Distribution is undergoing an industrial structural shift both locally in Australia and internationally. The emergence of new technologies and platforms for media exhibition has prompted producers to adapt and look for innovative ways to distribute and exhibit feature films. Screen Australia released a report that identified the key issues that are currently impacting on feature film distribution (Screen Australia, 2015). Statistics show that over the past few decades there has been a progressive decline in cinema visits by consumers between the ages of 14 and 24 years old. The data indicates that the age group 50 plus, have increased cinema visits quite significantly from the early 1970’s with its highest peak in 1998. The catalyst for the declining trend in the age category 14-24 is suggested to be due to the rise of online media platforms causing consumers to use alternative means to access film content. These aesthetic changes are causing producers to think outside the square in order to survive against this increasingly competitive climate.
Average Number of Cinema Visits
Producers need to think and act creatively to connect their film with its identified audience, and be more aware of distribution opportunities and challenges, (Screen Australia, 2015).
‘Number of Australian and Overseas Films Released in Australian Cinemas, 1984-2014’
(Screen Australia, 2015)
Further research provided by Screen Australia, investigated the ‘Number of Australian and overseas films released in Australian cinemas, 1984–2014’ (Screen Australia, 2015). Over the past 31-years the average of local Australian films released in Australian cinemas sits at 9% with 2014 sitting below the average at 8%. In 2014 there were 39 Australian films screened in Australian cinemas out of 505 films in total. 174 of these films were from the United States (US). Films that originated from the US have dropped significantly over 31-years from the average 57% to 34% in 2014. United Kingdom (UK) origin films continue to sit above the Australian average with 12% of UK films being screened in Australian cinemas in 2014. This research provides insight into the percentage of national and international content that is available on screens in Australia. This does not factor in consumers choice of film content although, it is indicative within the results. Australian audiences are tend to neglect Australian films and are being exposed to more international content. It is evident that distribution of Australian films within Australia is highly competitive and only equates for a small portion of cinema screens.
(This information can be found online at: http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/cinemascreeningsxcountry.aspx)
Producer, John Hipwell who established HIPS Productions in Melbourne, has had to evolve his approach to film distribution. The traditional path for film distribution is; finding investors and/or funding bodies; manufacturing the film; sourcing more funding for marketing and distribution; exhibiting the film and hoping that consumers like the film enough to make a profit. John has adopted a new technique that will decrease the level of risk that is involved in the traditional model. This new concept is called Reverse Engineering. Reverse Engineering requires the Producer to conduct in depth research into the desires of the consumers through online media platforms such as, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo etc… After compiling a screenplay or film ‘idea’, the Producer returns to online media and pitches the idea to consumers. The pitch of an idea leads to a ‘following’ of potential consumers who are interested in that particular topic. The Producer needs to learn what it is the audience wants.
I’m keen to find an audience before I actually manufacture that film… Because the business is so tough now, I’ve got to actually go out and I’ve got to reverse engineer that audience.
Is there a larger mature audience? What’s the demographic? Is the younger generation moving away [from a concept] and if they are moving away, where are they going? I’m searching for that audience. I’m actively involved in testing and finding an audience and building an audience and bringing an audience, while the film is still in its gestation stages.
The purpose of this model is to reduce the risk factor and potentially generate more investors and/or support from a distribution company BEFORE the film has been made. The brilliance of social media is that its breadth is infinite. If you can acquire 500 followers of your film, those followers have 500 of their own friends, who also have 500 of their friends and so it goes on. The social media platforms are an ongoing web of interconnected consumers. This concept also extends into the post-production stages. As a result of this model there would be a greater reach of consumers and potential consumers when marketing and creating hype for the film.
The production company, ‘Ocean Road Films’, is practicing the concept Reverse Engineering. Ocean Road Films is producing a film called ‘The Chickabees’. John Hipwell worked as the Producer for the film for a number of months during the pre production period. The film is still in the developing stages. They currently have 587 followers on Facebook. Their posts include: videos of the audition process, progress with funding bodies such as ‘Film Victoria’, potential filming locations, and character animation updates. Their online media presence has potentially contributed to increased funding as their budget has moved from 500K to 1.3M in the duration of a year. The more traction they gain, the better opportunities they will have when marketing the film upon cinema release.
Independent Cinema Distribution
Producer, John Hipwell proposed an alternative solution to distribution that ties in with the concept, Reverse Engineering. The revolutionary system of a crowd funded cinema release via social media is a way to guarantee exposure while maintaining sentimental value to your film.
Three cinema chains account for more than 1000 screens or over half that national total, (Screen Australia, 2015).
This system requires you to reach out to your online community and create a premiered event where you can monitor the attendance. Again, the risk factor is reduced, as if the attendance is low, you can cancel or reschedule the event. The money will either come out of your own pocket, or it can be crowd funded by your ‘following’. The screening is more personalised as the consumers have had an ongoing commitment to the film. One of the negatives of exhibiting a film in this way is that the dollar figures may only break even (if that). There is little profit margin in exchange for exposure.
Distribution through the lens of Television
Michael Aldrich is the General Manager of Fred Media distribution at WTFN in Melbourne. He works predominantly with distributing television programs both locally and internationally. As part of a distribution company Michael’s responsibilities are to be affiliated with large television and digital content markets and other various avenues to sell programs to the exhibitors. Television programs are sold as a part of a contract but the life of the program remains ongoing. Once the contract has reached the end of its time frame, the network may repurchase it in order to continue its airtime. Although companies like Netflix, Presto and Stan are taking the reigns with most television content, small production companies can still find a market to sell. If not to free-to-air television networks, these programs may be sold to larger companies such as Netflix as they, “will still need filler content” (Aldrich, M. 2015).
Michael attends entertainment market events such as MIPTV that hosts 11,000 participants over 100 countries (MIPTV, 2015). MIPTV is held in Cannes, France. It allows distributors and representatives to forge partnerships and cement deals. Michael describes the event as the “Boat show for television” (Aldrich, M. 2015). WTFN do 70% of their business through MIPTV and MIPCOM. These events allow them to cross multiple territories of exhibition without having to travel to each individual company.
With the convenience of on demand networks, pay TV and online media platforms; there is a drive in the industry for more quality television content to be produced.
To extract an emotion and tell a story… To edit it in a way that can make you laugh or cry or be engaged with it, is a huge skill, so that kind of stuff you can’t just sausage factory out. (Aldrich, M. 2015)
Film vs Television
The question now lies, upon entering the film and television industry, which direction will be more profitable, both financially and in your career perspective? Which avenue should you take in order to execute stories/content successfully and distribute them into a secure market?
[Television] That’s where the money is…Movies are a lot of risk, a lot of money. (Aldrich, M. 2015).
Television is less risk taking and provides more ongoing financial profit compared with feature films. Television produced in Australia can be re-edited or manipulated in order to appeal to a wider audience.
We will recut it for an international audience. (Aldrich, M. 2015).
Whilst there is a big shift in the film and television industry, there is also a shift in consumers’ expectations and desires. Clayton Jacobson, Director of ‘Kenny’ (2006) discusses how the industry and the audience have evolved since the release of his film.
Jacobson, C. 2015
People aren’t going to the movies as much anymore… People aren’t making films as much anymore and the studios aren’t taking the risks on the mid range movies.
Now people say that’s such a great idea, don’t do it as a movie, you should do it as television.
With movies, it’s harder and harder to surprise an audience.
Feature films, the three act structure, poses a certain amount of restraints on your story arc, your characters arc, whereas television, you are free to have characters go on much bigger journeys.
Television has actually taken over.