Category Archives: Australian Cinema

Research on movie studios

This week it was announced that Twickenham Film Studios in west London is to close just one year shy of its centenary. Among the many films to be shot at Twickenham are Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Repulsion, Help, Alfie, Superman, 1984, Bladerunner, and The Iron Lady. You can find articles on the closure of Twickenham from the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC, Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

So this week I though we would have a collection of papers looking at movie studios, focussing how they have operated in the past and how they operate today. This is an area reasonably well covered in film studies, but there is also a lot of interesting research done in management and business schools, and economics and geography departments that should also be used by film scholars.

Corts KS 2001 The strategic effects of vertical market structure: common agency and divisionalization, Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10 (4): 509-528.

I examine the release date scheduling of all motion pictures that went into wide release in the US in 1995 and 1996 to investigate the effects of vertical market structure on competition. The evidence suggests that complex vertical structures involving multiple upstream or downstream firms generally do not achieve efficient outcomes in movie scheduling. In addition, analysis of the data suggests that the production divisions of the major studios act as integrated parts of the studio, rather than as independent competing firms.

DeFillippi RJ and Arthur MB 1998 Paradox in project-based enterprise: the case of filmmaking, California Management Review 40 (2): 125-139.

This article describes field research into the creation of an independently produced UK-US feature film.

Finney A 2010 Value chain restructuring in the global film industry, The 4th Annual Conference on ‘Cultural Production in a Global Context: The Worldwide Film Industries, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France, 3-5 June, 2010.

The global film industry is currently experiencing a significant restructuring of its existing value chain. This digitally-driven restructuring provides a dynamic framework for business strategy analysis, with potential lessons and future indicators that have wider implications for global film strategy. To date, academics, industry commentators and practitioners have exclusively focused on the disruptive aspects of changing user behavior; the ‘free’ versus ‘paid’ business models for distribution of filmed content via the Internet; the collapse of ‘windows’ within the exploitation chain; and the actions of Hollywood, an entrenched oligopoly comprising six studios. A key sector of cultural and commercial significance that so far has been excluded is the non-Hollywood film industry- the ‘independent’ film sector. The independent film value chain (FVC) is considerably more fragmented and vulnerable when compared to the studio system of content creation. This paper establishes in what ways the chain models differ, how changes in business models and exploitation are affecting recoupment, and therefore film financing models, and then examines and posits a range of methodological and qualitative approaches to study this ‘current restructuring’ dynamic. While the author’s main focus is on the value chain prior to exploitation, it should be acknowledged that the advent of rapidly compressed exploitation windows has a reflexive impact – both commercial and cultural – on the architecture of film content creation. This article is intended as a precursor to the author’s ensuing doctoral research into film value chain restructuring, rather than a definitive piece of academic research in of itself. Therefore comments and advice on global value chain restructuring – with the film industry serving as the research case study – are encouraged and welcomed by the author at this early stage of research and analysis.

Goldsmith B and Regan T 2003 Cinema Cities, Media Cities: The Contemporary International Studio Complex, Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy and Australian Film Commission.

This comprehensive study of contemporary international studios considers the circumstances in which the rash of studio complex building and renovating has occurred in places as diverse as Rome, London, Berlin, Prague, Toronto, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

Miller D and Shamsie J 1996 The resource-based view of the firm in two environments: the Hollywood film studios from 1936 to 1965, The Academy of Management Journal 39 (3): 519-543.

This article continues to operationally define and test the resource-based view of the firm in a study of the major U.S. film studios from 1936 to 1965. We found that property-based resources in the form of exclusive long-term contracts with stars and theaters helped financial performance in the stable, predictable environment of 1936-50. In contrast, knowledge-based resources in the form of production and coordinative talent and budgets boosted financial performance in the more uncertain (changing and unpredictable) post-television environment of 1951-65.

Robins JA 1993 Organization as strategy: restructuring production in the film industry, Strategic  Management Journal 14 (S1): 103-118.

Few changes in the structure of firms have attracted as much attention during the last decade as the movement away from integrated production and toward cooperative relations among independent organizations. Despite recent emphasis on these strategies of ‘disaggregation’ and ‘network’ organization, little quantitative research exists on the impact of this type of reorganization on economic performance—at least in part due to the difficulty of obtaining appropriate data. The economic impact of disaggregation is examined in this paper using data on film production in the period after World War II.

Storper M and Chistopherson S 1987 Flexible specialization and regional industrial agglomerations: the case of the US motion picture industryAnnals of the Association of American Geographers 77 (1): 104-117.

In the contemporary motion picture industry, production is vertically disintegrated, organized around transactions among a network of small firms. In this regard, motion picture production resembles other industries whose production organizations can be characterized as flexibly specialized. In this theoretically informed case study, we trace the transformation of the industry from vertically integrated to vertically disintegrated flexibly specialized production and elucidate how this transformation affects the spatial location of production activities and labor market dynamics.

Box office and genre in three countries

Given the fundamental role genre play sin the film industry and the extensive range of genre studies produced by film scholars it is surprising that there are so few pieces of research to track the box office performance of genres over time. One such study, which looks at the top 20 films at the US box office from 1967 to 2008 can be found here:

Ji  S and Waterman D 2010 Production Technology and Trends in Movie Content: An Empirical Study, Working paper, Dept. of Telecommunications, Indiana University, December 2010.

Given that the theory of national cinemas is as central to film studies as genre, it is also surprising that there have been no comparative studies looking at the box office performance of different genres in different countries. This post presents a quick and simple comparison of the top 50 films at the Australian, UK, ans US box office from 2008 to 2010, inclusive.

The total sample is 150 films for each country, and these were divided into nine genres: action/adventure, comedy, crime/thriller, drama, family, fantasy/science fiction, horror, romance, and other (which is mostly musicals and concert films, but also includes war films, westerns, and documentaries). The box office data was collected from Box Office Mojo, and for ease of comparison all values are in US dollars and have been adjusted for inflation to 2010. Films were ranked according to their box office gross, with the highest grossing film given a rank of 1, the second highest a rank of 2, and so on.

Tables 1 through 3 present the summary information for each country, including the number of films in each genre; the minimum, median, and maximum ranks of the box office grosses (no data is provided for very small classes); and the number of films from each genre in the top 10, top 25m top 50, and top 100 films.

Table 1 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the Australian box office

Table 2 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the United Kingdom box office

Table 3 Genre frequency and box office ranks of the top 50 films in each year from 2008 to 2010, inclusive, at the United States box office

From the information in the above tables, we can see that there is little difference between these three countries – not at all unsurprising given the dominance of Hollywood films in all three markets. In fact, these tables largely represent the same group of films in three different markets and so the comparisons between countries are pretty direct. The main results are:

  • Four genres – action/adventure, comedy, family, and fantasy/science fiction – account for approximately 70% of all films in each country.
  • The top 25 and top 50 films are almost entirely composed of only three of these genres. Comedy, despite accounting for such a large proportion of films in each sample perform poorly by comparison, and rarely make it into the top third grossing films. Only one comedy film in the UK and the US, and none in Australia, made it into the top 25.
  • The majority of the top 10 grossing films over this period in the US are accounted for by action/adventure films, whereas the dominant genre in Australia and the UK is fantasy/science fiction.
  • In the working paper referenced above, the thriller is described as one of the most popular genres at the US box office, but it is clear from this data that in recent years crime/thriller films are few and far between and perform substantially worse than the main four genres.
  • These results do support the conclusion of the above paper that drama does not account for a significant proportion of the highest grossing films. Drama does appear to perform slightly worse in the UK compared to Australia and the US, with less than half the films to make it into the top 100.
  • Horror accounts for only a handful of films, and these rank very lowly in the sample for each country.
  • Romance films account for less than 10% of the films in each sample, but they do seem to perform well at the box office. All of the romance films in the Australian data made it into the top 100, and most of the films from this genre also achieved this result in the other two countries.

The differences in the rankings of the four major genres – action/adventure, comedy, family, and fantasy/science fiction – can be seen clearly if we plot the cumulative proportion of films less than or equal to a rank 𝑥 (Figures 1 through 3).

Figure 1 Cumulative proportion by rank of four genres at the Australian box office, 2008 to 2010

Figure 2 Cumulative proportion by rank of four genres at the UK box office, 2008 to 2010

Figure 3 Cumulative proportion of by rank four genres at the US box office, 2008 to 2010

In all cases, it is clear that comedy performs substantially less well than the other three genres. Even though this is one of the most common genres, but it tends to rank much lower that the other genres. This does not necessarily mean that comedy are less profitable – the lower budgets for these films relative to special effects-heavy films of the other genres means that even though they tend to gross less they can still make their money. On the other, it may suggest that the market is saturated with comedy films and that too many films are chasing too small an audience. I am unaware of any research on this topic.

