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UK Film Policy

Yesterday I attended a symposium at NESTA on the relationship between research and policy making for film co hosted by the University of Hertforshire, Available Light Advisory, and the BFI. A detailed review of the event will have to wait for a later post, but until then here are some papers on the British film industry and the policy environment in which it has operated over the  past decade and a half.

As ever, the version of the paper linked to may not be the final version that was published.

Adams J 2011 UK film: new directions in the glocal era, Journal of Media Practice 12 (2): 111-124. (NB: the link takes you to JMP Screenworks).

As the British Film Institute (BFI) takes over responsibility for film policy and lottery funding from the UK Film Council and the Government announces the UK Film Policy Review, this article argues that film policy requires a fundamental change of direction for the 21st Century. First, it proposes that the concept of a UK film ‘industry’ should be radically redefined in response to the complex and diverse digital production models developing both regionally and globally. Second, that the best way to nurture and promote homegrown talent is through an integrated approach to production, distribution, exhibition and education. Third, public funding for film (other than tax breaks and incentives for incoming production) should be directed away from the mainstream to support public-private sector creative partnerships in the regions, in line with an emerging politics of localism. In an age of cross-border media flows, the paper proposes a holistic strategy for UK film based on dispersed creative hubs with global reach, with a much greater role for Creative England than is currently envisaged. Examples in the paper are mainly drawn from activities in one of Creative England’s newly designated regions (‘the Bristol hub’).

Blair H, Culkin N, and Randle K 2004 From London to Los Angeles: a comparison of local labour market processes in the US and UK film industries, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14 (4): 619-633.

Addressing the issue of the embeddedness of labour markets, this paper compares the processes of finding employment in the film industry within two local labour markets. Drawing on studies of freelance film crew in the London (UK) and Los Angeles (US), the paper concludes that the importance of social networks in job mobility in both contexts is a consequence of common production structures. However that common labour market practice varies in each geographical space as industry processes and structures are mediated by local institutional contexts.

 Garnham N 2005 From cultural to creative industries: an analysis of the implications of the “creative industries” approach to arts and media policy making in the United Kingdom, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 11 (1): 15-29.

This article analyses the cultural policy implications in the United Kingdom of a shift in terminology from cultural to creative industries. It argues that the use of the term “creative industries” can only be understood in the context of information society policy. It draws its political and ideological power from the prestige and economic importance attached to concepts of innovation, information, information workers and the impact of information and communication technologies drawn from information society theory. This sustains the unjustified claim of the cultural sector as a key economic growth sector within the global economy and creates a coalition of disparate interests around the extension of intellectual property rights. In the final analysis, it legitimates a return to an artistcentred, supply side defence of state cultural subsidies that is in contradiction to the other major aim of cultural policy – wider access.

Humphreys P 2008 An examination of the preservation of cultural policy toolkits at the national level: the French and UK cases, 58th Political Studies Association Annual Conference: Democracy, Governance and Conflict: Dilemmas of Theory and Practice, 1-3 April 2008, Swansea.

This paper examines the impact of globalization, new media and deregulatory pressures on the ‘cultural policy toolkits’ for the television sector of France and the UK. It is concerned with regulation intended to promote cultural diversity in the media, namely public service broadcasting, media ownership rules, and culturally protectionist measures such as subsidies and programme quotas. It explores whether there is evidence of a (de)regulatory competition (‘racing to the bottom’), and alternatively whether there has been any adjustment of regulatory standards upwards. The picture is mixed. There is evidence of competitiveness motivated deregulation of media ownership rules in both cases. Other than that though, the countries’ cultural policy toolkits appear robust and demonstrate a striking degree of path dependent policy-making. Some aspects of UK television policy are certainly redolent of deregulatory competition and the UK approach has progressively relieved the private sector of the kind of regulatory burdens imposed by the French approach. By contrast, the French adaptation of their system of programme quotas and subsidies to the digital age could be seen as upward regulation. France, however, remains a paradoxical case. It exhibits a particularly strong political commitment to a distinctive and elaborate regulatory and interventionist cultural policy toolkit. It has championed a global struggle to defend national cultural identities in the face of the domination of American production. Yet, public service television and national television production are weak in comparison with its more liberal neighbour.

Magor M and Schlesinger P 2009 ‘For this relief much thanks:’ taxation, film policy and the UK government, Screen 50 (3): 299-317.

In 2006, the Treasury introduced a new Film Tax Credit for British productions. Fiscal incentives in the form of tax credits are now regarded as fundamental to the sustainability of the British film industry. In addition to benefiting indigenous filmmaking, an attractive tax credit structure is seen as promoting inward investment, chiefly from the USA, and is seen as important for maintaining the work force and organisational capacity in the British film industry. Securing the continuity of the skills base is at the heart of the UK Government’s drive to make the ‘creative economy’ better fitted for global competition. However, in that broader context, film has been – and remains – a special case, as it is not presently Government creative economy policy to use fiscal measures for other industries. We argue that in seeking solutions to longstanding problems of ‘sustainability’, contemporary UK policy is conditioned by its long history of economic intervention in film production – and has been an important precursor of today’s creative industries policy. Furthermore, in current global conditions, it is crucial to consider the fundamental cross-currents set in train by the competing demands of US inward investment and EU regulation. By undertaking interviews with key players as well as examining evidence in the public domain, this article analyses the complex politics that has shaped the implementation of this policy. We argue that film policy research needs the added depth that such sociological analysis brings to the table. In particular, this empirical approach gives insights into how the low politics of lobbying and inter-departmental rivalry shape present policy outcomes.

Redfern N 2007 Defining British cinema: transnational and territorial film policy in the United Kingdom, Journal of British Cinema and Television 4 (1): 150-164.

Since 1995, film policy in the United Kingdom has comprised two strands: selling the UK as a ‘film hub’ of locations, skills and services to the international film industry, and the emergence of a different kind of institutional intervention geared towards nurturing regional film industries and regional film cultures. In this contribution to the debate about film policy in Britain, I want to explore the relationship between the transnational and the territorial in British film policy since the mid-1990s. I will argue that policy makers in the United Kingdom have sought to construct a British national cinema through encouraging productions to come to the United Kingdom by enhancing the locational non-substitutability of the British film industry, and that these functions have been devolved to the Regional Screen Agencies since 2000. The British film industry that is emerging from this process is a hybrid space of interactions between a trans- national film industry which crosses national boundaries, and a highly territorialised national film industry which is increasingly organised at the regional level. In this contribution, I will describe three possible interactions between the transnational and the territorial in contemporary British cinema.

Redfern N 2010 Connecting the regional and the global in the UK film industry, Transnational Cinemas 1 (2) : 145-160.

Film policy in the United Kingdom is comprised of two complementary strands: the development of regional production clusters and the positioning of the United Kingdom as a film hub in the global film industry. This article examines the relationship between the regional, national and global scales in feature film production in three UK regions Northern Ireland, Scotland and the South West of England from 2004 to 2006. The results indicate that connections between the regions of the United Kingdom and the global film industry are limited, and that where they do exist these connections are either directly to or mediated through London, which functions as the dominant centre of distribution and finance and therefore decision-making in the UK film industry. Northern Ireland, by virtue of its cultural and economic relationship to the Republic of Ireland, stands out as a region in which its connections to other major decision-making centres are as important as its connections to London. The results suggest that while UK film policy has sought to redistribute the productive capacity of the industry, the autonomy of regional production centres remains limited.

Pratt AC and Gornostaeva G 2009 The governance of innovation in the film and television industry: a case study of London, UK, in  AC Pratt and P Jeffcutt (eds.) Creativity, Innovation and the Cultural Economy. London: Routledge: 119-136.

