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It Was A Good Week For… Jack Whitehall, the new king of comedy and sales going up as a result…
It Was A Bad Week For… Our friends in the press, giving all corners of the industry a kicking…
Another week, another retail kerfuffle, with the press once again setting the likes of HMV in its sights. The press laid into HMV again after the retailer this week made its trading statement. For those in the know, there weren’t too many surprises, but that didn’t stop the press from launching into their usual vitriolic attack on HMV. The retailer has boldly stated that it is on the right road to recovery, and believes that it will have a strong Christmas and deliver growth next year. Let’s run through the figures: total sales ere down 12.5 per cent to £288.6 million, with like for like sales down 10.2 per cent. Its loss after tax has been reduced to £36.1 million; all those figures were far less steeper declines and losses than in 2011. HMV did warn that it may not meet its banking covenants in January 2013, leading to further press speculation and snipes, although the retailer has said it’s in discussions with the banks and is confident it will make it through (it is, after all, a matter of renegotiating its overdraft, as much as anything). HMV pointed to a quieter summer in terms of releases, due in no small part to the Olympic events. New chief executive Trevor Moore pointed out that he was still working on new initiatives that were beginning to bear fruit and was also undertaking a review of the company’s costs. He said: ““HMV has had a difficult first half.  However, the business has started to deliver a number of new initiatives which will help to maximise the seasonal sales opportunity and provide a platform for growth in 2013. Additionally, as we trade through this period we will continue to develop further initiatives with our suppliers and I will provide updates at the appropriate time.” The retailer can point to impressive market shares, with 27 per cent of the physical video market, as well as strong offers such as its five for £30 Blu-ray offer and two for a tenner DVD propositions. Moore said he had been meeting with suppliers and it is believed that they are supporting the retailer’s plans.

Meanwhile, plenty of other retailers have been in the spotlight too: Amazon, for example, continues to face flak for its tax arrangements, while Tesco has also been focused on by the industry, with the twin news that its entertainment chief Rob Salter is to exit the supermarket giant in the new year, although he did stress there was no “great drama” to his departure and he’d be returning soon. The grocer has also mooted plans to cut back on the space given to areas such as home entertainment and consumer electronics, concentrating instead on clothing, nursery and homeware. The latter announcement was made in its third quarter interim management statement. 

Also hitting the headlines this week, albeit for, we believe, the wrong reasons, was the BBFC. For as the classification organization unveiled the results of its latest research, this time into s*xual and sadistic violence (asterisk for those tougher firewalls, not because of any censorship on our part, incidentally). The research, the latest into this area, carried out 10 years after the last similar survey, showed that while the public still believes it should have the right to decide what to watch, there are still concerns in this arena, particularly where younger men are watching, and how it could normalise and offer a distorted view of women. The BBFC has said it will intervene, by either making cuts or even rejecting scenes where s*xual violence and sadism is involved, if it makes it look appealing, or suggests victims are enjoying the attacks, or makes the viewer complicit, Director David Cooke said: “There is no ‘one size fits all’ rule for any theme under the BBFC classification guidelines, as long as what is depicted is within the law and does not pose a harm risk. Once again the public have told us that context, tone and impact, and a work’s overall message, can aggravate a theme, or make it acceptable, even in cases of sexual and sadistic violence. The decision as to whether and how to intervene in scenes of s*xual and sadistic violence is complex, but drawing out and applying these aggravating and mitigating factors is helpful in arriving at a decision which balances freedom of expression against public protection”.

Sadly, both sides of the classification argument trotted out their somewhat predictable views – the liberal, left-leaning side arguing against censorship and cuts, while the right-wing, led, as you’d expect, by the Daily Mail, railed against the BBFC for letting too much get through. Its film critic Christopher Tookey still appears to have the hump about Crash getting an 18 certificate and argued that this opened the floodgates to all kinds of depraved filth, singling out the usual targets (the Human Centipede films and A Serbian Film among them). It’s a shame as the BBFC’s research is keenly balanced, well-thought and argued. The latest furore came just after the publication of our current favourite reading material, Behind The Scenes At The BBFC (BFI/Palgrave Macmillan), a fine book looking at the history of classification from “the Silver Screen to the digital age”. It should be recommended reading for anyone in our industry – you can see a full review up on our website.

The bile from the likes of the Daily Mail has once again dragged The Human Centipede into the spotlight, timely given Eureka’s recent release of the Monster Pictures title. Eureka sales director Ian Sadler sent us possibly the best comment of the year about the Mail and co, it’s so good we’ve put the statement up in full on our website, you can see it here. But here’s his final line on the latest storm: “I’m sure there will come a time when we as a company will re-submit Centipede II for a certificate in its uncut form.  In the meantime I thank Christopher Tookey and his cohorts for the wonderful publicity they have given to the franchise and the subsequent positive impact on sales.”

Right then, shall we have some good news? And in a week that could have been dominated by doom and gloom, it’s good that there’s been some cheer. For starters, the BVA has been out banging the drum for the industry, issuing a news release to journalists showing just how much the British public love giving – and receiving – seasonally themed DVDs and Blu-rays at Christmas. It has pulled together data that outlines the bestselling Christmas-themed releases of the past three years, which makes for fascinating reading. In December 2011, it noted, more than 2 million seasonal releases were sold, with almost 7.5 million being snapped up in December across 2009, 2010 and 2011. The top Christmas themed seller over those three years is Home Alone, with BBC Worldwide’s Gavin And Stacey at number two. Universal has four titles in the top 10, Fox has seven. And it’s good to see Elf (EV) in the top five too (we’ve already had our Christmas airing). The BVA director general Lavinia Carey said: “We all love to watch great seasonal titles over the Christmas period and as we hunker down during the long dark evenings certain festive films and TV shows can be watched again and again.  The longevity of these titles is amazing, with the top three in the chart selling well over half a million copies each since 2009, which means many British households own a copy on DVD or Blu-ray Disc, as well as seeing them appear year after year on television schedules.  Cosying up on the sofa at a time that suits you best with a great movie brings people together and forms an important part of our traditional Christmas entertainment.” We’ll have the full top 20 up on our website shortly…

Also on our website: loads about the BBFC, as mentioned above, and, going up shortly, a look at Lionsgate’s Magic Mike campaign, its success and its thrust for the post-Bridesmaids market, an interview with Nell McAndrew about her new fitness DVD, plus loads more to come…

Over in the US, things are looking up too. According to US film trade publication The Wrap, projections from IHS Screen Digest suggest that the overall market will grow by five per cent in 2012 and will be worth a whopping $18.7 million. It stated that this would be the best figure since 2009. Among the forecasts from IHS are a couple of fascinating ones – of that total $1 billion will come from electronic sell through (EST), up 40 per cent; digital rentals, up almost 50 per cent to $422 million and subscription video on demand, doubling to $2.4 billion. Also quoted in The Wrap story (you can see the full thing here: ) was our old pal Mary Daily, formerly a UK executive who is now president and chief marketing office of worldwide marketing for Fox. She said: “The way we see it, with more than 82 million consumers now accessing digital movie content, we’ve reached a tipping point where we’ve moved beyond early adoption to mainstream acceptance.” See also below in our Quote Of The Week. 

More good news and it’s been a busy seven days or so for the Federation Against Copyright Theft, with raids and successful prosecutions. In Leeds, two brothers, Faraz Saddiq and Ayaz Saddiq, were convicted of copyright infringement, after running two websites, and They were given nine-month sentences, suspended for two years, and ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work. West Yorkshire police’s David Charity said: “The Saddiq brothers created the two websites which re-directed users to the location of where they could find illegal copies of movies and television programmes. These included copies of films which at the time were not yet released in the UK. Before they were arrested their websites attracted 60,000 unique users and 125,000 hits everyday. We worked with FACT who identified these websites and brought them to our attention. I hope it acts as a warning to others who may think they can get away with creating and running websites of this kind.” FACT’s Kieron Sharp added: “Despite numerous warnings the Saddiq brothers continued to own and maintain the websites and clearly knew that what they were doing was illegal. 2012 has proved to be a landmark year for FACT, with recent cases leaving no doubt that operating a website that provides access to pirated films and TV programmes will lead to criminal prosecution.”

