grumpy lot, exhibitors. If your film is available on pay per view or you try and put it out on DVD too early, we won’t put it in our cinemas.

Broadly speaking I agree with this appalling example of restricted practice, apart from anything else I’ve got four kids that need feeding. The longer films are kept away from anywhere else the better.

In actual fact, my children’s dietary requirements aside, do we really want a day when all films become a thumbnail image on a computer screen menu? How are you going to tell them apart if they haven’t been at least a critical if not commercial success in the cinema?

Maybe I’m a Luddite, but the film fan in me really hopes that day never comes. Without cinema the world really would be a poorer place. But I would say that wouldn’t I?

However, I get an enormous number of requests to show very small, low to no budget independent British films directly from the film makers themselves. Sometimes we show them, sometimes we don’t.

Being brutally honest, with a few notable exceptions most of them are noble efforts but in no way commercial and sometimes they’re just plain awful.

If you want to break out and entice exhibitors much less audiences, a noble effort really isn’t enough anymore.

There are some local film makers I’m always very happy to support because they make fine films, Jerry Rothwell’ s documentaries are always a joy to show for instance and the audiences are good.

But most of the time I’m simply doing the film maker a favour, trying to be supportive but knowing full well the turn out will be small.

The film maker really does have to work hard to make these screenings work, and frankly very few ever put in the effort required. They somehow think that being in a cinema, a dodgy Photoshop made quad poster and the belief this is the best film since Citizen Kane is enough. Sadly it isn’t.

These screenings are infrequent enough for them not to be a big drain financially, but if I was in a position where I had to find time to show them by law on a regular basis my big hearted magnanimity would soon dry up.

To release a film properly in the UK is phenomenally expensive and if you release the film yourself, you really aren’t going to get rich, so it’s better for everyone if films that have trouble getting a theatrical release via a distributor are available through other channels.

Aside from being blamed for the failure of British films to find an audience, cinemas are often taken to task for not giving short films an airing.

The main reason for avoiding shorts is time; adding 15 minutes to the performance is a no- no. By the end of the day that really builds up. Secondly we can’t give the short any money. All the revenue from ticket sales is contractually obliged to go to the feature.

As a maker of short films myself, I never entertained the idea they could make money. However, Distrify claim they can. It’s an interesting experiment and they’ve launched the project with a new short by Terry Gilliam.

Of course, it’s a lot easier selling a short if you are Terry Gilliam, but I wish them well.

Selling small British films directly from the film makers website is clearly the future, and if it heads off any kind of quota system I’m all for it.

But hands off The Kings Speech.

4 thoughts on “Open the window a bit, let some air out.

  1. “How are you going to tell them apart if they haven’t been at least a critical if not commercial success in the cinema?”

    The same way as I do on Spotify. I look for similar artists, things my friends recommend, most-popular etc. I’ve found some great music that way. IMDb gives ratings and reviews, so if I could be bothered, I could find out how to tell them apart by hanging out there.

    And to be honest, while I have seen some great films at the Picture House, and generally trust your judgement on what you exhibit, I’m pretty sure my social graph would have warned me before seeing New Year’s Eve. For that matter, why didn’t you warn me?

    Having thought about it for a few minutes, the benefit of the cinema isn’t so much gauging the success of a film. The value of going to the cinema to watch a film over watching it on a laptop on my couch is more than just the film itself. It is analogous to watching a live band over hearing their album on the cassette player in the kitchen.

    • Understand what you’re saying, although watching a film you’ve paid for, even at home, requires a larger investment of time and concentration perhaps than sticking an album on.

      I also worry about what kind of films would be made for the day when cinemas disappear. I know people’s TVs are ever larger and have ever greater resolution, but would Peter Jackson have made LOTR on the scale he did if it was only ever going to be seen at home?

      Don’t have the answer, merely speculating. Always afraid of sounding like that guy. The one who would not have been seen dead with one of those stupid mobile phones.

  2. Quota quickies had one virtue: they spawned directors such as Michael Powell. So some good came of them. And then, of course there was the Eady Levy; another cause of sleepless nights in film exhibitor land… Anyone who saw Peter Capaldi’s spoof documentary about Cricklewood Studios on BBC4 will have got something of the flavour of quota quickies…

  3. Can’t short films be shown as a special event on occasion? See 5 shorts instead of a feature? You could even try using them creatively to squeeze the most out of your schedule? Just wondering whether any cinema has tried it, could be a good warm-up before a meal out when compared to facing some of the epic (2.5hrs+) features that filmmakers offer us now!

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