The Film Authority on the Big Screen…


‘You’re not really a film unless you’ve had a meaningful release at the cinema, and that’s why the big screen is still a big deal…’

The 2022 BAFTA awards were given out last night, so this seems like an opportune time to take the pulse of the cinematic world. The underlying story this year is how few of the nominated films saw the inside of a cinema in any meaningful way; The Power of the Dog, Coda, The Harder They Fall and more found their audiences via streaming, not cinema, and that should be an important distinction…

There’s an on-going argument about what constitutes a film or not, but like most institutions, BAFTA have been slow to recognise how the existence of streaming erodes our sense of cinema. Companies like Netflix and Apple have been quick to recognise that awards season offers potential for a halo effect, what used to be a bump in cinema attendance or DVD sales. That bump is now largely focused on streaming instead; The Power of the Dog or Coda can’t be purchased, and are visible only to subscribers.

Streaming is a relatively new tier that sits alongside cinema and television production and distribution; it would seem logical that it should have its own awards system. How hard would it be to protect the film experience and update the rules so that a movie needs to screen exclusively in cinemas for 45 days to qualify for cinema awards?

Right now in cinemas, attendance is way down; sure, audiences flock to Batman, Spiderman and Bond, but almost all other films have been lucky to generate half the box-office they would in pre-pandemic times. Cinema is on life-support, and badly needs the oxygen of publicity to get bums back onto seats and engage our interest, but awards shows are clogged with streaming service output.

Yes, there’s a counter-argument that by paying top dollar for cancelled cinema releases (Deep Water, The Ice Road, Coming 2 America), streaming has thrown cinema a life-jacket in these difficult times. And streaming services do pay some cinemas directly to screen their product, so a 4-wall fee enables cinemas to break even despite their halls being regularly empty; yet why would audiences pay to see a film at the cinema when they can watch it for free at home?

Published statistics show they don’t; such arrangements are empty calories, a quick fix that diminishes the brand of cinema itself. Awards bodies are also loathe to reset the rules that bring them a healthy financial bounty, and yet separate streaming awards could create a third and potentially lucrative tier rather than the hopelessly slanted, anti-cinema playing field of the last few years.

Last night’s BAFTA awards saw the personable comic Rebel Wilson cornered by the lack of recognition of the nominated films; even a room full of writers would struggle to come up with gags about films that an audience simply don’t recognise. So instead, she insults lazy targets JK Rowling and Leonardo di Caprio, exactly the kind of recognisable talent that BAFTA should be cultivating rather than denigrating. Streaming has been encroaching on and eroding cinema for a while now; it’s time someone addressed the equivalent of climate change before cinema becomes an endangered species.

Putting last night aside, I’m looking forward to tonight’s first public cinema screening of our feature documentary It’s Not All Rock & Roll; we’ve been at European and British festivals, cast and crew sneaks in cafes, digital screenings and more, but this is the first time that the public can see it on the biggest of screens. It’s a cool doc by Jim Burns about US singer songwriter Dave Doughman and his band Swearing at Motorists, and I’m still keen to share it with as many people as possible. We’ll  be at the Empire Clydebank tonight at 8pm; you’re not really a film unless you’ve had a meaningful release at the cinema, and that’s why the big screen is still be a big deal.


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  1. One of the two cinemas in my immediate area closed, so if the one doesn’t have a showing of a particular film, we’re basically out of luck.

    The pandemic has had such a crippling effect on the industry especially from a distribution standpoint. The moment HBO Max was able to offer same-day streaming of new releases without much of a fight is the moment I recognize theaters lost the great power they once had … but as others have pointed out, perhaps that era was already on borrowed time. Marvel and the superhero film phenomenon definitely extended their relevance where the general public is concerned, but as more theaters close and more studios see streaming as a more viable option, I am concerned that theatrical experiences will be more limited an \d eventually inaccessible to huge swaths of the country, especially rural areas.

    • Agree with all of this. For Netflix to pay arthouse cinemas to screen their films in largely empty halls will have the same effect; when Netflix’s money runs out, the theatres will close. Cinema right now just means super-hero movies, and that may well be the end of cinema as we know it. They needs a 45 day window for all mainsteam cinema releases, but unless they can stick to it, the whole system collapses, and the US and UK academies are just letting it happen to make a fast buck now…

  2. I am a rare rarity. I still go to the cinema every Monday and cram in as many films as possible – usually a double bill but occasionally if the timings are right I can manage three. I have a monthly card which makes it cheaper – ultra cheap in fact – but before I had that I still went and paid full price.

  3. I knew the future of movies were truly doomed when my friend’s little kids had no interest in going. The idea doesn’t even make sense to them! “Why would we go somewhere to watch TV?” The big screen holds no allure for them….and they’re more inclined to watch You Tube than movies.

    Those predicting the complete death of the movie theater may be premature, but it’s undeniable it’s heyday is over and never coming back. It’s a bummer for those of us who feel that sitting in a dark theater is one of life’s great pleasures.

    I can only hope that it will remain like the bookstore and not become the record store–diminished but not extinct.

    I hope you had a blast at the premier!

    • Agree with all of the above. It’s just frustrating to me that we’re fiddling while Rome burns. US and UK academies are now subsidy junkies, dependent on streaming money. If and when that dries up, we’re all in trouble. They key thing is to win audiences back, and techniques from the past won’t cut it these days…

  4. cackles gleefully *

    If they come up with some streaming awards, I’m going to call them the Donkey Ballz, no matter what they get called in real life.