The focus of this chapter is innovation and creativity in the film and television industries in London. One might expect to observe, in the case of film and television industries which encompass some of the most socially and organisationally embedded organisations that have embraced digitisation, a clearer case of the impact of digitisation in on innovation. However, it is also good to adopt a cautious approach to the role of technology or the necessity of organisational and/or technological convergence that may follow.

It is possible to make a film, or a TV programme, on a laptop or a mobile phone; but, such practices are marginal. Where they are adopted their use is commonly strategic, in order to achieve other organisational aims such as simple cost reduction or novelty. The film and television industries are ‘poster children’ for digitisation and innovation; the question is, whether such changes are superficial, in the sense of new delivery systems for the same old production model, or, a substantial transformation of the process. Complex regulatory structures and market structures mean that innovation is a more organic and systemic process rather than the ‘big bang’ that is it commonly represented as. In this chapter we argue for the need to account for the complex interrelationship of technologies, organisation and regulation. Moreover, that the roles of technology (digitization), organisation (the fragmented small firms), and governance (deregulation) cannot be generalised and will be resolved, necessarily, in particular spaces and times resulting in unique locational outcomes.

If one examines the UK FTV at a macro-scale considerable success of both TV sales and film production (receipts) can be identified both relative to the size of the UK economy, and by comparison with other economies. How do we begin to understand this relative success? One answer might be innovation or improved competitiveness; however, arguably such ‘catch alls’ disguise as much as they reveal. This chapter approaches the problem by shifting analytic attention to the micro-scale and to organisational concerns in order to explore ways in which similar technologies or innovations may produce quite different industry outcomes in terms of practice. The chapter is structured around this argument; we begin by prefacing this with a discussion of innovation and creativity and next elaborating how this is worked through in the case of the film and television industries.

Finally, here are some recent reports on the UK film industry:

Mansfield M 2009 A Report on the British Film Industry for Shadow DCMS.

Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, The British Film Industry, HC, 667-I, 9 September 2003.

Select Committee on Communications, The British Film and Television Industries – Decline or Opportunity?, HL, 37-I and 37-II, 25 January 2011. The two volumes of this report include the summry and conclusions in part I and the transcripts of the hearings in part II.

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The BFI and ‘Opening Our Eyes’

Last Friday the BFI launched its report on the cultural contribution of the cinema to the UK. I was unable to attend the launch, but the report is no available online here.

The motivation for this report is partly to do what is says and explore the contribution to British cinema, but it is also necessary to justify the UK’s economic film policy. Under EU law, financial support in the form of tax relief or lottery funding can only be provided for the representation of regional and national cultures and NOT for competitive economic advantage. Therefore, by establishing the importance of the cinema to British cultural life everyone gets to pretend that economic film policy in the UK is cultural and not economic at all.

Leaving that collective self-delusion aside, let’s focus on the cultural aspects of the report. The problem here is that we have what is largely a marketing report that does not really address the question of ‘cultural contribution.’ Films, we are told, are one of the ‘most popular entertainment and leisure interests,’ but popularity is not a measure of cultural contribution. One of overriding problems I have with this report is the lack of detail. The list of films that are often mentioned as having a ‘significant effect on society or attitudes in the UK’ is frequently used as a basis for drawing conclusions about the relevance of the cinema in British cultural life but this effect isn’t qualified beyond the personal anecdotes of some of the interviewees. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the number of interviewees is small: ten paired interviews were conducted giving a sample size of 20 participants from major cities in Scotland (Glasgow) or England (Manchester and London). Perhaps no-one in the UK lives east of the Pennines (thereby plunging me into a severe existential crisis); or perhaps no-one in Wales or Northern Ireland goes to the cinema. I recognise that measuring how a film affects society is difficult, but then this at the core of what the report is trying to do and it never really achieves it. We can certainly see how Cathy Come Home affected the UK, leading to the founding of Shelter; but what was the ‘significant effect’ of Trainspotting? This is never explained. I also recognise that it is a lengthy and costly process, but if you’re going to justify national film policy based on research it should be national research.

One aspect that has been commented upon in a number of news articles based on this report (and which I therefore assume was part of a press release) is that people are more interested in the cinema than they are in religion. Specifically, 32% percent of respondents indicated they were interested in religion compared to the 84% who were interested in the cinema. The question we really want to ask here is why religion was included in the survey at all. Does the BFI think that religion is a form of popular entertainment and leisure interest comparable to the cinema? In what ways is an interest in films comparable to an interest in religion? Surely we cannot be expected to interpret this as meaning that the people of the UK are 2.5 times more interested in the cinema than religion, because this is how it has been presented in reporting typical of the standard you can expect from the British press. This is really a measure of popularity and not a measure of contribution at all: the contribution of the Church of England to the cultural life of the UK is far greater than that of the cinema, even if no one appears to be interested in it any more. I may be an atheist but, dear God, this was a stupid question to ask.

A further confusing statement is that a ‘strong interest in film correlates with a stronger than average interest in many other forms of leisure and cultural pursuit,’ because no correlation coefficient, correspondence analysis, correlation matrix, or any other statistic is presented. Correlation is a statistical term, and in the context of this report that presents such a large amount of data in terms of graphs, percentages, and other measures, it has no meaning. Nor is there any evidence presented to link strong interest in the cinema, strong interest in other arts, and increased levels of participation. It is simply asserted that

higher interest in a range of other social and cultural activities tends to follow through into higher levels of activity (Figure 5), with more people very interested in film also going more often to the theatre, concerts, pubs and clubs than those with no interest in film.

The reference to Figure 5 leads us only to a series of bar charts that present frequencies and not correlations. This is just poor research, and a better approach would have been to perform a correspondence analysis on this data. (This is exactly what Pierre Bourdieu does in Distinction to answer exactly the same sort of questions). If nothing else, this would have presented us with only a single graph to deal with rather than thirteen separate bar charts.

The same is true of the words associated with different forms of entertainment (Figure 11). The endless bar charts have by now become somewhat tiring and the plots of the first and second principal and first and third principal axes of the correspondence analysis of this data would have made life so much easier (Figure A). To interpret these plots, points in the same data set that are near each other have similar profiles in terms of the attributes assigned to them while points in the same data set that are distant have different attribute profiles; and points in different sets that lie away from the origin and in the same direction are related. In both plots we see that film (FIL) lies along the same direction as escapism (ESC), and so the cinema is strongly correlated with this attribute.

A1: Dimensions 1 and 2

A2: Dimensions 1 and 3

Figure A Biplots of the correspondence between entertainment/leisure activities and attributes associated with them, based on percentages in the BFI ‘Opening Our Eyes’ report. For the detailed numerical summary of the analysis see here: BFI CA Summary.

As we would expect, pubs/clubs (PUB) and dining out are similar and news (NEW) is strongly correlated with the attribute ‘informative’ (INF). Interestingly, art galleries and museums (GAL) lies along the same axis as exciting (EXC) in both plots, and playing sport (SPP) produces similar results to going to the theatre (THE) but watching sport (SPW) does not. Also, pubs/clubs seem to correspond with thought-provoking (THO).

The attributes do appear to spread out into a number of subsets. Emotion (EMO) and Inspiration (INS) appear to be related, as do exciting and informative. Relaxing (RLX), entertainment (ENT), escapism, and thought-provoking appear to have profiles more similar with another than with the other four attributes. This relationship is apparent in both plots. Television (TEL) appears to be associated with no particular attribute, contributing nothing to the variation in dimension 3.

