Film critics in the UK tend to rely on access to London to break into the industry – and we’ve got a few thoughts and ideas on that.

Last year, I wrote a piece for this website arguing that opportunities for potential UK film critics were too reliant on people being able to get to London. Not long after that, a major blockbuster had its only press screening at 9pm on an evening in the capital, when even those able to afford to commute in from afar would have struggled to get transport home by the time it finished.

I got quite a response to the piece, and have been following it up on the quiet ever since. I’ve had a few meetings with people who work in the industry, to try and get to the bottom of why virtually all press screenings of upcoming films are in London, and to see if there’s something that can be done to broaden opportunities for those geographically and/or financially unable to get there.

Here’s what I’ve found out.

Location

Firstly, screenings are in London for a reason (although we’d pretty much all guessed that). Bear in mind that many major film companies in the US, and UK screenings are to a degree dictated by the protections put in place in Los Angeles. If they’ve got a major blockbuster film, they want the release to be as secure and pirate-free as possible. As such, they don’t want to be sending film hard drives around the country, and would rather minimise exposure by keeping them contained to London. There’s an infrastructure in place there for screenings to be policed.

Furthermore, there used to be more regional screenings around the UK than there are now, but the decimation of the local newspaper industry has damaged that. That more and more local papers take their film coverage from a central source rather than relying on regional reporters. Demand therefore for regional screenings decreased amongst the traditional press.

That said, efforts are being made to reintroduce regional press screenings, albeit with a closed circulation list for the minute. I can’t say more than that, save that there are people in the industry who very much see the problem of lack of opportunity, and are trying to do something about it.

That, then, is the state of play. But for right here right now, it doesn’t alter the fact that if you’re a blogger, vlogger, podcaster, website or other outlet who’s not within 50 miles of London, you aren’t getting early access to films. And without getting to a release early, it’s hard to cover a film in good time, and you’re at a disadvantage. How, after all, can you break into regular film criticism if you can’t get access to films?

I should note, of course, that it’s not incumbent on film studios to give everyone early access to films. But it is of course usually in their interests.

That’s the current position. And now I’m going to switch the onus onto you, as I’ve got a possible way forward.

An idea

I’ve been talking to a British film distributor, who very much backs a push for more regional press screenings. So much so, that it’s willing to do an experiment. It’s offered one of its upcoming films for a press screening to take place outside of London, and I’m happy to do the heavy lifting for this one screening (I’m no PR rep, I should note, but I do think we need to test whether there’s sufficient interest for this to work).

I’m based in the Midlands, so my inclination is to do a trial in Birmingham somewhere. My guess is that an evening would be better. But also, I want to hear from those of you out there some kind of outlet, be it a blog, a popular social media feed, whatever. Thus: if you are genuinely interested in a non-London press screening, send me an email to screenings at filmstories.co.uk.

Include in it the following:

  • Your name
  • Where you’d place a review of the film
  • A genuine approximation of expected traffic (how many social media follows, how many clicks or views your stuff tends to get etc). Note that if you’re starting up, it’s still okay to register interest.
  • Cities near you where you’d be able/willing to go for regular press screenings

I can’t stress this bit enough: these aren’t reader screenings. I’m working on those separately, and have some treats planned! Instead, these will be simple, straightforward press screenings, designed to give non-London reviewers the earlier access they need to a film, to try and level the playing field a little.

A bit of me suspects that there’s not enough interest to make all of this work, but I’m damned if I’m not going to find out. Please help spread the word, and register your interest by the end of February. When I have further updates, I’ll post them on the Film Stories site.

One further suggestion, if this still doesn’t seem like it’s for you. If you’re at the start of your reviewing career, and looking to prove yourself, note that Netflix for one is aiming to release a new film of its own pretty much every week. Lots of people want to cover the big ones – The IrishmanMarriage StoryUncut Gems – but why don’t you be the person who seeks out and reviews the others? That’s a chance to prove yourself on a relatively level playing field – most of us only get new Netflix film releases on the day they hit the service – and it’ll allow you to build up a body of work on a blog or site of your own, that will give you good practice, and offer potential outlets a glimpse of your work.

I’ll keep you posted…

Lead image: BigStock

 

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