On Thursday 10 December 2015 – 100 years to the day since FDA was born – the UK film industry will toast the centenary at a special event in London’s West End, hosted by FDA President, Lord Puttnam of Queensgate CBE.
The event will also mark the publication of Delivering Dreams: A Century of British Film Distribution, a new book written by respected film journalist Geoffrey Macnab and published by I.B. Tauris. FDA’s centenary comes at a busy time when UK-made movies including Spectre, Suffragette, The Lady in the Van, Victor Frankenstein and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are filling cinemas in a record-breaking fourth quarter
Mark Batey, FDA Chief Executive, said: “Distribution has always been the branch of the film industry that connects films with audiences, servicing cinemas and other platforms and investing vast sums in promotion along the way. Today distributors remain the invisible force within the UK’s movie business, yet they possess an extraordinary range of skills on which the whole industry ultimately depends. This centenary is a milestone not only for the film business but the wider media sector too, so heavily influenced as it is by what happens in the world of film.”
On 10 December 1915 the fledgling UK entrepreneurs specialising in the supply and promotion of films met in central London and formed a dedicated trade association. Film distribution as we know it today was born.
The dozen pioneer distributors who created the then-named Kinematograph Renters’ Society (KRS), now Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), had seen filmed entertainment evolve from a novelty at fairgrounds and variety halls into captivating narratives, produced around the world, in both short and increasingly feature-length form.
This newly forged business of distribution lay at the heart of the burgeoning British film industry, which today is respected internationally. It was these distributors who licensed and rented celluloid prints of films to venues (increasingly purpose-built cinema operators) and reported their box-office returns back to the filmmakers, building a ‘value chain’ that enabled further production and technological advancement.
Distribution remains the high-risk lynchpin of today’s digital industry, connecting films with audiences. UK distributors invest more than £350m to release over 700 new feature films a year. Yet the distribution process remains largely unseen by the public, with a logo – albeit sometimes an iconic one – on screen for a few seconds before the film offering the only clue to the existence of the ‘engine’ driving the business behind the scenes.
Films only have impact – commercial and cultural – when they reach audiences. Beyond the film business itself, movies have influenced music, design, fashion and popular culture over successive generations and continue to do so. The biggest film star of 1915, Charles Chaplin, was arguably the world’s first media celebrity. Movies remain a cornerstone of modern global media and are watched on more ‘platforms’ and screens than ever before.