UPDATE: By sheer coincidence the day on which I gave this talk in Glasgow was also the day on which the Korean research on movie types was published online by the Journal of Media Economics. You can find a link to the published paper here.
On 14 and 15 May I gave a talk and a workshop at the University of Glasgow of quantitative methods and the study of film. It was very gratifying to meet a group of researchers who were interested in using, were already using, 0r had used quantitative methods and were looking to develop this more, but were a little tentative about moving forward. One thing that occurred to me on the (long) train journeys back from Glasgow is that there are some researchers out there studying film (and other media) who are ready to kick on with developing their quantitative skills but need a push; someone to tell them that it’s OK to do this, that it’s not completely alien and that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do something that is the ‘core process’ of the discipline. In my talk I argued that a change of mindset away from ‘Film Studies’ to the ‘study of film’ is the first step to adding quantitative methods to our toolbox for understanding the cinema. The second step it seems should be building the confidence of researchers to sustain that momentum. Once you’ve got your toes wet you want to get in the pool – but you might need your arm bands for a few weeks.
No-one from Screen attended the talk or workshop.
The text of my talk can be accessed here:
This talk addresses the analysis of film – its texts, its audiences, its political economy – in higher education, arguing for the abandonment Film Studies as either a subject or a discipline and approaching the cinema as a complex object of inquiry that demands an ecumenical methodological perspective in order that its numerous and various dimensions are fully comprehended. Though used widely by those studying the cinema beyond the narrow methodological confines of Film Studies, quantitative methods are at present underused by film scholars. To fix their place in the study of film and place the study of film in the wider world – particularly the BFI’s recent recognition of the importance of evidence-based policy making – I argue there is much to be gained from the application of quantitative methods in studying film and its audiences, and I illustrate this claim by drawing on a range of empirical studies.
This piece refers to some material available online.
The work on audiences and genre from KAIST can be accessed here: Shon, J.-H., Kim, Y.-G., & Yim, S.-J. (2012) Dissecting Movie Genres from an Audience Perspective: MTI Movie Classification Method, KAIST Business School Working Paper No. 2012-008.
Andrew McGregor Olney’s work on film genres can be accessed here: Olney, A.M. (2013) Predicting film genres with implicit ideals, Frontiers in Psychology 3: 565.
The summary of the 2011 Research and Policymaking symposium can be accessed here: Research and Policymaking for Film – A Symposium, 26 October 2011, Report of the Day.
My account of this symposium was published on this blog a week later and can be found here.
(The rhubarb crumble was also very good – and I say that as someone from Yorkshire were all the world’s rhubarb comes from).
UPDATE: This post has now been superseded by a revised version that cleans up the data and extends the analysis and should be referred to in place of this. See here for the new version.
To round off a series of posts on genre and box office this August, I look at the frequency of different genres in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – to see what we can learn about different national markets.
For each of the five countries, I accessed the data from Box Office Mojo for the top 50 grossing films in each year from 2006 to 2010, inclusive. (For some reason, Box Office Mojo lists some films twice in the same year if they have slightly different titles; and I removed these duplicates to replace hem with the next film in the box office rankings). This gives a total sample size of 250 films for each country, and a total of 1250 data points overall. Obviously this does not mean we have data on 1250 films because many of the films reached the top 50 in more than one country. Overall, this sample has data on 596 different films.
Usually I use a system of nine categories for sorting films according to genre; but due to the fact that the number of horror films reached double figures for Spain and the UK only (with 11 and 10 films, respectively) and were very small in number for the other countries (France = 2, Germany = 7, and Italy =6), I have put this films into the category of ‘Other.’ Obviously the fact that horror infrequently reaches the top of the box office charts is interesting in itself, as is the French aversion to horror.
The eight categories used are, therefore, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, Family, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Romance, and Other. Alongside Horror films, Other also includes Westerns, War films, Musicals (including concert films), and Documentaries.
First, we look at the frequency of films occurring in each country in each genre (Table 1).
Table 1 Genre frequency in the top 50 grossing films in five countries, 2006-2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of data points for each genre and NOT the number of different films)
Overall, the number of films from each genre to make it into the top 50 films in the five years covered is similar in each country. To test if the proportion of films from each genre was the same in the five countries, I performed a chi-square test of homogeneity (corrected α = 0.0131, based on 8 tests and an experiment-wise error rate of α = 0.10). These results are presented in Table 2, and show that the only statistically significant difference occurs for the comedy genre. Post-hoc analysis of the adjusted standardized residuals (based on a two-tailed critical z-value of 2.5596) revealed that this is due to Spain having fewer comedy films than expected (z = -3.6880), but the effect size for omnibus test is small (V = 0.1122).
Table 2 Chi-square test of homogeneity for the proportion of films in each genre in five countries
With the exception of the missing comedy films in Spain, these five different markets appear to otherwise very similar for each genre. However, this does not mean that audiences in these five countries are necessarily watching the same films.
To find out if the same films were making it into the top 50, I counted the number of times a film featured in the list of films for each genre. For example, if a film only made it into the top 50 in Germany (e.g. Elementarteilchen (Atomised)) then it would appear only in the list of drama films only once, while a film that made it into the top fifty in all five countries (such as one of the Harry Potter films) would appear in the list of Fantasy/Science Fiction films five times. This is a somewhat crude measure, but it does allow us to see some basic commonalities and differences. This information is presented in Table 3.
Table 3 Frequency with which individual films make the top 50 highest grossing films in five countries from 2006 to 2010 (NB: the Total column to the right is the number of different films in each genre in the overall sample)
- Action/Adventure films tend to feature in the lists for four or five different countries (59%). This is the only genre for which this is the case.
Generally, these films a big-budget Hollywood franchise films such as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious, Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and the like. Just less than a quarter of these films feature in only one list, but even these tend to be Hollywood films (e.g. Watchmen or Resident Evil: Extinction*).
* Resident Evil: Afterlife did much better though, ranking everywhere except the UK.
- The genres of Comedy, Crime/Thriller, Drama, and Romance and dominated by films that appear in one list only.
