Thursday, 22 April 2010

Night of the Demon and the BBFC

As atmospheric and genuinely suspenseful as Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon is, the horror is largely psychological and the apdearance of the demon itself, even bearing in mind that this was the era of movie monsters like Them! and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, comes across as awkward rather than terrifying; however, during the production stages, there were several conflicts with the British Board of Film Classification.The first version of the script was called The Bewitched and was written by Charles Bennett, who had collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on a number of films. An early draft of the script was submitted by producer Marcel Hellman to the BBFC (at the time known as the British Board of Film Censors) in January 1955 in the hope of getting an A certificate to attract a teenage audience.
The anonymous examiner (known only by the initials AAA) returned a long list of concerns, at the root of which lay the fact that no rational explanation was given for events in the story – in other words, the “goings-on are clearly intended to be supernatural.”

She said, “I cannot suggest any way of making this story ‘A’. Even for ‘X’, we do not want the picture (which hangs in Karswell’s room) of the Black Mass, or any references to it. I am not sure whether we want the séance or not [because it is not exposed as fake]…” A number of scenes were objected to, including:
The pursuit of Harrington by the Thing (with the sound of its panting)
Harrington’s notes about the Thing
Karswell’s tricks at the party – bringing a snake from his hat and frightening the children
Woodcut of ‘dinosaur’ accompanied by thunder and lightning
The séance
Supernatural cat
Karswell’s terror-stricken flight and death

The fear was that teenagers would be able to suspend disbelief more than adults…
Another fear was the Americanisation of the picture – presumably a reference to the type of horror in the film. Bear in mind that educationalists, religious and political figures in the country were also objecting the way American horror comics of the time were ‘corrupting’ the youth of Britain.
A second examiner (BBB) doubted that an X was enough, particularly scenes like Holden’s confrontation with the cat while looking for Karswell’s book and the Thing’s pursuit of Holden.

Hellman tried submitting the script to the Motion Picture Association of America in the hope of getting it accepted for a younger audience. Although it received a more considered and careful opinion, objections were made to several scenes, like the séance, the depiction of the Black Mass (“should not be orgiastic”) and some of the language used (“hotter than hell” and “For God’s sake”). The Director of Production Code Administration, Geoffrey Shurlock, recommended that Hellman consider the Association’s recommendations and make changes.

Again, the script was submitted to the BBFC. This time, a different examiner was equally hostile:
“[Some] scenes are horrific, as the monstrous shape or its ‘white leprous hand’ are seen; its victims show abject terror, and the script makes it clear that terrifying effects are to be obtained from the music.”
Bizarrely, he highlighted differences between the script and the M. R. James story it is based on and noted that the depiction of the Black Mass (in a painting, remember), showing demons dressed in masks indulging in an orgy with ‘lissom, unclothed young women whose lovely faces are infinitely evil’ had to be cut. Amongst other sequences he thought had to be cut was one in which a boy pulled a cat’s tail! Dialogue considered (but not objected to this time) included, “You can take a running jump at yourself” – presumably, this was because it was euphemistically saying, “Go fuck yourself!”

Like AAA, he objected to the fact that the first page of the script pointed out that the film would be a “light-heartedly dramatic excursion into what might or might not be the supernatural” – presumably because the events depicted were most certainly supernatural.

AAA weighed in with her opinion again, saying it could only be considered for an ‘X’ certificate.
Hellman made a personal phonecall to A. T. L. Watkins, Secretary of the BBFC, on 11 March 1955, and a note sent in reply later that day made his position that it should receive an ‘X’ clear: “ The supernatural element, with its steady building up of fear, and particularly the fear of darkness could not… fail to be terrifying to children.” He added that it was impossible to suggest cuts that would guarantee it an ‘A’.

As the script underwent re-writes and new producers came on board (Hal. E Chester, Clive Nicholas and Frank Bevis) much of Bennett’s humour was dropped – in favour of a more adult approach to the supernatural as it became clear that the film was to be aimed at an ‘X’ audience.

