How do scripts become big film hits? The question every young filmmaker wants answered! What are the steps taken to get from a script held in your shaky little hands to a film being screened in movie theaters and viewed by millions of people? As it turns out, the process varies from region to region only slightly. For insight specifically into the European market, we invited a special guest to our school dBs Film in Berlin.
Dorothee Pfistner is the head of acquisitions at Neue Visionen which is a leading independent film distributor based in Berlin. She joined us to discuss the distribution of movies, covering their journey from the script to the cinema screen. Even the breadth of our students’ and staff’s curiosities was no match to her experience. She addressed everything from purchasing rights to distribution, the relation between marketing campaigns and audience demands, as well as the effect streaming platforms are having on the industry; and she did all of that in just one hour!
To begin, the entity actually taking the film as a finished product and delivering it to the theaters for audiences to see is called a distributor. In order for a distributor to get a film screened at the movies, they first have to purchase the rights. These can cost anywhere from €5,000 – €5 million and are bought for a certain amount of time. One of the side-effects of this kind of starting point is that all the investment risk is placed upfront. This is because after obtaining the rights, the distributor is then responsible for the costs of the advertising campaign that follows.
Interestingly, the investment on the side of the distributor gives them a lot of power. While artwork and titles need to be approved by the director before being used in marketing, there are many other aspects of the film that the distributor can change. There is a kind of ‘tailoring’ that takes place for regional audiences, so that they are given content relevant to their interests. Similarly the calls on the dubbing are all made by the distributor.
Market research is a key concept here because admissions sales are how distributors payback their investment. The success of a film is heavily dependent upon the distributor knowing exactly who and how many are going to buy tickets. Estimating these numbers is no easy task either! Everything from competitive releases to the weather can affect how many people go see the film in theaters, so timing and even luck can make it or break it. This incidentally, puts a lot of pressure on both the theaters and the distributors to make sure people actually go see the films they show. There are a huge number of shortcomings to this system, many of which result in box-office hits taking greater priority over other production types. The main point is that distributors and theater owners have to avoid empty seats at all costs, and there are some ingenious ways by which some are figuring out how to do that.
So, in order to fill up all the seats, what kinds of films are audiences demanding?
In Germany, Dorothee told us that they like feel-good movies and stray away from heavy-dramas. Unsurprisingly media coming from the USA is still dominating the scene. According to Dorothe, as high as 70% of the films shown in German cinemas are American. This could be due to the high audience demands to see these films and the interest of theaters and distributors to sell tickets.
But, it seems that the reign of the big-blockbusters and their pull might be about to experience some change. As online streaming sources become more popular and the numbers of movie-goers continues to decline, the way people consume their media is shifting. Methods by which making films themselves have also developed, resulting in a proliferation of cheap and high quality tech, with some incredible results. This is opening up new opportunities for filmmakers to find niche audiences and be less reliant upon big distribution deals that negotiate with theaters for screening time. Additionally, because of the large number of public funding options available to European productions, it’s an increasingly smart idea for young filmmakers to be in Europe. For Germany’s 4,800 cinemas (30% of which are independently owned) trends like decreased audience size are bad news. But for a filmmaker in the diverse and heterogenous industry of Berlin, it could mean more chances to turn a script into a film that people see.
To hear the full lecture Dorothee gave us, please visit the dBs Berlin Soundcloud page.Learn more about dBs Berlin If you want to receive the StudyLink Study Abroad Newsletter, so that you get the most up to date study abroad advice in your inbox, you can sign up here.
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