Monday, July 11, 2011

The Catwoman/Clerks Paradox

Catwoman is famous as a financial disaster.  It was a film with a reported budget of $100 million(*) - but only generated $82 million in theatrical ticket sales.

Clerks is famous as a huge financial success.  Shot on a budget of only $27k(*), it still managed to bring in about $3.9 million in ticket sales.

Which would you rather have invested in?  There's an obvious answer.
Here's the real paradox - if you were a distributor (or an exhibitor) ... which film would you prefer to be showing?

Clearly the distributor doesn't care how much money the investors have put into it. So they see the Catwoman as simply a massively hyped film that even as a worst case 'embarrassing flop' scenario will still bring in ticket sales of $82 million.  Imagine comparing it to a tiny film like 'Clerks' which can only ever aspire to 5% of that value - even if it becomes an unimaginable success.

It seems to be a paradox - given a choice between a large film that is a financial failure and a small film destined to be a massive success - the distributor will do the sensible thing and pick the expensive flop every time!

So if we choose to make micro budget films then we can't be surprised that distributors don't exactly see the business sense in being involved.

So what can be done?   How about another distribution model?

Titan View (www.titanview.com) is an Aussie distributer with a rather unusual method.  You may have heard of them as they were one of last year's recipients of Screen Australia's innovative distribution fund.

And they are certainly living up to the 'innovative' part of the description.  The first film they have released is the low-budget comedy 'Codgers'.  It isn't screening at the normal cinemas - instead it is screening at non-traditional venues while selling DVDs.

If you are wondering how low budget 'Codgers' was - it was shot in just four days.
It certainly isn't a big film, but it still picked up around $12k in ticket sales at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre showing and almost double that in DVD sales.

If you aren't impressed - compare it to 'Griff the Invisible' which had an opening weekend per-screen box office of about $3.3k.  Or even compare it to the Australian film 'Candy' - which starred Heath Ledger directly after he had swept the awards for 'Brokeback Mountain' .. and yet only had about $3.6k  for the opening US box office.

It's probably best to stop cherry picking examples and look at how this approach compares to the PVA (Per Screen Average) of indie films generally.  Thankfully the ever helpful Jeremy Juuso has already compiled the data here:  http://www.jeremyjuuso.com/film.htm

The results?  For non-do-it-yourself releases (ie: releases by a real distributor) indie films average $4.3k per showing - and most didn't make it past a tiny handful of screenings.

Perhaps the Titan View's small scale approach to distribution isn't so small scale after all.

(* Note on budgets - I'm pretending to believe that 'film budget' is somehow equivalent to 'total film cost', which is obviously false.  And I'm also pretending to believe the incredibly round budget of '$100 million' for Catwoman.  I'm very gullible at the moment.)

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