Shaken by the pandemic and desperately short of crowd-pulling Hollywood tariffs, the movie industry has nonetheless rejected a few unlikely winners in recent weeks: low-budget independent films.
Film distributor David Shear, who released the young adult romance After our collision United Kingdom, said that in normal times he would be “thrilled” if the film made £ 300,000 from a short movie set stuck between blockbusters.
Five weeks after its release in a market ravaged by Covid-19, the film is Christopher Nolan’s second. Principle in the box office charts. Revenue to date: £ 3.6million in the UK, more than 10 times what Mr Shear hoped for, and still rising.
“It’s like my wedding night once again,” Mr. Shear said, speaking from home with his partner safely out of earshot. “It’s just amazing.”
The Voltage Films film was not an obvious winner. After our collision is the continuation of After, a film never released in UK theaters. The producers had no idea how many people had watched it on Netflix. The marketing budget for traditional ads was close to zero.
To top it off, its initial 40-screen release was the worst year in British film history. Research group Omdia estimates movie theater attendance at 44 million this year, its lowest level since recordings began in 1928.
Yet this traumatized and upset film market has opened a narrow path to success. Big Hollywood franchises, which typically dominate UK screens, have been pulled, giving independent films a chance to shine and time to build an audience through word of mouth.
The animated story of children 100% wolf, for example, might have struggled to win a film release before the pandemic. So far, independent film from director Alexs Stadermann has grossed £ 1.4million in the UK alone.
Mr. Shear says great Hollywood movie like Disney’s Black Widow would generally come “playing on 12 screens in a multiplex, starting every half hour – relentless”. “Now there is an opportunity for a wide range of films to play,” he said.
With potentially higher rewards come devastating risks. Leprechaun, a shoot gone awry in the wilds of Ireland, is slated for release on October 23, with little Hollywood to distract audiences from the chance to see Alec Baldwin as a gangster priest.
But as they near the launch of an expensive advertising campaign, producer James Clayton and director Barnaby Thompson saw their 500-screen release plan cut by more than 220. Cineworld shut down last week, blaming the shortage of great films and the lockdown restrictions have closed screens across the island of Ireland.
“Unlike James Bond, we’re a small independent British film and we don’t have the luxury of being able to bide our time and wait for the markets to open up,” Clayton said, referring to MGM’s decision to delay the release of No time to die until 2021.
Cinemas are still open in England, Scotland and Wales, but the risk of foreclosure is still present. “We have about as much certainty in two weeks as we will be able to find,” he said. “The alternative is that we change and that’s another kick in the teeth for exhibitors.”
Mr. Thompson, whose past credits include Wayne’s world and St Trinian’s, argues that filmmakers and studios have a duty to help cinema owners. “There is something more important here is to keep cinemas alive,” he said.
David Hancock, who heads cinematic research at Omdia, notes the limits of what independent films can achieve. “Movies generate admissions and great movies generate great admissions,” he said. “These films are missing.”
A strong local content pipeline has helped countries like France limit the damage to box office revenues. In contrast, Mr Hancock said “the UK is not doing well”, with revenues falling 89% in the third quarter, compared to 62% in France.
Mr. Thompson believes Leprechaun could still have a better financial return than it could have done in a crowded market. Movies can last longer, so “like the good old days” they can be lifted by word of mouth. “In today’s environment, that’s what we’re betting on.”
Most films capable of taking advantage of these conditions were in production before the lockdown. The financing of new projects, delicate even before the pandemic, is a difficult task. Costs have risen sharply due to Covid, the box office is impossible to predict, and the 2021 release schedule appears to be filled with top Hollywood films.
David Quli, an entertainment lawyer at Wiggin in London, said deals were still being negotiated, even in the face of this uncertainty. Partly, this is because an effective marketing campaign and wide screening in theaters can build a movie profile and increase its value after the big screen.
“If a producer can fund a film and manage the risk to completion, they are well positioned because there is so much demand for content from global broadcasters, regional broadcasters, distributors and technology companies.” , did he declare.
For his part, Mr. Shear is delighted After our collision – based on a hugely popular fan fiction about boy band One Direction – harnessed pent-up demand among an audience of teenagers and young adults.
“He’s done fantastic business,” he says. “Most gatekeepers in the industry just didn’t know [the book series]. There is no awareness because most of them look like me: they are middle aged white men.
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