A Tale of Two Film Cultures: UK and France (Part 1)

UK scholars have routinely compared British film culture (and film industry) with the US. A second comparison is often suggested but only rarely carried through – with France. There is a long tradition of a love/hate relationship between Britain and France in the popular press and this to some extent carries over into discussions within the film industry. We don’t often get any systematic comparisons between the two countries in terms of film industries and cultures.

The basic facts in 2008

The two countries have similar populations (but rather different geography and population distribution):

Population

France (Wikipedia estimate 2008) 64.4 million (61.8 million in ‘Metropolitan France’)

UK (Wikipedia est 2006) 60.6 million

The film territory of UK and Ireland has a population of 65 million (the territory is the geographical area in which distribution rights for films are traded – France is a single territory). It is always difficult to tell whether Ireland is included in UK figures, but it is important to know that admissions are higher in Ireland in terms of frequency of visits – 2006, Irish admissions 17.3 millions, frequency 4.3 (from Cineuropa.com).

Admissions (2007 from Cineuropa.com, as are other data below)

France: 178 million (recent highest no. 195 million in 2004), per capita: 2.74

UK: 162 million (recent highest no. 173 million in 2004), per capita 2.6

Screens

France: 5,362 (no. of multiplexes 146)

UK: 3,493 (no. of multiplexes 265)

Ticket prices

France: €5.9

UK: €6.1

(The UKFC Statistical Yearbook quotes the 2007 average ticket price as £5.05 or €6.36 at current rates.)

Films produced

France: 228 (of which 95 were ‘co-productions’)

UK: 117 (of which 29 were ‘co-productions)

Budgets

France: Average: €5.43 million

UK: (Median figures) ‘Inward investment’ (Hollywood productions) €16.7 mill, ‘Domestic’: €2.3m, Co-production: €4.1

Releases

France: 565 (222 of which were ‘local’)

UK: 516 (107 of which were ‘local’)

Box office share

France: Local: 35.6%, US: 49.9%, Other European and ROW: 14.5%

UK: Local: 28.5% (includes UK/US co-productions), US films: 67.7%, European films: 1.8%, ROW: 2%

Summary

These bald figures do suggest a similar size of industry and interest in films, but they do also show up some important differences.

1. The UK industry and UK film culture is heavily dominated by Hollywood. ‘British films’ are only likely to make money at the UK box office if they are either (a) made in the UK with American money and/or (b) distributed by a Hollywood studio. The real American share of the UK market is more like 80%. The 50% share of the French market for Hollywood is significantly less.

2. Overall, the UK film market is less diverse with only a small share for films that are not UK/US (the single biggest share for non-English language films goes to Hindi films).

3. The UK market has been more valuable because the ticket price is higher, but the recent rise in the Euro against the £ and $ has boosted France. Film finance is always counted in $ in the international industry.

4. France has more screens and more cinemas, with less dependence on multiplexes (of six screens or more). This means more possibilities to screen a wider range of films.

5. France produces more films with more chances for first time filmmakers. Budgets are difficult to compare, partly because of the massive Hollywood investment in the UK, but it is likely that there are slightly higher budgets for ‘domestic’ films in France.

What explains these differences? First it is important to recognise that the mass audience in France enjoys Hollywood films as much as those in any other country and they watch them in multiplexes where they are shown in VF – dubbed into French in ‘Version Française’. But, intervention by French public agencies does allow more local product to get a release and to be seen locally. This is a crucial difference. The UK Film Council does have a similar policy in the UK, but more emphasis is placed on supporting filmmakers in the context of a commercial Hollywood environment.

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