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Sunday, November 29, 2009

UK Film Distribution + Digital Cinema

If you hunt through the archive you'll find a detailed but fairly brief to Distribution; the following adds to this. I've posted some additional links on film distribution at the end. This is yet another example of where WT are at a huge advantage over their UK rivals, having standing distribution deals with StudioCanal across Europe (another NBC-Universal subsidiary) and through Universal in the US.
Its worth posting LaunchingFilms.com's full post on digital distribution (from http://www.launchingfilms.com/distribution/digitalfilm.php):

UK film distribution guide

UK cinema's digital dawn. FDA offers this snapshot of D-cinema, and its potential advantages and implications.

Digital film

Practically since the birth of cinema at the end of the 19th century, films have been produced, circulated and screened on celluloid stock.
More recently, digital soundtracks have enhanced the audio experience, while computer graphics imagery (CGI) is often added in post-production to realise spectacular effects. Today, most films are edited and mastered on digital equipment; a few, such as George Lucas's latest Star Wars episodes, are even shot using high-definition digital cameras, rather than being photographed on film.
Yet across the world, the standard format for presentation remains 35mm celluloid, which delivers superb quality to audiences.
Now the cinema industry stands on the threshold of a great, rolling transition from celluloid to digital, which is expected to gather momentum over the decade ahead. In time, digital technologies are likely to exert as profound an impact on the cinema sector as on the broadcast and other media sectors.
Digital or D-cinema has already been piloted in the UK for ten years. Disney/Pixar's Toy Story was supplied and presented digitally (on a Texas Instruments DLP prototype) at London's Odeon, Leicester Square, in 1995. But only a handful of cinemas have had digital projectors whilst further quality advances were achieved. Now, with D-cinema giving state-of-the-art clarity on screen, audiences may be unaware that they are watching a digital, as opposed to a film, presentation.
A great deal of work has been undertaken around the world, but especially by the studios' Digital Cinema Initiative, to develop global standards for D-cinema. The general aim is to ensure that digital content can be distributed and played anywhere in the world - as is the case, of course, with a 35mm print. The new technologies and components should be based on open, as well as compatible, standards that foster competition among equipment and service providers. The hardware should be capable of easy upgrades as further advances occur.
Who gains from D-cinema
Potentially, there are real benefits both for the industry and, most importantly, for audiences.
Film distributors - the companies that release movies and market them to the public - will benefit if there are substantial reductions in the costs of duplicating film prints and transporting them to cinemas. The UK is one of the most expensive markets in the world in which to release a film. FDA members spend approximately £125m a year on prints, duplicated in high-tech laboratories. A digitally produced or converted film could be delivered quickly and reliably via disc (a much smaller, cheaper physical medium than a 35mm print), fibre optic cable or satellite - triggering a huge systems change for the whole industry.
Cinemas that book and receive a digital copy would store it on a computer/server in the projection box, which would serve it to a particular digital projector for each screening. Importantly, distributors should be able to encode and encrypt their digital files, to ensure that each film is as secure as possible and that access to them throughout the theatrical lifecycle is controlled and traceable. In the digital era, new asset management models will emerge but for the foreseeable future, piracy is expected to continue as a key business issue, undermining the industry's further development.
In due course, it may be possible for distributors to deliver newly cut digital trailers to cinemas at very short notice, capitalising on topical developments such as awards nominations or wins, favourable reviews and box-office success, much as other forms of film advertising already do.
Film archiving could also be transformed by digital progress. Professional storage of 35mm reels can demand considerable space, care and funding.
For cinemas themselves, digital equipment may present diverse programming opportunities, such as concerts, sports events or short films of local interest, and it may help them as venues to attract business conferences. Depending on the catchment area population, perhaps a choice of classic films could be screened at selected times, if and when digital copies are available at low cost.
For cinema audiences, all these opportunities may result in wider choice. In addition, the digital images on screen will be picture-perfect every time. By contrast, the more often celluloid is run through a projector, the more prone it becomes to scratches and fading, wear and tear.
UK digital screen network
FDA welcomes and supports an initiative by the UK Film Council, to invest up to £13 million of National Lottery funds in what will become the world's first digital screen network, placing the UK at the forefront of D-cinema.
It is planned that up to 200 screens in 150 cinemas across the UK - a quarter of the total - will be equipped with digital projectors. In return, cinemas will be asked by the Film Council to show a broader range of specialised (non-blockbuster) films such as documentaries or foreign language titles on a regular basis.
Hopefully, such a substantial investment will help the hardware costs to fall, which in turn could facilitate extra installations. Initially at least, the network will comprise 2K digital projectors (2,048 x 1,080 pixels resolution).
Fast-changing area
D-cinema presents opportunities for the cinema industry to try new ways of working, and of course there is much to learn from experience.
Given lower print/shipping costs, distributors may be able to consider increasing the number of (digital) copies or increasing their advertising investment to promote the film. If they take this risk, it may in turn help to draw a larger audience to 'specialised' films which tend inevitably to have smaller releases than commercial blockbusters. Of course, simply making more copies of a film does not automatically lead to more tickets being sold.
Ultimately, audiences will decide what content they want to pay to view, and accordingly what gets shown, in cinemas; technology itself does not drive admissions. Whatever happens from now on, potentially very exciting changes are coming. The future isn't what it used to be.
Further information
www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk - includes latest news on the digital screen network
www.digitalcinema-europe.com - European Digital Cinema Forum
www.bksts.com - The Moving Image Society
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FilmEducation describe the FDA thus:

