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"The life cycle of films has shortened drastically"

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Gabor Boszormenyi • Distributor

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- We met up with the head of Hungarian distribution company Mozinet, Gabor Boszormenyi, who breaks down its editorial policy, its strategy and current market trends

Gabor Boszormenyi  • Distributor

We met up with the head of Hungarian distribution company Mozinet, Gabor Boszormenyi, who breaks down its editorial policy, its strategy and current market trends. 

Cineuropa: How would you define Mozinet's editorial policy and development strategy?
Gabor Boszormenyi: We have been distributing films since 2006, but Mozinet was founded in 1998. During the first decade, we tried our hand at different fields within the film industry: we operated a web portal about movies, then published a monthly printed film magazine, had a TV show about movies, operated arthouse cinemas, had our own film education programme and organised several events on movies. We have mostly focused on European arthouse movies in every activity we have carried out, but in the beginning, distribution was less important than publishing our magazine. In 2010-2011 it became impossible to finance most of our activities owing to the lack of financial support from Hungary. Therefore, we had to close down everything except the distribution arm, which we had to reshape. 

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Four years ago, with a very small team, we started rebuilding our distribution activities, looking for hidden gems that were not acquired by our bigger competitors. Our main focus had been on European movies that were less risky due to the MEDIA support they received, but we have always kept an eye on US independent movies as well. Over the past few years, we have managed to get more and more films from the festival circuit with higher levels of appeal for the audience. While in 2011 we had fewer than 40,000 admissions in the cinemas, this year we will pass the 200,000 mark.

Pre-buying movies became essential for us; our editorial policy is a combination of acquiring bigger films based on their scripts (like Youth [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
, Macbeth [+see also:
film review
trailer
making of
film profile
]
and The Brand New Testament [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Jaco van Dormael
film profile
]
), buying beautiful arthouse movies that we find at festivals (Ida [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
interview: Pawel Pawlikowski
film profile
]
, Mustang [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
film profile
]
and Rams [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Grimur Hakonarson
film profile
]
, for example) and taking chances with titles like Wild Tales [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, which our competitors found too risky.

What are the main trends in the Hungarian theatrical market?
Because of digitalisation, it is more and more difficult to keep a film on the programmes. All of the cinemas now have access to blockbusters, there are many more films being released than there were a few years ago, and the films are being released on many more prints than before. Those movies that had two or three 35 mm prints before going digital are now being released on ten or 15 DCPs. There are fewer slots and more movies; the life cycle of films has shortened drastically. We’d need more second-run cinemas to keep the titles available for a longer time. It is only our biggest successes that we manage to keep on the programmes for several months (like Son of Saul [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: László Nemes
interview: László Rajk
film profile
]
or Wild Tales), and this change is especially harming those films that rely on word of mouth a lot.

The overall number of admissions in Hungary has been increasing for a few years now, and Q1-Q3 2015 even brought in a 20% increase compared to the same period last year. This means that the theatrical results will reach the same level at the end of this year as they were at ten years ago: about 12 million admissions in a country of 10 million. From our point of view, the problem lies in the structure of the ticket sales, not in the quantity.

Unfortunately, European and even national movies are really weak in Hungary. In the top-25 chart, you can only find a couple of films that are non-US productions; Hollywood dominates 90% of the market. Thus we are competing for the remaining 10% with fellow independent distributors.

Another big problem for us is that the cinemas in Budapest give us 70%-90% of all our theatrical revenue (depending on how arty the movie is), although less than 20% of the population lives in the capital. There are huge areas without any screenings of European movies, and Hungary desperately needs programmes to get youngsters into the cinemas. Our audience is ageing, and there are no national initiatives to build up future audiences for European films.

How do you explain the change in the public?
Blockbusters are getting bigger, small films are getting smaller (some films reach just 100 admissions in the cinemas), and there are fewer mid-sized movies. Our task is to persuade a public that is flooded with information and inundated with possible activities to spend its time on to go and see our movies. To avoid piracy, it is increasingly important to release the films close to their international release date, and in the race for the audience’s time, it’s essential to brand our films as something exceptional. This means that we have to be inventive in terms of the marketing, and we try to give the films more time to reach the audience, as the news of the release frequently gets lost in the fog of information surrounding the premiere.

How do you brand your movies?
To get more press coverage and generate some hype around our titles, we run our own festival, the Mozinet Film Days. We’ve just organised the fifth edition this October: nine new movies had pre-screenings during the four days of the festival, spanning 13 cities. For three of them (Rams, Virgin Mountain [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
and Cowboys [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
) we had talents coming along, and we used the bigger interest around our internationally famous movies (Youth, Macbeth and The Brand New Testament) to draw attention to the smaller ones (Short Skin [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Duccio Chiarini
film profile
]
, The Lesson [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
interview: Margita Gosheva
film profile
]
and Aferim! [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Radu Jude
film profile
]
).

As for specific examples of unconventional branding for our movies from the last 12 months, I’d like to say a few words about Wild Tales and Son of Saul. With Wild Tales we faced the problem that the film had no festival screening in Hungary, there was no hype in the press, and as it’s an anthology film, you can’t sell it with the story. So we decided to sell it through its effect: you get rid of everyday stress and have a great time while watching the movie. We built “shouting booths” in multiplex cinemas, where you could shout as loud as possible into a mic. During the shout, a camera took a picture of the shouter’s face, which was posted on Facebook in a frame promoting the movie, showing the volume of the shout as well. The boxes were branded in line with the movie, of course, so we had shouting “posters” next to the ticket counters, happy people coming out of the booths and a thousand pictures on the internet promoting the film. 

Son of Saul was a completely different story. Being in the production's home country, we decided to release it just after Cannes. We’d been wondering a lot before the release how to brand it as something accessible to the public, how to make the film work outside of festivals as well. During Cannes, we started to promote a series of 35 mm pre-screenings, in the presence of the director. But we announced only one screening at a time, to generate a higher level of demand than supply. We announced the first screening a week before it took place – the cinema was sold out in an hour. For the second and the third venue, it took only a few hours to sell all of the tickets. By the next day, the national media were talking about a huge commercial hit and about the fact that it was impossible to get a ticket to the film. Altogether, we sold 5,000 tickets before the national release, and it was obvious to everyone that this film was a must-see. Of course, this also meant that we had 5,000 people spreading the word before the release, and these people had seen the movie in the presence of the director, in an exclusive environment, making them even more eager to talk about their experience. The film is going to pass 100,000 admissions soon, a result that could not have been foreseen by anyone. 

What do you think of VoD releases and distribution windows?
VoD is still quite small in Hungary; for our films, it means an income from a few hundred euros to a couple of thousand per film. Internet-based VoD is close to non-existent; almost all of our revenue comes from IPTV service providers, but it’s really hard to get good visibility for our movies, and sometimes they even refuse some of our content. 

For our bigger films, we keep the distribution windows: the DVD and the VoD premiere are four months from the theatrical release. The multiplexes wouldn’t take the movies otherwise, and we don’t want to devalue the theatrical release either. For the smaller releases, we sometimes decide to go for day-and-date, or have the DVD and VoD release sooner after the theatrical. These movies don’t get good slots after the third or fourth week; there is no reason to keep the windows, and as they only sell a few thousand tickets in the cinemas, we don’t think this harms the market either. We only go for day-and-date if the VoD service provider is committed to promoting the movie; we believe this can even boost the theatrical release.

How difficult is the acquisition of the films you would like to release?
The competition is really tough when we’re buying movies eligible for MEDIA Selective Support from the most famous European directors or with a good cast. This means that sometimes these prestige titles are bought for an insane amount, resulting in a huge loss if the MEDIA application doesn’t work out in the end.

When we’re buying films with a bigger budget, we frequently have to compete with companies buying for several territories. There are more and more companies acquiring for the whole of Central Europe, so we have to be really fast if we want to get those movies that they might be interested in as well. Of course, being fast means taking a bigger risk, as with these pre-purchases, we don’t always know what we’ll eventually get for our money.

Sometimes it’s hard to convince a non-European seller about the realities of our market, and there are some films that don’t get distributed, as the seller is asking for a ridiculous amount for it. But in other cases, it’s easier to buy a non-European movie because there is no MEDIA support and nobody wants to take the risk. This was the situation with Wild Tales, which I’ve only seen in Toronto, months after its Cannes premiere, and Hungary was one of the only territories left unsold. We took our chances with the movie and sold almost 45,000 tickets, so we don’t regret going for it. 

What is in your line-up for the end of this year and for 2016?
The last quarter of 2015 is really busy for us. We released Virgin Mountain, Aferim! and Macbeth in October, and The Lesson and The Brand New Testament in November. In December we’re bringing Rams, Cowboys and Youth to Hungarian cinemas. If Son of Saul gets the Oscar nomination, then we’ll probably have a lot of work with it in January, and another Oscar contender, Mustang, is coming in mid-January as well. We’re also releasing our first anime, The Boy and the Beast, in January, one day after the French release. Other movies coming in the first quarter of 2016 are A Perfect Day [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Fernando León de Aranoa
film profile
]
, Seasons, Chocolat [+see also:
trailer
making of
film profile
]
and Short Skin. We’ll be busy, that’s for sure.

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