Will it bounce back? – The Hollywood journalist

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For the independent film industry, reopening theaters around the world has been your classic good news / bad news situation.

The good news, according to the latest figures from box office analyst Comscore, is that the movies are back. Comscore reported that domestic ticket revenue for October reached $ 638 million, making it the best month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has not returned to the record levels seen before the pandemic. Figures from Comscore show that the domestic box office in October 2019 reached $ 789.5 million, up from $ 832 million in October 2018. But that’s 12% more than the October 2017 figure of 569, $ 8 million. Cinemas elsewhere, from China to the UK and France to Mexico, also fill up again as coronavirus restrictions fall and distributors begin to roll out titles held during COVID lockdowns.

The bad news: they are blockbusters to the end. Four studio tents topped October numbers: Warner Bros./Legendary’s Dune, Sony Venom: let there be carnage, James Bond from MGM / United Artists No time to die and Universal / Blumhouse / Miramax’s Halloween kills. It’s no surprise that event films are getting them excited, judging by the response to Universal. F9, which grossed $ 721 million in theaters around the world this year, as well as Warner / Legendary’s Godzilla vs. Kong ($ 468 million) and Disney / Marvel title Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings ($ 423 million).

Independent films, however, have had much less success in bringing audiences back to the cinema. A few mainstream action titles with independent backing and studio distribution have done modest business. For example, Lionsgate’s post of Millennium Media’s The bodyguard of the hitman’s wife attracted $ 38 million domestically, while Guy Ritchie actor Jason Statham Anger of man by MGM, Miramax and CAA Media Finance raised $ 27.5 million in theaters across North America. A24 has a hit with an Icelandic horror title Lamb ($ 2.7 million and over), Neon did decently with Nicolas Cage-starrer Pig ($ 3.2 million) and Cannes winner Titanium ($ 1.44 million) but overall, the story of reopening theaters, in the US and around the world, has been one of near total studio domination.

“The specialty market has not returned for cinema, nowhere near,” Kent Sanderson, president of acquisitions and auxiliaries at American indie Bleecker Street, told an AFM panel on Tuesday, noting that what does that a film “travels well on VOD” has become increasingly important in deciding which films to finance. Panelist Brian Beckmann, CFO of Arclight Films, agreed that a North American theatrical release was “not a reality” for most independent films at this time.

Not that the theaters are complaining. Few independent films have broken through the UK charts since theaters reopened in May, but revenues are now above pre-pandemic levels: the UK box office has just hit £ 15million (£ 20.2million). dollars) for five consecutive weeks, the first time it has done so since late 2018.

“For us, the big films are really the pillars that hold it all together,” admits an executive working in a mid-sized exhibition chain in Britain. “We need the Obligations and Dunes to break the apathy of the unaccustomed and make them rethink the cinema.

How long it will take to break through that apathy is a question on the minds of sales agents and international buyers rallying around their Zoom calls to this week’s all-virtual US film market. Business in previous online-only markets, starting in Cannes last year, has been strong, with distributors betting on a rapid post-COVID rebound for the independent film market.

So far, this has not happened.

One of the reasons could be demographics. Art and specialty titles are older, and there are indications that older audiences have been more hesitant to return to the movies, preferring to sit on the sidelines of the next COVID wave from the safety of their homes. sofas at home. Two recent specialty titles, Edgar Wright’s psychological horror film Last night in Soho and the stars of Wes Anderson The French dispatch, both fell short of their box office goals (Soho made only $ 4.2 million domestically, Mail $ 4.6 million) despite the marketing power of distributors backed by Focus Features and Searchlight studios, respectively.

Then there’s the impact of cross-platform releases – when a movie hits theaters and online simultaneously – and different platforms tilt in different territories. Anger of man was a theatrical release, via MGM, in the US, but released online only via Amazon in the UK AppleTV + has picked up the Sundance favorite and award nominee, Coda for release on its platform in North America and most international territories, but the Sian Heder-directed drama has also been theatrically released in select territories, including Mexico, where it grossed over $ 1 million. .

“Each country has a different approach or reaction [to multi-platform releases]Says Kirsten Figeroid, Managing Director and Executive Vice President at Sierra / Affinity. “It’s no longer ‘if it’s okay with a streamer, I don’t want it for my territory’, but more ‘I want it but I need a theatrical window on my territory before the online release.’ We are negotiating these things on a case-by-case basis now. ”

The battle for the windows, however, is far from over.

“The theater business in Europe [has] really tried to prevent any shortening of these [theatrical] windows, and I think we need to try to keep them as long as possible so as to give theaters a chance, ”Global Screen’s Julia Weber said in an AFM online session earlier this week. “People who would love to go to the movies are desperate to go to the movies – and they don’t just go for tent poles [but] they also like the large scale images that you can only enjoy in the theater. People want to make sure that the time and money they spend on this evening must have some value.

For independent producers and distributors, the main challenge seems to be competing with the marketing power of studios and streamers to get audiences to pay attention to new releases and hit theaters to support them.

Despite the slow start, theater owners are optimistic about the return of arthouse fans.

“I think the arthouse audience is used to having to work a bit more to find their films,” said one UK exhibitor. “Our hope is to be able to convince them to come back with sound and screen above all. We know that for real moviegoers it’s all about Netflix and movies, not Netflix or movies.


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