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Film distribution in Italy: an unforgettable experience.

Film Distribution in Italy: an Unforgettable Experience

It's a hot, balmy, evening in Italy. You and your friend are looking for something to do. As you meander down the streets of Milan, you spot a local theatre. That's it! Let's go to the movies! Once inside, you're ushered to your seat. What? No warm popcorn?! You select the "perfect" middle seat. Nestling in, you suddenly feel a lump, then another. After playing musical chairs, you and your friend find a couple of well worn, albeit lumpless, seats along the side aisle by the wall. While waiting for the picture to start, you notice the peeling paint and the litter from an earlier screening. The movie starts. The music swells. You're getting lost in the story. What acting! What romance! What...sweat?! THERE'S NO AIR CONDITIONING IN HERE! Beads of perspiration start building up on your forehead.

This is an exhibitor's nightmare! And that's summer movie-going in Italy! For the conditions just described, many theaters are closed during the summer months, thus creating a nine-month year for producers, distributors and exhibitors.

Add to the mix that ticket sales are down, 181 million less than in the past 10 years; ticket prices have risen to as high as $9; and the screens, which in Italy are synonymous with theaters, have decreased from 8,453 in 1980, to 3,586 -- and what you have is an extremely competitive marketplace. In fact, so competitive, the U.S. majors can't even exhibit all of their pictures. Approximately 80 per cent of the movies shown in Italy are English-language films.

According to Marco Colombo, an AFMA vp, "The Italian public wants to see U.S. films because the European film-makers have lost touch with what the audience wants to see." The picture is also bleak for the small U.S. independents, because the pecking order, as dictated by the exhibitors, (who have strong ties with individual distributors) is that the films from the majors are first, followed by the U.S. mini-majors, then the European independents, and finally, the smaller U.S. independents, who can only get their pictures in if they've garnered awards or have won critical acclaim.

So, why not open up the marketplace with multiplexes? This is a complex situation wrought with many obstacles, for which the future does not look promising. One of the main problems is that because there is a closed number of theater licenses for each city, not only would a theater owner have to "buy out" other theater owners for their licenses, to create his multiplex, but in the end, there wouldn't be any more screens!

Let's say that you've broken through the barriers and now have a distributor who can get your pictures released. What can you expect? The distribution fee will be between 15 to 30 per cent, depending upon the strength of your film. If your film has strong pre-sellable elements, you can expect a wide release...some time between October and April. In Italy, a wide release is 50 to 100 theaters, hitting such major cities as Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa. You want to penetrate the North because that's where the money is. The market research will be limited. Your target audience will be 14 to 39 year old men. As for advertising, you should know that print media is what primarily is used, with television ads being limited at best. Once your movie opens, be prepared. If you don't get a positive audience response immediately, within as little as one week, your picture may be pulled! Due to the lack of theater concessions, exhibitors rely solely on ticket sales for revenue.

Your movie's a hit!! But don't buy the new house just yet. Although the ticket tax will give you an accurate count of how many tickets have been sold, that won't account for how many people have actually seen your film. Sad to say, in Italy corruption is such that cracking down on piracy is not considered a top priority. Don't be discouraged however, because as William Shields, president and CEO of Trans Atlantic Entertainment, said, "Italy is still ranked as one of the top 10 markets for theatrical and television revenue."
COPYRIGHT 1991 TV Trade Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Stanford, Suzanne
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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