it.gen.nz

Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Film industry fails again

There’s a great New Zealand film called “Boy” – it’s a coming of age tale with a uniquely New Zealand flavour to it. It’s been in the cinemas here for three months, and it’s gone down very well. I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t know, because the film has been well-promoted. I think I saw that it was now the highest-grossing New Zealand movie ever. Well done to Taika Waititi and every one else involved.

That’s what makes it strange that the film industry apparently hasn’t released the film to Australia. There are a *lot* of New Zealanders living there. And it’s not surprising, after all the promotion, that people there want to see the film however they can get it. According to a press release yesterday from the industry, they are indeed getting it, via infringing downloads on the Internet. The film apparently got to the Internet via a member of the industry itself, since the copy uploaded is a “pre-screener” available only within the industry.

What I find odd about this story is that anyone is surprised. Why would they expect New Zealanders and other folk to wait months for a well-promoted hit film? It’s not as though the technology for them to release it in other countries as a paid, legal download doesn’t exist. Why, then, leave a big market like unsatisfied with a legal product when they have alternatives?

The same industry has just claimed that unlawful downloads in New Zealand are costing it $70million. They say things like this all the time, but the truth is that no-one knows and there’s no way to calculate it. The US Government Accounting Office recently published a report saying that all such claims were totally overblown and were no basis for policy.

It’s no accident, of course, that this story blows just as Parliament is considering a Bill to fine people heavily or cut off their Internet for file sharing. The industry has obviously made a calculation about how late in the hype cycle for “Boy” it could go and still get close to the Select Committee hearings, likely to be next month.

This sort of thing has been going on for so long that I’m wondering if it is deliberate. Is it actually cheaper for the film industry to promote a film then not release it in a market, then to go after people who download it and try to seek large fines? Perhaps this is far-fetched, but I’m struggling to see any other reason.

In the meantime, congratulations to Taika Waititi. Let’s hope he gets the chance to get the film distribution industry to see some sense.

Update: Miraz Jordan has written an excellent piece on the same subject – well worth reading as well.

posted by colin at 10:52 am  

6 Comments

  1. Colin, excellent analysis (with suitable references) as always. I’ll be referring a few of my friends – who voiced concern after the news broke – to this.

    Comment by Dave Lane — 23 June 2010 @ 11:02 am

  2. Good point: while some people pirate to avoid paying, many people pirate because of unmet demand. Tthe final episodes of Lost screened simultaneously in a half-dozen countries specifically to avoid this “all my friends are talking about it but I haven’t seen it yet, I’d better download it” situation.

    I think your “cheaper not to release and then to go after people who download” is highly improbable, given the arse-gouging rates that lawyers charge.

    A motto to live by is “never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence”. I strongly doubt the movie industry is set up to be agile and respond to surprise hits: movie release schedules are set many months in advance, for example to avoid having two big action adventure movies competing with each other where at all possible. I know this was the case with books: bookstores scheduled their buys, so we had to plan three months in advance. Even if an author turned up with perfect PDF ready for printing, it would be three months before a bookstore had any budget to spend. It may well be the same in movie distribution.

    Furthermore, as I understand it most movies are distributed as physical artifacts that cost a lot to reproduce. This is why we foreigners only seem to get American movies after they’ve finished their American run–we’re literally getting the same physical movies the Americans had. Digital distribution is slowly changing this, but the massive cost of “printing” another movie makes it bloody expensive to have worldwide simultaneous release.

    So, I’m saying, the current structure of the movie industry may not permit surprise hits to be immediately released in obviously relevant markets. (And every NZ hit movie is a “surprise hit” to an Australian :). Yes, Boy was big in NZ. I figure that means that, a month or so after the movie came out, distributors in Australia could then be told “this is genuinely good”. Then they will have said, “ok, when can you get us the reels, when do we have budget,” and scheduled distribution accordingly far in advance.

    What I’m saying is that it’s possible that nobody’s a major villain here. NZ’s film industry may never have been able to have Boy ready for near-simultaneous release in Aus. They may not have been able to quickly react to Boy’s success with a release in Aus. The closest thing to a villain is whoever leaked the screener, because in those circles you MUST know what the consequences of that act will be.

    Comment by Nat Torkington — 23 June 2010 @ 12:38 pm

  3. Nat

    I used to have a schoolteacher who would say “that may be a reason, but it’s not an excuse”.

    I like seeing a vibrant film sector in this country and overseas. It won’t stay that way if it sits, Canute-like, in the oncoming tide of technology.

    Colin

    Comment by colin — 23 June 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  4. Coiln, I think my recent post on KnowIT complements yours superbly – and I’ll be adding a link to your post in a moment. See:

    KnowIT: The movie industry are dead wood – http://knowit.co.nz/2010/06/the-movie-industry-are-dead-wood

    Cheers,

    Miraz

    Comment by Miraz Jordan — 25 June 2010 @ 11:03 am

  5. […] Friday, 25 June 2010: Colin Jackson has written a post that complements this post very well: it.gen.nz » Film industry fails again: That’s what makes it strange that the film industry apparently hasn’t released the film to […]

    Pingback by The movie industry are dead wood — KnowIT — 25 June 2010 @ 11:06 am

  6. […] Colin Jackson writes on his blog that “There’s a great New Zealand film called “Boy” – it’s a coming of age tale with a uniquely New Zealand flavour to it. It’s been in the cinemas here for three months, and it’s gone down very well. I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t know, because the film has been well-promoted. I think I saw that it was now the highest-grossing New Zealand movie ever. Well done to Taika Waititi and every one else involved. […]

    Pingback by Film Industry Fails To Meet Demand Again « Creative Freedom Foundation — 25 June 2010 @ 11:07 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress