Bulgarian Cinema - WHAT to Finance

Letters to the Editor | December 21, 2010, Tuesday // 14:57| Views: | Comments: 0

Bulgarian Cinema - "to Finance or Not to Finance?" perhaps that is NOT the question.

I think a better question is: "WHAT to finance?"

The Bulgarian government has cut film funding, complaining that there is no money for film.

So lets just go ahead and agree with them that this is an economic problem. How do we solve it? Does funding the production of Bulgarian film make good economic sense? In a word 'No'. Why? Because Bulgaria has no functioning distribution system for cinema. This is like funding bakeries to make bread and then not having any trucks to take it to the stores. You have an expensive pile of stale bread and a bunch of hungry people.

Let's think about the U.S. for a minute, where there is zero government film funding yet film studios stay in business and make billions of dollars of profit every year. Is it simply because there are 310 million Americans? No. It's because most Americans living in urban or suburban areas can get to a movie theater in 10 or 15 minutes using cheap or free transportation. When they get to the theater they can buy a ticket for $3 to $12 (depending on the kind of theater and age of film).

Assume that the movie going public is between 15-64 years old, in the US that's 67% or 208 million people. Only 82% of those people live in urban or suburban areas, that's 170 million. The median income of those people is around $32,140 per year. That's about $15 per hour. Why are movie tickets about $11 in the US? Because that is what the market will bear. People don't really want to spend more than they earn in an hour to see a film, especially if they have to travel long distances.

I will use a very popular film as an example, 'The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)' and look up stats on IMDBPro.com. This film costs $110 Million dollars to make and ran for 17 weeks in the theaters. In those 17 weeks it played in 3660 theaters all across the country and grossed $227 million. That's 21.6 million people going to the theater and paying $10.50 to see it. That's 12.7% of the 170 million people we assumed as the potential movie theater going public.

Now let's run those same numbers in Bulgaria. 68.5% of the 7.5 million people are between 15-64, that's 5.18 million people. 71% of those people live in urban areas, that's 3.678 million people. The average monthly salary of 588 lv divided by 40/hrs/week times 4 weeks is only 3.675 lv per hour. To go to a movie theater you have to go to one of the new American style malls and pay 12 lv. That's over three hours of work to see a movie in the theater not including the cost of transportation, which will be much higher for Bulgarians as there are far fewer theaters per person than in the US.

But assume that the same 12.7% of people went to see a popular film and paid more than 3 times what an American would. That would be be about 467 thousand people at 12 lv each or 5.6 million lv gross. But will that really happen? Will the market bear it? Go to the mall and watch a film and look around at how many people are in the theater. You'll find it's mostly empty. I'll go for sure because I have an American high paying job and can easily afford it. But what will be my choices when I get to your theaters? Can I see a Bulgarian film? Not very often. Will it be subtitled in English? No.

So is the problem that there are not enough Bulgarian films? Sure it is. But is the the bigger problem that even if they existed and were fantastic, exciting, artistic masterpieces that wowed the audiences, would anyone know about it or be able to come see them? That is the real problem. So how does the Bulgarian government find money to make films? It doesn't. It shouldn't, and more importantly it doesn't need to. What it should do it spend money on the distribution side.

Why are there movie theaters all over the country sitting vacant and in disrepair? I know for a fact the there is one in VT where the projection booth is being used as a business office. The employees just walk past the big film projectors on the way to their desks. How many more are there? Bring films to the people at 5 lv per ticket. There are empty buildings all over the country and cheap portable digital projectors and sounds systems availble to do the job for the fraction of the cost of funding a film production. A big truck, a 10 meter screen, a projector, some loudspeakers, a tank full of diesel fuel, and a couple of crazy filmmakers to plug it in and turn it on. How much does that cost? Not that much.

Say 467 thousand people pay 5 lv to see a film in their town or village. That's 2.35 million lv. You take that projection to the bank and have them loan against the potential revenue. That's how real films get funded everywhere else. Instead of having the government spend money making films that no one will see, it should spend money making sure that the Bulgarian people will see Bulgarian films. Moreover it should spend money advertising those films. Providing foriegn sales agents incentives to sell the rights outside Bulgaria.

Ensuring that all Bulgarian films are subtitled in English and other languages. Guarantying the bank loans against default, and ensuring a fixed low percentage rate.

Can Bulgarian filmmakers create great films for 2 million lv? Sure they can. They have, and they will. Keep in mind that all they have to do is break even inside the country as the real profit always comes to a film through foreign theatrical rights and DVD / On Demand revenue.

Bulgaria's government can spend it's money wisely and profitably and provide an enduring, rich, culturally thoughtful cinema system that endorses Bulgarian filmmakers and entertains and inspires the people who that cinema was intended for in the first place. They just need to use their heads and think.

I just spent 10 minutes looking on the internet for demographic numbers and film revenue info, to come up with a decent solution. Imagine what kind of great plan a dedicated group of cinema and business enthusiasts could come up with given a little incentive and some support from their government.

Do you really expect bureaucrats who's job it is too push paper around a desk to care enough to help Bulgarian cinema? Asking the government to fire people sounds great but who will replace them? What will the new plan be? How innovativly will they spend the little money that is available? That's what I want to know.

Mostly I just want to be able to see great Bulgarian films. Can any of you tell me where to go for that?

Raymond Steers

US Filmmaker

Portland, Oregon

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