In Figure 3, we can see the high grossing action/adventure films that account for 5 of the top 10 films, whereas in Figures 1 and 2 this genre is not so dominant among the upper rankings. Fantasy/science fiction films occupy a high proportion of the highest grossing films in all three countries; Family films appear to do slightly less well at the high-end and slightly better at the low-end, but are concentrated more in the middle relative to these other genres. The four curves appear to converge where the rank is approximately 120, indicating that these genres are relatively evenly distributed at the end of the rankings. This does not appear to be the case for the other two graphs, where comedy remains distinct from the other genres.

Overall, we get the same patterns for audiences and their box office preferences irrespective of whether they live in Australia, the UK, or the US. Undoubtedly, this is in part attributable to the ability of global media empires such as Buena Vista International, Time-Warner, News Corporation, Viacom, etc. to shape a market. Although limited, the above results raise an interesting question regarding the nature of national cinemas: if the film markets in different countries are so similar does it make any sense to speak of discrete national cinemas rather than a single global cinema?

The fact that Australia, the UK, and the US are all culturally similar, English-speaking countries may contribute to the effects noted above, and we may find that in other countries, where the main language is not English, that different patterns emerge. However, I am sceptical on this point, and as soon as I have got some data to make the comparison I will post a follow-up.

Statistics for research on film industries

Over the past few weeks Jim Barratt has added two posts to his blog Bigger Picture Research, in which he asked the question ‘What Do We Need to Know?’ This discussion was prompted by the impending demise of the UK Film Council (UKFC) and the lack of clarity regarding the future collection and dissemination of statistics on the British film industry under the new British Film Institute (BFI).

The first post, which invited comments from those working in the film industry, can be accessed here.

The second post, which features the comments of academic contributors (including myself), can be accessed here.

While the contributors to these two posts occupy different roles in and around the film industry, there is a general consensus about the current state of affairs and what is hoped for the future.As Jim notes,

What do we need to know? That is the question I put to a number of film industry insiders, analysts, academics and interested observers over the last few weeks.

As worded, the question implies some degree of empirical evidence is necessary to the film business and the state apparatus that supports it, though I was quite prepared to hear from people who felt the contrary was true. Of course, nobody did. In fact, everyone I approached was clear that research and statistics are essential in one form or another, as a means to a variety of ends.

Some general points that appeared in both posts are:

  • there is a need for data to be easily and cheaply accessible to producers, exhibitors, and academics
  • there is a need for the film industry in the UK to be more open, and to not place data behind prohibitive paywalls or in the hands of private companies
  • the role of public bodies in providing statistical summaries has been of great importance and (it is hoped) will continue to be so after the restructuring of the BFI

To follow up, this week’s post lists some possible sources of information that may be of use to researchers interested in film industries in general and the UK film industry in particular.

Compendium: Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe

Compendium is a website produced by the Council of Europe and the European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research, which has been running in various forms since the late-1990s. It monitors cultural policies in 42 European nations, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Ireland and the Holy See, and provides summaries of the cultural policies in each country, statistics on specific cultural activities, and a themed section which looks at different aspects of cultural policy (cultural diversity, the status of artists, etc). One part of the website is designed specifically to make it easier to compare different European countries alongside one another. It also has sections on statistical methodology and the use of statistics in cultural policy making.

With regard to the cinema in particular it is possible to find the following information:

  • Number of screens, cinema admissions and cinema admissions per capita (2001 – 2007)
  • Feature film production I: fiction and documentaries (2001-2007)
  • Feature film production II: fiction only (2001-2007)
  • Market share of feature films (2001-2007)
  • Compare ticket prices for Avatar across Europe – it was cheaper to see Avatar in Armenia (€2 – 2.5) than in the UK (€5.89), but it was more expensive in Azerbaijan (€7.3).

Drawbacks with Compendium include the fact that it lacks up to date information for some measures – for example, there is no information on the market share of feature films after 2007. A further problem is that some of the information available from Compendium is produced by other bodies such as the European Audiovisual Observatory (here), which will typically be more up to date and more detailed. An advantage is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of Euros to get the information as you with the EAO Yearbook.

What is available is from Compendium is attractively presented, well organised and searchable, and the ability to make simple comparisons is very useful – you just wish it would do more.

Compendium can be accessed here.

New Zealand Film Commission, Statistics New Zealand, and the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association

There are obviously lots of national bodies collecting data about their respective film industries, and it would be redundant to go through each and everyone, but it is useful to take New Zealand  as an example (and Australia below) and to look at some the practices there that I would like to see imported into the UK.

