2019 Australian Film Scorecard, what can Small Cinemas do to contribute

2019 Australian Film Scorecard, what can Small Cinemas do to contribute

Welcome to a new year.  And like the start or any year, its a good time to look back at how the year faired for our industry.  In this newsletter we will look at the 2019 Australian Film Scorecard.  Thanks to if.com.au for kicking of the topic with this post: https://www.if.com.au/australian-films-2019-bo-scorecard/

In a future post I plan to dissect the Australian Screen statistics, looking at the narrative of "Boom or Bust" for Australian theatrical exhibition.  Is the industry doing well, with every bigger box office, or is it heading into the abyss with slowly reducing attendance?

A lack luster year

Don Groves sentiment in his if.com.au article for last year is negative. As a small cinema owner I can relate, however, let's take a different approach.  Let us focus on the top 10 movies listed below.  The full table can be downloaded here.

TITLECSHIPGENREDISTRIBUTORBO IN 2019
RIDE LIKE A GIRLPGDRAMATRANSMISSION11,577,871
TOP END WEDDINGMCOMEDYUNIVERSAL5,255,934
STORM BOYPGDRAMASONY PICTURES4,984,445
PALM BEACHMCOMEDYUNIVERSAL4,492,490
HOTEL MUMBAIMA15+CRIMEICON3,295,499
DANGER CLOSE: THE BATTLE OF LONG TANMA15+ACTIONTRANSMISSION2,968,941
2040GDOCOMADMAN1,517,899
MYSTIFY MICHAEL HUTCHENCEMA15+DOCOMADMAN1,149,194
THE AUSTRALIAN DREAMMA15+DOCOMADMAN1,143,980

I operate 3 small cinema locations, and out of these top 10 Australian films I was only aloud to play 2 of them. And one, only in a single location of my 3.  The one film I did play at all locations was specifically because I knew the director and worked on the film.

In other words, as a small cinema, I would have been happy to play most if not all of these films. "If I was aloud" access to the films on a commercial basis. In many cases I was refused access period. Either way, in effect I was refused access to the films.  Going by the SCO-Data-miniing website at https://data.smallcinemaowners.com.au/dashboard/cinemas, many other smaller cinema location were also treated this way.

The data shows that many small cinemas seem to be unable to gain access to Australian films. Given that all these films are substantially subsidised by the Australian government and by extension the Australians people, it is unfortunate that many Australian are then restricted from enjoying these films in a cinema they way the were intended.

The result of this industry behaviour is that Australian Films do not reach there potential.  The producer and investors  have a higher risk and lower yield (make less money).  In general, Australian film industry is considered unhealthy with a lot of traction towards direct to streaming being the better path as this systemic poor behaviour does not appear as apparent (Its less risky).

Is this unavoidable

The Paramount Decree, a document formulated in the U.S. in 1948 was created to ensure smaller cinemas and by extension consumers had fair and convenient access to films in cinemas.  In Australia, a similar investigation by the ACCC in 1998 resulted in the Code Of Conduct.  Following this, the formation of the Australian Consumer Law guidelines that encapsulates much of what is contained in the Code of conduct into law.

Having well defined regulations is one thing, but for them to work, enforcement is necessary..  Unfortunately enforcement is non existent.  Those asked to explain this behaviour make it clear that from their perspective, this is the more profitable path for them.  The only explanation is that allegedly the practices of a well known industry term called "Clearances" or in other words, secret exclusivity arrangements are in place.  It makes no sense to refuse a cinema that wants to take a film.. unless in giving that film to the cinema will result in penalties in other areas.

Due to this behaviour, smaller cinemas are collateral damage and by extension, so are Australian Films and film culture.

Is this simply how the industry works and is generally accepted by the industry?
In general I think this is the case, however, with the changing media landscape putting pressure on the culture of Australian film.  Should we sit on our hands?

Contect Choke

Another example of pressure on Australian content is the following testimony by Marc Wooldridge, ex MD of Fox, while on the stand in court he described what Policy is used for.. Court recording of this short description can be found here.

Policy is the contractual acceptance to play a film a specific number of times per day over a specific period of time.  To access some "must have" films, Marc suggests policy requirements are put in place to choke out smaller films.

Policy was initially created to ensure a cinema taking a PHYSICAL film print, costing a considerable amount, would put enough effort behind a film as to ensure it makes back its costs.  However, this testimony shows how the use of policy has changed.  Now with digital, physical film prints no longer exist, however policy requirements are still in place.

