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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ira Deutchman says more...

ira deutchman and robert altman

Ira has been making, marketing and distributing films for 31 years. He now runs Emerging Pictures. Last week I posted his views on the state of the theatrical business as he delivered them at the recent Power to the Pixel conference. Today I'm going to report on what he says can be done to get people back into cinemas.

This should be of interest to scriptwriters and film makers for the primary reason that writing or making a film for the cinema is very different than for TV or on-line viewing. And also it may give us some new and exciting opportunities for additional work!

He says...

Here are 5 ideas to make going to the cinema a better idea - and also more commercially sensible.
  • Bring down the cost of marketing. It costs more to market a film than it does to make it. So slash your costs and the ticket price with more targeted marketing.
  • Offer variety. Don't have 10 screens at a multiplex but only have a choice of 4 films. Be creative in scheduling.
  • Offer better 'extras' than a DVD - more live events and talks. This doesn't have to be a Q&A with the director or writer. How about a talk by a local expert, either film expert or subject expert if the film is about an issue. Or use 2-way webcams to hook into a big 'star' Q&A anywhere in the world.
  • Reduce cost of distribution - 35mm film prints are expensive. Expense means producers are afraid to take a chance - and so will create low-risk products like sequels. Reduced costs means less fear and more variety of films. So essentially we need to find a way to dump film prints.
  • Reduce prices. Ideas like those mentioned by Peter Buckingham in his talk. Ideas like sponsorship and subscriptions. But prices need to fall to make sure empty seats are reduced.


My solution - a new low cost digital projection standard for independent films. Called i-cinema it is of a slightly lower quality to the full-on Hollywood digital standard (1.3k instead of 2k) but is simpler and based on current, ready-to-go technology.

Digital projection has no prints so it's easy to be flexible in both the location and the scheduling of screenings. It's also cheaper. And a more flexible screening timetable means a more targeted and local (ie cheaper) marketing strategy can be used.

I say...
I feel pulled in 2 directions by Ira's i-cinema proposal. It makes sense to allow independent film makers easy access to this technology so that they can benefit from the reduced costs. The Hollywood DCI standard is great, but will there be a high digital 'tax' put on the price of using it? Hollywood won't want their old 35mm chums to miss out! However will 2 standards confuse cinema chains who will decide to keep the old 35mm system instead - for fear of buying a 'betamax'?

More important for us as writers and film makers will be our role in these add-ons that Ira predicts. Writers should be excited about getting involved in new marketing ideas - they should be demanding a role in these, not walking away. And they should be first to put their hands up to volunteer for these extra Q&As. Actors find it hard to attend due to the nature of their work. Writers less so.

Changes such as these should force film makers to say 'how can I use this?' and not 'why should I fear this?'

Let's embrace them and use them to get nearer the audience.

Photo of Ira with the late great Robert Altman
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