And although it’s not directly related to our industry, it’s interesting to note another legal success. In what FACT says is a landmark case, a man and an associate were convicted of copyright offences involving another website, The site streamed live premier league games and charged subscribers, it was run by Gary Goodger, from Lower Earley, Berks, with help from an accomplice, Jack Bannister, from Burnley, Lancs. They will be sentenced in January. Sharp said: “This is a groundbreaking case, proving conclusively that operating a website that rebroadcasts copyrighted works without permission is a criminal offence.  It is also clear that those running such sites are doing so for profit and running businesses off the back of others’ work.”

More success for FACT too, after two people were arrested after a raid on an address in Cheltenham. The raid netted a sizeable haul of counterfeit TV box sets, taking in programmes such as Blackadder, CSI and True Blood. Sharp, again, said: “FACT is delighted to be working with Scambusters and Gloucestershire Trading Standards to take action against sellers of counterfeit goods on auction sites. Innocent buyers of DVD box sets are being duped and getting inferior quality products and the livelihoods of those who create, sell and distribute genuine products are being threatened.”

Some more good news to report too, and we’re sure that you’ll join us in wishing independent label Revelation Films a happy birthday – the company is celebration the 20th anniversary of its formation on Monday December 17. The label was founded in 1992 by Gary Wicks, Mike Esser and Tony Carne, and, along the way, been involved in such ground breaking imprints as Kiseki, Pride Video and first bringing the UFC to the UK and also giving a first debut stand-up release to a then unsigned Lily Savage. Along the way another seasoned veteran, Trevor Drane, joined Carne, and the two have forged a strong business partnership that has seen the label still excelling after all these years. It now straddles both the production and publishing sectors. Carne said: “I consider it a privilege to have been able to work in this industry with the colleagues, business associates and companies that we have. Many have been with us almost from the start and all have played their part, whether large or small. We look forward to future success in this challenging but exciting industry.” We’re sure you’ll join us in wishing them a happy birthday and all the best for a long and prosperous future, even if they do support dubious football teams.

Anyone who sat through the finals of The X-Factor over the weekend - and there were a fair few of those (more than 11 million on the Sunday night, almost 10 million on the Saturday) will have been rewarded with a rather special TV spot for Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, released by Fox on Monday. For the 30 second ad was specially created and featured star Scrat in a specially Christmas-themed setting. The ad, made by LipSync Creative, was also aired at cinemas all over the country. LipSync senior producer Anna Urban-Large, who worked on the ad: “We loved working with Fox on the Ice Age Event spot – it was a real team effort. We were able to draw on the expertise of all LipSync's departments – VFX, graphics, picture and audio post plus creative of course - to deliver a spot created 100 per cent in house. We’re thrilled with the response the ad has received.”

The Ice Age 4 spot wasn't the only piece of Fox-related activity planned for cinemas. For the opening of The Hobbit this Friday will see the studio firing the latest salvo on the battle to win over the hearts and minds of the great British public when it comes to Blu-ray 3D. The studio has, with agency LipSync Creative, put together a special ad for the high definition format, highlighting its benefits and leap in quality. Fox's Jessica Niroomand-Rad said: "The spectacular 3D featured in The Hobbit is the ideal opportunity to advertise our unrivalled collection of Blu-ray 3D releases this year. The immersive environment and impact of 3D cinema is the obvious choice to showcase our Blu-ray 3D titles in the best quality possible this Christmas.” We’ll have the creative up soon on our website

It’s been a week of great premieres, with activity aplenty almost every night. The week got off to a cracking start, with Tom Cruise touching down for the high profile world debut of his latest outing, Jack Reacher. He’d already earned plenty of publicity by turning up at Sunday’s Manchester derby and it continued through on to Monday with the launch of the Paramount title. The film was, said one of our retailer pals, Andy Anderson at HMV, “great” (the star also shook Anderson's hand as he passed him in the auditorium). And, as ever, Cruise’s presence lit up Leicester Square and he showed his continued popularity by signing autographs for the fans long into the night, while most sane people, including assorted retailers present, were in the warm inside watching the high octane adaptation of the bestselling book franchise. The film is due at cinemas via Paramount on December 26, with home entertainment to follow in 2013…