  5. An old friend from my plantation days, a theatre director, wrote this in 2002. It might resonant with you (though he & I disagreed on several points): FILLING THE TENT
    Americans, like most humans, have always loved gatherings. We have congregated in every imaginable space and building—from meeting halls, churches, and opera houses—to circus tents, stadiums, and outdoor concerts. We assemble in modest groups for poetry readings and celebrations, and flock by the 1000s to rock concerts, stock car races, and football games. We draw energy from our numbers and seem unable to go very long without finding a reason to seek each other out. This convergence instinct is as old as human history.
    For the probable origins of gatherings, return to the middle of the last ice age. The only one way to get warm was to stand in a circle around a fire. To lessen boredom, someone shared a story, thereby creating the first live performance, viewed by the first audience. Soon stories included pantomimes, poems, songs, dances, dramas—entertainment.
    And yet, here we are at the beginning of a new millennium with the means, opportunity, and some good reasons to isolate ourselves. It seems foreign to all we have celebrated as a species. Still, many are determined and content to lock doors, pull shades, go online (the new, emotionally neutral norm), and remain isolated thanks to technology.
    Our best defense is to preserve the habit of being an audience no matter what. A live audience generates joy, exalts our humanness, and reminds of the value of harmony and coexistence. It keeps us far from the wasteland of loneliness. There’s nothing sadder than being left outside the tent after everyone’s gone in. Unless it’s not noticing that the art of getting together is disappearing.
    Stories feed us and the fire of shared experience warm us. Do everything you can to ensure continued, peaceful, congregation. As Jane Wagner said at the end of her play: ‘to see strangers sitting in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things gave the aliens goosebumps, filled them with awe!’ Cheers

    • This x 1000, as the kids say! There’s nothing wrong with getting our fix through phones, computers and tv screens, but we miss out on the feeling of the moment; if you can attend a live event, you should always do so. A film isn’t a film until the audience are applauding, otherwise, it’s something else..but it’s increasingly an uphill struggle to lure people out of their houses, particularly when viewing at home is the cheaper option. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…

    • My name is blazed across the screen in huge letters; I’m not physically visible but it’s a film I’m keen to share as exec producer.

      • What is an executive producer? I think I had an idea it was usually pals and hangers ons and wanna be’s that give a bit of money to the project to get their name in lights, and don’t actually do anything worthwhile.

        • That’s very much who I am, a talentless nobody seeking only glory for myself.

          It can be that, but there are cases where the exec is a driving force, so who knows? I saw a rough cut of the film at an early stage and decided I wanted to help get it out there to an audience. But I’m not a proper producer; ie serving the crew coffee at 6am in a snowstorm.

                • Neither. I’ve taken a couple of films to distribution before, and the trick is to distibute it yourself and get a profile. Finding the right cinema to start with helps, and roping in a few other top critics to review can help too. Most cinemas will allow a hire, but the tech requirements are expensive enough to put most people off. It’s worth it to support your local cinema and get a few bums on seats.

                    • All praise for getting the picture into a cinema. It was a great experience to see it on the big screen. The director certainly has an eye for composition, which kind of got lost on the small screen version. And the cue ball scene is a classic – if Scorsese’s name had been on this picture, people would be constantly referencing the cue ball scene. Jim Burns offered some interesting insights in the Q&A.

                    • You might like to know It’s Not All Rock’n’Roll is in sixth place in the all-time list of views on my blog so there’s definitely interest out there.

  6. I really think the pandemic lockdown was just tripping an industry that was already falling down the stairs. TV took a huge bite out of the moviegoing audience over fifty years ago. Movies were never as popular after that. Then there was the big demographic shift that saw any movie that was going to make money aimed at 17-24 year olds. I’ve only been to see a handful of movies at a cinema in the last twenty years. I got depressed seeing that I was often the oldest person in the audience by decades. Then there’s the insane cost of a night out compared to staying at home, and the way home viewing on huge big-screen TVs in 4K or whatever beats the cinema experience anyway.

    Bottom line is I don’t think we’re ever going back to the movies being what they were for us as young people. Not saying that’s good or bad, but the industry and the medium have changed.

    • I hear you, and I fear your experience is typical of many people’s own; I do fear that the general public are losing the thread of cinema, and settling for whatever’s free on streaming. I was all set to head out to the cinema to see The Green Knight when I noticed it was free on Prime; two tickets at £14 each, plus parking, drinks and food, and you’re talking about £60 for one night out when you can see the same film in HD at home for nowt. There needs to be some joined up thinking rather than corporate aggression; Netflix set out to disrupt cinema’s dominance, but now they’re pretty much kicking their adversary when they’re down…a body formed around celebrating cinema, like the British or American academies, should be tackling this head-on, but there’s zero sign of a coherent response as yet…

      • It’s a sticky wicket. Unlike the aliens in Jane Wagner’s Search for Signs of Intelligence Life in the Universe, who watched the audience, not the play–I prefer to watch the show–and rewind or pause as needed. Chuckle, last theatre movie I went to–months ago–I caught myself thrusting out my hand to reach for the remote to adjust the volume… I also wanted to throttle the guy sending text messages and the 2 ladies sharing comments. I brought my own treats and bottled water and matinee price was $7. The magic of the big screen’s still there, but morphing…IMO

        • Yes, I know the feeling; people seem to have forgotten how to watch a movie,and prodce rotisserie chickens from backpacks for maximum noise pollution as the film starts. And don’t get me started on £4 for a bag of Malteesers that are £1 in the shop around the corner..these prices might have been bearable when cinema was the big show in town, but less so now, and the healthy habit is getting lost in these troubled times. It’s an uphill struggle to get it back, but 100 years + of cinema suggest it’s a goal wotth aiming for…

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