Reading rejoins ICAA, expands on indies’ issue
Regular patrons of Reading Cinemas, who might have been looking forward to seeing Philomena when Stephen Frears’ critically acclaimed drama opens nationwide on Boxing Day, are out of luck.
The film starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman who searches for her son who was taken away by nuns to the US for adoption when he was a baby won’t screen at Reading.
Wayne Smith, Reading MD for Australia and New Zealand, says ‘’arty’’ films, such as eOne Hopscotch’s Philomena, would get a market share of 3%-4% on his circuit, versus action-adventures such as The Hobbit franchise which typically command 12%.
Smith says Philomena is not related to the commercial renegotiations which the exhibitor is having with independent distributors. As IF has reported, the smaller independents are objecting to being asked to pay the exhibitor a minimum guarantee of $2,000 per film per week, while the larger indies are resisting Reading’s push for terms tied to the box-office performance of each film, which they say would be more favourable to Reading than those paid to the major exhibitors.
Smith insists, “We have no difficulties with any of them. It is a friendly renegotiation on terms.” As Smith points out, many Reading locations comprise 4-6 screens so there is no room for niche titles. In its larger cinemas, Reading will play three prints of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and two of Disney’s Frozen during the holidays.
Smith confirms some independents are being asked to pay the Virtual Print Fee (which subsidises the exhibitor’s costs for upgrading to digital) in advance; normal practice is to pay the VPF at the end of a film’s run. He says that measure is aimed primarily at small and newer distributors who don’t have a commercial relationship with Reading.
After spending $10 million to covert its 200 screens in Australia and New Zealand to digital, on January 1 Reading is rejoining the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia (ICAA), which represents the vast majority of indie cinemas. The US-owned exhibitor quit that body in 2004.
Explaining why Reading is back in the ICAA fold, Smith says, “Now that the industry has moved to digital, it will do us well to be part of that organisation. They take a very pro-active approach on issues such as piracy, and CEO Adrianne Pecotic has given it an injection of vitality.
“As a small company we don’t have the resources of the larger companies to devote to industry issues.”