Cinemas in London (21 February 2011)

Blogpost, British cinema

Today, ahead of a class I am teaching on Contemporary Hollywood Cinema tomorrow, I have trawled through Google’s useful cinema service to look at all of the films that are currently screening in what Google considers to be the London cinemas. There are plenty of loopholes in my findings (where does London begin and end? 3D and IMAX versions of films count as separate to their 2D and ‘small screen’ versions, etc), but on the whole the results are indicative, I think, of British cinema-going today.

On 21 February 2011, 70 cinemas showed 739 screenings of 70 films. These 70 films were shown on 308 screens, but this is a total created by counting number of screens per film, not the number of films per screen (a repertory cinema might show four different films on one screen in one day; in my findings, these count as separate ‘screens’ – my desire being also to log individual cinemas that do the opposite to the repertory cinema and show – typically mainstream – films on more than one screen at a time).

Going by the companies involved in the production of these 70 films, 19 different countries were ‘represented’: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Palestine, Spain, Thailand, UAE, UK, and the USA.

Of these, 14 were the ‘lead’ producers of the 70 films (at this point, Australia, Egypt, New Zealand, Palestine, and UAE drop from the list, since they ‘only’ co-produced some of the films in question – although this is going by the IMDb, which lists Spain as the ‘lead’ producer for Paul (Greg Mottola, Spain/France/USA/UK, 2011), for example – i.e. this also could have its flaws).

53 of the 70 films had US backing, accounting for 76 per cent of the films. The United Kingdom was involved in the production of 14 of these films (20 per cent), the same number as were backed by companies from other European countries.

Thereafter, Asian companies were involved in 5 of the 70 films (7 per cent), Oceania (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) in 4 of the 70 films (14 per cent), Canada in 3 of the 70 films (4 per cent) and Mexico in 1 of the 70 films (1 per cent).

One telling statistic that seems to emerge from this approach: in terms of films with UK-only backing, only one film is currently playing in London, that being Brighton Rock (Rowan Joffe, UK, 2010). Brighton Rock accounted for 1 per cent of the films showing in London on 21 February 2011.

Meanwhile, 35 of the 70 films shown today (50 per cent) have American-only backing.

The UK fares better when we take into account films that have the UK as the ‘lead’ producer: 10 out of 70 films, which accounts for 14 per cent of films screening in London on 21 February 2011. But still nowhere near the USA.

Meanwhile, if you are interested, 16 per cent of films were repertory screenings (11 films made before 2010), 20 per cent were 3D screenings (14 films), 9 per cent were IMAX films (6 films, including films showing at the Science Museum IMAX screen), and 19 per cent were foreign-language films (13 films).

Of the 308 ‘screens,’ films involving American backing took up 75 per cent (231 screens showed American-backed films in London on 21 February 2011). UK-backed films took up 23 per cent of screens (72 out of 308), Oceania-backed films 14 per cent (43 out of 308) and European-backed films 11 per cent (34 out of 308).

(Obviously these percentages do not add up to 100 when combined; co-productions – and the transnational nature of contemporary cinema – makes it hard to make this an exact science.)

Brighton Rock, being the only UK-only backed film that played in London on 21 February 2011, played on 9 screens, accounting for 3 per cent of the 308 ‘screens’ in use. On these 9 screens, the film played a total of 15 times out of 739 screenings today, accounting for 2 per cent of the total screenings.

Repertory films may well account for 16 per cent of total number of films screened, but they occupied only 11 of the 308 screens used in London today, and only 13 of the 739 screenings taking place today; meaning that 16 per cent of the films showed 2 per cent of the time.

IMAX suffers a similar drop, in that the 6 IMAX films showing today accounted for 9 per cent of the films screened, but only 3 per cent of the screenings in London on 21 February 2011 (24 out of 739 screenings). 3D films, however, more or less held steady: 20 per cent of films screened today were 3D films, playing on 65 screens (21 per cent), and accounting for 159 of the 739 screenings (22 per cent).

Foreign-language films, meanwhile, seemed to go the way of repertory films, though not in quite so dramatic a fashion (and there is some overlap between these two, what with La nuit américaine/Day for Night (François Truffaut, France, 1973) playing in two cinemas today). If foreign language films accounted for 19 per cent of the films screening in London today, they only showed on 13 per cent of the screens (40 out of 308) and at only 11 per cent of the total screenings (79 out of 739).

Above and beyond these statistics, however, what was particularly interesting was that no film played at more than 10 cinemas today (unless one elides a 3D version with a 2D version of a film, something that I am not here doing, and which I have not had time to check).

