The clamour from Australian producers and some distributors for a new model for releasing Australian films is getting louder.
They contend the four-month window between theatrical launch and DVD/Video-on-Demand release makes no sense for most Australian films. Shortening the gap would not harm the box-office potential of those films, they say.
The major cinema chains are implacably opposed to a reduction in the window for films of any origin but there are signs that some independent exhibitors may be amenable to screening indie films which have a shorter holdback if they can negotiate different terms.
“The traditional model for financing and releasing films no longer works as it once did,” Screen Production Association of Australia president Brian Rosen told IF.
“Most Australian films play in cinemas for four-to-six weeks. To have to wait for up to three months to release them on DVD and VoD is a waste of energy and money. By the time they get to home entertainment, the publicity from their theatrical launch has dissipated. We’re not getting the full bang from the (marketing) buck.
“Release windows have changed in the US and they need to change here. We are not trying to take money away from cinemas, but there should be an ongoing discussion.”
Rosen suggests a one-month gap would be suitable for some smaller Australian films. Longer-term, he would like to see the industry move towards releasing some Australian films simultaneously in cinemas and on DVD and VoD platforms, mirroring a trend which is increasing in the US.
Independent Cinemas Association of Australia CEO Adrianne Pecotic said, “All the exhibitors I speak with on a regular basis are certain that a reduction in the theatrical window will reduce cinema attendance. Content is the principal driver of attendance and if the content is on offer elsewhere the theatrical share of box-office will reduce.
“To contemplate reducing windows at a time when the industry is investing over $100 million in the digital transition could be viewed as alarming to any independent cinema owner, especially as business in the first half of this year has been challenging. That does not mean that distributors and exhibitors should not talk about more flexible terms, more efficient and effective access to theatrical product and alternate business models. For example, if cinema is to become a marketing device to maximise distributor revenue from other platforms then distributors may need to consider very different terms under which exhibitors show their films; cinemas would not expect to bear the risk of a reduced income while distributors recover more from sales of the film elsewhere.”
Asked specifically about shorter windows for Australian films, she said, “Contemporaneous cinema and VoD releases in the US tend to be at vertically- integrated cinemas owned by distributors who presumably benefit from the other channels. Some indie cinemas would consider such a booking for an indie film if the terms were appropriate, perhaps more along the lines of being paid for the screening. It would be something to be negotiated between exhibitor and distributor on a case by case basis.”
Andrew Mackie, co-founder of Transmission Films, said, “I'm an advocate for the theatrical window for mainstream event cinema, but I do wish there was more flexibility when it comes to niche titles playing on perhaps less than six screens nationally. It brings commercial viability to 'fringe' titles and, I'd like to think, a more varied product mix to the market. Vertically integrated exhib/distribs (like Curzon in the UK) are well-placed to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The issue of distributing Australian films is part of a broader industry debate over release windows. Sony Pictures Releasing Executive Vice President Stephen Basil-Jones has advocated reducing the average gap to three months.
Producer Tom Broadhurst said Australia should be experimenting with simultaneous release, following the successful launch in the UK of Ben Wheatley’s thriller A Field in England in 17 cinemas and on DVD, Channel 4 and VoD platforms in July.
“Wheatley has been pushing the envelope for some time and good on him,” said Broadhurst. “If I worked for a funding body I'd choke on my donut and start rolling out a program that caters to this method. We are so behind the eight ball it's ridiculous. We're still giving out speeches about the changing climate of distribution. It's changed. The talent, the tech, the will is here…unleash the hounds!”
Michael Favelle of sales agent/distributor Odin’s Eye Entertainment says, “People will start experimenting more here as they have in the US in coming months and years. I'd love to see a change locally in release patterns and am all for flexibility in windows but despite giving a lot of thought to how things could change I don't have a solution to offer. Until then it's going to be a gradual process of chipping away. “