Film Distributors' Association President Says Social Media Diversifies Film Storytelling

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David Puttnam

Connected audiences now "demand flexible access to the content of their choice," David Puttnam remarked during the FDA keynote address.

LONDON -- David Puttnam, one-time Columbia Studios chief and current president of U.K. trade body Film Distributors' Association (FDA), said digital media is feeding the appetite for movies.

Delivering this year's FDA keynote address, an annual "state if the nation" speech, Puttnam said the "democratization of opinion" resulting from the launch of Apple personal computers and Facebook "continues to affect social attitudes and has heightened expectations of individual choice" when it comes to film.

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He said connected audiences now "demand flexible access to the content of their choice" so that the "the appetite for great films -- linear storytelling narratives of every kind -- remains very strong."

Added Puttnam, "The British public's relationship with the movies is an enduring love affair. But in today's nonstop digital world, change happens fast -- faster than many people seem prepared to acknowledge."

Although U.K. cinema admissions have stayed broadly level over the past decade (165 million cinema visits in 2013; 167 million in 2003), the ways in which people access films at home and "on the go" are changing dramatically, with most viewing on ever larger and better quality screens at home, the FDA noted.

Puttnam said: "TV continues to harness theatrical assets. … Creatively as well as technologically, TV screens feel like they are where the action is."

The labor peer, who sits in the lawmaking House of Lords, also noted the trend to an aging population in the U.K. and worldwide. "We are heading into a much older world where one in six people will soon be aged 65 and over," he said.

Puttnam welcomed the broader range of films appealing to older moviegoers -- among an all-time high of 700 films released in UK cinemas in 2013 -- but emphasized that the young teenage generation must still be nurtured.

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Puttnam also trumpeted the benefits of digital cinema -- as practically every British movie theater screen has now arranged to convert from 35mm reels to state-of-the-art digital presentation -- "thanks largely to funding provided by film distributors."

Said Puttnam: "If the broad purpose of business is to deliver commercial and creative value, then the digital world empowers the film business to work even better."

Digital delivery has allowed event cinema presentations (plays, operas, concerts) to be scheduled, accounting for nearly 2 percent of 2013's cinema box office receipts.

The event, also attended by U.K. government creative industries minister Ed Vaizey, coincided with the publication of the FDA Yearbook 2014, holding data on the last year's movie attendance in the U.K.

Puttnam called for more flexibility on the release window and asked the British Film Institute, the U.K.'s lead agency for film, to help to loosen "the stultifying grip of the rigid-window status quo," as recommended in Lord Smith's latest film policy review progress report, published in January 2014.