In explaining how a film reaches the big screen, it is important to understand the relationship between film distributors and cinema operators.
A film distribution company wants to get each of the film that it has ‘rights’ to sell in front of the biggest possible audience. Many distributors not only manage the ‘theatrical’ (ie cinema) release of films, but also distribute films on other platforms such as DVD, Blu-Ray, Video on Demand, Online, Pay and Free TV, amongst others.
For more information on how film distribution works see the website of the Film Distributors’ Association.
Cinema operators and film distributors both work together to encourage audiences to see films at the cinema. Both sides wants to maximise box office: film distributors on the films they sell; and cinema exhibitors across all the films they show at their cinema(s).
So getting the right programme of film screenings on at each cinema often involves a complex process of analysis and negotiation.
Cinema exhibitors and film distributors negotiate ‘terms’, ie how much each cinema will pay the distributor in ‘rental’ for the films it shows. This is usually a percentage of the box office takings on the film, and will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the film and whether it is being shown on release date or the weeks afterwards.
The location of the cinema and size of the cinema company are also relevant here. While most large cinemas – which tend to be in cities or large towns – screen major films as soon as they are released, a number of smaller cinema sites may not receive these films until a few weeks later.
The share of income from cinema tickets which goes to the film distributor ensures that money can be returned to producers and film-makers to repay the costs of making and marketing the film and to invest in producing new work. While vital to the future of the wider film industry, it does mean that there is less money than there might seem available to the cinema operator to cover all of their costs in running each site.