Film Distributors' Association

Film Distributors' Association logo Originally established in London in 1915, Film Distributors' Association Ltd. (FDA) is the trade body for theatrical film distributors in the UK - the companies that release films for UK cinema audiences. FDA liaises and works with many individuals, companies and organisations to help ensure a vibrant future for film.
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FURTHER READING/RESOURCES
Various books in the library feature sections on film distribution, the process whereby middlemen, either for a flat fee or a for a percentage of revenues (or a combination of both) take on the financial risk of generating film prints and marketing a film. Also see:
http://www.iofilm.co.uk/io/mit/001/film_distribution_20051115.php
http://www.iconmovies.co.uk/
http://www.filmsdistribution.com/home.php
THIS IS A GOOD GENERAL ARTICLE, FROM BFI'S SCREENONLINE - there are several further articles linked from this page which take you through case studies
image of film cans
The history of film is usually related through the achievements of producers, directors, writers and performers. Making films, production, has always been perceived as a glamorous pursuit.
Alternatively, our personal understanding and appreciation of film is shaped by our experiences at the cinema. The exhibition of film is a commonplace, shared cultural activity highly visible in every city and town in Britain, constantly feeding the popular memory.
By contrast, distribution, the third part of the film supply chain, is often referred to as 'the invisible art', a process known only to those within the industry, barely written about and almost imperceptible to everyone else.
Yet arguably, distribution is the most important part of the film industry, where completed films are brought to life and connected with an audience.
So what is involved in this invisible process? Distribution is about releasing and sustaining films in the market place. In the practice of Hollywood and other forms of industrial cinema, the phases of production, distribution and exhibition operate most effectively when 'vertically integrated', where the three stages are seen as part of the same larger process, under the control of one company. In the UK, distribution is very much focused on marketing and sustaining a global product in local markets.
In the independent film sector, vertical integration does not operate so commonly. Producers tend not to have long-term economic links with distributors, who likewise have no formal connections with exhibitors. Here, as the pig-in-the-middle, distribution is necessarily a collaborative process, requiring the materials and rights of the producer and the cooperation of the exhibitor to promote and show the film in the best way possible. In this sector, distribution can be divided into three stages - licensing, marketing and logistics.

The wiki isn't bad; starts with this summary:
A film distributor is an independent company, a subsidiary company or occasionally an individual, which acts as the final agent between a film production company or some intermediary agent, and a film exhibitor, to the end of securing placement of the producer's film on the exhibitor's screen. In the film business, the term "distribution" refers to the marketing and circulation of movies in theaters, and for home viewing (DVD, Video-On-Demand, Download, Television etc).
 http://www.launchingfilms.com/ (Film Distributors' Association website)
http://www.metrodomegroup.com/

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