Note that religion (REL) in the first plot is unrelated to the profiles of the other forms of entertainment and leisure activity and contributes nothing to the variation of the second plot (CTR = 0.00), and it would be better if this category had not been included in the survey at all.

A further problem arises when we look at the section on what films people are watching. Blockbusters emerge as the most frequently watched type of films, but as these types of films dominate the UK exhibition market what else did you expect?

The information on the factors that people use to decide on what to go and see is much more useful. There is a fairly large body of literature on this topic for Hollywood cinema (and you can find some information on this topic here), but there is a lack of research in this area for the UK (but see here). This is also the case for sources of information on films on release. Hopefully, this information will lead researchers to explore these areas in more depth, because we really know very little about film audiences in the UK compared to what we know about the US.

The section on opinions about the proportion of films distributed in the UK on specific subjects (Figure 17) can be ignored. I don’t quite see the point of the question about whether there are too many films about homeless people – this seems a needlessly specific question that doesn’t really have anything to with the cinema. I’ve never seen a British film about a quantity surveyor, but they didn’t ask about that. How would making films about the homeless contribute to British culture? If this were to prompt filmmakers to start making films about the homeless, asking the question again would increase the number of responses for too many as the public becomes bored by a glut of such films. This part of the survey does not appear to take into account the films currently on release that would influence the respondents. It is a silly question that tells us nothing about anything.

More interesting is the revelation about how audiences perceive stories as being related to national identity rather than the source of the production:

Respondents saw films with British stories set in the UK as close to ‘entirely British’, even if they were partly produced or financed from the USA. Films about non-British people set outside the UK were seen as being mainly of another nationality. This is illustrated at the borderline by Slumdog Millionaire which, though an independent British film, was seen as being slightly more of ‘another nationality’ (Figure 19). Some interviewees saw it as a British film set in a non-UK location.

Now this is interesting information that can make a substantive contribution to the study of British national cinema and will, I’m sure, feature in many books and articles on the subject. The analysis based on the seven-point rating scale (Figures 19 and 20) is interesting but I have problems with the statistic used: the average position on the scale appears to be the mean and the use of a continuous measure for ordinal data is problematic. Either the mode or the median could be more appropriate because we cannot be sure that respondents interpreted the phrases used (‘entirely British’) in the same way or that the differences between the categories are equal. (There is no reason to assume that responses to this scale would be normally distributed so some additional justification for relying on the central limit theorem should have been provided, particularly given the possibility of central tendency bias).That said, the differences in the score between Slumdog Millionaire on the one hand and St. Trinian’s and The Full Monty are the real gem in this report. As scholars of British cinema we should be exploring this in great depth.

The section on the regions of the UK brings us back to the endless bar charts, and as before a different approach might have reduced the cognitive burden and eye strain on the reader. Generally, these results reflect the responses given to a question asked as part of the 19th British Social Attitudes Report published in 2002, which found that regional identity in England increased with distance from the capital and a high level of identification with the metropolis in London. This would explain why people in the North of England, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humberside want to see more films based in their regions relative to the regions in the south and the east. It is surprising to see that the percentages for ‘Too many’ and ‘About the right amount’ for the South West are consistent with East Anglia and the South East, as this region tends to have a relatively higher sense of regional identity. This is an interesting result that could be followed up.

Overall, this report is just like every other report produced by an official body that you’ve read: relentlessly upbeat, and riddled with oddities of design and analysis. There are some really interesting points to be found, and if this report is going to make a real contribution to our understanding of British film culture it will be as a starting point for researchers to try to get behind the data.

Finally, the best news of all: the detailed responses and the full data sets are being made available by the BFI, and can be accessed here. This means hours of endless fun of doing your own analysis on the data.

References

Heath A, Rothon C, and Jarvis L 2002  ‘English to the Core?’ in A Park, J Curtice, K Thomson, L Jarvis, and C Bromley (eds.) British Social Attitudes: The 19th Report. London: Sage: 169-184.

Genre trends at the US box office, 1991 to 2010

UPDATE: A revised version of this article has been published as Genre trends at the US box office, 1991 to 2010, European Journal of American Culture 31 (2) 2012: 145-167. DOI: 10.1386/ejac.31.2.145_1.

To carry on the theme of some recent posts, this week I present the first draft of  analysis of the genre trends at the US box office over the past twenty years.

The pdf can be accessed here: Nick Redfern – Genre trends at the US box office

Abstract

This paper examines genre trends in the top 50 grossing films at the US box office each year from 1991 to 2010, focussing on the frequency and rank of different genres, the box office gross and release patterns of films in different genres, and the release profile of Hollywood studios. The results show a narrowing of the range of genres at the highest rankings, with fantasy/science fiction movies coming to dominate at the expense of comedy, crime/thriller, and drama films. There are also marginal increases in action/adventure and family films.   Analysis of the opening and total gross for each film reveals that different genres are characterized by different release patterns, and noted the importance of awards in contributing to the box office gross of drama films. With one notable exception, there is no evidence of genre specialization among film studios in contemporary Hollywood cinema.

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.

Pre-film studies research on film

A couple of weeks ago I posted about some empirical research on editing and the viewer’s experience of pace in the visual media from the 1970s.

A fascinating read on the same topic is the UNESCO report on mass communication research published in 1961, which presents a comprehensive and global bibliography of research on the influence of the cinema on children and adolescents. The report can be accessed here, and it is definitely worth taking an afternoon to read through it.

UNESCO 1961 The Influence of the Cinema on Children and Adolescents: An Annotated International Bibliography. Reports and Papers on Mass Communication 31. Paris: UNESCO.

The report provides details on 491 different pieces of research from around the world, and provides an insight into the type of research that was done before film studies came along. Areas covered include the social effects of cinema on young people, the use of film in education, film and juvenile delinquency, motives behind film choice, and there is good coverage of what we would now call cognitive film theory.

There are all sorts of interesting things to discover. For example, item 62 on the list provides a fascinating insight into the habits of younger viewers in Michigan in the 1940s.

Gibson, Harold J. (Mrs .) and Nahabedian, Vaskey (Mrs .) . A Survey of the Reading, Radio and Motion Picture Habits of Royal Oak Public School Students and their Parents. Royal Oak, Michigan, Royal Oak Public School, 1949, 21 p.

The average pupil in the school surveyed attends the cinema much more frequently than his parents. At the age of 8, he goes to the cinema once a week; until the age of 12 he attends the Saturday afternoon performance. When he reaches junior high school he goes to the cinema on Friday evening, generally with a friend. His parents help him in the selection of films, and he generally appreciates the films his parents consider suitable for him. Westerns, cartoons and animal films are his favourites; later his interest in westerns wanes and his interest in musicals grows. He now chooses films on the basis of cast and publicity. When he reaches high school, he will be more influenced in his choice by official film criticism, and he tends to have the same criteria as his parents.

Some of the research is a bit prosaic: item 61 is a study of the cinema-going habits of Italian young people and concludes that as they get older ‘boys go more frequently with girls.’ Isn’t that what the cinema is for?

However, I’m really not sure about the study from 1949 that showed Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) to some Italian 8-to-14 year olds (no. 130) that concluded that children had difficulty understanding the film. An 80 minute silent documentary about an Eskimo is hardly suitable viewing for children as young as eight. I know I’ve never been that enamoured of this film, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t have to watch it as a child. The comments about spatial awareness and recognition of regular geometric forms do sound more interesting though.

Albertini. Laura and Caruso, Ada, Percezione e interpretazione di imagini cinematografiche nei ragazzi. [Perception and interpretation of film images by children] In: Bianco e Nero, Rome, (X), 5 May 1949, p. 9-27. Also in: Baumgarten, Franziska, Compte rendu du lle Congrbs international de psychotechnique, Berne, 12-17 September 1949. La psychotechnique dans le monde moderne. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1952, p. 557-561.