The following night was off to Leicester Square again, this time for a gala screening of Momentum’s forthcoming Quartet. It’s as far removed as you can get from Cruise’s exploits and a very British affair, even if it’s directed by none other than Dustin Hoffman. A gentle comedy drama with a heart of gold, it appeals to an older audience that, as the likes of The King’s Speech proved, will come out in drives for films, and buy them, if they’re catered for. And if anyone knows anything about how to reach that audience it’s Momentum, which, of course, enjoyed a record-breaking success with the aforementioned The King’s Speech. The film was followed by an illuminating Q&A with cast and crew, including the ever-marvellous Billy Connolly, who was on fine form. Momentum’s Neil Williams said: “Every so often a film cones along that not only do you really like but you are also really proud of, Quartet is one of those increasingly rare gems.” And we heartily agree, the film is released at cinemas on January 1, with home entertainment to follow.

And in case you hadn't noticed, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey also premiered this week, making its West End bow on Wednesday night in some not inconsiderable style, ahead of its opening the next day. It was a huge affair, with the film taking over much of Leicester Square, with Prince William in attendance, alongside director Peter Jackson and much of the rest of the cast and crew, including Martin Freeman, aka Bilbo Baggins, and Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf). Many retailers were out in force for the event, a black tie affair given its royal seal of approval. And the film itself? It looked a treat, and went down a storm; our junior correspondent gave it a resounding thumbs up. What's more the theatrical release is just the beginning – expect a further two films, plus all the surrounding home entertainment brouhaha too. As The Lord Of The Rings has shown, these films have a long shelf life, in standard form, as well as assorted special editions and box set opportunities.

At the opposite end of the scale from that, Revolver hosted a special premiere on Thursday for its December 24 release UFO. The event, held at the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square, was one of a number of screenings around the country – three in Derby have sold out already – the sci-fi actioner was filmed around the town and 5,000 locals are featured as extras. It’s also notable in that it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme, ala The Muscles From Brussels, alongside, for the first time, his daughter, Bianca Bree. The film is being released in a special embossed O-ring and is being supported by a vod pre-roll campaign. Revolver’s Dan Gilson said: “With amazing special effects and the Muscles from Brussels, UFO is set to be an unmissable festive offering.”

More events, this time forthcoming: into January and on January 16, Momentum will be hosting a special screening in London’s Old Street area for V/H/S, its forthcoming horror anthology title (as featured on last week’s newsletter, when we revealed details about its promotional VHS cassette for the film). The event will be open to retailers, journalists and other media types, and there will also be some paying punters there. Momentum is promising a suitably unique screening experience, and attendees are being promised VHS copies of the film too. Marketing for the film kicks off in January, with TV, online and press advertising across the film’s theatrical and home entertainment releases. Momentum’s Adam Eldrett said: “The release of VHS is a very exciting one for us here at Momentum, we have built up some great experience with our platform releases over the last few years and by directly talking to the fans through mechanics such as our Fan Hub sites we have a really active base of consumers to directly target. 
V/H/S has taken the festival circuit by storm over the last nine months, we are keeping that activity going and our much talked about VHS tape has created some superb awareness over the last week. It seems to be the hottest piece of merchandise we have ever produced.”

Expect to see lots of grim-faced types in chunky knitwear roaming the streets on Monday December 17, as Arrow promotes its release of the third and final series of The Killing with a unique promotion, inviting fans to turn detective. A lookalike of the show’s heroine, Sarah Lund, will be hiding out somewhere in a central London location and Arrow will be teasing devotees of the Nordic Noir series by offering clues as to her whereabouts on faceboook and Twitter. The first to track her down will win one of THOSE Gudrun & Gudrin jumpers, copies of the trilogy box set and a tote bag. Heck, we may even enter ourselves, so desperate are we to get our mitts on one of those jumpers. Arrow’s Jon Sadler said: ““Despite The Killing being a dark show fans of the series have found ways in which to make light of it and we are keen to follow suit with a fun social media treasure hunt that we are taking into the real world on release day – or #LundDay as we are calling it. Fans will be able to follow clues and track down our very own ‘Lund-Alike’ for the chance of winning the classic series one jumper. We are also doing some other activity including dropping in on the likes of Empire Magazine and handing out box set goodie-bags. The story has already been picked up by Mail Online so the story is already spreading to a mass market audience, which is what you hope for when you enter stunt territory, which is often hit or miss”.
Some more detail now on a title we mentioned last week, St George’s Day, due from Metrodome in time to capitalised on that post-Christmas, blokey, self-purchase. Our interview with writer/director/star Frank Harper will be up on our website next week, we promise, but in the meantime, here’s the independent’s Rebecca Johnson on marketing for the title: “We’re really looking forward to the DVD and blu-ray release of St George’s Day, which has just the right mix of strong cast performances (Charles Dance, Frank Harper, Ashley Walters, Vincent Regan – not to mention glamour girl Keeley Hazell) and hard-hitting British football hooligan action to make this a strong contender for the Christmas line. We’ve got some great packaging that will help it stand out on shelf and are supporting with TV, press, PR. We're also really excited about the interest and enthusiasm generated from our long-lead social media campaign, which has been led by the legendary Cass Pennant.”

On the same day comes a potential biggie from Revolver’s production arm Gunslinger, which has already proved its worth at home entertainment as well as theatrical. Revolver’s Martin Hearn said: “With Offender releasing on DVD, Blu-ray, download and on-demand on December 24, we have a great campaign lined up to support the title. The campaign includes TV spots running across terrestrial and satellite channels alongside pre-roll and other online
activity. Following on from the success of Shank, Sket and Anuvahood, Offender is the most recent release from Gunslinger, Revolver's in-house production arm.”
Boxing Day sees the usual raft of releases and despite having a hugely busy Q4, 4DVD will be keeping itself busy with not one but two different releases. Misfits has followed the Skins route by bringing in an all new cast to keep the show fresh, while Peep Show returns for its eighth series and, judging by what we’ve seen so far and the reaction to it, is just as good as ever. Commenting on the dual releases, the company’s Pippa Simmons said: ““Misfits Series 4 is out on DVD on Boxing Day with an almost entirely new cast. There has been a PR campaign to introduce the new cast and a digital media campaign across Facebook and YouTube. After four years the show is still as exciting and fresh as ever. Also releasing on Boxing Day is the eighth series of Channel 4’s longest running sitcom, Peep Show. After taking a break last year it’s back with a bang and as good as ever. We’re hoping to capture the wide audience that Peep Show appeals to with an online campaign across The Guardian and YouTube, utilising the existing audience tuning in for David Mitchell’s column and podcasts. This will be supplemented by a PR campaign with talent interviews from the supplementary cast.”

Some deal news now, and last week LOVEFiLM announced that its Instant service would now be available via the Nintendo Wii, this week it has further revealed that the same offering is also now available on the Nintendo Wii U. The console’s new controller, a GamePad, works, the company says, perfectly with the Instant app used to watch films and TV shows. Viewers will be able to view content on both the TV and pad…
Following the deal earlier this year that saw AGI and Shorewood merge, the new company has this week unveiled a new name, ASG, which stands for AGI Shorewood Group. ASG European ceo Tony Garnish said: “We worked with a naming agency to help guide us through the re-naming process. There were many different names that were put forward and although some of them would have suited the company, they lacked the heritage already built from the previous brands. We also had to take into consideration the multiple global locations and find a name that worked in each of the territories and finally decided to use the letter of AGI Shorewood Group, ASG. Entering 2013, ASG has a clear direction.  ASG aspires to be the best global specialty packaging business in our markets, with more ways to create compelling packaging solutions for our customers’ brands.”
And the awards season is now up and running, with assorted nominations coming in this week, as well as the BIFAs (see below in our At The Movies section) as well as the British Comedy Awards. And plaudits to, among others, BBC Worldwide, with The Thick Of It and Hunderby winning two awards apiece, and ITV’s Harry Hill’s TV Burp also picking up a gong. And 4DVD was celebrating after Jack Whitehall, making his comedy debut this year, picked up the prestigious King Of Comedy Award. The company’s Pippa Simmons said: ““4DVD is delighted that Jack Whitehall was crowned the King of Comedy at this year’s British Comedy Awards. It’s been a hugely busy and successful year for Jack, with the second series of the award-winning Fresh Meat, the debut series of Bad Education, which he not only starred in but also wrote, his Channel 4 entertainment programme Hit The Road Jack AND his debut DVD release. Already the best-selling debut in the stand-up charts, we’ve started to see an uplift in sales and are looking forward to continuing strong sales in the last weeks before Christmas. Well done Jack!”

