Facts about cinematic subsidies

For every dollar received in global (non-Austrian) box office by Austrian films, 28 dollars are spent on film subsidies. 

Scroll through this document to page four for comprehensive — and scary — EU figures.  Only the Czech Republic and Poland, both of which have very low subsidies, have ratios under one.  France and Denmark, two of the more successful European film-producing countries, have ratios between three and four, meaning that four dollars are spent to produce one dollar of overseas revenue.

It is remarkably difficult to make movies that people in other countries wish to see, and it is not obvious that film subsidies are helping matters.


Guns or films? I prefer to waste tax money on bombarding foreigners with celluloid.

This data lacks the main channel these days for foreign (non-US) movies: DVDs and cable. Also, investment in movies do spill over in tourism, as the French case can prove.

Movie subsidies are meant to encourage culture more than commerce. It's one of the places where I think there's a market failure, because films are so expensive to make. Writing Madame Bovary took little more than a typewriter and the leisure to write; making even an inexpensive film, even one shot on DV, can cost millions of dollars. At what price beauty?

"It is remarkably difficult to make movies that people in other countries wish to see..."

Wait a minute! Didn't Pirates of the Carribean 3 rake in about $250 million outside the U.S. in its opening weekend, in addition to the $140 million in U.S. box office.

Of course, Disney probably manage to finance its film without subsidies.

I wonder how much the copyright extension was worth to Disney. Does that count as a subsidy?

Producing and distributing non-mass market appeal goods is a tough business: "The Lives of Others" grossed 10 mil. in the US, the brilliant "Little Children" 6 mil. They opened in the US on 9 and 5 screens respectively and garnered only 14.000 and 10.000 votes on IMDB. On the little screen, "Veronica Mars" just got canceled.

The "winner takes all" co-evolution of blockbusters, multiscreen cinemas and audience expectations has created a hostile environment for small films which is only partly cured by Netflix/DVDs.

Public subsidies bring their own can of worms with them, but the market crowds out some form of programming. Besides, cutting small scale pork is not efficient.

PS Rex, guns and butter are the textbook examples in a two-goods world.

Someone help me with the lead-up, but the punchline to this joke is that the EU economists couldn't account for the value of having Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California.

Subsidizing films hasn't always come up with disastrous results. In India it fueled an art movement in the 70's & many of these subsidized movies became cult films for a generation that was growing up unfortunately only to mainstream Bollywood. Many films from the list provided by Dave are considered artistic even today & taught in film appreciation classes across countries. Poland had a rich cinematic history thanks to this subsidy.
Having said that its surely not the most efficient way to tackle a problem given that it usually comes with governmental sanctions on creativity & may not encourage counter cultural art forms but without it many stories with no box office appeal may never be made. Filmmaking is expensive business but its not only a business and therein lies the fundamental contradiction

The restrictions come in two kind. One is approval by committee and connections. Secondly, subsidies are linked to local-content rules (filming locations, local actors). An interesting article about public film financing (in German; unfortunately, the Babelfish translation keeps the German sentence structure and garbles the meaning) appeared in the (highly recommended) German magazine Brandeins.

One of the rationales for film subsidies is that films are so important in the entertainment/culture cosmos that a country without its own cinema is lacking an identity. Frenchpeople need images of Frenchpeople to look at and identify with, etc; thereby "Frenchness" becomes more palpable and real. It's an investment in self-respect, in other words. I don't know whether it's worth it or not, but that's one of the rationales.

Another thing to take into account is this: Maybe some countries do govt-arts-subsidies well and others do it less-well. IMHO, this is a much-underdiscussed topic. People tend to yak on about arts subsidies as though there's one answer to the problem. FWIW, I think the U.S. does govt arts subsidies terribly -- too many interest groups, too much hostility, etc. And therefore even as an arts buff I'd love to see the NEA snuffed. But clearly some other countries do arts subsidies well. They tend to be smaller, more concentrated, and more centralized -- there's more of a shared agreement about what that country's culture is, as well as a shared agreement that reinforcing, enhancing, and promoting that culture is a worthwhile thing. The French, for instance, have none of our trouble with subsidizing sexually racy work. We get in a boring huff about a boob or two; meanwhile they merrily go on being naked, transgressive, despairing, chic, etc. Creating a lot of this work is considered to be an important part of Being French.

So my verdict: depends on the individual country. (And in most cases isn't any of my business anyway.)


Little Children was by no means brilliant. It just didn't get there, i thought it was pretty uneven. Lives of Others may be great, I haven't seen it. Veronica Mars followed up a killer season 1, with a great season 2 and a meh season 3. They gutted its core, dumbed it down and focused the spotlight on relationships. Rob Thomas deserved the cancellation. The most interesting and frightening character was introduced in the last 15 minutes of the season.

"The "winner takes all" co-evolution of blockbusters, multiscreen cinemas and audience expectations has created a hostile environment for small films which is only partly cured by Netflix/DVDs."

There are more films and more diverse films being produced today than ever before. That is not people's myopic perception, especially as they age, but it is true. It is not a hostile environment, certainly not relative to how is used to be. 50 years ago making a movie was an impossible endeavour for anyone independent due to the studio system. 30 years ago wtf was an indie movie? Now? I can see and experience movies from all over the world, from different domestic independents, from highschool kids putting shorts on youtube, etc.

The fcat that despite some 400 millionin subsidies, French film hold only some 30% of the screen time is due to a massive preoccupation with production. Perhaps because all the beautiful people are there, besides the galmour of course. So Frech films are made, those who work in them get paid, part of that comes from the French state. They are less concerned with whether the films are shown. So a couple of obscure cinemas and they die.

But the Americans got their footwork together and did the tough unglamorous work: film distribution. That , plus the attrcation they build into thier moives, got them some 75% of the Frech atandance.

In far off Sri Lanka, during 1971 to 1978, they pulled off a triump for thier cinema by reoargaiazing film distribution and organizing a unique bank credit scheme where credit was issiued on the colataral of the negatives. The screen time for Sri Lankan film soared from 20% to 58% and film attenedance gallpoed from 30 million in 1971 to 74.4 million in 1979.

Film distribution is key to successful film industry- a point lost to Europeans and the French particularly. And certainly not to the Sri Lankans who founded a national film based on production AND distribution.

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