Distribution is often referred to as the invisibleart, a process known only to those within theindustry, barely written about and almostimperceptible to everyone else. Distribution is the most important part of the film industry, where completed films are brought to life and connected with an audience. Distribution is about releasing and sustaining films in the market place.
Distributors have the legal rights over a film.The get the film into cinemas, festivals, etc andpromote the film using trailers, posters, etc.The major US studios generally have their owndistribution offices in all the major ‘territories’By contrast, independent producers have to selltheir films to different distributors in each‘territory’
Most Hollywood films are distributed directly by the studio which financed the film. In the UK the cinema box office is dominated by a handful of major distributors. In any year, the major distributors will account for 90% of the box-office rentals. Warner Bros Pictures, United International Pictures (Paramount), 20th Century Fox, Buena Vista (Walt Disney), Columbia Tristar Pictures, Universal Momentum Pictures (King’s Speech, Eternal Sunshine), StudioCanal (TTSS), Pathe (Adulthood, Austin Powers), Polygram (Trainspotting), Summit (Twilight)
The distributor will enter into an agreement with the cinema to screen the film on certain play-dates. It is the responsibility of the distributor to arrange the transportation of the film to the cinema, as part of its wider coordination of print use across the UK. Logistics represents the phase of distribution at its most basic - supplying and circulating copies of the film to theatres, of tapes and DVDs to shops and video rental stores, and managing the effectiveness of the supply. Cinemas spend their money publicising film play-dates and times in local papers or through published programmes. So theres an imperative for the distributor to deliver the film on time.
The distributor typically handles 35mm film prints.Each print can cost around £1,000 - or twice that ifsubtitled - so a degree of care is required of everyoneinvolved in handling the print.In the UK, prints are generally broken down for ease ofhandling into smaller reels, each lasting around 18-20mins when run through a projector at 24 frames persecond. So a feature print, in its physical form, willusually be 5 or 6 reels, stored and supplied in a singlehard case, weighing in at 20-25kgs.Prints are hired by the exhibitor for the duration oftheir play-dates, and therefore each print is made forrepeat use.
35mm theatrical prints invariably suffer cumulativedamage as they pass through different projectors,and the hands of various projectionists.There are also overheads incurred by thedistributor for the storage of prints at the UKscentral print warehouse in West London.Each theatrical print has a finite lifespan.Distributor will invest in sufficient prints to provideoptimum coverage through the first period oftheatrical release, usually lasting up to 6 months.
Transportation35mm - £1000Prints hired by exhibitorEasily damagedExpensive to storeMore bought for first few months then destroyed -waste
Specialised films 10 prints or less (keyindependent cinemas) prints toured over a 6-month period to all parts of the UK.Mainstream films – 200+ prints,simultaneously screening in all major UK townsand cities.
In distribution terms, the advantages of digitaltechnology are even clearer, though perhapslonger term.Digital technology is seen to offer a more costeffective and logistics-light alternative to the triedand trusted, but unwieldy model of 35mm printdistribution described above.It will, eventually, be cheaper and much lessstressful to send films as computer files tocinemas across the UK, than to transport 20-25kgtins of film in the back of a van.
Digital projection, especially when married to the increasing use digitalformats in production, can now replicate - if not surpass - the imagequality of conventional 35mm cinema presentationCheaperSend films as computer files to cinemas across the UK – piracyDigital ProjectionThe compressed and encrypted files sent directly to cinemas to bedownloaded, de-encrypted (unlocked) and opened as files for screeningwith digital projection equipment.
Cinema Chain Number of screens Odeon/ UCI 930 Cine UK and UGC 780 Vue 580 Showcase 250 Others 1000But this wide number of screens does not mean a diversity of films on offer to audiences.
DSN sites supports new facilities in 211 screens across the country (out of a total of just over 3,300), small but important step change towards full digital cinema.
The Phoenix in Leicester – a broad cross-section of the best in world and independentcinema in its two state-of -the-artscreens. Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds –mixture of mainstream and art house films,funded by Leeds Council
1. In per-cent, how much of the market is dominated by the ‘big six’ distributors?2. Why is it important that distributors ensure timely delivery of films?3. How much does a print cost?4. How many reels does a print usually consist of?5. List two main advantages to digital distribution.6. List two mainstream exhibitors and one independent exhibitor.