There were 20 films that today showed at 10 different cinemas. That is, these 20 films did not show at the same 10 cinemas, but the maximum number of cinemas at which any film screened was 10, and the number of films that achieved this figure was 20.

The 20 films that did play at 10 cinemas were all ‘mainstream’ films playing at predominantly multiplex cinemas, although that two of them were non-English-language Indian films (Patiala House (Nikhil Advani, India, 2011) and Saat Khoon Maaf (Vishal Bhardwaj, India, 2011)) perhaps ‘complicates’ this, because Indian films arguably constitute a form of ‘art house’ cinema to certain British audiences by virtue of their ‘different’ nature and, in particular, the non-English language(s) predominantly spoken in them.

These 20 films (of which, admittedly, three are 3D versions of films also showing in 2D, i.e. one could say that only 17 films showed at 10 or more cinemas today) accounted for 559 of the 739 screenings in London today, which is the equivalent of 76 per cent of all screenings.

Eighteen of the 20 films involved US-backing (90 per cent), and these accounted for 512 of the 559 screenings (92 per cent). Five of the 20 films were UK-backed (25 per cent), accounting for 166 of the 559 screenings (30 per cent). Three of the 20 films were Oceania-backed (15 per cent), accounting for 76 of the 559 screenings (14 per cent), while 2 of the films were Indian, as mentioned, accounting for 10 per cent of the ‘mainstream’ films, and these accounted for 47 of the 559 screenings (or 8 per cent of the total). One film alone was European-backed (Paul), therefore accounting for 5 per cent of the films that enjoyed the most widespread distribution in London today, playing 42 out of 559 screenings, or 8 per cent of the total.

Notably, Brighton Rock played at only 9 cinemas in London today, and so not a single British-only-backed film enjoyed the widest distribution today in London, meaning that UK-backed films accounted for 0 per cent of the films and screenings of the most widely distributed films in London. (Four of the films were ‘lead’ produced by a British company, i.e. 20 per cent of the most widely distributed films, with 124 of the 559 screenings, or 22 per cent).

A Quick Note on Co-Productions
Of the total films showing today in London, 23 were co-productions (33 per cent of films). Seven of the 20 most widely distributed films were co-productions (35 per cent of those films). Co-productions took up 111 of 308 screens today (36 per cent), and accounted for 285 of the 739 screenings today (39 per cent).

Of the 23 co-productions, 18 involved American companies (78 per cent), while 14 (61 per cent) involved UK companies. The American co-productions accounted for 87 per cent of the screens dedicated to co-productions and 31 per cent of the total screens used today. This translated into 91 per cent of the screenings dedicated to co-productions, and 35 per cent of the total screenings today.

UK-involved co-productions accounted for 21 per cent of the total screens used today (64 out of 308) and 26 per cent of all screenings today (192 out of 739).

UK-involved co-productions accounted for 14 out of 15 ‘British’ films distributed theatrically today (93 per cent), for 64 out of 73 screens dedicated to British-involved cinema today (88 per cent), and 93 per cent of screenings dedicated to British-involved cinema today (192 out of 217 screenings).

Specifically British-American co-productions accounted for 9 of the films screened in London today (13 per cent), showing on 40 out of 308 screens (13 per cent) and totalling 112 of 739 screenings (15 per cent).

Tentative Conclusions
It strikes me as odd that no film (barring the 3D/2D version ‘problem’ outlined above) shows at more than 10 cinemas (though some films do show on more than one screen at one or more of the cinemas in question).

Upon the evidence perused, this does not seem to be because x film shows only at Odeons, while y shows only at VUEs. Rather, so uniform is this trend, that it strikes me that there is something of a cap in place across London for film distribution, something perhaps to do with competition law (‘antitrust’).

That said, given that the 20 films showing at 10 cinemas accounted for 76 per cent of the total screenings in London today suggests not so much that there is competition, but that the multiplexes that show the most mainstream and widely distributed films by and large (but certainly not without nuances) show the same films. Geographically, this makes sense; it can be hard to cross London to see a specific film and perhaps few are the cinephiles that would bother to do this. But it also suggests that a small proportion of films (20 out of 70 being screened, or 29 per cent of the films) get the most number of showings (76 per cent), meaning that these same films most likely hog the lion’s share of the profits for that week, too.

