Last week saw the release of Ben Wheatley’s fourth feature, A Field in England. A thriller, horror, historical drama? I’m not sure what you would call it. Set during a period of history largely overlooked in cinema in the last few decades, the English Civil War, the film sees a small group of deserting soldiers who are forced to search a field for an unnamed treasure.
More interesting than the film itself, is the way it was released in the UK. On 5 July 2013 it had a simultaneous multiple platform release, being made available on DVD, video on demand, in cinemas, and screened on Film4 that evening. When interviewed on BBC radio, director, Ben Wheatley compared the multi platform release to the “Pay what you want” release of Radiohead’s In Rainbows album. The idea isn’t completely new, back in 2010 the horror/thriller Frozen was release in cinemas and video on demand at the same time. A filed in England is yet to receive a North American release but it is expected that distributor Drafthouse Films will opt for a similar structure showing the film in theatres and through video on demand.
Is this the future of film release? Its hard to say. It is clear that the way we consume movies is changing. Hopefully not in the way George Lucas has suggested. Given the chance to see a movie in the comfort of our own homes at the same time as in cinemas will create an interesting question. Do we choose to watch the big event movies on the big screen and the smaller releases at home? Will this result in falling cinema attendances? Will it drive prices up, down or will they stay the same? Will it encourage or stamp out piracy? It is hard to say.
An lot will depend on the individual in question, although people will react to the changes their character and opinions won’t. I once had a conversation with someone who watches as many films as me but in a very different way. He tends to watch pirate DVDs. When I asked what the last movie he saw in a cinema he said it was Batman movie but couldn’t remember the name. “Batman Begins or The Dark Knight” I asked (it was shortly before the release of The Dark Knight Rises). “No” he responded “The one with Val Kilmer”. That was the day I thought there was a future for multi platform releases. If there is a way to get a regular film watcher who hasn’t seen the inside of a cinema since John Major was prime minister to pay for his movie consumption in a way that sees some of the money going back into the film industry and not into the hands of criminals it has to be a good thing.
My fear is independent cinemas. I am loyal to one particular cinema chain, not because they are any better than anyone else, but because they have a pass scheme that results in me paying around £1.50 per film and not the usual £5-10. I do however visit an independent cinema from time to time to watch films that don’t make it into a multiplex. I’m sure many other people do the same thing. Are these smaller release the ones that will receive multi platform releases making it harder for independent cinemas to survive? That stands a good chance. However I don’t anticipate many films to be released on all these platforms. It is more likely that films will be released in cinemas and on another platform such as video on demand or DVD. If they go down the video on demand route that creates a further question; will some providers pursue exclusive rights to some movies?
Whatever happens, it is clear that we are at the start of a period of change. How long will it take and what will the situation be at the end? I don’t know, but one thing is clear, The cinema is still the best and by far my favourite way of watching movies and for the foreseeable future I still intend to watch an average of two movies a week in the cinema.