Instead of talking ourselves down, the industry should be focusing on renewal, says Richard Mitchell
Back in June 2008 I was working for a tech company servicing the construction industry. As the world plummeted into recession, confidence started to ebb away not just within the confines of the business, but in the market in general. I remember my boss saying to me “There’s a danger of talking yourself into a recession or even a depression”. It was something I dismissed as rubbish at the time, but maybe he was right.
Right now, the cinema industry appears to be at something of a crossroads, but no-one knows what that is — or how we got to this point — without trying to apportion the blame somewhere else.
At the recent Kinokonferansen in Oslo, Patrick von Sychowski, from Celluloid Junkie, put the falling share prices of exhibitors and doom-laden press headlines into perspective by explaining that there’s a need to look at the weather (a quiet month or quarter) against the wider climate (box office revenue). You could easily be forgiven for reading the press and thinking we’re headed towards an existential crisis, yet global box office revenue is holding up well in what could be described as two average years. The threats of VOD, shorter theatrical windows and piracy don’t appear to making any real impact at the box office, yet. So rather than talk ourselves into a depression, why don’t we focus on actions instead?
In every business there is a need for continual improvement. Arguably that drive and impetus comes either from competitive threats or the ability to reduce costs and in turn increase profitability. It was, after all, the latter that helped drive digitisation of the cinema industry and it’s behind the recliner re-seating program being undertaken round the world by many exhibitors and the drive for innovation in auditorium technology.
Think positive, talk positive
What should we be most concerned about now? Consumer confidence, that’s what. In a high-profile industry such as ours, general criticisms we make amongst ourselves and those made by the mainstream media loudly resonate and have a profound impact on the confidence of the consumer.
What do we expect to happen when we criticise film content for having a lack of originality, or if we suggest movie-goers are bored of remakes and franchises, when we declare content isn’t presented as the film-maker intended, that our presentation is sub-standard and that showmanship has, for the most part, disappeared from cinema? We run the risk of doing our own version of a Gerald Ratner. In 1991 the former CEO of long-defunct UK jeweller (Ratners) thought it humorous to describe one of his products as “total crap” at a major event. One or two journalists were in the room and, overnight, that joke wiped £500m off the company’s value — it never recovered. Our collective responsibility is to ensure we don’t do that.
Time for renewal
There is an element of truth to many of the criticisms in the industry today, but this should be a time of exciting renewal where we come together and build confidence as a community, address the issues and step change the offering to the movie-goer.
Part of the renewal we need undoubtedly involves technology, however, in isolation it isn’t the silver bullet. The latest breed of auditorium technology gives movie-goers the potential of being told a story in a way that’s more immersive than ever before but, there’s also an incumbent responsibility on exhibitors to ensure they’re making the best of the equipment they have if they’re unable or unwilling to invest in new technology. Aligned to this, film-makers and indeed studios need to work more closely with exhibitors and manufacturers to understand technology capabilities, the issues on the ground, what a movie looks like outside of a post-production studio (particularly in 3D) and the profound operational issues such as delivering DCPs in unusual aspect ratios has for exhibitors — and for movie presentation.
The Cinema Technology Committee (CTC) as an organisation is focused on bringing the community together to build a knowledge-sharing network because we passionately believe that by doing so, we’ll solve issues faster. We’ll also put back into the industry confidence and what’s actually been missing for a few years, the element of controlled risk that breeds creativity. 3D was the last controlled risk we took as an industry and if we’d worked better together in the years after Avatar, it might be a very different prospect today. Let’s be positive about our proposition to the world and work together to make it even better — because cinema is still incredible.