Will British Film Rise Like A Phoenix From The Sony Warehouse Fire?

Guest blogger David Wilkinson of UK Distribution outfit Guerilla Films, tells us about the longer term impacts of the riots and the fire at the Sony distribution warehouse.

What was I to do with 1,400 DVD’s of RABBIT ON THE MOON a British/ Mexican co-production that were only selling 4-5 copies per year? I asked that question to my sales force only last week. The problem was resolved in a devastating and unexpected way when on Monday rioters in Enfield torched the Sony DADC warehouse.

I am sure part of the rioters motivation was that Sony is was a giant corporation who they believed ‘deserved it’. What they did not know is that every UK independent film and DVD distributor used Sony to warehouse and ship their stock, around 60 companies. Coupled with this were almost 200 Indie record labels who also stored their CD’s in Enfield.

To give you an idea of the scale of the Sony warehouse, some years ago, 2,000 units of one of my films were accidently lost in the warehouse. I was so perplexed that I went to try and find them myself. After two hours I gave up – even though 2,000 DVD’s would fill a bedroom, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I returned on Wednesday with a CNN news crew to carry out an interview. One of Europe’s largest warehouses was now nothing more than a ruin of buckled metal and the ash of 25 million DVDs/ CDs and Games with the flames still roaring some 60 hours later.

Although all of us are insured, the insurance will only cover what was lost. When a distributor releases a DVD, they will make more than is needed for the initial release as the cost of ordering extra disks is low when ordering in volume. This is why we have a warehouse to hold stock in the first place. But if all of those disks sell out, or are destroyed in a fire, making a new batch is very expensive. While I could do that, with DVD a dying medium and only one high street retail store HMV taking my films (I had 49 retailers taking my films ten years ago), I would never cover the costs of making these new disks of my back catalogue, let alone make a profit to pay out to film makers.

So I am now forced, sadly, to delete 27 British film titles from DVD sale including Chris’ ‘White Angel’ and ‘Urban Ghost Story’.

And it is not just me, so many of my fellow distributors are also forced to take the similar measures.

In conversation David has also told me that many distributors may go bust as they simply cannot survive this catastrophe. As for me and my films? Well we are already planning a whole new re-release campaign, but online using new technologies such as iTunes and Distrify. While this is a bitter blow, I wonder if in the years to come, this terrible event will be recognised as the catalyst that put disk based distribution in the past and moved us all into an online distribution future?

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author


e: mail@livingspirit.com

2 Responses to Will British Film Rise Like A Phoenix From The Sony Warehouse Fire?

  1. Graham Inman August 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Difficult to believe this is Britain.

  2. Christopher Hughes August 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Sony burning to the ground is an tragedy not not just for film makes and distributors but for film lovers. Although David points out DVD sales are a dying medium they are accessible to far more than those accessing films using other methods other than free to air TV and theatrical viewing and right now there is no credible alternative. A reduction in the mountain of DVD’s will I imagine end up with less in the discount sections or store and supermarkets everywhere and this is where I’ve found some of amazing finds that either passed me by on release or didn’t interest me enough to part with the original retain price. Blade Runner was one such film I found in the discount section back in the VHS days. How many films have you ever bought when there is an offer on and just pick one to make up the numbers, a film that normally you wouldn’t have bought on its own?

    Online distribution I doubt will make little difference to the bottom line of film makers pockets, yes physical distribution costs may be lower however so is the audience right now. But everyone has a computer I hear you cry. Well no they don’t, and broadband speeds and not great everywhere. If you live in the back of beyond you may be lucky to get broadband, cable or even Freeview but chances are they have a DVD player and TV. Don’t get me wrong that I am completely down on on line distribution I have bought films on iTunes, these generally are for when I am traveling and not at home though. At home I am very unlikely to watch a film on my 13″ laptop when I could watch one on my 40″ LCD TV in surround sound from the comfort of my couch. And if we consider the quality issue online distribution is still not holding up to its promise most online films suffer from either network issues such as buffering or compression issues that cause the image to look pretty awful, despite whatever camera it was shot on. iTunes currently does have HD viewing options however just live Virgins cable service there idea of HD is 720P and not the standard we have come to think of 1080p, which even the Canon 5D shoots at. Today most HDTV’s are 1080p and so have to upscale either an 720p or standard definition image to the quality can be variable.

    Home viewing of films on demand and I count dvd’s, blu ray and video tapes in this as well as online options has much more competition for it’s attention than it did. No longer do we just have five TV channels, now we have hundreds, video games of incredible quality, the internet and so on to entertain and distract us. Will the distribution of films to an online format change any of this? Unlikely. Distribution may find it’s physical costs go down and no longer have money tied up in stock at places like Sony but will still find the same challenges of finding an audience and getting the product to them.

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