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TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING ?

Andrew L. Urban wonders if the film industry (especially Hollywood) isnít shooting itself in the footnote to its own balance sheet by releasing too many films. Itís not a new subject, but Hollywood fails to implement its own policy of restraint in numbers. So who gains from it?

With no less than an average of four new films released every week - sometimes more - audiences are offered a huge movie menu. From big budget mainstream fare like Face/Off, Conspiracy Theory, Con Air and Men in Black, to the lower budget but interesting films like Chasing Amy, Different for Girls, Fire, Brassed Off and Albino Alligator, new films pile on top of each other as the distribution system spews them out in a relentless torrent.

Some would argue that this is a good thing, it feeds the growing film appetite of the nation, and offers diversity. Maybe. The latter is true: there is diversity allright, with foreign language films, low budget debuts by new directors, and the big action films - not to mention a smattering of Australian films. In September 1997, there are three of those being released: Kiss or Kill, Paws, Doing Time for Patsy Cline.

But while a large volume of releases may appear to be a consumer benefit, it can be argued that it is no such thing.

How much time can people devote to movies?

For one thing, only we film critics have the time (and even we are stretched) to keep up with the volume. Even allowing for the fact that the diverse menu caters for a variety of market segments, the sheer volume of new releases excludes all but the most obsessive film lover from enjoying even half of it. How much time can people devote to movies? Currently, every Australian visits the cinema almost 3 times a year: of course the reality is that a core group go often, others hardly ever. But even the core group has other commitments, a life outside the cinema.

Sept: 22 films are scheduled for release

Letís look at the rest of September 1997: some 22 films are scheduled for release (as at the end of August, but this may change). Of these, at least seven can be considered mainstream movies, not counting any of the four Australian films, all of which have broad appeal.

Then there is the cost: tickets, popcorn/candy purchases, transport/parking and other incidentals can turn a movie outing into a costly one, no less than about $30 for a couple.

Individual films donít fully reach their potential audience - or revenue

The end result of an oversupply of films is that individual films donít fully reach their potential audience - or revenue. This means the investors receive less than they might. The producers donít. (The exhibitors and distributors make it up on the next one.) The producers (and the studios) are the ones whipping the volume along, and while the studio executives, other investors and the banks continue to let them, they will.

More than a year ago, the majors in Hollywood announced they would cut back on production, recognising the problem. To date, there has been no sign of a cutback. In fact, according to UIPís marketing manager Sam Hamilton, their slate is even longer than last yearís.

How about a scheme for movie fans which works like frequent flyer plans

Perhaps itís impossible to cut back production at the studio level: too many executives, too many entrenched empires and too many jobs riding on throughput. Maybe the only thing to do is to manage the volume: how about a scheme for movie fans which works like frequent flyer plans: the more you go, the more you build up credits that can reward your patronage. Each ticket earns points which can be accumulated and redeemed for discount or free tickets.

It may not cut down the time needed to enjoy the diversity, but at least it helps cut the costs and so encourage audiences to benefit from the glut.

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BIG BUDGET MAINSTREAM FARE:

Face/Off


Con Air


Men In Black


LOWER BUDGET, INTERESTING FILMS:

Fire


Chasing Amy


Albino Alligator


AUSTRALIAN FILMS TO BE RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER:

Paws


Doing Time With Patsy Cline


Kiss Or Kill







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