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Michal Drobny • Distributor

European Distributors: Up Next! - Slovakia

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Michal Drobny • Distributor

Michal Drobny is marketing manager for Slovak distributor Continental Film. Making his first visit to San Sebastian this year, he hopes to develop relationships and wants to bring home information to help his country's government support film distribution. “As I see it, there are a lot of small countries with the same problems,” he says.

Slovakia sees 2.5m–3m total admissions in a year. “A successful film for us is 10,000 to 15,000 admissions,” Drobny says. “Maybe one of the Harry Potter films can get 200,000 admissions.”

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Continental releases 30 to 40 films a year and, thanks largely to its partnership with Warner Bros, enjoys a market share of 20%–30%.

Continental also serve as Slovak distribution partners for Hollywood Classic Entertainment, which often buys rights to European and arthouse titles for several Eastern European territories at once. Continental acquires other titles through direct negotiation with the producers, usually in the Czech Republic. Drobny seldom attends festivals other than Berlin. This year is his first visit to San Sebastian.

Margins are tight enough for Continental, which is usually the second or third largest distributor in Slovakia each year. Drobny doesn't envy distributors whose business is solely arthouse. “I don't understand how they survive on that kind of box office,” he says.

Continental is 30% shareholder in Slovak multiplex chain Cinemax, which will open its ninth cinema in Kosice in September. Continental formerly operated Bratislava's only arthouse cinema, Kino Tatra, until the building owners decided to convert the space into a congress hall.

Continental counts on public money for a small portion of its operating budget. The Slovak Ministry of Culture gives support up to a maximum of SKK 160,000 (€5,500) for the distribution of European films. “This covers the cost of two or three prints,” Drobny says.

Continental also receives funding through the MEDIA automatic support scheme, typically receiving 40 to 60 cents per admission for European films.

Drobny says this public support is welcome but it's seldom enough to make a real difference to distributors. “A print for a US title costs $300 [€210]. For a European title, the cost is $1,000–1500 [€700–1,000] for the print, plus I still need to pay for the all the marketing materials and the cost of subtitles,” he says. “We can't be surprised that American films are everywhere.”

As a result, few European films secure distribution in Slovakia. Exceptionally, Cinemax promotes European and arthouse film through its Artmax program, whereby independent films are screened once a week, sometimes for free. Current titles in the selection include Good Bye, Lenin! [+see also:
trailer
interview: Wolfgang Becker
film profile
]
, The Secret Life of Words [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Isabel Coixet
film profile
]
, The Science of Sleep [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Volver [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Agustín Almodóvar
interview: Carmen Maura
interview: Pedro Almodóvar
interview: Pénélope Cruz
film profile
]
and Angel [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
.

In cooperation with the Embassy of Spain, Continental and Cinemax are creating a Spanish Days celebration of Spanish cinema at Cinemax locations in November.

Drobny has hopes that digital cinema will help small distributors, but believes it will be five to ten years before the major studios settle on a common format. Even then, the costs of converting screens will be challenging for the private sector. “To install one 2K digital system costs SKK 3m–4m [€100,000–132,000] and we have 37 screens, so it's a lot of money,” he says. “We'd like to invest but it will take a long time to see a return on that investment.”

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