Film Data Blog

Each week I look at a different topic around the film industry, focusing on the data and statistics which reveal what's going on.

What percentage of independent films are profitable?

The profitability of independent films is a complicated topic for a whole variety of reasons.

The indie film sector is:

  • Decentralised. It relies on a constantly shifting chain of third parties across the world, with no requirement to report to a centralised body, no third party verification and lacks even agreed reporting standards.
  • Opaque. Some revenue streams withhold all data (such as VOD subscription platforms like Netflix and Amazon) while even the most transparent streams come with levels of uncertainty (i.e. theatrical gross is clear but the costs it took to earn that gross is not).  But it’s not just the sources of income; distributors, sales agents and producers keep their figures extremely close to their chest, often not even sharing full data with those …
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Do you need a famous actor to get your film into cinemas?

A common belief among sales and distribution professionals is that “names sell”.  As in, films starring famous actors (“names”) are more marketable than films without any famous names. But how true is this?

Bruce Nash and I teamed up to find out in the latest of our research projects for the American Film Market.

Studying all US-produced movies shot in 2017 we looked to see if having a well-known actor in a leading role helped get a film into cinemas. We focused on films made in 2017 to ensure that they have had time to either find a theatrical release or not. For example, a few of the films shot in 2017 have only recently been released, up to two and a …

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What kinds of movies did Distribber attract?

As many of you may have heard last week, film aggregator Distribber looks close to collapse. Their office has been closed, staff laid off, senior figures have departed and filmmakers owed money can’t even get a reply to their questions.

I’ve had a number of questions from readers and industry commentators concerning the data behind Distribber. I have no special access to Distribber data and don’t think it’s my place to offer any kind of opinion on the process. But there is one thing I can do to aid the debate – look at the kinds of films handled by Distribber.

First, let’s backtrack and briefly look at who Distribber were/are and the function aggregators serve for independent filmmakers.

What is an aggregator?

In …

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Are movies getting longer?

It: Chapter Two is an unusual horror film because it’s almost three hours long.  This means it is longer than 99.78% of all horror films made over the past twenty years.

Earlier in the year Avengers: Endgame was one minute over the three-hour barrier and Martine Scorsese’s up-coming epic The Irishman is expected to be three and a half hours long (longer even than the Godfather: Part Two).

Is this reflecting a wider trend or are these films just a few headline-grabbing examples?

I thought I would investigate.

We’ll start will all movies made around the world over the past twenty years, and then zero in on the trends under the surface.

The average running time of all movies produced worldwide

Average running times fell during …

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How many independent films reach cinemas?

For many independent filmmakers, whether or not their film reaches the big screen means everything.  No matter the money to be made via television deals or the massive audiences possible with VOD, a theatrical release is where it’s at.

In a new piece of research for the American Film Market, Bruce Nash and I set out to discover how many films actually make it to cinemas.

We built a dataset of all United States-produced narrative (non-documentary) feature films which were shot in 2017 and looked at their distribution outcome.

What is a theatrical release?

Before we get into the details, we need to be a little bit careful about our definition of a “theatrical release”. For example, it isn’t really fair to compare a …

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How valuable is experience when producing movies?

In much of human life, we equate the length of time someone has been performing a task with their level of skill.  Businesses proudly state how long ago they were founded, a lawyer with “30 years’ experience” can charge more than one fresh out of college and ‘time served’ often denotes seniority.

But is this true of the film industry?

Put more directly, does the number of films a producer has made indicate how likely their next project is to succeed?

To answer this, I teamed up with Bruce Nash from The Numbers.  We focused on 2,911 narrative (i.e. non-documentary) feature films released (either theatrically, direct-to-video or VOD) between 1999 and 2018.  For each film, we have detailed estimates of their financial performance, …

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Are we experiencing a renaissance of music-based movies?

Over the past few weeks and months, we have seen an increase in press articles covering music–based feature films.

Only last week, The Guardian stated, “We are in an uncommonly busy period, if not a flat-out golden age“, the BBC declared that “2019 has been the year of the music film” and The Independent claimed that “we may be in for a new musical renaissance“.  (The Indie gets points for at least being cautious in their language when declaring the new dawn of dance).

This has led to a few readers contacting me to ask if this is true.

Are we in a boom of music-based movies, or are over-enthusiastic journalists turning a couple of movies into a trend?

Let’s zoom out and look …

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Do directors direct both fiction and documentaries?

I am working on a long-term research project looking at gender among documentarians. Previously, I’ve studied the gender split among directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, composers and sales professionals – but always focusing on fictional feature films.

As I branch out to study factual films, I wanted to do a couple of micro-research projects to learn just how similar the worlds of factual and fictional filmmaking are.

First up: do documentary directors also direct fictional films?  And vice versa?

I started by building a database of all feature films made around the world in the past two decades (1999-2018 inclusive), both factual and fiction.  See the Note section at the end of this piece for more details.

How many people have directed a feature film?

Over …

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Is it better to have one producer or a team of producers?

I have produced films alone and I have produced in partnership with other producers.  Personally, I prefer the latter.

Producing a movie is a big undertaking and so it’s good to have people to share the load and journey with.  Plus the film gets to benefit from multiple people’s strengths, passion and contacts.

Recently, I was chatting to a producer who has the opposite view. They prefer to have the sole producing responsibilities rest on their shoulders as it allows them to keep the film on track: one vision with one leader.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at what the data reveals.  We can’t objectively test ‘which is best’, but we can look at one facet of the question …

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Is hiring a first-time director a risk?

Of all the creative jobs involved in the making of a feature film, the role of director is perhaps the most important.

It’s also the one which most clearly identifies a film. We talk about Spielberg films and Tarantino films more than we do Streep or Hanks films, even though all of these creatives are at the top of their field.

Some reasons for selecting one director over another are artistic (their skill, their ‘voice’, their connection to the script, etc) while others are pragmatic. When it comes to picking the perfect person to helm a film, producers and financiers want to do all they can to ensure the film will be a financial success.

There is a perception in some quarters that …

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