OPINION: When is it out here?! The case for international release dates

The release dates can vary widely across markets

OPINION: When is it out here?! The case for international release dates

Image: AMPAS

You may have heard of Spotlight, a film telling the story of the Boston Globe expose on priests who abused children and were protected by the Catholic Church.

If you are into boxing, then Creed will almost certainly be on your radar. Lenny Abrahamson's Room is the hot Irish film from this year and The Revenant is already doing the rounds.

Although you have heard quite a lot about them at this stage, the chances are you may be waiting a significant amount of time to actually catch them on the big screen. Why? Because of staggered international release dates globally.

Why does this happen?

You may see trailers in the cinema that end with the words "coming soon" and wonder, as a consumer, how long do I have to wait to see this wonderful masterpiece? That actually puts it in very simplistic terms in regards to the industry. There are a number of factors that may affect why this is happening.

Firstly, the distributors and big studios are concerned with buzz, films being talked about, Jimmy Fallon-esque build-up to trailers and interviews with big stars and the like. Jennifer Lawrence just fell over, what film is she promoting? That kind of thing. (We like Jennifer Lawrence, take no offence). The point is, you have your stars out and about discussing the projects they're working on, with a big lead-in to the release date. That can change for different markets; if something is hitting the big-time in the States, we're almost guaranteed to hear about it here.

Secondly, there's the festival circuit. If you're a small budget film, this is exactly where you want to be aiming to promote it. Take Lenny Abrahamson's Room for example. Sure, it's a great cast based on a brilliant book with an excellent script but a film like this really depends on word of mouth internationally as often, it won't really have the huge budget to promote it on every billboard in the States (it's distributed by Element pictures here, the company behind the likes of the Guard). Unfortunately, one festival doesn't occur straight after another and so you want to make sure critics and audiences are talking about the films at these festivals before you release it.

Thirdly, and something that even film critics often forget, the distributors for certain films aren't necessarily the same across every market. Take Spotlight for instance, distributed by Entertainment One in the UK but then, strangely, in Finland, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. There may be all sorts of other factors affecting their release dates as it goes through so many different companies. Bigger films often don't suffer from this as much, Star Wars, for example, was distributed mainly by Disney.

And then finally, there's award season. Let's face it, some films entire production and promotion process exists with the award season in mind. Those tearful looks at the camera, an actor who completely changes who they are for a role (we've all seen that headline, Matthew McConaughey has really lost weight etc, etc) and those trailers that are aiming for you to constantly talk about that film and of course, pay for a ticket.

What's the impact?

The problem arises because generally, the cinema-going public is probably not really that concerned about the different aspects that affect a release date. If they hear Jennifer Lawrence talking up a storm about a film they won't see for a few months, two things could happen: they may lose interest or they may download it.

Piracy is an issue and not just in the case of the film world; it obviously has a massive effect on the music and TV industries. With TV, despite the fact that there are now legal streaming services, we're still seeing illegal downloading and streaming by people who have no access to them. Take Amazon Prime for instance, a service provided in the States and the UK with one of the most-talked about series from the year, Mr Robot. It's not available here and it's never going to reach our TV channels so what is the option? Illegal download.

The same goes for the film industry. I've already spoken to a number of people who have watched Oscar films which are available to illegally download or stream. They want to know, why should we wait? They're available online, surely they can't harm anybody.

So how much harm are they causing?

Well, the truth is, quite a bit. Most people may be under the impression that if they illegally stream or download something, they're only really harming some really well-off people who like to hang around Hollywood looking great and drinking coffee. Not the case. They're actually killing the industry. Sure, the bigger films may not really be affected, people will probably still go to see them, even to say they saw them in the cinema but the truth is, some are just considering downloading instead. That means ticket sales go down which basically affects everyone working in the studio and those across the company, internationally, but also crucially, it affects smaller film productions who need that dig out from the big films. 

Interestingly, Cineworld reported that film sales were actually up this year but this could be largely due to the fact that huge blockbusters were released internationally around the same time during the summer, the likes of the Avengers and Jurassic World topping that list. We can almost guarantee you've forgotten about films like Whiplash and Birdman which were in the Oscar season from last year but were actually released in January here. Let's face it, a lot of people wanted to see Michael Keaton's much-talked-about return to the big screen and they probably wanted to watch it as soon as possible. Star Wars topped the box office for 2015 with films like Minions, Spectre and Brooklyn getting a look-in.

Have a look at the cinema attendance figures for the last few years provided by Wide Eye Media for the Irish Film Board for example. They're down, they're a good bit down. 

Now, this could be the result of a number of factors. Television has made huge improvements over the last few years and, like the Sony Chairperson commented recently, "many younger people no longer feel compelled to go to the movies as an activity in general," he says, adding that they will only go to see particular films, rather than attending cinemas out of habit.

In terms of piracy, it's rampant. According to a survey last year, one in five people admit to illegally streaming or downloading a film. That's one in five who are admitting to it.  Ignite Research on behalf of communications group Core Media, says 36,806 Irish adults illegally download media content every day, be it music, tv shows or films. A Grant Thornton report from 2013 has stated that piracy was costing the economy in the region of €269 million per year.

So surely it's in the studios interest to close that release gap? Yes, it's understandable that they want to release it in different markets for different reasons but this is the modern world, everything is literally at your fingertips. Let us be more united!