Dr Will Higbee, Senior Lecturer in French, Director of Programmes (Film) and Deputy Director of the Humanities Graduate School, is currently at the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival.
Part 1: Emerging patterns in distribution and marketing
Another packed day at the Berlinale began with coffee and croissants followed by a lively and very insightful master class from Anna Higgs, Commissioning Executive for Film 4.0, the digital arm of Film 4. The master class formed part of the ‘Making Waves’ workshops, to which I was kindly invited as a guest of the Berlin dbbd and LFS. Anna was the driving force at Film 4.0 behind the A Field in England – director Ben Wheatley’s low budget, psychedelic English civil war thriller. As well as adopting a cinematically original approach to the film’s historical subject, A Field in England was experimental due to its simultaneous release in multiple formats and across multiple digital platforms, as well as being screened (without ad-breaks) in a prime-time Friday night slot on Film 4 in July 2013.
The reason this was such a bold move was that the film’s distribution by-passed the traditional series of windows that see a film rolled out over a period of months from cinemas, to pay-per-view/VOD, to rent and buy on DVD and finally on TV. Defying industry logic that suggested no one would go to the cinema if they could watch the film at home for free, A Field in England actually outperformed expectations for a film of this size across all platforms. After going into a detailed analysis of why this distribution strategy worked for this particular film, Anna then responded to questions about the current state of distribution for low-budget/independent cinema today. Her broad conclusion was that the ‘one size fits all approach’ that has to date dominated distribution strategies (and for the most part benefitted Hollywood) is no longer sustainable in a multi-platform, digital age. Instead, producers need to work with distributors to create a bespoke release strategy for each film, using all the digital means at their disposal to engage audiences. For an example as to how this can be achieved, see the Film 4 Digital Masterclass on A Field in England. http://www.afieldinengland.com/masterclass/
Next it was a quick bus ride across town for a late morning session at the ‘Berlinale Talents’, a programme of activities across six days, organized by the festival to support emerging talent within the European film industry. The session I attended was moderated by Ben Gibson (Director of the London Film School) and saw Danish producer Louise Vesth talk about her work on the latest Lars Von Trier film, Nymphomaniac Pt I, as a case study for exploring questions of strategic branding, bespoke marketing campaigns for individual territories, and using innovative strategies on social media in order to successfully distribute ‘difficult’ films. Though Von Trier’s multimillion dollar production and transnational cast of Hollywood stars and European A-listers, which has generated a stir due to its graphic sexual content and the way that the actors’ bodies were digitally replaced with body doubles, is far removed from Wheatley’s low budget ensemble cast in A Field in England, what the speakers from both sessions shared was an insistence on the need for bespoke distribution strategies in order for more challenging and creative films to find a place in the market.
Part 2 will follow later today!