A study of the reactions of 576 children, aged 8 to 14, to Flaherty’s film “Nanook’. Four hundred and ninety children were questioned: 86 made unsolicited comments. Particularly apparent were the many errors in observation and the discrepancy between what actually occurred in the film and what the children thought they had seen. The rapid succession of images, the inability to understand clearly, to compare precisely and to interpret exactly when drawing up a report has the following results for children: real difficulties in making accurate comparisons as to sizes and likenesses, in recognizing regular geometric forms, in establishing the position of persons in relation to a known object, and in interpreting some of their movements and attitudes. Such difficulties as these do not seem to lessen proportionately as the child grows older. Further research is recommended to study the choice of motion-pictures for children of different age groups.

Perhaps the researchers might have asked the children if they wanted to watch Nanook?

There is an extensive series of entries describing quite detailed studies by the Japanese Ministry of Education on cinema attendance among young people from the 1930s that sound very interesting.

In his ‘Foreword’ to Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations, David Bordwell wrote that film studies ‘got off on the wrong foot methodologically. Instead of framing questions, to which competing theories might have responded in a common concern for enlightenment, film academics embraced a doctrine-driven conception of research’ (2005: xi, original emphasis). [Bordwell D 2005 Foreword, in JD Anderson and B Fisher Anderson (eds.) Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005: ix-xii].

This is may be an accurate description of film studies, but it is not an accurate description of the study of film.

What stands out from reading much of the research in the UNESCO report  is that pre-film studies research in the cinema is (1) primarily concerned with psychology of the cinema and (2) that it is empirical research and is NOT doctrine-driven. And yet this research has had relatively little impact on film studies as it is taught in universities today. The institutionalisation of film studies as an academic discipline does not appear to have drawn on any of this tradition going back well into the silent era. Why not? And what are the consequences of this? What did these earlier researchers understand about the cinema that we have forgotten?

For example, Tim Smith has written about viewer’s eye movements when watching Hollywood films. You can find his blog describing his research here and his guest piece about eye movements in watching There Will Be Blood on David Bordwell’s blog is here. But if we go back to 1964 we can find this paper, which was addressing the same questions some 47 years ago.

Guba E, Wolf W, de Groot S, Knemeyer M, Van Atta R, and Light L 1964 Eye movements and TV viewing in children, Educational Technology Research and Development 12 (4): 386-401.

This paper, like those in the UNESCO report, does not feature in the film studies curriculum due to the collective amnesia of film scholars who, it would seem, simply ignored decades of prior research when creating university courses in film. Why this should be the case is one of the most important and most interesting questions in film studies.

In the comments on the last update to my bibliography on cognitive film theory, someone asked why I hadn’t included the French Filmology research of the 1940s and 1950s. You can find the bibliography and the comments here. Part of my response was that I simply did not come across this research that often and that translations of this work are relatively rare. It is much harder, for example, to find the works of Gilbert Cohen-Seat in English than it is to find those of Christian Metz. Why should this be so?

The study of film existed before film studies, and it existed as a body of empirical research that looked at how viewers experienced and comprehended the cinema, at the behaviour of audiences, and at the social impact of cinema. And it did so by asking questions years before Bordwell began writing about a mid-level research programme as a means of moving forward.

Film studies really screwed up the study of the cinema.

US Gross Ratios by Genre, 1991 to 2010

Recently I have been looking at the breakdown of the top 50 films at the US box office in each year from 1991 to 2010 by genre. I’ll have more to say on this topic in a couple of weeks, but I have looked at several different variables and have had to excise some aspects from the paper I was writing. This means I have some graphs left over – one of the most interesting of which is presented below. This boxplot shows the distribution of the ratio of the opening weekend gross to the total gross for the 1000 films in my sample. The box office data this graph is based on has been inflation adjusted to 2010 dollars. ‘Other’ includes genres that were too infrequent to be included separately, and is comprised of documentaries, musicals, war films, and westerns. (Actually this graph includes data from only 999 films, as one of the documentaries included in the category ‘other’ has no reported opening weekend gross). The summary statistics are given in Table 1 below.

Figure 1 Opening/total gross ratios by genre in the top 50 films at the US box office, 1991 to 2010 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

Table 1 Opening/total gross ratios by genre in the top 50 films at the US box office, 1991 to 2010 (Source: Box Office Mojo)

The overall median for 999 films is 0.2436; and so of the gross accumulated by these films, a quarter is taken in the opening weekends alone.

Three features stand out from this data:

  • Horror films have the highest median gross ratio of any genre, and tend to open big before falling away quite dramatically. Box office Mojo has chart views of the daily box office gross for films released in the US; and it is interesting to compare the charts for Saw IV (2007), which ran out of steam after less than a month on release, and Paranormal Activity (2009), which did not reach its peak gross until after a month. The gross ratio for the former film is 0.5017, and that of the latter is 0.0007. These films are the extremes of the data values for the genre.
  • The genres of action/adventure, family, and fantasy/science fiction tend not to have films with very low gross ratios – of the 410 films in these three genres, only 13 have very low gross ratios (and ten of these are family films). Action/adventure and fantasy/science fiction tend to have higher gross ratios, and so the opening weekend is more important for these genres. The distribution for family films is more consistent with comedy, crime/thriller, and romance films. These films tend to make a big initial splash, and rarely have the opportunity to build an audience over time.
  • Drama films have the lowest gross ratios; and of the 109 films in this category in the sample, 33 have an opening weekend of less than $1 million. This is the result of films in this genre being initially released to a small number of screens and allowing the film to build an audience on the basis of critical reviews and word of mouth. Drama films are therefore characterised by a particular release pattern that it is not evident in the other genres, and the opening weekend gross is unreliable as a predictor of the total gross.

The above graph is a very simple plot of a simple calculation performed on some easily obtained data, but we can immediately see how different genres find their way into the film market in the US. These patterns are even stronger when we look at box office data sorted by genre in more detail, as will become clear when I put up the full paper in a couple of weeks.

Determining box office success

I had not actually planned to write anything this week because someone said that the world was going to end on Saturday.

It didn’t.

And so this week I present a collection of papers on the factors that shape the box office performance of films. The majority of these papers are the final versions from university research depositories, but some may be pre-prints or drafts so check before you cite.

The best place to start is undoubtedly this paper from Jehoshua Eliashberg, Anita Elberse, and Mark A.A.M. Leenders from 2006, which provides a summary of research in this area and illustrates the type of research carried out in the fields of economics, retailing, and marketing that is entirely absent from film studies texts.

Eliashberg J, Elberse A, and Leenders MAAM 2006 The motion picture industry: critical issues in practice, current research, and new research directions, Marketing Sceince 25 (6): 638-661.

The motion picture industry has provided a fruitful research domain for scholars in marketing and other disciplines. The industry has high economic importance and is appealing to researchers because it offers both rich data that cover the entire product lifecycle for many new products and because it provides many unsolved “puzzles.” Although the amount of scholarly research in this area is rapidly growing, its impact on practice has not been as significant as in other industries (e.g., consumer packaged goods). In this article, we discuss critical practical issues for the motion picture industry, review existing knowledge on those issues, and outline promising research directions. Our review is organized around the three key stages in the value chain for theatrical motion pictures: production, distribution, and exhibition. Focusing on what we believe are critical managerial issues, we propose various conjectures—framed either as research challenges or specific research hypotheses—related to each stage in the value chain and often involved in understanding consumer moviegoing behavior.

The web page of Jehoshua Eliashberg at Wharton is here, and that of Anita Elberse at Harvard Business School is here. The webpage for Mark Leenders is here, and features the intriguing quote, “Hollywood movies and medicines are very similar from a marketing perspective.”

Basuroy S, Chetterjee S, and Ravid SA 2003 How critical are critical reviews? The box office effects of film critics, star power, and budgets, Journal of Marketing 67 (4): 103-117.

The authors investigate how critics affect the box office performance of films and how the effects may be moderated by stars and budgets. The authors examine the process through which critics affect box office revenue, that is, whether they influence the decision of the film going public (their role as influencers), merely predict the decision (their role as predictors), or do both. They find that both positive and negative reviews are correlated with weekly box office revenue over an eight-week period, suggesting that critics play a dual role: They can influence and predict box office revenue. However, the authors find the impact of negative reviews (but not positive reviews) to diminish over time, a pattern that is more consistent with critics’ role as influencers. The authors then compare the positive impact of good reviews with the negative impact of bad reviews to find that film reviews evidence a negativity bias; that is, negative reviews hurt performance more than positive reviews help performance, but only during the first week of a film’s run. Finally, the authors examine two key moderators of critical reviews, stars and budgets, and find that popular stars and big budgets enhance box office revenue for films that receive more negative critical reviews than positive critical reviews but do little for films that receive more positive reviews than negative reviews. Taken together, the findings not only replicate and extend prior research on critical reviews and box office performance but also offer insight into how film studios can strategically manage the review process to enhance box office revenue.

The web page of Suman Basuroy at The University of Oklahoma is here, and has links to his many papers on the marketing of motion pictures.

Craig S, Douglas S, and Greene W 2003 Culture matters: a hierarchical linear random parameters model for predicting success of US films in foreign markets, Manuscript, Department of Marketing, Stern School of Business, NYU.

Culture matters in ways that are salient for products with significant cultural content. In particular, the cultural context in which a product is launched plays an important role in its success. The present study examines the impact of cultural context on the box office performance of US films in foreign markets. A hierarchical linear random parameters model is used to assess the impact of national culture, degree of Americanization, US box office and film genre on performance in eight foreign markets. The model allowed for film-specific heterogeneity to be accounted for and for hypotheses to be tested at both the film level and the country level. Results indicate that films perform better in countries that are culturally closer to the US and those that have a higher degree of Americanization. The genre of the film and US box office success also had a significant impact on performance. Some implications are drawn for managers releasing films in foreign markets.

Dellarocas C, Farag NA, and Zhang X 2005 Using online ratings as a proxy of word-of-mouth in motion picture revenue forecasting, SSRN Working Paper.

The emergence of online product review forums has enabled firms to monitor consumer opinions about their products in real-time by mining publicly available information from the Internet. This paper studies the value of online product ratings in revenue forecasting of new experience goods. Our objective is to understand what metrics of online ratings are the most informative indicators of a product’s future sales and how the explanatory power of such metrics compares to that of other variables that have traditionally been used for similar purposes in the past. We focus our attention on online movie ratings and incorporate our findings into practical motion picture revenue forecasting models that use very early (opening weekend) box office and movie ratings data to generate remarkably accurate forecasts of a movie’s future revenue trajectory. Among the metrics of online ratings we considered, we found the valence of user ratings to be the most significant explanatory variable. The gender diversity of online raters was also significant, supporting the theory that word-of-mouth that is more widely dispersed among different social groups is more effective. Interestingly, our analysis found user ratings to be more influential in predicting future revenues than average professional critic reviews. Overall, our study has established that online ratings are a useful source of information about a movie’s long-term prospects, enabling exhibitors and distributors to obtain revenue forecasts of a given accuracy sooner than with older techniques.

Elberse A 2007 The power of stars: do star actors drive the success of movies?, Journal of Marketing 71 (4): 102-120.

Is the involvement of stars critical to the success of motion pictures? Film studios, which regularly pay multimillion-dollar fees to stars, seem to be driven by that belief. This article sheds light on the returns on this investment using an event study that considers the impact of more than 1200 casting announcements on trading behavior in a simulated and real stock market setting. The author finds evidence that the involvement of stars affects movies’ expected theatrical revenues and provides insight into the magnitude of this effect. For example, the estimates suggest that, on average, stars are worth approximately $3 million in theatrical revenues. In a cross-sectional analysis grounded in the literature on group dynamics, the author also examines the determinants of the magnitude of stars’ impact on expected revenues. Among other things, the author shows that the stronger a cast already is, the greater is the impact of a newly recruited star with a track record of box office successes or with a strong artistic reputation. Finally, in an extension to the study, the author does not find that the involvement of stars in movies increases the valuation of film companies that release the movies, thus providing insufficient grounds to conclude that stars add more value than they capture. The author discusses implications for managers in the motion picture industry.

Elliot C and Simmons R 2007 Determinants of UK Box Office Success: The Impact of Quality Signals, Lancaster University Management School Working Paper 2007/012.

This paper analyses the roles of various potential quality signals in the demand for cinema in the United Kingdom using a breakdown of advertising totals by media category. Estimation of a two stage least squares model with data for 546 films released in the United Kingdom shows that the impacts of types of advertising on box office revenues vary both in channels and magnitudes of impact. We also offer a more sophisticated treatment of critical reviews than hitherto by examining the spread (entropy) rather than just the mean rating.

Hennig-Thurau T, Houston MB, Sridhar S 2006 Can good marketing carry a bad product? Evidence from the motion picture industry, Marketing Letters 17 (3): 205-219.

We examine the relative roles of marketing actions and product quality in determining commercial success. Using the motion picture context, in which product quality is difficult for consumers to anticipate and information on product success is available for different points in time, we model the effects of studio actions and movie quality on a movie’s sales during different phases of its theatrical run. For a sample of 331 recent motion pictures, structural equation modeling demonstrates that studio actions primarily influence early box office results, whereas movie quality influences both short- and long-term theatrical outcomes. The core results are robust across moderating conditions. We identify two data segments with follow-up latent class regressions and explore the degree of studio actions needed to “save” movies of varying quality.We finally offer some implications for research and management.

Hennig-Thurau T, Walsh G, and Bode M 2004 Exporting media products: understanding the success and failure of hollywood movies in Germany, Advances in Consumer Research 31 (1): 633-638.

Rising production costs in the US motion picture industry make overseas markets essential for movie studios’ economic survival. However, movie marketers can rarely build on systematic research when attempting to customize movies or movie-related communications to different cultural settings. In this paper, we draw from cultural theory to develop a conceptual framework of US movies’ success in foreign markets. Propositions are then developed that offer insight into the differing impact of a number of factors on movie success in the US and Germany. Marketing implications will be discussed.

The webpage for Thorsten Hennig-Thurau at the Cass Business School is here.

Sharda R and Delen D 2006 Predicting box-office success of motion pictures with neural networks, Expert Systems with Applications 30 (2): 243-254. [NB: although there is no specific URL associated with it, there is a downloadable version of this paper which you will find if your search for the title in Google Scholar].

Predicting box-office receipts of a particular motion picture has intrigued many scholars and industry leaders as a difficult and challenging problem. In this study, the use of neural networks in predicting the financial performance of a movie at the box-office before its theatrical release is explored. In our model, the forecasting problem is converted into a classification problem-rather than forecasting the point estimate of box-office receipts, a movie based on its box-office receipts in one of nine categories is classified, ranging from a ‘flop’ to a ‘blockbuster.’ Because our model is designed to predict the expected revenue range of a movie before its theatrical release, it can be used as a powerful decision aid by studios, distributors, and exhibitors. Our prediction results is presented using two performance measures: average percent success rate of classifying a movie’s success exactly, or within one class of its actual performance. Comparison of our neural network to models proposed in the recent literature as well as other statistical techniques using a 10-fold cross validation methodology shows that the neural networks do a much better job of predicting in this setting.

Terry N, Butler M, and De’Armond D 2005 The determinants of domestic box office performance in the motion picture industry, Southwestern Economic Review 32: 137-148.

This paper examines the determinants of box office revenue in the motion picture industry. The sample consists of 505 films released during 2001-2003. Regression results indicate the primary determinants of box office earnings are critic reviews, award nominations, sequels, Motion Picture Association of America rating, budget, and release exposure. Specific results include the observation that a ten percent increase in critical approval garners an extra seven million dollars at the box office, an academy award nomination is worth six million dollars, the built in audience from sequels are worth eighteen million dollars, and R-rated movies are penalized twelve million dollars.

The Top 100 in Three Countries

In some earlier posts I looked at the clustering of films at the UK box office based on their opening and total grosses from 2007 to 2009: see here and here. This post updates the UK data to include the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2010, and also looks at the top 100 in France and Germany in the same year.

Data on the total and opening weekend (including previews) box office gross was collected from Box Office Mojo. Gross data on Box Office Mojo is given in US dollars, and – unless otherwise stated – to make direct comparisons between the different countries I have left this as it is and have not corrected the data to pounds and Euros. (To compare this UK data to that in earlier posts it is necessary to multiply the box office gross in US dollars by 0.65 to convert to pounds). To sort the data into groups, the opening weekend gross (including previews) and the total box office data were entered into PAST (v. 2.06) and then allocated by using k-means clustering into 5 groups. Data was missing for some films so the plots do not actually include the top 100 for each country: 3 films are missing for the UK data, four from Germany, and 2 from France.

It is clear from the data in Figures 1 through 3, that there is a strong correlation between the opening weekend gross of a film and its total box office revenue in all countries. The Spearman rank correlation for the UK is rs (95) = 0.8988, p = <0.0001. For Germany, rs (94) = 0.8537, p = < 0.0001; and for France rs (96) = 0.8991, p = <0.0001. In the UK the mean proportion of a film’s total gross accounted for by its opening weekend is 0.30 (95% CI: 0.28, 0.32). For Germany, the mean proportion is 0.27 (95% CI: 0.25, 0.29); and for France it is 0.34 (95% CI: 0.32, 0.37). This indicates that the opening weekend in France is a stronger predictor of overall box office gross in France than in Germany or the UK, though not by much.

The UK data is presented in Figure 1, and looks very like the plots of the box office grosses from earlier posts covering the period 2007 to 2009. We have two films (Toy Story 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One)) that easily outperformed everything else. The black cluster includes four films (Alice in Wonderland, Inception, Shrek Forever After, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) that are what we would expect to see in this part of the graph: they are the big budget Hollywood movies that dominate the UK box office. Note that four of the top six films are franchise movies. The red cluster is made up of 10 Hollywood films (e.g. Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Little Fockers) that probably disappointed a little; British audiences are possibly a little tired on non-English Robin Hood’s (comedians have even stopped making jokes about the fact that he is never English) and they don’t appear to be over-enthusiastic about the Iron Man films. The character of Iron Man doesn’t have the same resonance with non-comic book readers as a Spiderman, Superman, or Batman, and so the premium derived from the prior source material is not as evident. It will therefore be interesting to see what happens to Green Lantern when it opens here on 17 June 2011, as this also does not have any major resonance for UK audiences – the best the producers may be able to expect is a red cluster rather than a black cluster film. The green group is also composed entirely of Hollywood films, with no UK films (other than those produced with US studios) making it into the top 40. This suggests that 2010 was a bad year for British cinema (if we don’t include Hollywood blockbusters as British). In fact, the green group is largely made up of Hollywood stinkers: Knight & Day, The A-Team, Tron Legacy, and The Expendables. The blue group contains 58 films, none of which grossed over $9.3 million ($6 million), and is the usual mixture of British films that made it into the Top 100 (Made In Dagenham, Tamara Drewe) and Hollywood films that performed very poorly (The Book of Eli, The Blind Side, The Last Airbender). The Book of Eli performed poorly in all three countries: it was the 64th highest grossing film in the UK, but only achieved a rank of 80 in Germany and 84 in France.

Figure 1 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2010

The mean gross values for the different UK clusters in US dollars and pounds is presented in Table 1. Note also that dividing the opening weekend gross of a cluster by the cluster above it (e.g. purple/black) is approximately 0.5. This is also true for the total grosses, except when dividing the total gross for the blue cluster by the green cluster, which produces a ratio of 0.4.

Table 1 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2010

Turning to the data for Germany (Figure 2) and France (Figure 3), we see that the same clear pattern evident in the UK is not present. The clustering is fair less satisfactory (I have not altered the clustering produced by the software in the graphs used here). In part, this is because I am using the same approach of clustering into 5 groups that I used for the UK, and there is no reason to think that the clustering in on country should apply in another – in fact it’s fairly obvious from looking at Figures 1 and 3, that if we are going to use 5 clusters for the UK box office data we would be better off using four (or even three) for the top 100 films in France. Germany is probably OK with 5 clusters, but I think that the clustering results presented here could be improved by reclustering the data from the black and red groups to give a better breakdown. That said, it is nonetheless instructive to see how these two countries differ from the UK by using the method in all cases.

In Germany, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part One) clearly outperformed every other film by some distance, but the differences between the other clusters are not so clearly marked as they are in the UK.The black cluster looks like it could be broken into two groups, with the 7 highest grossing films forming a single group while the remainder look as though they belong with the red cluster. The 7 highest grossing films in the black group all grossed ore than $24 million, while the remainder grossed between $18 and $13 million. These 7 films include franchise movies like Shrek Forever After and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, along with blockbusters like Alice in Wonderland and Inception – but NOT Toy Story 3. The other 14 black films include big Hollywood films like Clash of the Titans, Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood; but also, and unlike in the UK and France where their performance was poor, Resident Evil: Afterlife and The Last Airbender. Included in the black group is Konferenz der Tiere, which at 20, is the highest ranked German film – its animated film released in English as Animals United. The red cluster is made up of the same type of films as the lower 14 black films – the type of Hollywood films that dominate the box office charts of Europe (Iron Man 2, Knight & Day, The Expendables). German film titles start to make more frequent appearances once we get to the green group (e.g Vincent will Meer, Zeiten ändern Dich, Groupies bleiben nicht zum Frühstück), and there are also some big Hollywood films that have badly underperformed (The A-Team).

In France, the data shows less variation in both the total and opening weekend grosses than the other countries. The purple cluster contains a more films (8) than in any of the other countries or years looked at in this or the other posts. Six of these films are the same top 6 we saw in the UK, along with Les petits mouchoirs and L’arnacoeur. The red group looks at little lost, and could perhaps be included with the black cluster. Included in this group are films such as Iron Man 2, Knight & Day, Clash of the Titans, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and other Hollywood films that appear to have opened reasonably well, but which have perhaps underperformed in terms of their overall box office gross – hence the separation from the black cluster. The difference between the green and blue clusters in France is not clear-cut, and could realistically be placed within a single group. These groups contain a mixture of yet again failing Hollywood films (The A-Team, Knight & Day) and French films that become increasingly more frequent once we get to these last two groups.


Figure 2 Top 100 films at the German box office in 2010

Figure 3 Top 100 films at the French box office in 2010

It is interesting to compare different European countries in this way because you can see where the variations in audience taste lie: Germans were apparently eager to watch the latest Resident Evil film, whereas the French and the British were not. There were less inclined to go and see Toy Story 3, unlike the French who enjoyed the film in large numbers and the British who made this film the highest grossing film of the year by some way.

You can also find the similarities: for example, everybody hated Letters to Juliet – it ranked 94th in Germany, 100th in the UK, and still hasn’t been released in France.

Local and global in the film industry

This week some papers on the relationship between different national film industries and between different scales of the film industry within the same country. These papers emphasise cinemas that we get to hear about only infrequently in the UK (and very likely elsewhere).

As ever, the version of the paper linked to may not necessarily be the final version.

Barnard H and Tuomi K 2008 How Demand Sophistication (De-)limits Economic Upgrading: Comparing the Film Industries of South Africa and Nigeria (Nollywood), Industry and Innovation 15 (6): 647-668.

More sophisticated demand is typically seen as an enabler of economic upgrading. This study questions this linearity and extends demand theory through a case analysis of the film industry in two developing countries. When unsophisticated local demand results in well-matched supply- and demand-side elements, benefits do accrue. Low exposure to technically superior products in Nigeria allowed a fully fledged film value chain to develop, as consumers were willing to support lower quality output. Although the industry is too weak to seriously threaten incumbents from the developed world on the global stage, it has substantial impact in its home country. In contrast, if demand is far more sophisticated than supply, local industry will struggle to respond to broad-based demand signals and will achieve accelerated learning only in niche areas. South Africa has become a niche producer in the global film industry rather than film producer in its own right partly because the widespread demand for Hollywood-quality products could not be met by local supply capabilities.

Durmaz, B, Yigitcanlar T and V K 2008 Creative cities and the film industry: Antalya’s transition to a Eurasian film centre, The Open Urban Studies Journal 1: 1-10.

In the knowledge era, cites are competing to attract and retain creative industries and workers for securing their economic, social and urban growth as well as ensuring their creative city formation. During the last decade rapidly growing popularity of creative cities has encouraged many cities seeking creativity to specialise in specific sectors of the creative industries. In this context, the paper explores creativity strategies and the role of film industry in creative city formulation. Antalya, Turkey is investigated as an emerging film industry-oriented creative city due to recent industry developments, its natural and constructed assets and amenities along with its openness to creativity. This paper also examines some of the creative city examples, scrutinises potentials and constraints of Antalya and Turkish film industry, and provides discussion and recommendation for Antalya’s transition to a Eurasian film centre.

Edwards JR 2008 Building a Self-Sustaining, Indigenous Film Industry in Kenya, World Story Organization.

In August of 2008, the World Story Organization (WSO) met with the Kenya Film Commission to discuss the current state of the Kenyan film industry, specifically regarding local productions indigenous to Kenya (as opposed to external production companies that use Kenya

as a backdrop and setting). WSO, founded in April of 2008 as a non-profit organization, seeks to provide filmmaking and storytelling education for developing film industries around the world.

As part of its partnership with the Kenya Film Commission, WSO plans to deliver screenwriting and production workshops in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. The hope is that these pilot courses will lay the foundation for a School of Excellence in Film Production in Kenya. This school would offer a one-year program in film production for Kenyans, by Kenyans. Currently no such film school program exists in all of East Africa.

The challenges that face building a self-sustaining, indigenous film industry in Kenya are varied and numerous. The purpose of this study is to address these challenges and define the role that the World Story Organization hopes to fill in accomplishing this goal.

Garcia, Jr. L and Masigan C 2001 An In-depth Study of the Film in the Phillipines.

The paper aims to define the industry and its structure, examine the laws that hinder or facilitate its growth as well as the existing associations and what they have done; look into the market potential of the film industry and its foreign market demand; examine supply capability; identify opportunities and threats confronting the industry; prepare an action plan to enhance competitiveness; and recommend a performance monitoring scheme.

Harabi N 2009 Creative industries: case studies from Arab countries, Learning Event on Developing Knowledge Economy Strategies to Improve Competitiveness in the MENA Region by the World Bank Institute, 17-21 May 2009, Alexandria Egypt.

The paper describes and explains empirically the economic performance of four key creative industries (the book publishing, music sound recording, film production and software industries) in five Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon). Using the Porter (Diamond) model as its theoretical background, a survey was conducted in the years 2002-03 among 242 experts, covering firm representatives, industry and government experts. The results were incorporated into five national case studies. This paper synthesizes the results of those national reports, giving a comparative account of the performance of the four creative industries in these Arab countries. The overall results of the study suggest that creative industries in Arab countries are substantially underdeveloped, and there remains a great potential that should systematically be mobilized. A discussion of how this can be achieved is offered, based upon a well-designed and implemented process of upgrading and innovation in companies, industries and clusters related to creative activities. Public policy can play in this process an important role, as shown in the example of promoting Shanghai creative industries, where the Municipal Government has played a key role.

Nogueira JC 2009 Film and Video Festivals in South America: A Contemporary Analysis of Flourishing Cultural Phenomena. Unpublished MA Thesis, Ohio University.

This research mapped 175 audiovisual festivals that took place in South America in 2008 and analyzed them regarding the types of events they are, the place and time of the year they take place, what kind of films/videos they exhibit and the number of years that they have been happening. The research also compared the data with the population of each country, their GDP and number of internet users. The research also performed case studies of successful events and events that have been discontinued and compared their analysis in order to identify reasons and elements that can turn an audiovisual festival into a success or a failure.

Rosnan H and Ismail MN 2010 The impact of cultural industries on national economies, Business Management Quarterly Review 1 (2): 33-42.

The main objective of this paper is to examine the impact of cultural industries in general and film industry in particular on national economy. Globally, cultural industries have contributed to economic development of many developed and developing countries. For example, in the United States, film industry (which fall under the category of cultural industries) contribution is greater than its aerospace industry. In the case of third world countries, film industry has been neglected in the academic literature despite its huge potential contribution to the economy. Based on the reviews of earlier studies, it was found that little attention has been given by scholars to study the impact of cultural industries and national economic development. Most studies on economic development focused on other industries deemed significant, especially manufacturing industry. Hence, this paper highlights the importance of cultural industries and its potential contribution to national economy. It also highlights some important points that need to be considered by national government in their effort to benefit from the development of their national film industry.

Wong C, Kim J-B, and Matthews JH 2010 Managing creativity and its paradoxes in the film industry, INBAM Conference: Creativity and Innovation in an International Context, 1-4 June 2010, Valencia, Spain.

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the various types of paradoxes underlying the nature of creativity, which in turn affect the foundations of organizations and organization change in the 21st century. The film industry best illustrate the interaction of such paradoxes, creativity and organizational change. This paper examines how small and medium-sized firms in the emerging Singapore film industry stay competitive by managing or not managing these paradoxes.

Design/methodology/approach: The study reported in this paper explores the opinions, attitudes and experiences of key decision-makers in the Singaporean film industry.

Findings: This paper introduces the idea that an analysis of the various paradoxes driven by creativity in today’s society provides hints on a deeper understanding of organizational change and development in the 21″ century.

Practical implications: The findings indicate that managers need practical tools that will enable them to comprehend and better manage these emerging contradictions and fully understand the implications of paradoxical situations and organizational change.

Research limitations: The distinctive nature of the Singaporean firms means that certain factors examined may be more or less significant in the film industry in other countries.

Originality/value: The value of this paper lies in the knowledge that paradox considerations are becoming significant in understanding pluralism and the processes of organizational change.

The UK Top 100, 2007 to 2009

A few months ago I looked at the clustering of UK films at the UK box office (here). This week I look at the top 100 films at the UK box office from 2007 to 2009, inclusively.