If Hollywood is able to dominate the global market with its action movies, then it is much less successful when it comes to these four genres. Comedy, in particular, seems to be very different with 78% of films appearing in the list for only one country. Some of these are individual Hollywood films that have performed well in one country not the others; but many are films that only feature in the list of the country in which they were produced. For example, the series of Christmas comedy films from Italy directed by Neri Parenti has performed exceptionally well in that country: one film has made the top 5 grossing films in each year in the sample, with Natale in crociera (2007) and Natale a Rio (2008) both taking the number 1 ranking. However, these films have not made any impact at the box office in any of the other European countries included here. Four comedy films made it into list of each country (Burn After Reading, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Hangover).
The Crime/Thriller genre features several big-budget Hollywood films that were successful in all five countries (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, No Country for Old Men, The Bourne Ultimatum, etc), but again these five markets are more different than they are similar. Some films that appear only once are Hollywood films (e.g. The Taking of Pelham 123, State of Play – neither of which are as good as the originals); but most are successful only in the country in which they originate. So Un prophète and Ne le dis à personne feature in the French box office charts only; and Gomorra and Milano-Palermo: il ritorno only in the Italian charts.
Only a few drama films appear in the top 50s of all countries (Australia, Blood Diamond, Brokeback Mountain, Shutter Island, and The Pursuit of Happyness), while 73% feature in one list only. Romance films show the same pattern, with only seven (13%) films featuring five times (and three of these are from the Twilight franchise), and 65% of films featuring once only. The drama and romance films that appear once tend to feature only in the country from which they originate, but when drama films do cross borders they go between the continental countries and not tot the UK. For example, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) features in every country except the UK. There does not appear to be the same level of cross-over for the romance films, and when a film from this category appears more than once it tends to be a Hollywood film.
Laughter and love do not apparently travel well – in the cinema at least. And nor do crime and drama. The five markets are much less homogenized in these categories, unlike the Action/Adventure films where they are much more consistent in terms of the films in circulation. This clearly raises question about the extent to which we can speak of the Americanization or globalization of European cinema, as it appears to affect some categories of films more than others.
Finally, the third set of genres:
- The genres of Family and Fantasy/Science Fiction are split between films that feature in one list only and films that feature in the box office charts of all five countries.
For the family genre, 41% of films feature once and 39% of films feature five times. For the Fantasy/Science Fiction films, the equivalent statistics are 42% and 29%. This suggests that there is a divide in the market for these films. The majority of the films in these two genres are Hollywood blockbusters no matter how many time they occur. But we do see a clear split between films that are broadly successful against films that do not travel across borders so well; especially when it comes to animated family films that perform well in all markets (e.g. Cars, Flushed Away, Ice Age: The Meltdown) alongside several European animated films that appear – yet again – only in the country of their production (e.g. Konferenz der Tiere in Germany, El ratón Pérez in Spain, or Azur et Asmar in France). Separating out the UK is much harder as many of the Hollywood films are produced here anyway.
As Other is a category comprising films from several other genres it makes little sense to speak of trends, but it is interesting to note that the three films that feature in all five lists are High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Inglorious Basterds, and Mamma Mia!
As I said before, this is a crude way of measuring differences in audience taste, and I won’t have a much richer picture until I start to compare the box office gross of films in each country directly. But what the information in the above tables provides is a means of describing the national specificity of film a markets based on the types of in circulation and which achieve the highest box office rankings. There are many similarities between these five countries, but we should want to know why the Spanish do not go and see as many comedy films as the British, Germans, French, and Italians? Why do we all seem to watch the same Action/Adventure films but not the same Drama films? Perhaps the specificity of a national cinema is only evident in some categories of films and not others; or Hollywood has cornered the market on such blockbusters to the exclusion of all other producers. Why, if the audiences in these five countries are watching mostly different Romance films, is the proportion of films from this genre in the 250 films for each country so similar? Is there a common underlying structure to European film a markets? Why did the British not pay to see Resident Evil: Afterlife unlike the rest of Europe? And where are the French horror films?
Assuming I have not been defeated by the rivers Wharfe, Aire, and Ouse I shall today be presenting a paper at the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference in York (though it is entirely possible that I’m stuck in York railway station). Below is the basic text of my presentation from which I will have inevitably digressed enormously. The pdf file is below. This is based on the same data I used in earlier post on genre and European box office although it has been cleaned up a little so the results are slightly different, though this does not have any impact on the conclusions.
We analyze the box office performance of romance films in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – from 2006 to 2010, inclusive, based on the top 50 grossing films in each country in each year. The results show that romance films account for only a small proportion of the films to reach the top 50 highest grossing films, and that there is no statistically significant variation in the proportion of romance films among the highest grossing films in each country. However, few romance films achieve a high box office ranking in more than one of these countries, indicating a lack of commonality across different markets with different audiences watching different romance films. Romance films achieving top 50 rankings in Germany, Spain, and the UK originate almost exclusively from outside these countries, whereas domestically produced films account for a larger proportion of romance films in France and Italy. Romance films perform consistently at the box office in three of the five countries, albeit lacking the very high grosses achieved by action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fictions films; while this genre performs particularly poorly in Italy and Spain. Romance films emerge as a fixed part of the exhibition market in all five countries, but the variation in the films viewed, source of productions, and box office grosses indicates some important national differences.
This week some articles on British cinema that have appeared over the past 18 months, with a particular nod to Scottish cinema.
Brown S 2011 ‘Anywhere but Scotland?:’ transnationalism and new Scottish cinema, International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 4 (1): http://journals.qmu.ac.uk/index.php/IJOSTS/article/view/109/pdf.
Fifteen years on from the moment that Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) fulfilled the promise of his earlier Shallow Grave (1994) and helped to launch what has become known as New Scottish Cinema, the critical debates which have accompanied its development find themselves at a crossroads. Prompted in part by the New Scottish Cinema symposium, which took place in Ireland in 2005 and looked back over 20 years of Scottish film, key writers have begun to critically assess the arguments which have circulated and to refashion the debate for the future. Initial models focussing upon the influences of first American and then European cinema have proved themselves to be inflexible in locating New Scottish Cinema within a global cinema marketplace, and furthermore have privileged a certain type of film, influenced by European art cinema traditions, as being representative of Scottish cinema to the exclusion of other more commercial projects. Not only is this ironic considering the inherently commercial nature of both Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, but also it had led to a vision of Scottish film which is more European than Scottish; more international than national.