Furthermore, that 90 per cent of the films with widest distribution are at least in part American-backed (11 out of 20 are solely US-backed; 18 out of 20 solely or co-backed by US companies) suggests that, while American cinema does not so clearly ‘dominate’ (?! – but it does, as the following figure suggests) British screens as a whole (here it is: 70 per cent of screenings today were American-backed films), at the multiplex America’s share of the spoils is even larger than elsewhere.

If, on the other hand, repertory cinema and foreign-language cinema are thought of as staples of the art house, then it seems that the dwindling effect that they have as their numbers drop from a significant proportion of the total films shown (repertory, 16 per cent; foreign-language 19 per cent) to a much less significant proportion of the number of screenings taking place in London (repertory, 2 per cent; foreign-language 11 per cent) suggests that the scope for large revenues for individual films is difficult.

Even taken as an art house ‘whole’ (i.e. eliding foreign-language and repertory cinema, which, as mentioned, will in fact swell the figures rather than diminish or render them accurate), the would-be ‘long tail’ of art house cinema is minimal in comparison to the mainstream when it comes to the London box office; and this interpretation of the figures, skewed as it is by overlap films such as La nuit américaine, willfully neglects the fact that the ‘art house’ contribution is propped up by at least two Indian films (Patiala House andSaat Khoon Maaf) that have wide London distribution, but the ‘genuine’ art house nature of which is open to debate.

Personally, I am not nostalgic for a period of ‘truly’ British cinema, but the presence of Brighton Rock as the sole UK-only produced film showing in London at the moment speaks volumes about the sorry state of the British film industry.

Sure, co-productions are sensible business for all involved, in that they spread risk and thus minimise the probability of bankruptcy. While this also ‘minimises’ gain if one has a hit, in that one has to share the bread around, this does not mean that what money is made will not go back into other productions that are equally worthy.

However, what co-productions might also mean is that a wider population base is providing the expertise for what may well be a small, if not fewer, number of films – or at least a smaller number of competitive films, given that only 20 or so films will, based on the evidence seen today, get at any one time the widest distribution in London (which we can take to be representative, perhaps, of the rest of the country, except that London has an even longer tail than many regional centres, which will only play the mainstream films).

In other words, co-productions, such as The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, UK/Australia/USA, 2010) might well be flying the flag for Britain in terms of its storyline, but its monies and glories won are also being diverted back to various other parts of the world, namely Australia and – unsurprisingly – the USA. Again, this is not a tirade about ‘keeping it British’ – but if co-productions ‘count’ as ‘British’ cinema (as seems the case with The King’s Speech, for which, for example, Odeon Premiere cardholders get extra reward points because they are supporting British cinema), and if they are not wholly or uniquely British, then films that might have been ‘uniquely’ British are potentially ‘leaking’ money to elsewhere that could have remained ‘at home,’ which is not to mention the reduced number of local talents used for the films.

Let me make this clear: I am happy to see Guy Pearce do an impression of Edward Fox, and I thought Geoffrey Rush fantastic in the film. But where the British box office might have featured a significant proportion of British films, earnings from which went back into the British film industry, here films that pay out to other, non-British-based backers, do reduce the amount of direct returns to Britain and its arguably ailing industry.

This is without criticising the Jane Austen industry, and it is not explicitly to rant against the poor release patterns afforded for filmmakers like Clio Barnard and Joanna Hogg, Shane Meadows and Michael Winterbottom (less so), Lynne Ramsey and Andrea Arnold, Sally Potter and Terence Davies (more so), Alex Cox, Thomas Clay, and, well, me (totally so).

But it is simple economics when a film-producing nation of 60 million people co-produces a film with nations (Australia and the USA) the populations of which are 20 million and 300 million respectively. The same number of jobs required to make the film is suddenly on offer to over five times the number of people. By definition, more British people are going to lose out.

Arguably, this would not necessarily make for as good a film; but at this point, considering the numbers of people required to make a film, and considering the supposed paucity of genius in the world, 60 million people could produce enough excellent stuff I am sure to hold their own against 300 million.

But what about those foreign markets and the transnational circulation of films and film images? I am not sure I have a coherent answer to this; but while the increasingly diffuse nature of the British film industry might well encourage more adventurous thinking in terms of getting funding from abroad, for all that is gained, arguably something also is lost.

Anyway, I have wasted into the wee hours time I should have spent actually preparing for this class, so I must away to bed.

I apologise now for the dry and boring nature of these statistics, and for the boring nature of statistics in general, but there is always some relatively interesting pattern to be found. One final statistic: of the 70 films screening in London today (now yesterday), I have seen 28 (40 per cent).