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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Is a delayed release a sign that a movie will be bad?

X-Men: Dark Phoenix opened in cinemas a few weeks ago – a release date which is significantly later than first intended.

The film’s director, Simon Kinberg, blamed the delayed release on a few factors, including the complexity of the film’s visual effects.  Said Kinberg:

When we felt like we weren’t going to be able to complete the movie to the level we wanted to complete it from a visual effects standpoint, we considered moving it from November [2018] to February [2019]. Then, because of the way the international calendar was for us and how fast we could get materials to other territories, we felt like February became not just challenging, but not necessarily the best window internationally for the film.

Dark Phoenix started shooting …

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How does VidAngel filter objectionable content from movies?

Today I am sharing research I have conducted on VidAngel – a service which offers censored versions of Hollywood movies.

You may have heard about VidAngel last month as they hit the headlines due to a ruling in a court case against major Hollywood studios, including Disney.

The news spurred me on to take a close look at what they do, how they do it and what exactly they are filtering out of Disney movies.  I built up a dataset of all filters they have for feature films on their site – over half a million objectionable items across 2,974 feature films.

VidAngel in a nutshell

VidAngel is a Utah-based company which seeks to help audiences filter out objectionable material from mainstream movies. They have …

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How are movie advertising budgets spent?

The marketing of movies is a fascinating topic. There is an inherent contradiction, because it is both very visible and highly opaque at the same time.

We see movie marketing every day on almost all possible platforms and yet filmmakers struggle to learn about the economics of how it works.

To help with this, I am going to take a look at how money is spent to market movies in the UK. This article is based on professional industry estimates of marketing spend for 1,288 movies released over the past decade (more info in the Notes section at the end).

How are movies promoted?

According to Nielsen Media Research, £229.5 million was spent advertising movies to the British public in 2017.

The spend is broken …

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Was HMV’s bankruptcy down to industry changes or high prices?

In the final few days of 2018, UK retailer HMV went bankrupt for the second time in just under six years. This news led a few readers to get in touch with questions about the numbers behind HMV’s decline.

The general tenor of the questions could be summed up as “Was HMV’s failure down to the industry’s move to digital delivery or to being more expensive than their rivals?”

It’s a fascinating topic and one which gets to the very heart of the changing face of the Home Entertainment sector, both in the UK and worldwide.  We’re not going to be able to ascribe an exact percentage of HMV’s woes to each of the factors, but we can look at what the numbers …

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How big is the UK ‘event cinema’ market?

A frequently discussed shift in the film business over the past decade has been in the home entertainment sector, thanks to piracy and VOD.

However, there has been another big shift which is sometimes overlooked.  This one takes place in the exhibition sector, where we’ve seen a new type of movie-going experience emerge: event cinema.

Event cinema performances are a hybrid of traditional cinema (projected moving images on a cinema screen) and other elements (such as theatrics, live interaction or watching live events beamed from another part of the world).

It’s been a few years since I last covered this emerging sector, so I thought I’d return to see what’s changed.

Event cinema’s rise

It’s easy to see the appeal of event cinema, both to …

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What percentage of movies are available to stream, rent or buy online?

Screenwriter and writing community hero John August posed a question on Twitter a couple of days ago.  He was surprised to find that some major movies are not available to stream or buy in the US, despite their clear value and audience interest.

He asked people to add any other movies they find which fit his criteria (i.e. top 100 mainstream, English-language movies) and which are not currently available to stream, rent or buy digitally in the US.

This sounded like a fun challenge, so I took it on.  I expanded the criteria slightly to look at the 200 top grossing movies of the past two decades, 4,000 movies in total.

I’m also going to subdivide the ‘top films’ of each year into three cohorts:

  • Highest Grossing, measured via the US box …
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Gender diversity among film professionals working in sales and distribution

Between filmmakers and film audiences lie a complex network of middlemen, distributors and sub-distributors.  They play a vital role in the film value chain, ensuring that films are available all over the world in all manner of formats to all types of audiences.

This side of the industry is less visible than most other aspects, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, they don’t interact directly with the public the way cinemas do.  Secondly, their work is not visually interesting.  Film fans enjoy behind-the-scenes footage from movie shoots but I doubt behind the scenes of a negotiating re-licensing deal would have the same appeal.  Finally, it’s a fairly small sector with a relatively low number of people working in it (certainly compared to …

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How long does the average Hollywood movie take to make?

Today’s topic is one I’ve had on my ‘to do’ list for a while and it took the help of four students to gather all the data.  We looked at the key dates behind Hollywood studio movies in order to work out roughly how long the average Hollywood movie takes to make.

We built a database of 782 live-action studio-produced feature films, all of which were released domestically between 2006 and 2016, inclusive.  We then scoured trades and traditional press outlets to find the earliest date for the following key milestones:

  • Announcement – The date when it’s publicly announced that the film will be made.  Often this is when the industry announces that the script has been optioned, but could also be when the mainstream press …
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