The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) The NZFC provides a list of all the feature films produced in New Zealand from 1939 to 2009. There is also a complete list of projects funded by the NZFC and the level of investment from the commission from 1990 to 2009. However, the NZFC does not provide statistics on the film industry in New Zealand in general, and responsibility for this lies with the national statistics agency. The Statistics New Zealand site for film can be accessed here. Statistics New Zealand fulfils a role similar to that of the UKFC in providing data on the film industry, where as the data collected by the NZFC is limited to its own activities. What I really like about the Statistics New Zealand survey is that it gives you detail on how and where money as spent. You can find out what proportion of post-production revenue was received by contractors working on editing, captioning and subtitling relative to digital effects; and what proportion of production investment was spent in Wellington, Auckland, the rest if New Zealand, and beyond. There is even a report specifically given over to the regional data for the film and television sectors. It also gives details on the methodology behind the survey, which has been lacking from the UKFC.

One issue that was not addressed by the discussion on Bigger Picture Research was the role of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in providing either data, summaries, or methodological support for bodies such as the UKFC and BFI. Indeed, as far as I have been able to tell, there has been very little attention paid to the framework for collecting, analysing and distributing statistics on the UK film industry, even though the ONS has precisely this sort of expertise. There is a lesson to be leant here from the role played by Statistics New Zealand. However, this should not lead to the situation in New Zealand where little information is produced or distributed directly from the national film body (NZFC or BFI) – rather, it is a case of utilising the expertise that already exists. The UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics can be accessed here, and is another source (along with the methodological resources at Compendium and the ONS) that can serve as a basis for determining why, what, and how data on the film industry in the UK is collected.

In my contribution to Bigger Picture Research, I criticised the trade bodies in the UK for failing to take the provision of relevant data seriously. If you want to see how it could be done, then the website of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association is a good place to start. Rather than simply telling us how the top 10 films performed at the box office, you can find data on all the films submitted to the NZ box office. All of this information can be downloaded freely as Excel files, and the available data goes back to 2006. Other parts of the website are less well-developed, but there is no excuse for British trade bodies for not doing the same in the UK. The Motion Picture Distributors’ Association can be accessed here.

Screen Australia’s Support for Researchers

Screen Australia actively supports and encourages researchers ‘to build knowledge about, and audiences for, contemporary Australian screen content through the development and publication of high-quality information, insight and analysis.’

Screen Australia make a substantial commitment to this area: in 2011 there is up to AS$150,000 available in funding for researchers. Not all the assistance given will be financial: Screen Australia will help you to do the research by providing access to data. They actively encourage data-sharing.

Last year’s awards went to academics and to companies from the film industry, thereby bridging that divide. They also invested heavily in publications and new technologies to further the development and circulation of information on the film industry. The projects supported are intended to further the policy aims of Screen Australia by finding out what they need to know and making that information available, and this puts research right at the heart of what Screen Australia is trying to do. In contrast, in the UK researchers are often excluded from data collection and analysis because it is either too expensive or in the hands of civil servants or private companies.

Details on Screen Australia’s programme can be accessed here.

The new BFI will be responsible for both education and industry in the film sector in the UK, and I think that it would be a very good thing if these two areas of responsibility could be linked together in a manner similar to that of Screen Australia. This makes excellent economic sense for the film industry: if you give your data away for free, then you will find that economists, sociologists, film scholars, and bloggers with nothing better to do will analyse it for you simply because that is what they do. This is much cheaper than commissioning reports from companies that put their results behind ridiculously expensive paywalls. If the industry gave away its data for free then it would receive in return a massive subsidy for research via universities and research councils around the world. Anything the new BFI can do to facilitate this – by encouraging the industry to make data available and by supporting researchers as they do in Australia – should be at the forefront of its thinking. The attitude of openness is one that could certainly be encouraged in the UK film industry.

Given that research grants in the UK are required to show that they have some economic benefit, there are numerous opportunities for scholars to apply to the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, or any of the other bodies that support researchers in the UK and around the world that can make a direct contribution to the UK film industry. It would certainly go a long way to enabling film studies to shake off its negative image in the UK if we could get people to realise just what an important part of the UK economy the screen industries are. If we only had the data we need …

(Note that I have often referred to the availability of data as a problem rather than the availability of statistics – statistics are summaries of data [e.g. the mean and the standard deviation are statistics that describe a data set]. We need statistics to understand data, but without the data we can do nothing).

The Creative Industries in South Africa

Finally, a report on the cultural industries in South Africa – which can be accessed here – that is interesting for two reasons. First, it is difficult enough to find anything about film industries in Africa, and this report provides detail on the film industry in South Africa in the early 2000s and is therefore interesting in its own right. Second, it is interesting to note that the South African government was looking to other countries – Canada and the UK are cited prominently – for inspiration in assessing the state and impact of the cultural industries. The cultural mapping projects of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) are cited as notable examples of how this may be achieved.

