The DISTRIBUTION IN THE UK session with Peter Buckingham and Alex Stolz from the UK Film Council was based upon the factual research the UKFC have done into what motivates audiences to see a film, who watches what, and the things that are most profitable because they attract a larger audience. Though the information is easy to comprehend and largely what you'd expect, it's also quite complex in terms of understanding what producers and distributors are looking for in a film and, of course, that all begins at script level. Too complex to go into great detail here in a blog post but certain things stood out.
People who attend the cinema alone tend to be in a very small minority of film buffs and those who work in the industry. The vast majority of people attend with friends or a partner and therefore some kind of negotiation of 'what to go and see' tends to be involved. Films easilly identified by genre tend to do better because it is easier to describe the type of film to others in a recognisable way. Audiences tend to know what genre they like and, interestingly, drama was not one they tend to even classify. Other factors come into play like what sort of genre appeals to different sexes (are we not all looking for the perfect date movie?) and the appeal of known factors involved, well known names (both as audience draw and often as assurance of a certain quality/delivery of product) and publicity/buzz around the film, ie. have people heard enough about it to know if they want to see it or not. A number of factors need to be in play for a film to be successful and obtain the production finance & support it needs to get made and distributed. A lot of that decision making is made purely on the screenplay.
Work was a big factor with audiences seeming to veer toward factors they didn't get day to day at work, excitement, entertainment, glamour etc. and American Films were largely more popular than UK films for delivering higher levels of those factors. The downside to American film was considered to be schmultzy or overly patriotic material as we are much more amoral in Europe and don't like to be preached to. The upside of UK films was the ones that are clever/intelligent whilst the downside was films that are gritty and miserable. There were factors that could lift a more gritty or schmultzy film into more profitable/poplular likelihood of being successfully distributed. Music was a huge uplifting factor, and one that has been used very successfully to raise films that were gritty and miserable into popularity. It's worth understanding a lot of these things that go through the mind of people who have the power to green light your screenplay and what boxes they're looking to tick in order to sell your story to them.
Finally we heard about the exit polls that the UKFC have taken when they've funded projects and they can be quite interesting too in terms of what people say motivates them to see a film. They are all available on the UKFC website with analysis reports so you can take a look for yourselves http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk/exitpolls
How these sort of statistics can affect how a film is marketed and might affect how a writer should pitch a project. Information I felt was really worth knowing. In fact some of it (the stuff about how a film is chosen, the importance of genre, and how a film is marketed clearly) is something I learned when I was first taught screenwriting by Elliot Grove at Raindance Writer's Lab. Interesting to see how this information holds true years later and the factors that influence audiences haven't changed much.