One of the big horror successes of this year (if not the biggest) is Sinister, the Ethan Hawke chiller that breathes new life into the found footage genre and was one of the Halloween season’s winners. Momentum’s Kristin Ryan said: “"A massive £6 million success at the UK Box Office, plans are now in place to make the home entertainment release on February 11 a real event. The film connected with both the discerning horror genre crowd and to the wider mainstream audience tired of the same franchise formula. Our marketing activity consists of event level TV advertising campaign pushing to both the genre and wider mainstream audience, backed by a considerable online spend guaranteed to make you jump, supplemented with Press and Outdoor activity to ensure blanket coverage. The SurviveSinister social media campaign encouraging people to dare their friends to see the film was integral to the word of mouth success of the film and will be central to our home ent campaign with social network viewing parties and a live Q+A with the filmmakers.” Further support will come via PR and a nationwide promotion with Tops Pizza
“It's been a great year for the industry. We're seeing renewed growth and strength across all fronts, and consumer spending is up across the board." Steve Beeks, co-chief operating officer of Lionsgate, talking to The Wrap about the state of the US business.
DreamWorks’ excellent animated tale Rise Of The Guardians eased up into the number one slot and has now taken more than £4 million, while the highest new entry was Seve3n Psychopaths with £1.12 million. Skyfall and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 have now taken more than £96 million and £33 million respectively.
And, as promised, here’s some news on the British Independent Film Awards, aka the BIFAs. The winners included a batch of titles due out in the coming weeks, with films such as Berberian Sound Studio (for director Peter Strickland, best actor for Toby Jones and achievement in production and technical aspects), Shadow Dancer (best actress for Andrea Riseborough) and The Imposter (documentary and directorial debut) all scoring. Sightseers, Broken, Hyde Park On The Hudson, The Hunt and My Brother The Devil were the other winners on the night…
Sticking with Berberian Sound Studio (a film that's almost certain to end up on our year-end best of list), or rather its director, the aforementioned Strickland, and word reaches us of his next project. Strickland’s third feature The Duke Of Burgundy, will be produced by Rook Films, Ben Wheatley’s company and the team behind the excellent Sightseers. It will, Strickland says, be a “simple love story about a devoted couple whose intimate needs are rarely in harmony”. Rook’s slate includes Wheatley’s forthcoming A Field In England, among others, and this is a real growing company.
Meanwhile, less likely to be a simple love story is Vendetta, the latest from our old pal Jonathan Sothcott and his emerging CHATA Pictures imprint. Fresh from passing the 40,000 barrier with The Rise And Fall Of A White Collar Hooligan, released earlier this year by Momentum, CHATA’s latest is a story of a special ops man tracking down the gang who brutally offed his parents. It will be directed by Stephen Reynolds, who penned The Fall Of The Essex Boys, due from Metrodome early in 2013. Sothcott said: “I’m delighted to be working with Danny again. As far as I am concerned he’s the most bankable name in independent film, he’s had a quiet few years but his audience hasn’t gone away, as evidenced by the 250,000 followers he’s gained since recently joining Twitter. We’re taking Danny back to basics with this project, having him do what he does best in a stripped-down audience-pleaser that truly delivers.”
Media group TargetMCG has unveiled a new bespoke game that is also raising cash for a good cause. Every time anyone plays the game, created by its creative types at OTM, it will donate £1 to the Whitfield Street Soup Kitchen near its offices in the West End, while any winners on the game will see TargetMCG give £25 to the charity. You can play it here…
We’ve been discussing the films we’ve seen, the great V/H/S tape and the BBFC this week. Follow us on
Following on from the recent virals, here’s that Pacific Rim trailer…
More blockbuster business…

And another biggie…
Ocean’s 11 style caper, with extra magic…
We’re really looking forward to this…