What Are Dump Months?

If you’re a regular cinema goer, you probably can relate to the different kinds of trouble when choosing what to watch. Sometimes, you’re simply flooded with choice – many films that you’ve wanted to watch for a long time are being screened concomitantly, and you only have money or time for a few. Other times, you don’t have much to do for work or school, but there’s really nothing interesting to watch – a few idiotic romantic comedies, and a horror film with a terrible title that is rated 3.4 on IMDb. So, why this discrepancy in quality and quantity of releases? Well, the low-performing months are called ‘dump months’, and I’ll tell you why.

The race for the awards

Some films are made with awards in mind. You take a great director, assemble a fantastic cast, work along a subject that is probably trending and can generate good amounts of interest through careful marketing, and you’ve got a likely award contender. But the timing of the release is key – if the film is released in February, it will take a whole year until it is eligible for the Golden Globes, Oscars, or other major awards. And during this time, people will forget about it no matter how brilliant it was, due to other great releases coming out meanwhile. This is why the major contenders prefer the last few months of the year in order to schedule their releases – sure, it becomes more crowded and thus revenues are split, but this maximises their award potential.

With this in mind, the peak period for quality film releases in the UK usually ranges from November to January. Most will release before Christmas, so as not to come in conflict with other distractions that the festive period might present. And some will come out in early January -usually with a small delay compared to releases in the US, in order to generate further buzz. But starting with the end of January or early February, until March or so, very few good quality films will be released. So now’s the time to shine for indie projects, or those projects with less success at test screenings.

Customer segmentation

Ah, a key staple of good business strategy: knowing who your target audience is and tailoring your approach towards them in order to maximise the efficiency of your plan. Horror flicks are primarily addressed to a youthful segment – and when is it a better time for horror than in October, the month which culminates with Halloween? It’s the autumn semester for most schools and universities around the world, which means that teens and young adults will be concentrated in cities, eager to meet up and be scared together. Instead, Christmas time is mostly associated with peacefulness and family time, so people may not be looking to experience frights around this period. Which leads us to the other dump months – summertime.

Summertime means sunny days, long warm nights and holiday time. Of course, the weather bit does not apply to the UK, but that’s besides the point. People will generally want to spend their days and evenings outside, or even better, away on holiday. Seaside, mountainside, summer camps, you name it – a lot of usual moviegoers will certainly be out of town at one point or another. This makes the summer months less prolific for prominent titles, so it constitutes another dump period for lesser known, or lesser quality film releases. Sure, one or two blockbusters might get released around this time if they are either summer-themed, or simply if demand from them is so inelastic that it doesn’t need to consider a special release period.

Surprisingly or not, the dump period of July and August also extends into September, also because of social considerations. Freshers just moving out of their parents’ home might need a few weeks to adjust before they start going to the cinema. Returning students might have spent their last couple of quid on the last couple of beers of the summer, and now have to deal with the prospect of paying rent again. Working people just back from an expensive holiday in the Maldives might need to balance their budget a little bit before splashing the cash on ever more expensive cinema tickets. Which is why only by late September or early October the mass flood of quality films starts to slowly but steadily happen.

Article written by Julian Leu for The Monthly Film Festival

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