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Distribution: The Logistics of Distribution by David Sin


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The distributor will enter into an agreement with the cinema to screen the film on certain 'play-dates'. It is the responsibility of the distributor to arrange the transportation of the film to the cinema, as part of its wider coordination of print use across the UK. Logistics represents the phase of distribution at its most basic - supplying and circulating copies of the film to theatres, of tapes and DVDs to shops and video rental stores, and managing the effectiveness of the supply. The showing of films in cinemas is a time-pressured activity. Cinemas spend their money publicising film play-dates and times in local papers or through published programmes. There's an imperative for the distributor to deliver the film on time.

For UK theatrical exhibition, the distributor typically handles 35mm film prints. Each print can cost around £1,000 - or twice that if subtitled - so a degree of care is required of everyone involved in handling the print. In the UK, prints are generally broken down for ease of handling into smaller reels, each lasting around 18-20 mins when run through a projector at 24 frames per second. So a feature print, in its physical form, will usually be 5 or 6 reels, stored and supplied in a single hard case, weighing in at 20-25kgs. Prints are hired by the exhibitor for the duration of their play-dates, and therefore each print is made for repeat use. It's easy to see from this that, during the course of even a short theatrical release period, any single print needs to be moved many times from the main print warehouse, onto a delivery van, to the cinema, onto an assembly bench, through the projector and then back through the process and onto the next cinema.

35mm theatrical prints invariably suffer cumulative damage as they pass through different projectors, and the hands of various projectionists. There are also overheads incurred by the distributor for the storage of prints at the UK's central print warehouse in West London. For these reasons, each theatrical print has a finite lifespan. Distributor will invest in sufficient prints to provide optimum coverage through the first period of theatrical release, usually lasting up to 6 months. From this point on, many of the now used release prints will be destroyed, leaving only a small number to be used for second-run and repertory theatrical bookings through the remainder of the film's licenced period.

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