Renewed calls to shake up release windows

The chorus of voices calling for an end to the traditional, rigid release windows in Australia keeps getting louder.

Distribution consultant Thomas Mai today described the 120-day gap between theatrical and home entertainment as “obnoxious,” observing, it “doesn’t work anymore.”

Mai was speaking at a panel entitled The Director as Distributor at the Australian Directors Guild conference, where the virtues of self-distribution were extolled. The panel was moderated by researcher/writer Laura Carroll Harris, whose essay Not at a Cinema Near You: Australia’s film distribution problem, has just been published by Currency Press.

Launching the essay on Thursday night, entertainment lawyer Ian Robertson backed Harris’ argument that Australians must find new ways of reaching audiences. “The current system of distributing Australian-financed feature films is substantially broken, and I know that savvy and experienced Australian film makers are aware of this and are preparing for the new world ahead,” the Holding Redlich partner said.

A former deputy chairman of Screen Australia and current president of Film Victoria, Robertson said, “Very limited releases in the few remaining art house cinemas in Australia is increasingly not the answer. And a business model based on the production of films to be watched by cinema enthusiasts at international film festivals is not a business model at all.”

He endorsed Harris’ contention that Australian filmmakers should offer legal, audience-appropriate and inexpensive ways of viewing and sharing movies online as the centrepiece of their distribution strategy.

Robertson repeated his call for the 40% producer offset to be extended to cover any drama greater than 90 minutes and budgeted at more than $1 million.

Mai is CEO of FanDependent which received Screen Australia funding under the innovative distribution scheme to teach 10 filmmakers how to use crowdfunding, direct distribution and event marketing over two years.

He worked with the producers of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a docu about so-called boat people, to stage Q&A screenings in 30 cinemas around Australia in 4-wall deals, selling DVDs at cinemas and making the film available online.

Mai is devising a similar strategy on Rites of Passage, a feature-length drama film telling the interwoven stories of young people who live in the Illawarra on the NSW south coast.

Bob Connolly told the audience he and Sophie Raymond decided to self-distributed their music docu Mrs Carey’s Concert because he had not seen a cent from making theatrically-released projects for 35 years.

He said it was tough to persuade Screen Australia to allow him to self-distribute because he had no track record in that sphere, although he engaged as consultants the highly experienced Glenys Rowe and Kim Lewis. Even so, Connolly was forced to personally cash-flow the $120,000 distribution cost.

Genevieve Bailey, who took a similar route with her docu I Am Eleven, said the vital ingredients of self-distribution are having a project with theatrical legs, hiring an effective publicist and someone to book the film into cinemas.

  1. Filmmakers should be more proactive and look at the historical cycle. All the answers regarding shifting audience and delivery patterns are there. Producers aggressively attacking audiences directly is tradition. Filmmakers here – except a very small number – haven’t had any interest in distribution (and by virtue how audiences work) and have simply left it up to other people. How many filmmakers go to the Movie Convention and see how it really works?

    ACMI administers two great screens. Release windows aren’t important to us – the integrity of the film is. You’d be amazed at how few filmmakers/producers come to us with titles. We do good and fair business by anyone’s standard with returns from day 1 however Filmmakers/producers by and large are stuck in a mode that’s close to 20 years old.

    Filmmakers have wagged school all year and then complain when they get bad marks.

    Richard Sowada

  2. “Very limited releases in the few remaining art house cinemas in Australia” says Ian Robertson. Few remaining? There has never been as many art-house cinemas in Australia at any time in our history as right now. The Palace and Dendy chains continue to expand. Locations like Melbourne’s Cinema Nova possess more screens than most suburban multiplexes and nobody is more adventurous with their programming than them.

    Over 10 additional art-house/quality screens are planned to open in inner Melbourne suburbs in the next 12 months and inner Sydney has just seen a similar expansion. The lack of art-house screens? Perhaps the real problem is lack of films cinema-goers wish to pay money to see.

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