Claydon EA 2011 National identity, the GPO Film Unit and their music, in S Anthony and J Mansell (eds) The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: NB: This is an abstract of the full chapter.
The GPO films, seminal as they were in helping to construct the British social realist movement, are as much remembered for their sound worlds as their visual properties. Whether it is the crackling audio of the ensembles who played, or the (to our ears) richly evocative accents of the narrators, or the adventurous musical soundtracks, the sound worlds of the Empire Marketing Board, GPO and Crown Film Units are utterly textural and utterly of their time and place. This timbre is largely the effect of Alberto Calvancanti‟s aesthetic, but it is also a reflection of the range of composers and filmmakers employed by the Unit. In this chapter, I shall focus upon the way in which Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden‟s sonic collage in Night Mail created and reinforced concepts of national identity and place and how the use of sound in Humphrey Jennings‟ Spare Time established a semiotic musical sense of British identity by engaging with popular forms, a mode which he would later develop in Listen to Britain. These are films which are much discussed and much loved, but for that same reason, it is worthwhile to step back, to distance ourselves somewhat and to re-examine the elements we can take for granted: what we hear that we know too well. Consequently, this chapter situates the development of a documentary „national soundtrack‟ within it specific cultural and artistic contexts.
Fukaya K (2012) Quota quickies – British B movie’s narrative style and the problem of nationality in the 1930s, GEIBUN: Bulletin of the Faculty of Art and Design, University of Toyama 6: 124-131.
This paper will explore the meaning and function of a narrative style in the 1930s British film culture constructing national consciousness. Around 1930, the British government and film industry tried to protect themselves from the excessive amount of Hollywood films imported from the United States, and to reconstruct the national film culture. The paper will reconsider the idea of national cinema, especially from cultural perspective, and examine the roles of narrative in the creation of nationally conscious films.
Goode I (2011) Cinema in the country: the rural cinema scheme – Orkney (1946-67), Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 30 (2): 17-31.
The act of transporting cinema to and exhibiting films for the rural communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland has attracted a fair amount of press attention at home and abroad recently (“Box Office”). This is partly due to the events pioneered by the British actress Tilda Swinton and the writer and critic Mark Cousins. This began with the film festival The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams held in Nairn on the north east coast of Scotland in 2008, followed a year later by A Pilgrimage which involved tugging a mobile cinema along an exhibition route from Fort Augustus to Nairn incorporating Loch Ness. These initiatives and less publicized others, such as The Small Islands Film Festival (2007-2009), are born of a passionate desire to not only take a preferred vision of cinema to selected areas of rural Scotland, but also, to offer potential audiences a different cinema-going experience by challenging what might be considered the norms of film exhibition.
Hand C and Judge G (2012) Searching for the picture: forecasting UK cinema admissions making use of Google Trends data, Applied Economics Letters 19 (11): 1051-1055.
This paper investigates whether Google Trends search information can improve forecasts of cinema admissions, over and above those based on seasonal patterns in the data. Using monthly data for the UK for the period 2004(1) to 2008(12) we examine various forecasting models that incorporate Google Trends search information. We find clear evidence that Google Trends data on searches relevant to cinema visits do have the potential to increase the accuracy of cinema admissions forecasting models. There is also some evidence to suggest that Google Trends indexes based on combined information from searches using a number of different search terms work better than those based on only a single keyword. The results also appear to confirm earlier findings that the UK cinema admissions series is more suitably modelled by the use of fixed seasonal dummies than through autoregressive formulations.
Wilks L 2012 ‘Boys don’t like girls for funniness:’ raunch culture and the British tween film, Networking Knowledge 5 (1): http://ojs.meccsa.org.uk/index.php/netknow/article/view/249.
This paper discusses representations of teenage girls in three contemporary British film productions or co-productions, aimed at the “tween” market (defined as nine to fourteen year old females). Such texts are examined in the context of a British equivalent of ‘raunch culture’ (Levy, 2006), a strand of postfeminism that I propose characterises the decade in which they were released. The films engage with contemporary debates regarding the media’s alleged sexualising impact on tweens and the body ideals it impresses upon them. Drawing on McRobbie’s notion of ‘double entanglement’ (2009), I consider their negotiations of a conflict between sexuality and a perception of childhood innocence, which produces contradictory interpellations of their teenage female characters. While the films to some extent critique the perception that investment in raunch culture “empowers” teenage girls, elements of the texts also simultaneously celebrate the commodified young woman’s body, inciting cultural anxieties about the ways tweens are represented. All three films depict girls’ attempts at embodying a ‘postfeminist masquerade’ (McRobbie, 2009) of excessive femininity as a means to (faux) empowerment. I argue that this apparent “empowerment” is particularly hollow for tweens, their actions simply reinforcing patriarchal norms that envisage females as nothing but objects.
Williams S 2011 Between a Rock and Hard Place: Space, Gender and Hierarchy in British Gangland Film, University of Hertfordshire, unpublished PhD Thesis.
A principal aim of this research has been to establish the capacity of British Gangland film to articulate its era of production through the cinematic interpretation of contemporary concerns and anxieties in narratives relating to the criminal underworld. In order to do so, the study has concentrated on the analysis of space, gender and hierarchy within representative generic texts produced between 1945 and the present. The thesis is divided into three sections: the first offers a general overview of British Gangland film from the 65 years under discussion with the aim of identifying recurring generic patterns and motifs. The second and third sections are more specifically focused, their chapters examining the narrative significance and development of the male and the female protagonist respectively. Within the films under discussion, the relationship between these protagonists and their environment represents a fundamental generic component, resulting in an emphasis on space and place. Space within these narratives is inherently territorial, and thus irrevocably bound up with hierarchies of power. The predominantly urban locations in which the narratives are set represent a twilight world, a demi-monde, which is rarely neutral but dominated by the patriarchal order structuring the notion of ‘Gangland’. Such spaces are therefore inextricably linked with gender, hierarchy, and dynamic power relations. Whilst it would have been possible to explore each of these areas in isolation through specifically relevant theoretical perspectives, their interdependence is central to this study. Consequently, a holistic theoretical approach has facilitated analysis of the symbiotic relationship between the three key elements of space, gender and hierarchy and the processes involved in the generation of meaning: this has resulted in a reading of British Gangland film as cultural artefact, reflecting its circumstances of production.
This week I look at the performance of sequels and remakes at the US box office from 1991 to 2010, inclusive. The data used is the sample of 1000 films I looked at in my paper on genre trends at the US box office (here), and includes data from Box Office Mojo on the top 50 grossing films in each year across a twenty year period.
Figure 1 shows the frequency with which remakes and sequels achieve a top 50 box office ranking in the US from 1991 to 2010, inclusive. I do not consider films based on the same source material as remakes: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Robin Hood (2010) tell the same story but the latter cannot be considered a remake of the former. Similarly, there are lots of versions of A Christmas Carol, and it would be foolish to consider any of them remakes of one another. I also do not include the film originating a series of sequels, since they originally may not have been intended to part of a series (e.g. The Matrix) or a planned series did not materialise (e.g. Superman Returns). I also haven’t classed reboots (e.g. Batman Begins or Star Trek (2009)) as sequels or remakes, though I have included James Bond movies in the data.
This gives us a total of 157 sequels and 46 remakes, accounting for 16% and 5% of the 1000 films in the sample, respectively. This does not suggest the dominance of sequels and remakes to the extent we may have expected, but it is clear from Figure 1 that there is an increase in both types of films after 2001. From 1991 to 2000, sequels account for 10% of the highest grossing films. In the period 2001 to 2010, sequels account for 21% of films reaching the top 50. The same trend can be seen in the increasing in frequency of remakes, which double from 3% to 6% from one decade to the next.
Figure 1 Remakes and sequels in the top 50 grossing films at the US box office, 1991 to 2010
The low number of sequels in 2005 appears to be due to the fact this year was the odd year in the release pattern of many the major franchises, with only Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire being released.
Not only do sequels increase in frequency from 2002, they increasingly occupy the highest positions in the box office chart. Sequels do account for the number 1 position in 1991 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and 1999 (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace); but with the exception of Avatar, the highest grossing film in every year since 2003 has been a sequel. It is worth nothing that the highest grossing films in 2001 and 2002 were Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Spiderman, respectively, which means that since Saving Private Ryan clinched the number 1 spot in 1998 a franchise films has been the top grossing film in the US in eleven of the past twelve years.
Looking further down the rankings, we note that prior to 2001 sequels generally did not occupy the highest rankings:
- In 1992, three sequels round out the top four (Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3) behind Aladdin.
- In 1995, four of the top 10 films are sequels, including Batman Forever (2nd), Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (5th), Goldeneye (6th), and Die Hard with a Vengeance (10th).
But in 1993 the highest ranking achieved by a sequel was Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit at 19, and Star Trek: Generations was the highest grossing sequel in 1994 reaching 15 and Star Trek: First Contact reaching 17 in 1996.
From 2001 we start to the sequels colonising the upper echelons of the box office charts:
- Five of the top twenty films in 2001 are sequels.
- Seven of the top sixteen films in 2002 are sequels, including half of the top 10.
- In 2003, 10 of the top 25 grossing films are sequels
- In 2004, five of the top eight grossing films are sequels, including Shrek 2 and Spiderman 2 in first and second place, respectively
- Two of the top three films in 2005 are sequels
- Five of the top nine films in 2006 are sequels
- In 2007, six of the top 8 films are sequels
- Four of the top nine films are sequels in 2008
- Although Avatar was the highest grossing film released in 2009, the next three places are occupied by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2nd), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (3rd), and The Twilight Saga: New Moon (4th), with sequels accounting for nine of the top 25 films.
- In 2010, eight of the top twenty-five films are sequels, including four of the top five.
Although this represents the domination of the box office charts by sequels in the early twenty-first century we are talking about a small group of franchises, including Shrek, Toy Story, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, Twilight, Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean, and James Bond.
Remakes account for a much smaller proportion of films, but as noted above tend to follow the same trends as sequels. Remakes also tend to perform worse than sequels, occupying lower box office ranks. None of the number 1 ranked films in the sample are remakes, compared to 9 sequels. The highest ranked remake in the first decade of the sample was True Lies, which reached number 3 in 1994. Other high grossing films in this decade include Father of the Bride (9th in 1991), three films in 1996 (101 Dalmatians (6th), The Nutty Professor (8th), and The Birdcage (9th)), and two films in 1998 (Doctor Doolittle (6th) and Godzilla (9th)). Generally, remakes perform relatively poorly and there are even two years (1992 and 1993) in which no remakes made the top 50. In the second decade covered by the sample, the frequency with which remakes make the top 50 doubles but this does not necessarily translate into higher rankings. High grossing remakes include Ocean’s Eleven (8th) and Planet of the Apes (10th) in 2001 and War of the Worlds (4th) and King Kong (5th) in 2005.
There is also empirical evidence that remakes perform poorly at the box office relative to the original version: Ginsburgh, Pestieau, and Weyers (2007) compared the quality and box office performance of remakes relative to the original movies. This is their conclusion:
The main conclusion one can get from this simple and straightforward analysis is that remakes do worse in terms of quality and in terms of box office. The first conclusion is not surprising, the second is more so, but is consistent with the heavy tails in the distribution of returns on movies …, and leads us to conjecture that producers invest in remakes in the same way as they invest in sequels, hoping for a hit, or at least for a positive revenue. What Terry Press, the marketing chief of DreamWorks, writes about prequels and sequels (“when you have a title people recognize, part of your battle is already won”) applies probably to remakes as well.
This argument strikes me as unusual since we may expect that remakes would be of higher production quality that originals, especially since the producers of the later version will have access to new technologies for filmmaking. For example, the production quality of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) may be judged superior to Willis O’brien’s stop-motion original from 1933 because it uses CGI and motion capture to create a more realistic experience for the viewer. This does not mean the viewer will automatically prefer the most recent over any other version (though I’ve never met anyone who liked the 1976 version with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges). It all depends on how you define ‘quality.’ Obviously judging ‘quality’ is a very difficult thing to do, and I do not think the method used in this paper is sufficiently reliable since original and remake will be rated based on different criteria. For example, the rating of the remake will take into account its relationship to the original while this is obviously not possible when rating the first version of a film. Furthermore, the definition of quality will depend not only on the relationship between original and remake but also on the relationship between each film and its contemporaries. The contemporary relationship is likely to be more relevant than the historical: the comparison between Peter Jackson’s King Kong and other high grossing films in 2005 (Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, War of the Worlds) is likely to be more relevant in judging quality than between this version and the original. However, this research does not appear to have considered this as a factor.