The way in which the coalition government has gone about the reform of the UK Film Council and the BFI lends itself easily to pessimism that could easily have been avoided if this process had been done properly in the open. The points made on Bigger Picture Research are all valid, but we should understand them within the broader context of a framework for researching the cultural industries that has developed over the past decade and a half. It is worth noting that progress in data gathering and analysis (of which the UK Film Council has been a part) has been made since 1997, and that other countries around the world have looked to the UK for ways of doing this themselves. The UK Film Council made great strides in the provision of information, especially when compared to the utter lack of a cultural policies framework in the 1980s and 1990s. It is unthinkable that all this progress would be lost – but the reform of the BFI is an opportunity to go further and do more, and it is disconcerting that there has been so little debate on this topic. But if you do want to contribute then get over to Bigger Picture Research, where you will find much to stimulate your mind.

The geographies of cinema

This week some interesting papers on the subject of the geography of cinema, which covers a wide range of topic from the political economy of film industries to the representation of space in cinema. As ever, this list is not comprehensive, but has a selection of interesting papers I have come across.

For each paper I give the reference of the published version, but the version linked to may be a pre-print, a web version, working paper, or a technical report and so page references, formatting, etc., may be different and this should be kept in mind if you want to quote from this research. Most of the files are pdfs.

You can access my papers on British film and geography here (on Manchester in 24 Hour Party People) and here (on London in Notting Hill and South West 9). Other references are given on the page about me.

Alanen A 2008 The structure of Finnish film production at the enterprise level, Tieto & Trendit Journal of Statistics Finland 3/2008.

Alanen A 2008 In Hollywood or in the backwood?, Tieto & Trendit Journal of Statistics Finland 5/2008.

Arrowsmith C, Verhoeven D, and Davidson A (n.d.) A method for detecting geographical cinema circuits using Markov Chains.

Curti GH 2008 The ghost in the city and a landscape of life: a reading of difference in Shirow and Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, Environment and Planning D 28: 87-106.

Dell’agnese E 2005 The US–Mexico border in American movies: a political geography perspective, Geopolitics 10: 204-221.

Escher A 2006 The geography of cinema – a cinematic world, Erdkunde 60 (4): 307-314.

Eliashberg J, Elberse A, and Leendera MAAM (2006) The motion picture industry: critical issues in practice,current research, and new research directions, Marketing Science 25 (6): 638-661. [The link to this article appears to have been broken, and so it has been removed].

Falicov TL 2002 Film policy under MERCOSUR: the case of Uruguay, Canadian Journal of Communication 27 (1).

Gamir A and Manuel C 2007 Cinema and geography: geographic space, landscape and territory in the film industry, Boletin de la asociacion de geografos españoles 45: 407-410.

Lorenzen M 2008 Creativity at Work: On the Globalization of the Film Industry, Creative Encounters Working Papers 8.

Lukinbeal C 2002 Teaching historical geographies of American film production, Journal of Geography 101: 250-260.

Lukinbeal C 2004 The map that precedes the territory: an introduction to essays in cinematic geography, GeoJournal 59 (4): 247-251.

Lukinbeal C 2005 Cinematic landscapes, Journal of Cultural Geography 23 (1): 3-22.

Lukinbeal C 2006 Runaway Hollywood: Cold Mountain, Romania, Erkunde 60 (4): 337-345.

Lukinbeal C and Zimmermann S 2006 Film geography: a new subfield, Erkunde 60 (4): 315-326.

Mezias JM and Mezias SJ 2000 Resource partioning, the founding of specialist firms, and innovation: the American feature film industry, 1912-1929, Organization Science 11 (3): 306-322.

Mould O 2008 Moving images: world cities, connections and projects in Sydney’s TV production industry, Global Networks 8 (4): 474-495.

Richardson S 2005 Welcome to the cheap seats: cinemas, sex and landscape, Industrial Archaeology Review 27: 145-152.

Scott AJ 2002 A new map of Hollywood: the production and distribution of American motion pictures, Regional Studies 36 (9): 957-975.

Scott AJ (n.d.) A new map of Hollywood and the World.

Turok I 2003 Cities, clusters, and creative industries: the case of film and TV in Scotland, European Planning Studies 11 (5): 549-565.

Vang J and Chaminade C 2007 Global-local linkages, spillovers, and cultural clusters: theoretical and empirical insights from an exploratory study of Toronto’s film cluster, Industry and Innovation 14 (4): 401-420.