Shutter Island is released in the UK this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing it but, unfortunately, i know what happens at the end. It’s my own fault, i accept that. I ignored a spoiler warning, and paid the price. But if all movies had simultaneous worldwide release, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
It’s not even that bad with Shutter Island, we’re only a month behind. What really brought the issue home was last weekend’s Oscar ceremony. Jeff Bridges won best actor. It has been said that whilst his performance IS good in Crazy Heart, it has very much been awarded to him in recognition of all his great work over the years. Sandra Bullock won best actress. Just the day before, she had been awarded a Razzie for worst actress for All About Steve. Her win at the Academy Awards was somewhat contentious, and many have questioned whether she deserved the award. As a film writer, i want to be able to be part of the debate. The problem is, in the UK, we haven’t been able to see the performances in question. Crazy Heart went on wide release just two days before the ceremony, and we have to wait until the end of the month for The Blind Side.
When you write about movies, you go into most knowing far too much about the plot. When movies are release in the US weeks before, it makes it that much harder. It has gotten better. I remember waiting months and months for movies to make it to these shores. The difference was, we really didn’t know much about them. The problem now is that the world has gotten so much smaller. Newspapers and magazines carry far more information about films from across the pond, because there is more interest in them than ever. But it’s the birth of the Internet that has really caused the big problem. There is now no media divide between Britain and the US. When a film is released in America, reviews, spoilers and arguments immediately flood the ‘net, and it’s impossible not to find out essential story elements.
As a blogger, there are other complexities based around this. I went to a press screening for 9 last year, and as is usual, there was an embargo on reviews, until the week of release. The problem was, 9 had been on general release in the States for weeks. I could read any one of hundreds of reviews, but had to sit on my own for two months. Crazy.
In theory, there is no real reason for studios to care if the rest of the world has to wait to see their movies, but look deeper and you see things have changed. Where domestic gross far outweighed international numbers, they eventually came together to where the split was pretty even, and now in many cases the amount of money made overseas exceeds the final domestic gross. Growth in markets in Asia and the Middle East mean that they are just as important as Europe when it comes to marketing and distribution.
This being the case, the increasing importance of Internet marketing means that it makes sense to release films at the same time worldwide, as it reduces the need to spend money on advertising campaigns, the cost will only come in one combined burst. As well as this, a big reason for the huge amount of piracy that goes on is overseas demand for movies not yet released in particular countries. Simultaneous release wouldn’t eradicate piracy, there will always be those that prefer to buy DVDs than go to cinemas. But there will be less incentive to watch inferior quality copies of movies when they are available to watch in theatres locally from the very beginning. When a film is available to watch in one market so long before others, it gives plenty of time to make a decent recording, and make thousands of copies for sale around the world. If studios are serious about combating piracy, they really need to look at the effect this has.
There are clearly many reasons why releases are not synchronised worldwide, and some of them will be impossible to overcome. But i think it is important to recognise the increasing impact overseas box office is having. To respect the needs of audiences in overseas markets as well as domestically, and to cater to them by providing the people what they want, on a global scale.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twiter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann