Film Distribution in Art Houses, Japan… 3/4

November 21, 2010 | 1 comment | Blog
I hate to sound negative about the work of people I truly appreciate and respect. I wish my trip had made me come to a different conclusion. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts. I don’t pretend to know nor have understood everything, but I present my perspective, honestly, hoping to bring my small contribution to a branch of cinema that has been so valuable to many filmmakers and find itself in great danger of disappearing.

As I saw it, a lot of the theater owners are badly isolated, often too busy to run their theaters and try to pay their bills. They have no time nor energy left to find any new solutions or to even identify the problems as to why the people don’t show up anymore. They are so overloaded with work and financial pressure that they can’t think of any solution to improve their faith. All of them are absolute film buffs, well educated and always passionate: unfortunately, they are not necessarily good businessmen, nor marketing specialists. 

But whichever way we look at it, things have changed over the years, and we need to adapt if we want to survive. I don’t pretend to detain the truth, but here are the things that I would do, or at least explore, if I were a theater owner. Of course, from an ideological point of view, this could all well sound like a total and definite heresy. I still dive, because I believe that Art Houses won’t survive in the actual state of things.

1) Find new investors: except for a few exceptions, most of the theaters need radical improvements, which obviously cost a lot of money. Among the potential investors that I would look up are:

A) TV stations and their partners. I know that it sounds scandalous, but TV stations have money, (at least some still do…) they need to diversify their activities, and more importantly, they have the capacity to do a promotional job like no other groups. Moreover, if it’s not with their own money, they have several possibilities to attract sponsors with money. Investing in culture looks good for any large corporation and can be profitable from a tax point of view. A basic investment of a few hundred thousand dollars would be a good start, but a solid commitment in promotion is a lot more important in the long run. TV stations have strong ties with other media, politicians and can be awfully helpful in all sort of ways, including the Internet, etc. Getting a TV station would be my first priority. Unthinkable a few years ago, but now possible even though not easy…

B) Sell the name: It must sound terrible for someone who fought for the last ten, twenty or thirty years for a classic movie theater, but changing a name is better than losing the whole thing. All over the world arenas, concert halls, etc. are selling their names for large amounts of money. Art Houses bring prestige to any corporation that always want to be a good citizen. A “Kirin Cinema” or a “Mitsubishi Cinema” is definitely  better than no cinema.

C) Arcade or city support: A lot of the Art Houses are located in the center of shopping arcades that are struggling in most of the cities. They usually get a lot of financial support from the Government institutions or the cities. Many Art House owners already get support from them. They should all do, and not only for money, but also for advertising campaigns, etc.

D) Private investorsAn Art House owner had been struggling for over twenty some years with his small movie theater in Montreal. One day he got fed up of barely surviving and made a list of the ten richest men in town. He contacted the first one on the list. To the struggling owner’s surprise, the first millionaire who heard his demand for a new multiplex Art House, said “yes” right away. The day they were supposed to sign the deal, the investor had a heart attack and died. The theater owner called the second one on his list, they met and the new guy said “yes” for a second time in a row. Eleven years later, one of the nicest Art House Theater in Canada is looking for extending the number of its theaters… 

There are a few rich people left in Japan. People simply need to prepare a nice business plan and knock on doors. The worst that can happen is to receive a polite refusal…

I hope all this doesn’t sound too pretentious on my part, but I do feel like bringing some ideas to the table. If it can bring something to anybody in this industry, I will be the happiest man in the world. I will come out with some more comments in my next post, which will call for a drastic change in approach…

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