Several examiners at the BBFC saw the new draft of the script and were pleased it was to be aimed at an ‘X’ audience, but concern was expressed that this should not open the door to unlimited horror and bad taste and one called for the complete omission of Hobart’s praise of Black Magic and the picture of the Black Mass, noting: “I disliked particularly the sequence… where Karswell’s skill at conjuring before a delighted group of children is followed by a storm provoked by his malignant power so that the children are screaming with fear and running in terror.”
Secretary Watkins stressed that there limits as to what could be shown, even with a an ‘X’ certificate, noting that “great deal will depend upon treatment” and the final word rested with the examiners after they had seen the completed film. However, he still advised on a number of specific points:
Shots of the monster should not be too revolting
Harrington’s death should not be overdone and there should be no shots of him on fire or twitching in agony
The portrayal of children’s fears calls for reasonable restraint – i.e. don’t exploit the children in the fear to emphasise the horror
There must be no description of the rites of devil worship
Hobart’s madness and jump through the window must not be depicted in detail
Restraint must be shown in the pursuit of Karswell by the beast and the sounds, including screams, should not be too excessiveAn amended script was sent to the BBFC on October 23, less than a month before shooting was to begin. AAA was the examiner and she noted that there were even more references to Devil worship she didn’t think they would make too much of an impression on the audience. She noted the continued presence and wanted the removal of the Black Mass painting and the description of the true believer. A number of other sequences disturbed her, such as the death of Harrington and the appearance of the beast, the climax of the séance, Hobart’s leap to death and she specified that there should be no shot of Karswell on fire.
In the final letter from Watkins, he warned that any references to “devil worship” should be removed (and the phrase avoided); the Black Mass painting should be removed; and the points noted by AAA should be taken into consideration; however, he added that the final decision would rest with the examiners on seeing the completed film.

The BBFC ordered only one cut – in Rand Hobart’s speech while under hypnosis. They said the filmmakers needed to “Reduce Hobart’s cries when he escapes for the first time into the audience, and the close shots of Hobart’s face when he is being spoken to and interrogated by psychologists; and remove his words, “We blaspheme and desecrate … in the joy of sin will mankind find itself again.”” An X certificate was recommended and it was noted that several earlier drafts had been seen.See Tony Earnshaw - Beating the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon (The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television and Tomahawk Press, 2005)

And let's not forget the post below!

Night of the Demon

“Like one upon a lonesome road he walks in fear and dread,
because he knows that close behind a frightful fiend doth tread.”
- Coleridge

Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957) is a (largely) subtle and atmospheric movie set in England and based on the M. R. James short story Casting the Runes (1911). Many critics regard it as one of the high points in the horror genre, despite the somewhat clunky, though brief, monster footage that was in keeping with the contemporary trend in horror ‘monster’ movies; think of Jack Arnold’s Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954), for example, or the giant ants in Gordon Douglas’ Them! (1954).

The plot concerns an American Professor, John Holden, flying to England and investigating a Satanic cult’ led by Julian Karswell. He had been invited there by Professor Henry Harrington, but in the interim, he has mysteriously died and his niece, Joanna, blames Karswell. Holden, of course, becomes involved with Joanna but remains sceptical of Karswell’s powers until it is almost too late.

As you’d expect from Tourneur, who had directed several unnerving classics of the genre like I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People (both 1942), as well as the seminal film noir, Out of The Past (1947), the mise-en-scène's combination of cinematography and lighting creates an atmosphere of fear – take the sequence where Holden leaves Karswell’s house and returns to Joanna Harrington through the menacing woods; the séance that starts off comical but swiftly

turns unsettling; the children’s party at Karswell’s estate when he demonstrates his powers to the sceptical Holden; or Holden alone in the dark, narrow, empty hotel corridor.

However, you will have to be charitable to the special effects involved in the demon’s two brief appearances and Holden’s fight with a stuffed ‘leopard’!

Screenwriter Charles Bennett, who had worked with Alfred Hitchcock on a number of films (The Thity Nine Steps (1939), Sabotage (1936) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), among others), held the rights to the original story and wrote a script based on it under the title The Haunted. He sold the script to independent producer and former child actor Hal E. Chester, who initially planned to make a monster movie aimed at a teenage audience. However, when the script was submitted to the BBFC, they balked at a film that seemed to acknowledge the existence of demons and the successful practice of black magic and demanded a number of changes, including the removal of a scene in which a painting of a black mass was to be shown! Eventually, it was decided to go for an X certificate and an older audience, but even then, the BBFC demanded cuts, including references to what being a “true believer” entails. Bizarrely, this sequence remains in the final cut that was released in the UK.