Data was taken from the UK Film Council and Box Office Mojo. The ranking of a film in the top 100 according to Box Office Mojo is determined by its total box office gross. The total box office data given by Box Office Mojo is in dollars, and this was converted into pounds by multiplying by 0.51 for 2007 and 2008 and 0.61 for 2009. These figures are, therefore, estimates and this should be kept in mind when interpreting the results. To sort the data into groups, the opening weekend gross (including previews) and the total box office data were entered into PAST (v. 2.04) and then allocated by using k-means clustering into 5 groups. I would have gone further into the data to compare films ranked lower than 100, but the UK Film Council box office archive does not have data for many of these films.

It is clear from the graphs of each year (Figures 1 to 3) that there is strong correlation between a film’s opening weekend gross and its total gross. The Spearman rank correlation between these two variables for 2007 is rs (98) = 0.8995, p = <0.001, and the mean proportion of a film’s total gross accounted for by the opening weekend is 0.2644 (95% CI: 0.2473, 0.2815). For 2008, rs (98) = 0.8642, p = <0.0001, and the mean proportion is 0.3019 (95% CI: 0.2826, 0.3212); and for 2009, rs (98) = 0.8993, p = <0.0001, and the mean proportion is 0.2808 (95% CI: 0.2633, 0.2983). Overall, there is little variation from year to year across the top 100 as a whole.

In each graph we see the same types of films in the different clusters. The purple cluster includes the top performing films in each year, and these are typically franchise movies (James Bond, Harry Potter, Spider-man, Shrek, The Simpsons, Batman, Indiana Jones, etc). Although the number 1 grossing film released in 2008 is Mamma Mia! The lack cluster are films that did not achieve such stellar results, but wich are nonetheless big budget studio fare. This cluster includes films from the Transformers, Twilight, and Iron Man franchises (which is probably a little disappointing for the producers), along with several family films (Wall-E, Monsters v. Aliens, Kung Fu Panda). The red cluster includes some films that perhaps achieved more than was expected (Atonement, St. Trinian’s, Juno, Paranormal Activity) as well some films that achieved much less than could be expected (Ocean’s Thirteen, Rocky Balboa, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). A small budget film in this group is performing strongly, but a big special effects movie in this group is soon going to be the end of your franchise. If your big budget effects movie ends up in the green group then the end will come very quickly, so don’t expect to see anymore Ghost Rider (2007) or GI Joe (2009) movies  in the future.The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Watchmen, and Fame (all from 2009) ended up in this group, and you would have to say that overall this represents poor performance on the part of these films. The green cluster includes many films that performed perfectly respectably (The Last King of Scotland, Notes on A Scandal), but which did make the same cross over achieved by Atonement or Juno. The blue cluster includes films that opened poorly before things went down hill. It is gratifying that this includes Rambo. It also includes Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium which British audiences evidently did not want to watch, along with several poor quality horror films (Halloween, Hostel Part II, The Hills Have Eyes 2), as well as the unending cycle of awful spoof movies (Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, Superhero Movie) that must do enough business in the US to justify the cost. Many of the other blue films are movies slightly outside the mainstream that have made it into the top 100 (This is England, Eastern Promises). Notable failures in the blue cluster include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hannibal Rising from 2007, How to Lose Friends and Influence People and The X-Files: I Want to Believe and from 2008, and Revolutionary Road and The Men Who Stare at Goats from 2009.

We also see similar numbers of films appearing in each cluster in each year. The top 3 clusters (purple, black, and red) account for 31 films in 2007, 30 films in 2008, and 29 films in 2009. The black cluster in 2009 is larger than in the other years but this may be due to the fact that the data for this year includes Avatar, which simply trounced everything forcing other films that would have made the purple group in other years down one step.The green cluster includes 24 films in 2007, 29 films in 2008, and 31 films in 2009; while the blue cluster has 45 films in 2007, 41 films in 2008, and 40 films in 2009.

The number of films in each cluster, and the mean total and weekend gross are presented in Tables 1 to 3.

Table 1 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2007

Table 2 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2008

Table 3 Cluster size, and mean total and opening weekend grosses for the top 100 films at the UK box office in 2009

The outlier in the red cluster to the left of Figure 1 is PS I Love You, which was released on just 80 screens at Christmas 2007 for the first two weeks, producing a very low opening weekend, but was then released wide on 365 screens in the first week of January 2008 and immediately grossed a respectable £1.79 million for that weekend. This film probably underperformed at the box office, and if it had been released wide for its opening weekend could be expected (on the basis if its subsequent weekends) to have made closer to (if not actually into) the black cluster. I can’t imagine what advantage was gained from releasing a romatic film at Christmas on just 80 screens, especially when it is well-known that the opening of film is the most crucial period in its box office life.

Figure 1 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2007

Although the top 3 groups (red, black, and purple) in 2008 include roughly the same number of films as the other years, it is immediately apparent from Figure 2 that films in the red group performed less well in this year. Unlike 2007 and 2009, the majority of films in this cluster achieved a total gross of less than £10 million, and from Tables 1 to 3 we can see that the mean total gross is lower for this year than in the others (ANOVA: F (2, 48) = 17.14, p = <0.0001; Tukey HSD: 2007/2008 – p = 0.0004, 2008/2009 – p = 0.0001, 2007/2009 – p =0.4363). The total box office gross for the top 100 films in 2008 was £780.7 million, the lowest of any year covered here (2007 = £868.2 million, 2009 = £1002.7 million).  The outliers in the green cluster are In Bruges, which seems to have been released twice – once in March on 75 screens and then again in April on 270 screens; and There Will Be Blood, which opened on just 24 screens but grew this to 199 screens in week 5 of its release. These are exceptions to the rule that opening weekends are destiny. In the case of In Bruges, we see a small budget film getting a second, bigger lease of life after an initial run as distributors and exhibitors respond to audiences and reviews. The release of There Will Be Blood can be explained by looking at America. In the US this film was released on just 2 screens in December 2007 before going to 1620 screens after 7 weeks by February 2008 – when it was nominated for eight (and later won two) Academy Awards – so this is perhaps the definition of an awards film. Without the Oscars, the release of this film would have been that much more limited.

Figure 2 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2008

In 2009, there were two films that grossed considerably more than other films: Avatar and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (although most of the gross for Avatar was accumulated in 2010). Avatar was released at Christmas and so its opening weekend accounts for only 9% of its total gross, whereas 38% of the gross for Harry Potter was accumulated on it opening weekend. The 2nd tier of films (the black group) exhibits much more variation for the opening weekend grosses in this year than for 2007 and 2008. There is much less separation between the red and black clusters in Figure 3, and this again may be due to the distorting effect of Avatar. Again we see some films that have very low opening weekends relative to their total gross: Gran Torino in the green cluster and Vicky Christina Barcelona in the blue cluster. AS before this can be attributed to distributors dipping their toe into the market with limited releases, before expanding the number of screens the following week. Whether or not this actually provided an advantage for these films is unknown, but a bigger opening weekend for Gran Torino would have pushed it towards the red cluster. Unlike PS I Love You, they are much harder to market to a specific audience and so perhaps the is some nervousness on the part of distributors to commit so many screens without such a defined audience. Who watches Woody Allen movies nowadays?

Figure 3 Top 100 films at the UK box office in 2009

Overall, there is remarkable stability in the top 100 films at the UK box office, which is exactly what studios pay to see. By applying clustering to box office data in this manner we can identify some of the structure in this data, and to identify those films which performed above or below expectation, and to compare the performance of similar films from year to year.