Can you afford to release YOUR film in a cinema and take just £86?

Over the past few days there has been much chatter about a film that was released in UK theatres this weekend. You can watch the trailer here.

It’s called ‘Motherhood’, stars Academy Award nominee Uma Thurman, UK star Minnie Driver, and TV show ‘ER’ helmer Anthony Edwards. Here’s the plot outline from IMDB is… In Manhattan, a mother of two preparing for her daughter's sixth birthday party has no idea of the challenges she's about to face in order to pull off the event.

Sounds like it should do SOME business right?

Last weekend, the total UK Theatrical Box Office for ‘Motherhood’ was $131 (£86).

That’s right. Eighty six pounds.

Watch the trailer (if you haven’t already) and remember that figure of £86.

That’s less than ten people in the whole of the UK who actually bought tickets. Of course the tax man will take 17.5% of that £86 (VAT), the theatre will take 75% of the remaining, leaving only enough for a round of venti latte’s at Starbucks for the film makers. Oh hang on, no the film makers wont get a penny as the distributor has to recoup many £thousands first, AND take their fee for releasing it – and remember, distributors, like the cinema owners, are not in business to cash flow my film, your film or this film. Nor are they in business to lose money.

Wow. What a stark reminder of just how tough the market is out there.

But… the rabbit hole goes deeper.

Motherhood Rather than just report the sensational headline here, I thought I would dig deeper. I spoke with some distributor friends of mine who explained…

  • The film is not very good (though it’s not terrible either)
  • The film was released in one cinema in London only. Very little PR was done
  • This limited release is a tactic to gain exposure and reviews for DVD, VOD and TV sales. They expected to do very little business in theatres (though maybe not this little)
  • The distributor may have been contractually bound to release the film in theatres when in fact, it should never have appeared in theatres (but the film maker demanded it), therefore they did the minimum needed to fulfil their end of the deal.
  • The DVD was released on the same day as the theatrical release (figures not available yet, but let’s not jump to any conclusions).

Metrodome released the film and their very own James Brown gave a presentation at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School just last week… Here is what was reported on the Last Night With Riviera Blog.

Metrodome's James Brown gave a rambling presentation on the state of UK distribution. He'd just learned that Metrodome's chair had let go of large portion of the staff and was pulling the company out of theatrical (12 films a year) to concentrate solely on DVD (60 films a year), which informed much of his talk. In an hour of constant, roundabout banter, he made only two real points (over and over again):
  • the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has killed UK distribution, which is on life support. Retailers are going out of business. Theatrical is dying. There is no theatrical audience over the age of 35 in the UK. We don't know how lucky we have it here etc.
  • In the UK, the audiences for theatrical and video are distinct. This means that, for example, you can make UKP 2.4 million on Broken Embraces at the box-office, but only ship 1,000 DVD's. Or UKP 800,000 on Away We Go and only ship 800 copies of the DVD in the 1st month. Conversely, it means there are massive DVD audiences for films which would not warrant a theatrical release, such as Metrodome's moneymaker for 2009, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus. (Hey James, have you seen Chihuanhas?)
  • His main message: "I'm here to give you permission to make commercial crap to fund your passion project". His next project: derivative WWII action Age of Heroes.

Read the whole blog entry here

This unprecedented turbulence and fluidity in the market is the biggest challenge we film makers now face.

We can’t rely on anyone but ourselves to create our own distribution models and helm the release ourselves. Think about it, if the film maker had mounted their own campaign for ‘Motherhood’, do you think they could have improved on that £86? I am pretty sure YOU would have done better.

This is one of the messages of the workshop that I am running with Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler next month. We MUST take control of our own distribution, by connecting with audiences and running distribution models that are hyper efficient and targeted to maximise exposure, cash returns and generate new opportunities for further exploitation. Can you afford your film to take just £86 at the box office? I can’t.