As Marc has testified, one of the specific reasons for policy is now to choke content of screen, with Australian Content that is being targeted.

In addition to this, Policy is also commonly used to ensure smaller cinemas are restricted access to films on day of release.  For example, certain distributors ask locations of 1 screen to play a film 3 times per day for the first 2 weeks.  As a typical number of 5 screenings per day per screen.. If accepted, 3/5 of your session time is now devoted to a single film.  It is uncommercial to accept such conditions. This leads to no variety of content and overscreening of a film for the limited population of a single screen location.  The data.cmallcinemaowners.com.au website also shows single screen locations typically never show more then 2 session per day on opening week.  The use of a Black-list/White-list is allegedly in place that prescribes if you are allowed access to film on a commercial basis.

The heart of Australian Cinema Culture?

Here at SCO we consider smaller independent cinemas to be the heart and soul of Australian film.  Unlike the largest chains that are large corporate machines while smaller independent cinemas are operated by people who love cinema.  Will go out of there way to promote and bring the life changing insights and experiences cinema brings to the community.

Running a small cinema is hard work.  You don't typically do it because its profitable, but because of fulfills a passion.

To nurture the culture of cinema in Australia is to nurture the independent cinema and extension Australian films.

What can we as an industry do?

With the negative sentiment over Australian Film and in some ways, theatrical exhibition (See future newsletter were I plan to cover the flat to downward trend in attendance levels), I believe that transparency and the willingness to adopt new practices can improve the viability of Australian Exhibition and by extension, Australian Film.  Dwelling on the past and systemic failings of our industry is not helpful.  Identifying them, acceptance and moving forward to a better future should be our focus.

As cinema owners, we do our best to bring curated content that our specific locations would prefer.  We will of course bring Australian films to our locations when possible. The best option we have to improve this situation is to be more aware of Australian Films.  Typically, based on the code of conduct, distributors are suppose to make alll cinemas aware of a film release date.  This is typically not done and smaller cinemas are left out.  The use of the SCO Booking tools, make available to small cinemas Dec 2019, can be very helpful here in spotting these films well in advance as so negotiations can be archived for the date of release. If the distributor still refuses to offer the film on a commercial basis, I recommend you inform them of this fact, then contact the producer voicing your frustration.. then move on.

As Content Producers, there is a LOT that can be done.  This newsletter has been subscribed to by many producers as understanding how to best reach consumers via the exhibitors is to better understand exhibitors.  This was especially made clear to me in a recent conversation with Clayton Jacobson when discussing the success of "Kenny".  As a producer, I recommend you have more involvement with exhibitors and ensure all cinemas, including small regional ones, have date of release access to your film. That the distributor contacts all cinemas big and small. (Contact list available from SCO on request).  I also recommend policy requirements are abandoned.  If a cinema wants the film, just give it to them.  The minimum guarantee covers the costs.  I recommend that as the producer, you stipulate contractual conditions, as above, to ensure this occurs with your chosen distributor.

Small Cinema Owners focus

SCO has a number of initiatives in play.  As is identified by the discussion above, SCO is doing its part to try and move the industry forward to a more sustainable and vibrant industry in the coming era of streaming. There is no question that the lack of attendance growth is largely a result of the disruption to our industry by the convenience of streaming.  And we have not even hit peak streaming yet.  With the major studios all bringing streaming services to market in the coming years, we can expect some leakage of profitable content directly to streaming.  Disney, for example, has a number of Star Wars and Marvel content, once expected for theatrical release, now going directly to streaming.

Due to these headwinds, we need to allow our industry to evolve and become more efficient.  This brings us back to the SCO initiatives to help start this process.

These initiatives would include the following:

  1. The Australian Content For Australian Communities Initiative, movin the industry forward to a more cost effective distribution platform.
  2. Transitioning the industry to digital film delivery and significant cost savings.
  3. Streamline distribution as to allow more of the distribution cost to go towards promotion/Advertising.
  4. Introduce other transition such as digital posters.

Wishing you all the best with your cinema.

James Gardiner
Founder, Small Cinema Owners Association
james.gardiner@smallcinemaowners.com.au
mob: 0412997011

Published: 2020-01-14
jamieg administrator

James is the Founder of Small Cinema Owners Association. He is also known for his YouTube channel CineTechGeek, has been involved with ISDCF and the formation of the digital cinema technologies, is a member of SMPTE. For a job he runs three small regional cinemas in Australia.

Leave a Reply