Interview with Anders Geertsen,
director of distribution at the Danish Film Institute and director of
the commercial module at the European Digital Cinema Forum
was one of the speakers at the session entitled “Tackling Digital Cinema
Head On: Its Impact On The Landscape of European Exhibition and Distribution”
at CEI on 26 June 2006.
Mr Geertsen, with regard to the process
of digitalisation in Europe, you objected to the term "roll-out",
pointing out that this term “conveys a notion someone will do it for us”.
But what must the European cinema industry do to have – or at least share
– control of the situation? How can the Europeans avoid the risk of finding
their own films shut out from their own countries’ cinemas?
In fact, it is very simple. In Europe, we have to take care of ourselves.
Our art, culture and industry. The notion of a digital “roll-out” seems
to convey the image of someone else preparing everything, and doing it
all for us. And then just applying the solution to Europe. “Rolling it
out”. It is obvious that in the US, the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) model
seems to work, and this is a model where the future savings in the distribution
sector help finance the digital investment in the exhibition sector. The
US majors and the US distributors agree to this, and they are now increasingly
signing up to these VPF-deals, and thereby helping American cinemas get
the digital projection equipment. My point is that the European producers
and distributors should do the same thing. If the European production
companies, and the European distributors do not help finance the digital
equipment in our own cinemas, in Europe, well, then our American colleagues
might do it… But, you know, with money comes control. And we, the Europeans,
should not lose control of our own exhibition sector. Therefore we have
to contribute, instead of just asking the US majors to foot the bill.
It is simply not fair – or wise – to ask the Americans to pay for the
necessary investment in our European cinemas.
You have suggested working on a European
version of this Virtual Print Free system, which seems to promise such
good results in the USA. What are the strong points of this system and
the precautions necessary to make VPF efficient for the European industry,
The strong point of the system is obviously that the savings in the distribution
sector help finance the heavy investment in the exhibition sector. In
that respect, it is a “fair deal”. But it will only work if all distributors
sign up to these VPF-agreements. Also our European and national distributors.
Just imagine the mess if some films, and some distributors, agree to pay,
while others are freewheeling… And then it is a long-term commitment,
perhaps 5-7 years. To me, the key point is that Europe should start to
negotiate a VPF-model, with a European flavor, and including the European
distributors, instead of just waiting for the US majors to apply their
In Europe there are many single-screen
or small-sized cinemas. Faced with the prospect of heavy investments,
not all of them seem to be able to face up to the shift to digital. What
is your view of this?
We know that, in Europe, we have a high proportion of small, single-screen
cinemas. These are often small, local, regional cinemas. Their cultural
impact might be great, but their contribution to the overall box office
is tiny. I have two concerns here:
First, when all the big cinemas and screens in Europe have gone digital,
then the majors and the distributors are likely to stop supplying 35mm
copies. Simply because the cost of supplying 35mm prints exceeds the box
office from the small cinemas who have not gone digital. When this happens,
the cinemas who have not gone digital will not get any 35mm prints anymore:
in other words, they will be out of business.
So, and this is my second point, how can these small regional cinemas
get the D-cinema projection equipment? Who will finance this new equipment
for them? Again my point is this: these regional European cinemas are
probably too small to have access to the VPF-financing, at least if they
negotiate one by one. They should group together.
What, then, is your advice?
I think that smaller exhibitors in Europe must definitely go digital!
If not, they will be out of business the day the studios and the distributors
stop supplying 35mm prints. But they must make efforts to form consortiums
to negotiate VPF-deals to avoid being shut out. Independent cinemas, small
cinemas, with roots in their own territory, are important in the European
cultural and social context. It would be a great loss, not only for the
market, if they should disappear. But in order to hold out, new paths
must be followed. First of all by gathering greater strength thanks to
consortiums and networks. And, if I may add to that, I also believe there
is a strong case for public support – and EU-support – to some of these
small, regional European cinemas. If not, they are not likely to make
the transition from analogue to digital.