The old model is broken, the new model is evolving, but finally, we are in control. Check it out here.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

8 Responses to Can you afford to release YOUR film in a cinema and take just £86?

  1. Stuart Jamieson March 31, 2010 at 1:42 pm #


    I agree entirely and have been watching film-makers with distribution and marketing models really making an impact where it counts (their own income from the project)

    The one project I’ve been following closely for precisely it’s marketing/distribution strategy is David Baker’s “Mission X” and it’s not gone unnoticed by the bigger players either who have are trying to catch David’s lightning.

    What would be nice is if we can get the Theatre system to take our models seriously as well rather than selling out to pure event movies (20 screens – do they all have to be playing “Avatar” at 10 minute offsets?)

    In fact the only part of your article I’d disagree with was “TV show ‘ER’ helmer Anthony Edwards.” Surely it’s “Top Gun Star Anthony “Goose” Edwards”?


  2. Dominic March 31, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    My first question was (can we be sure it was £86) and I realise from your detective work that it was only in one UK Cinema, so they were always going to make little back. It’s a bit sad really, maybe they didn’t think the UK market was viable but still wanted a “tick on the list” to say that it’s been screened in the UK?

    Maybe it was part of a deal with the distributor and they’re the only ones pushing it? Maybe its a dead end studio production with a small but sizable budget that was made on a whim without much love? I’d want to know the answers to that.

    I just finished reading “Digital Film Making by Mike Figgis” and that comes to the exact same conclusion, even if the book was finished and added to in 2006. I still think there are ways for us to break through though even in the mainstream, but without budgets to control traffic (the demograph of people interested in the film) then it’s difficult to really get that converted into cash, but not impossible.

    I wish I could afford the workshop, but I’m still just like every other indie Producer, just about making ends meet…just.

  3. Richard Purves March 31, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    I’m not so sure we are. The best way to slash costs as far as distribution is concerned is to go digital. Replace the film prints that have to be printed, shipped, played, checked, cleaned and eventually discarded with a one off transmission of digital encrypted data straight to the cinemas that never degrades.

    Only problem is digital distribution seems to have been completely sewn up between Deluxe Color and Technicolor as far as the USA and UK are concerned. That and lack of quality content (that mega shark trailer WTF?) will make life very difficult indeed.

  4. Matthew P March 31, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    Has anyone ever heard of a film called “Offending Angels”? This film starred Shaun Parkes (Human Traffic) and Andrew Lincoln (TV’s Teachers) It was so bad, the London Evening Standard wrote an article on it!

    It opened for one week at my local cinema in Croydon for a week and no one saw it!

    It’s never received a DVD or TV release and the stars never speak about it…

    Read here:

  5. Mark April 1, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    The motherhood trailer looks great!

    So does this mean you lose money on a theatrical release but make it on Global DVD and TV sales.

    Cinemas are a nice advert I thought most of their money was made selling hot dogs etc. Ultimately though the distributers and cinemas will stick together to stay financially viable its the distributers who we should shine the spotlight on and who can get the best deal. Maybe they should be more monitored for best practice and we should have a widely KNOWN top ten and raise the profile on who to go to for the best deal that would mean more business for them and better deals for us.

  6. Chris Jones April 1, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Hi Mathew – I wrote about Offending Angels in my last book. Yes it did get a DVD release BECAUSE it got so much press for performing so badly. And it sold relatively well on DVD.

    Link here to Amazon

  7. Russell Honeywell April 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Maybe it was their plan all along, purposely botch the release but ensure mass media coverage of said botched release to publicise the film.

    Just think how many times it has been mentioned in the last week in the national press. You can’t buy (or metronome couldn’t with their budget) the kind of coverage they’ve had recently.

  8. Terry Stephens April 5, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    There is no reason why that movie couldnt have fared better.

    They should have got in with TV spots, Loose Woen and all the programmes where mothers would watch…YouTube..In fact there are so many ways to get the word out but it seems they had little faith in it.

    Dont they have someone who does PR?

    Im sure a lot of mothers with children would probably watch it on dvd so hopefully it should fare better on dvd but little attendance doesnt bode well for its advance publicity.

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