It is certainly a reasonable argument that producers think of remakes in the same way they think of sequels, and that the opportunity to exploit a recognisable brand underlies the impulse to make both types of films. But even a cursory glance at the box office rankings such as this post shows that remakes do not offer the same level of financial reward as a Shrek 3 or Iron Man 2. From a financial point of view, sequels are to be preferred to remakes.
Ginsburgh V, Pestieau P, and Weyers S 2007 Are Remakes Doing as Well as Originals? A Note, Working Paper 2007/05, Center of Research in Public Economics and Population Economics, University of Liège.
This week a collection of papers looking at the cultural economics of films focussing on – among other things – how the stock market reacts to movies, the behaviour of exhibitors and distributors, and how reducing financial risk allows exhibitors more freedom (which is of obvious interest in light of the BFI’s recent New Horizons document).
As ever, the version of a paper linked to may not be the final published version.
Chisholm D, McMillan M, and Norman G 2010 Product differentiation and film-programming choice: do first-run movie theatres show the same films?, Journal of Cultural Economics 34 (2): 131-145.
We present an empirical analysis of product differentiation using a new dynamic panel data set on film programming choice in a major U.S. metropolitan motion-pictures exhibition market. Using these data, we compute two measures of film programming choice which allow us to investigate the determinants of strategic product differentiation in a multi-characteristics space. Our evidence is consistent with the idea that the degree of product differentiation between theatre pairs reflects a balance between strategic concerns and contractual constraints. Similarity in one dimension is offset by differentiation in others. Finally, we find that ownership matters: theatres under common ownership make more similar programming choices than theatres with different owners.
Collins A, Scorcu AE, and Zanola R 2009 Distribution conventionality in the movie sector: an econometric analysis of cinema supply, Managerial and Decision Economics 30 (8): 517-527.
This paper empirically analyzes the impact of several factors on a ‘conventionality index (CI)’ in the specific context of the cinema exhibition sector. To our knowledge, it is the first time that a standard CI has been constructed for this purpose. Econometric analysis of the determinants of variation in this index provides decision-makers with an empirical focus for analyzing distributional aspects of the movie exhibition market, with particular emphasis on product differentiation. Specifically, (i) do cinemas based in a city area have a different or ‘specialized’ focus in contrast to cinemas in small towns? or (ii) do multiplexes have a different or more specialized focus in comparison with cinemas? To this end, cross-sectional econometric models are estimated to help analyze these effects in three Italian regions for a sample of cinemas covering the 2006 season.
Einav L and Ravid SA 2009 Stock market response to changes in movies’ opening dates, Journal of Cultural Economics 33 (4): 311-319.
How does the market react to news regarding large uncertain projects? We analyze stock market reactions to information about changes in opening dates of movies, and present two main findings. First, we find systematic negative stock price responses to the scheduling changes we consider, suggesting that any changes are interpreted as bad news by the market. Second, we find that the market reaction is greater for movies with higher production costs, but is unrelated to subsequent box office revenues. This may point to a limited ability of the market to predict the box office performance of a movie, and to increased sensitivity of the market to cost effects, which are easier to forecast.
Joshi AM and Hanssens DM 2008 Movie advertising and the stock market valuation of studios: a case of “great expectations?”, Marketing Science 28 (2): 239-250.
Product innovation is the key revenue driver in the motion picture industry. Because major studios typically launch fewer than 20 movies per year, the financial performance of a single release can have a major effect on the studio’s profitability. In this paper we study how single movie releases impact the investor valuation of the studio. We analyze the change in postlaunch stock price and predict the direction and magnitude of excess returns based on the revenue expectation built up for a movie release. That expectation is set, in part, by media support; i.e., highly advertised movies are expected to draw larger audiences than others. By using an event-study methodology, we isolate the impact of a movie launch on studio stock price and track the determinants of that change.
We examine a comprehensive data set comprising over 300 movies released by the largest studios. Our results indicate a clear interaction between the marketing support received by a movie and the direction and magnitude of its excess stock return post launch. Movies with above average prelaunch advertising have lower postlaunch stock returns than films with below average advertising. Our findings also suggest that movies that are hits at the box office may result in a lowering of stock price if they had high media support because of high performance expectations built up prior to launch. Thus prelaunch advertising plays a dual role of informing consumers about a movie’s arrival as well as helping investors form expectations about the studio’s profit performance.
McKenzie J 2012 The economics of movies: a literature survey, Journal of Economic Surveys 26 (1): 42-70.
The film industry provides a myriad of interesting problems for economic contemplation. From the initial concept of an idea through production, distribution and finally exhibition there are many aspects to the film project and the film industry that present new and interesting puzzles worthy of investigation. Add to this the high level of data availability, and it is little wonder that an increasing number of researchers are being attracted to this industry. To date, however, there are no comprehensive surveys on the contribution of economists to this literature. This paper attempts to fill this void and unify what is known about the industry. It also identifies and discusses potential areas for new research.
Pokorny M and Sedgwick J 2010 Profitability trends in Hollywood, 1929 to 1999: somebody must know something, The Economic History Review 63 (1): 56-84.
This article presents an overview of the development of the US film industry from 1929 to 1999. Notwithstanding a volatile film production environment, in terms of rate of return and market share variability, the industry has remained relatively stable and profitable. Film production by the film studios is interpreted as analogous to the construction of an investment portfolio, whereby producers diversified risk across budgetary categories. In the 1930s, high-budget film production was relatively unprofitable, but the industry adjusted to the steep decline in film-going in the postwar period by refining high-budget production as the focus for profitability.
Wang F, Zhang Y, Li X, and Zhu H 2010 Why do moviegoers go to the theater? The role of prerelease media publicity and online word of mouth in driving moviegoing behaviour, Journal of Interactive Advertising 11 (1): http://jiad.org/article139.
Using the Bass new product diffusion model, the authors explore how media publicity and word of mouth (WOM) about a to-be-released new movie drive moviegoing behavior in emerging markets. Empirical data collected from the Chinese motion picture industry reveal that prerelease media appearance (a proxy for publicity) and online WOM conversation (a proxy for WOM) influence moviegoing decision making, but they play different roles. Media publicity determines moviegoers’ innovation probability, whereas WOM determines both innovation and imitation probability. This article provides a better understanding of the decision making involved in moviegoing, as well as effective ways to market and release new movies in emerging markets.
Werck K, Grinwis M, and Heyndels B 2008 Budgetary constraints and programmatic choices by Flemish subsidized theatres, Applied Economics 4 (18): 2369-2379.
We analyse programmatic choices of Flemish theatres and examine how they are affected by the theatres’ budgetary situation. Following Lancaster’s characteristics approach, we identify several output characteristics of individual Flemish theatres during the period 1980 to 2000. A simultaneous equation approach is used to capture the theatre managers’, subsidizing government’s and consumers’ behaviour. We find that changes in the budgetary situation of a theatre are translated into changes of both the ‘amount’ and the nature of the theatre’s output. The budgetary impact on artistic choices has intensified since the introduction of a 4-yearly instead of yearly allocation of subsidies. The decrease in financial risk for the individual theatres leads to an increase in artistic risk-taking.
Back in May 2010 I looked at the Gini coefficient of the opening grosses in the UK in 2009 (see here).
The Gini coefficient (G) is a measure of the inequality of a statistical distribution, ranging from perfect equality when all the members of a population have equal share in some property such as income (G = 0) to perfect inequality when all the property is owned by a single person (G = 1). This inequality can be represented as a Lorenz Curve, which shows the cumulative proportion of a property belonging to the cumulative proportion of a population. This can be interpreted in reference to the line y = x, which represents perfect equality, and the further away the Lorenz curve lies away from this line the more unequal distribution.
The Gini coefficient and the Lorenz Curve are useful for comparing the inequalities of different populations, and so this week I compare the Gini coefficients of the total grosses of films distributed in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – in 2011. The data used is from Box Office Mojo and all box office grosses are in US Dollars.
Table 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the total sample sizes and for the top 100 grossing films in each country. It is clear that the distribution of grosses in each country is very unequal, with the vast majority of the gross accumulated by a small number of films. The UK is more unequal than the continental countries. The highest grossing film in the UK in 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) – grossed $117.23 million, accounting for 6.4% of the total accumulated gross. However, this was not the most dominant film in any of these countries: in France the highest grossing film was Intouchables, grossing $116.13 million and accounting for 9.5% of the total accumulated gross. Nonetheless, the overall distribution of the other four countries are less unequal, indicating that the UK box office tends to have fewer mid-range films. For example, it appears from the Lorenz curves in Figures 1 through 5 below that the comparatively high value of G for the UK is the result of the larger number of very, very low grossing films in the UK that are not present in the other countries and the very rapid shift to very high grossing films at the top end of the distribution. This is not present in Germany (Figure 2) or Italy (Figure 3), for example, which show much smoother transitions from the lowest to the highest grossing films.
Comparing the Gini coefficients for just the top 100 grossing films shows the UK to be no more unequal for this sub-group than France, Germany, or Italy. This sub-group does account for a higher proportion of the total gross than in these other countries but the distribution of grosses is no different from these three countries.
The Gini coefficient for the top 100 in Spain is much lower than the other countries due to the lack of a film like Harry Potter or Intouchables whose grosses are so much greater than those of other films. The highest grossing film in Spain in 2011 was Torrente 4 with $29.03 million (3.4% of the total accumulated gross), and the top 100 declines steadily with rank. This gives a different distribution to that seen in the UK, France, and Germany – see here and here for examples – which have a large drop off between subgroups of the top 100 grossing films, and between the top 100 films and the others on release.
The inevitable conclusion that follows from this, of course, is that there are a great many movies on release that no one is watching. The lowest grossing film in the UK is Fuk sau che chi sei (Revenge: A Love Story), which is listed as having a total gross 0f $45 (~£29).
Film policy in the UK is intended to remedy this problem by getting a more diverse range of films onto the cinema screens most people have access to (i.e. multiplexes), but the problem suggested by these results is the that of the squeezed middle. Showing Green Lantern in so many multiplex screens isn’t taking audiences away from thrillers produced in Hong Kong since no one is watching these films anyway. The films that suffer are films like Neds ($1.58) or Submarine ($2.37), which have limited opportunities to find an audience. This may explain why the UK film production sector is seen to be less successful in comparison to, say, France or Italy despite the fact that the UK is the largest film market in Europe. Film policy in the UK should be directed at reducing the inequality in the UK exhibition sector to a level comparable to that of the continental countries by boosting the earning power of the middle grossing films.
Table 1 Gini coefficients and total grosses for the total sample (N) and the top 100 grossing films in five European countries in 2011 ($US millions)
The Lorenz Curves for each country are in Figures 1 through 5, with the total gross shown in black, the top 100 grossing films in blue, and the reference curve (G=0) in red.
Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in France in 2011
Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Germany in 2011
Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Italy in 2011
Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Spain in 2011
Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in the UK in 2011
An online module for calculating Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves can be accessed here.
Last year I looked at the impact of Academy Award nominations and wins on the daily box office grosses of best picture winners from (here). This year I look at the nine films nominated for best picture at this years Oscars. All the box office data used here is available at Box Office Mojo.
Table 1 presents the pre- and post-nomination box office gross for those films nominated for best picture. The nominations were announced on 24 January 2012, and pre-nomination gross is the total gross up to this point. The post-nomination gross covers the period 24 January to 26 February. For those films that were released a long time ahead of the announcements of the nominees there is no benefit since these films just aren’t around for audiences to see. From The Help, Midnight in Paris, and Moneyball we can also see that re-releases after 24 January don’t make much of a difference to a film’s gross. The thing that really stands out is the low nature of the total grosses: only The Help took more than $100 million prior to Sunday.
Table 1 Pre- and post-nomination box office gross for films nominated for best picture at 2011 Academy Awards ($ million).
