The past week has seen seismic disruptions to UK film distribution with news that Disney is moving its epic blockbuster Mulan to its streaming service. With other summer blockbuster release dates now in a constant state of flux, we spoke to Joan Parsons of Queen’s Film Theatre and Kenji Lloyd of Altitude Films to find out how these changes are affecting exhibitors and indie distributors alike.
Joan Parsons, Head of QFT, Queen’s Film Theatre:
The Tent Poles have gone for now, and, as any good camper knows: this is bad news. The use of the term ‘Tent Poles’ illustrates how well known and long established the understanding is that a few titles each year single-handedly support the cinema industry.
The constant updates about date changes, films moving to day and date premium VOD and even moving to 2021 or 2022 is far from cheerful reading. Operating budgets in all cinemas are built predominantly around box office expectations. The admissions dictate the expectations for income from all standard revenue streams: concessions sales, ticket sales, advertising and so on. Without any reliability in the release calendar the current situation, is certainly unnerving, and the best cinema operators can do is try to work with short term programmes, react to the changes and seek opportunities to ensure their businesses remain viable in the long term.
QFT is far from a regular cinema, as a two screen cinema in a truly unique building and the only cultural cinema in Northern Ireland. We are lucky, and it has been so clear throughout the closure period that now, more than ever, cinemas like QFT must play to their core strengths. For QFT this will mean finding ways to continue to provide the same quality programme as before closure, meeting our audience’s expectations for exciting, boundary-pushing cinema, and hopefully restoring the successful position we enjoyed prior to lockdown.
One of the best-performing elements of QFT’s programme has always been Irish film, and we will certainly be looking to bring some more great examples to our screens. This tendency of domestic product to perform well is hardly a surprise, but it does hint at a potential alternative to what will be a limited mainstream release schedule in the coming months. Certainly domestic productions have traditionally performed well in many countries and have often been the main competition for American films, however the UK is a more complicated picture entirely.
The shared languages of both UK and USA is often a challenge to UK independent films to differentiate and there are also occasional concerns about a regionally specific film’s ability to connect to audiences across the UK. However, when a film works it can really travel well, and we need only look at last year’s BAIT for an example of this. It performed exceptionally well in the South West. but also won over audiences much further afield. Will we see, in a landscape less dominated by US blockbusters, room for more brilliant UK and Irish stories to reach our screens? I certainly hope so.
What would be nice to see is a change to the film landscape that this ‘reset’ provides. Despite my generally pessimistic outlook, I can see how this may be possible. Potentially, more mainstream cinemas may find space in their programmes for the slightly less mainstream films, some of the domestic successes from elsewhere could certainly work with UK audiences, and people will be more keen than ever to see stories from around the world and satisfy some of their cultural wanderlust.
Kenji Lloyd, Marketing Manager, Altitude Film Distribution:
The rest of the year is understandably looked upon with uncertainty by many. The calendar looks quieter than it has in a long time. The autumn festival circuit won’t be the launchpad for studio awards contenders it usually is and the longer it takes virus cases in the US to fall, the longer it may be before studios are willing to release their blockbuster titles around the world.
At Altitude, we released three films in July: crocodile horror BLACK WATER: ABYSS, indie comedy drama STAGE MOTHER, and Russell Crowe action/thriller UNHINGED, which opened at #1 at the box office. We navigated US holdbacks to release them all before the US, and we’ve seen encouraging results showing audiences are eager to watch new films.