Third Window Films stops with theatrical distribution, and this is why.
This is sad news indeed. TWF is one of those companies we really, REALLY like here at ScreenAnarchy. Adam has taken some very courageous risks with his company to provide us moviefans access to titles which nobody else seems to have noticed. It's thanks to him that most people got exposed (haha) to "Love Exposure". To see his passion for movies go unrewarded in the current market is worrying.
And it's not just that fans of Asian films in the UK are now missing out on theatrical distribution, there is an evil side-effect to this. Japanese rightsholders often demand a theatrical distribution as part of the total package, and now that Adam can no longer afford to offer that he will not be able to acquire many of the bigger, well-known titles anymore. TWF may have to focus solely on the really, REALLY obscure titles from now on and that is a shame, as anyone who has bought a TWF disc will surely agree.
Now some of you may say: tough luck, but if that's the current market so be it. If you distribute something people just aren't interested in, do not start crying when you do not make a profit.
That statement is of course true up to a point, but then you assume that the deck is stacked evenly for everyone. When we asked Adam for a comment on why TWF has taken its recent decisions we got a heartfelt reply from him. He does not mince his words and there are several surprising items of information in there most people do not know about.
His letter is a rare insight into the world of the small distributors, and for that reason we have decided to print it in full. Here it is, so please read it in full. And even better: comment!
Over to you, Adam:
I don't think people most people realize how hard it is for independent theatrical distribution in the UK. Even my friends who run distribution companies in other countries are amazed when I tell them. In my opinion it comes down to 3 things which hurt us more than most:
1: In the UK we MUST certify all films with the BBFC. In the US you can release a film 'unrated', but obviously other countries make it mandatory. The main problem with the UK is that the BBFC require you to certify your film both theatrically and for home video separately, each at a MASSIVE cost. Even though they're watching the exact same film and will give it exactly the same rating they still charge you twice! and the cost is astronomical! £8.40 per minute of film plus a handling fee of £120!! Imagine the costs for certifying "Love Exposure" for both theatrical and dvd = more than £4,000!!! Why the need to review the film twice? it's the same bloody film!! and get this: they actually watch DVD submissions AT HOME! I wish I got paid so much money to watch a film!
2: For independents we get the lowest percentage of a cinema screen take than any other country I know. In America it's a 50/50 split between cinemas and distributors. Same in Japan. Most places in Europe it's between 45-50% to distributors. What do I get for the majority of screens I play in?? 25%!!! At best sometimes 35%! When "Himizu" played this weekend at the Prince Charles Cinema I barely covered the cost of the 2 posters I gave them to hang up!
3: In the UK, about 80% of all the independent/arthouse cinemas are either owned by or booked by 2 companies, and BOTH of them are distribution labels who tend to play their own films in their own cinemas (one of them just started, but it's a worrying trend). In America I believe this is illegal, but here it's commonplace and when they're not playing their own releases they're playing "Prometheus", which actually played across the whole entire chain of both these 'arthouse' cinema bookers/owners. With a film like "Prometheus" I'm sure as an audience member it's not like it'll be hard to see it, so why does every single arthouse cinema need to play it when it's also playing at every multiplex? Even The Barbican, London's most well-known non-for-profit totally Arthouse cinema/theatre/art gallery was playing "Prometheus"!! 10 years ago and before the situation was much different, with many truly independent cinemas existing in London and the UK, but now there are barely none. Even the ICA Cinema, which was the last truly independent cinema which took real risks on many NON-EUROPEAN independent films has now been taken over by a massive cinema booking agency and are now playing "Moonrise Kingdom" (which is playing at nearly EVERY other cinema in the UK).
To be honest I've just had enough. I want to get these films out there to the mainstream, but I wonder if either there is not the audience, or the cinemas don't give the films enough of a chance to build one. When "Himizu" played this weekend at The Prince Charles Cinema (the least 'independent' independent cinema out there) and the Curzon Renoir. The Curzon Renoir only played the film as matinée screenings for only 3 days, and the Prince Charles only gave the film 4 screenings, of which 2 of them were weekday 1pm screenings. If cinemas don't have faith in the films, then how can you expect the audience to warm to them, yet as no audience comes due to lack of faith instilled by the cinemas (absolutely no promotion by cinemas) then it's hard to take when they say 'see, I told you there was no audience'. Maybe if people turned up in drones it would convince the cinemas to take the films on, but if they're not giving the films the appropriate faith or screen time then how can they expect audiences to come?? It's just a vicious cycle and I've had enough trying to fly the flag of Japanese cinema by myself on a large scale. I spent more than £20,000 on advertising and marketing to get "Himizu" promoted in cinemas with the whole purpose of trying to show the public what 'different' films were out there, but with this constant disappointment I've just had enough.
Ironically the head programmer for the Curzon Cinemas (one of the big arthouse cinema owners and bookers - owned by Artificial Eye) was actually invited to chair a recent panel discussion on why Asian Cinema isn't distributed in the UK. I wasn't invited, but it struck me as rather odd that the Curzon Cinema, the UK's most well-known 'arthouse' cinema is right now playing "Prometheus" & "Moonrise Kingdom" and the last Japanese film I remember them playing was "Takeshis", and that was only because it was released by Artificial Eye!
In my opinion there is always an audience out there for anything. When I started releasing Japanese films which went outside the spectrum of those released prior (the classics of Kurosawa/Ozu ; the French sales-agent handled Kitano/Koreeda ; the extreme of Miike/Nakata) I lost tons of money, but I realized that if you try again and again and get the word out there on a large enough scale you'll be able to either find the audience or cultivate a new one. It's just that these cinemas don't want to take a risk on anything non-European or out of their comfort zones and with so few cinemas left it's becoming more and more futile.
I want to stress that what I've been trying to achieve is something a whole lot more than the occasional one-off screening at some small cinema, but to make the whole UK pickup their ears and embrace alternative cinema from the East, and I'm trying this on a very large scale with lots of time and money spent attempting biggish theatrical releases and huge advertising spends which, to be honest, I can't actually afford. It was all done with a long-term goal of losing large amounts of money, but generating enough long term interest and audience that in the future East Asian cinema could easily find its way into cinemas in the UK like it used to. Unfortunately though, it seems that without help it's proved to be too big a battle for one person.
Unfortunately, as a small company I used the fact that I would take financial risks on getting films into cinemas as a carrot to use with Japanese companies to negotiate them giving me bigger titles at smaller prices. I just can't do that anymore, and without the press and promotion raised from theatrical releases (critics rarely review straight to video titles) then I can't acquire larger films anymore so I'm really disappointed.
Pardon the long message, but I'm really depressed about all this!
Adam Torel - Managing Director