There is no point at looking at the daily grosses for Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Help, and The Tree of Life since they were not on wide release when the nominations were announced. We could look at DVD sales and downloads to see if the nomination had any effect on the earning power of these films. Here I’m interested in the daily box office grosses of the cinema releases up to 25 February.
Although the post-nomination box office takings of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Figure 1) accounts for the majority of its gross, this cannot be attributed to any benefit gained from being nominated for best picture. From its day of release (25 December) until 20 January this film was showing in just 6 theatres and this very limited release explains why the grosses in the early part of this film’s release are so low. On 20 January the film went wide to 2630 theatres and this explains the sudden jump in the daily grosses. From this point forward (day 27) the daily grosses show the typical trend of a film that could have been released at any time of year. From Figure 1 there is no evidence that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close received any benefit from being a nominee for best picture. This film has received generally poor reviews in the US and abroad. This particularly the case in the UK, where it has been described as both ‘soothingly banal’ in the Telegraph and as ‘hollow, calculated, [and] manipulative’ in the Observer – neither of which come close to the scathing review in the New York Post, which described the film as ‘extremely, incredibly exploitive’ and a ‘quest for emotional blackmail, cheap thrills and a naked ploy for an Oscar’. Being nominated for best picture does not appear to have been able to mitigate the bad reviews.
Figure 1 Daily box office gross of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Figure 2 presents the daily box office grosses of War Horse. Although this film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and is an adaptation of a successful book that has also been an internationally successful stage production there is no evidence that the nomination for best picture had any impact on its gross. The trend does not vary at all around 24 January, and by the time the winners were announced last Sunday this film had pretty much played out at the US box office. The stage version of War Horse won five Tony awards, including best play, but the film has received mediocre reviews (particularly in the UK) and has a world-wide gross of $141.76 million (with $79.06 million in the US). This sounds like a lot of money, but with an estimated negative cost of $66 million it represents a relatively modest return – especially when Spielberg is the director.
Figure 2 Daily box office gross of War Horse. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.
The box office grosses of Hugo show a small bump following the announcement of its nomination (Figure 4). The number of theatres showing this film was increased after 24 January from 650 to 925, but the effect cannot be simply attributed to a wider release since the average gross per theatre also increases. Hugo does seem to have directly benefited from being in the running for an Oscar, albeit on a relatively limited scale. This is the same pattern in The Departed – also directed by Martin Scorsese – I noted last year.
Figure 3 Daily box office gross of Hugo. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.
Another interesting feature in Figure 3 is the a typical period of grosses from day 31 to 41. This covers the period 23 December to 2 January, and is a clear indicator of how audience behaviour changes over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
This same pattern can be seen in the grosses of The Descendants (Figure 4). The peaks in this period occur on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, grosses for this film are low and at no point do they exceed $3 million.
Figure 4 Daily box office gross of The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced. (NB: this data does not include grosses prior to 25 November).
The orange line shows the date (15 January) on which the results of the Golden Globes were announced, and this does appear to have given the film a boost. In the week leading up to Friday, 13 January, The Descendants was showing in 737 theatres. From 13 January to 19 January it was showing in 660 theatres, and then in 560 theatres until 26 January. Over this period the gross of the film actually increased and, obviously, so did its gross per theatre indicating that winning the award for Best Motion Picture – Drama from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did have a positive impact on this film’s box office performance (see Figure 4a). After it was announced as a nominee for the best picture, the number of theatres showing The Descendants was increased to 2001 on 27 January. However, this lead to a fall in the average gross suggesting and so while being nominated for an Oscar appears to have led to an increase in box office at least part of this needs to be attributed to the wider release pattern. Of course, the reason this film was given a wider release after day 63 on release is because it was nominated for an Oscar.
Figure 4a Daily average gross per theatre for The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.
It is difficult to separate the effects of the Golden Globe win and the Oscar nomination on the box office gross for this film. Te change in the number of theatres over the last two weeks of January clearly indicates how distributors and exhibitors view the two different awards: Golden Globes aren’t that important and even a win will not stop the decrease in the number of theatres showing your film (even if it boosts your gross) but a nomination for an Oscar makes a big difference.
Finally, we come to this year’s best picture, The Artist (Figure 5). This film also won the Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes.
Figure 5 Daily box office gross of The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.
In Figure 5 we see the same boost over the Christmas period we see with Hugo and The Descendants. However, unlike The Descendants where the average gross per theatre over this period went even though the number of theatres went down, the boost to grosses of The Artist can in large part be attributed to the fact that it is on 23 December that it goes on wide release. From 25 November until 22 December, The Artist was showing in 4 to 17 theatres but on 23 December it was showing in 167 theatres. The second jump in the grosses occurs on 20 January when the number of theatres went from 216 to 662 but the average gross per theatre fell. This suggests that, unlike The Descendants, there is no clear evidence of a boost from winning a Golden Globe and that increasing the number of screens is more likely to be directly responsible for the jump in grosses. The publicity from winning the Golden Globe no doubt played a part in the decision to increase the number of theatres so dramatically. The announcement of The Artist‘s nomination for best picture was presumably also a factor in the decision to substantially increase the number of theatres a second time on 27 January to 897. The average gross remained static for the first week, and then falls as more theatres were added after 3 February (see Figure 5a). The impact of an Academy Award nomination for best picture on the grosses of The Artist are more likely to be indirect in that they influenced the behaviour of distributors and exhibitors than direct in the impact it had on the behaviour of audiences.
Figure 5a Daily average gross per theatre for The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.
The final interesting feature to note is the spike at day 82. This is out of step with the corresponding point in other weeks, and represents a sudden increase in the box office gross. The gross on this day was $100,000 greater than the corresponding day in the previous week, and more than double the gross of the previous day. This can be explained very simply: day 82 of this film’s release was Valentine’s Day. A similar bump can be seen at day 82 of The Descendants. in fact, this effect is present for every film but in the five other graphs the size of this change in audience behaviour is not so large that it jumps out at you. In part, this is due to the other films being largely played out by mid-February and in part to the fact that the daily grosses of The Descendants and The Artist are much lower than those of the other films. This means that the benefit of being on release on Valentine’s Day for these films is greater since it makes a larger difference relative to their overall gross. It is interesting that in none of these examples was the number of theatres showing a film varied for Valentine’s Day since this is a day in which people in the US go to the cinema in far greater numbers than is usually the case.
