The Cinema Advertising Association (CAA) has just released the cinema admissions tally for March, which stood at 11,904,734.
That’s 2% lower than the same month in 2008, but the first quarter remains up an impressive 7% compared with last year, with a total of 41,376,613 tickets sold between the beginning of January and the end of March. It’s the best first quarter performance since 2003 (Figure 1).
March wasn’t a great month for releases; five of the top ten performers were holdovers from previous months (including Slumdog, still capitalising on its Oscar success) (Table 1). Marley & Me topped the chart during the month, taking £11.2 million, above Watchmen (£8.4 million) and Gran Torino (£5.7 million).
Figure 1: UK cinema admissions, January to March 2009
The tail end of last week also saw publication of first quarter production statistics by the UK Film Council’s Research & Statistics Unit (RSU). Their briefing paper points to ‘subdued’ production activity between January and March 2009. A total of 19 films (budgeted at £500k+) went into production during the first three months of the year, compared with 31 over the same period in 2008 and 32 in the first quarter of 2007.
The fall was felt most keenly in the category of co-productions, of which only two went into production during this period. Plus there were fewer inward investment features (4 in total, down from 8 in Q1 2008). John Woodward, UKFC CEO, lays the blame for the co-pro dip squarely at the door of the film tax credit, which, he says, 'disincentivises co-productions by focusing tax relief only on production spend made on the ground in the UK.'
On a more positive note, the total UK spend (£228 million) compares favourably with 2008 (£251 million), and topped 2007’s total of £202 million. This was aided in no small part by two big budget inward investment features: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood production.
The UK Film Council points to a number of contributory factors depressing production activity:
But the RSU cautions against setting too much store by these quarterly figures, which ‘tend to fluctuate and are sensitive to timing differences (a few days’ difference in shoot date can cause films to shift from quarter to quarter).’ So it's probably best to wait and see what the half yearly figures tell us about the impact of the weakened pound before drawing any conclusions about the way 2009 is shaping up.