Dinner and movie for a date on Valentine’s – Americans are sweet.
But it does prove that cinemas will never die – staying in to watch a movie isn’t the same as going out to watch a movie and the socializing aspect of going to a theatre is crucial in understanding the enduring appeal of the medium.
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 industry, Annals 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.
This week the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport published the latest review of film policy in the UK. The report is titled A Future for British Film: It Begins with the Audience, and you can access it here. This week’s post covers just a few first impressions I have formed having read the report once. A more detailed and more considered reflection on the issues raised will have to wait for a couple of weeks.
This is the first wide-ranging report on film policy in the UK since A Bigger Picture was published in 1998, though there have been numerous reports covering a broad range of topics in the past 14 years. This report should of course been undertaken before the dismantling of the UK Film Council because now it is a case of tailoring policy to the institutions we have rather than being able to flexibly adapt to new demands. And it is the new that wrecks policy maker’s fun. A Bigger Picture was almost immediately rendered obsolete by the arrival of digital technology. 3D was old technology in 1998, and now its at the top of the box office charts.
So, first impressions.
1. I like the demand-side approach rather than the focus on production typical of these sorts of reports. The report doesn’t ignore production, but the re-orientation of film policy away from ‘lets produce more British films that on-one will see’ to ‘let’s get people watching films the British films that are available’ is much needed. British film production has been reasonably healthy since the mid-1990s (at least compared to the dark days 1980s), but a long-standing problem is getting screen time in a multiplex dominated market. There’s no point making films people can’t see and there’s no point in making MORE films can’t see which has been UK film policy since 1985. There’s always the possibility that some more British films will make money and so reduce their demands on lottery funding.
The only concern is that focussing resources on independent and specialised film will produce limited benefits from a lot of investment. Audiences for these types of films are smaller than audiences for mainstream cinema, and so there may not be much growth in audiences to be had. The report says that it is important to increase audience choice, and who would disagree with that. But how do you measure the potential for audience growth of specialised films? How do you judge how much money to invest in developing this audience given that audience growth might be quite small? And what if the audience doesn’t want to watch these films?
And how do you get cinema chains to stop showing crap like Green Lantern? Especially when it turns out the average occupancy rate of cinema auditoria in the UK is 20 per cent! Solving the problem of too many bad Hollywood films on British cinema screens would go much further than anything the BFI could ever do. The problem of release windows is recognised in the report and reforming this aspect of the UK film sector in a distribution-led industry will have more impact than simply focussing on production. This is to be applauded. But release windows are determined in Hollywood by multinational corporations who have the power to dictate terms to exhibitors, and why should they care about a policy framework that offers no advantage to them? US producers come to the UK for the quality of the filmmakers, the facilities, and the tax incentives. Where are the incentives for distribution that will make them care?
2. I also like the commitment to ensuring the important role of the BFI Research and Statistics Unit in recommendation 53 (see below), though the suggestion the BFI establishes a ‘research and knowledge’ does raise the questions, doesn’t the RSU already exist and isn’t already fulfilling this function? I’m also a little confused by the recommendation
the BFI be designated a ‘producer of official statistics’ under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, as was the UK Film Council up until 2011.
Wasn’t this function taken over by the BFI? And if not, why not?
But a revved up RSU means more statistical fun for me, and that’s something to look forward to.
3. I don’t like the make up of the panel that produced the report:
- Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Chairman)
- Will Clarke, Independent film distributor, founder and former CEO, Optimum Releasing
- Lord Julian Fellowes, Oscar® winning writer and actor
- Matthew Justice, UK film producer and Managing Director, Big Talk
- Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Tim Richards, Chief Executive, Vue Entertainment
- Tessa Ross, CBE, Controller of Film and Drama, Channel 4
- Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television, Olswang LLP
- Iain Smith, OBE, film producer and Chair, the British Film Commission Advisory Board
There is, of course, no reason why any of these people should not have been involved in the review process, but who is missing from this list?
That’s right, academics. There is no one from film studies specialising in film industries, film policy, or British cinema; and there is no economist, sociologist, or geographer specialising in film/media/creative/cultural industries.
There is a great deal of research on the film industry in the UK and yet very little of this is cited by the report. The report contains a list of references 108 references, including a handful to Margaret Dickinson and Sylvia Harvey, Rob Cheek, Maud Mansfield, and Joe Lampel. (None of these references are properly referenced. If this were submitted by a student you would fail it on grounds of not having a proper bibliography. It really is awful). There are no references to the wider body of research of the film industry in the UK, and this is curious because one of the recommendations addresses precisely this issue.
53. The Panel notes the need for a strong evidence base for film policy and recommends the BFI establishes a ‘Research and Knowledge’ function to a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.
It seems odd to recommend that we need a strong evidence base when the existing available research is largely ignored. This problem was raised at the symposium on research and policy making I attended last October (you can read about it here), and it’s nice to see the above recommendation in the report as it means there is a greater chance progress will be made in this area. But this type of report is precisely the sort of situation in which this type of research should have been used, and it would have been nice to see the panel take the opportunity to do just that. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing research?
But what I really don’t like about recommendation 53 is that it envisages academia as a consumer of data produced by the BFI’s ‘research and knowledge’ function rather than being fully integrated into the policy making framework. Academics shouldn’t be sat on the sidelines of film policy. Any future panel reporting on film policy should include academics among its membership – if only to recommend the relevant research outputs to the rest of the panel. It is the BFI’s responsibility to make sure this is achieved sooner rather than not at all. Who else do they think is going create and fulfil the ‘research and knowledge’ function?
It seems odd to say it, but I think the case for film studies could be put to the BFI more strongly.
4. Finally, this report presents a great deal of statistical information and therefore makes the assumption that its readership will be statistically literate enough to understand it. I raised the issue of statistical literacy at last year’s symposium but didn’t get much of response. Given the use of tables, graphs (which I do NOT like), and numerical summaries in this report it is not an issue than can be ignored. The place of statistical literacy in film studies needs to be addressed by the BFI, and I will have more to say on this topic over the next few weeks.