Tourneur has since claimed that he rewrote some of the script to give it a “pseudo-honest” feel to it. He was brought in to direct under recommendation to Chester from the producer Ted Richmond; the producer of Tourneur's previous film Nightfall (1957). Arguments occurred during filming between Chester and Tourneur. One event was during the filming of the wind scene, Tourneur tried to convince him that he needed to upgrade his two electric fans to two airplane engines. When Chester hesitated, Tourneur's friend and leading actor Dana Andrews threatened to leave.

Although it’s often suggested that Chester insisted on the inclusion of the monster after most of the movie was shot, it’s now apparent that he wanted this from the start to make it more commercial and he secured the help of blacklisted Cy Enfield to intergrate the monster in the story and Enfield may even have directed the process shots involving its appearance – against the wishes of Tourneur who claimed, “The scenes where you see the demon were shot without me...the audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon."

Tourneur, speaking to Midi-minuit fantastique, as printed in Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall (Johns Hopkins University Press), by Chris Fujiwara, claimed, “The scenes in which you really see the demon were shot without me. All except one. I shot the sequence in the woods where Dana Andrews is chased by this sort of cloud. This technique should have been used for the other sequences. The audience should never have been completely certain of having seen the demon. They should have just unveiled it little by little, without ever really showing it. They ruined the film by showing it from the very beginning with a guy we don’t know opening his garage, who doesn’t interest us in the least.”

However, it was in the original script and its presence had been debated over before any of the film was shot, so there is no doubt Tourneur knew of it.

Bennett’s reaction to the visualisation of the demon was even angrier: "If [Chester] walked up my driveway right now, I'd shoot him dead."

An American ‘star’ was vital to help the film’s distribution in the US – a factor in the appearances of many American actors in British films of this time, whether second-grade types like Forrest Tucker in Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957) or former starts like Brian Donleavy in the same studio’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quatermass 2 (1957). Dana Andrews fits into this second category – a major star whose career was experiencing a downturn (not unlike Tourneur’s) and like Donleavy, it was said that his drinking hampered his performance and there are certainly scenes in Night of the Demon where he seems a little off-key.

The most striking performance is Niall McGinnis as Karswell; his affability conceals his sinister intent and while he is ruthless to others, he is aware that he's tapped into the secrets of demonology to gain power, but he also knows he is vulnerable to the forces of the demon too.

The film’s production designer was Ken Adam, later to make a name for himself on the James Bond series as well as by his work with Stanley Kubrick. A particularly fine example of his art is the set for the interior of Karswell’s house. While its columns and statues suggest a temple, the chess-board floor pattern indicates the battle of wills between Holden and Karswell and the space of the set is beautifully exploited by Tourneur’s use of deep focus when Holden breaks in and is filmed from the top of the stairs, seemingly alone until a hand dramatically grabs the top of the banister.

Chester cut thirteen minutes of the film for the American film release and the title was changed to Curse of the Demon. Some of the narration is absent from the titles, the aeroplane sequence is shorter and some of the scenes with Karswell and his mother are cut. One key scene missing is the one with Karswell's mother showing Joanna the occult book; another is Holden's visit to the Hobart farm to secure a release for his examination of Rand Hobart. Holden's experience in the hallway of the hotel is moved and the new fades and dissolves aren’t well-disguised and one cut even occurs in the middle of a previous dissolve!

Night of the Demon was released in the UK in December 1957 as part of a double bill with the American film 20 Million Miles to Earth. In the United States, as Curse of the Demon, it played drive-ins and cinemas with The True Story of Lynn Stuart and The Revenge of Frankenstein.


Night of the Demon (1957)
Director: Jacques Tourneur Writer(s): (in credits order) M.R. James (story Casting the Runes) (as Montague R. James), Charles Bennett and Hal E. Chester
Cast: Dana Andrews - Dr. John Holden, Peggy Cummins - Joanna Harrington, Niall MacGinnis - Dr. Julian Karswell, Maurice Denham - Professor Henry Harrington, Athene Seyler - Mrs. Karswell, Liam Redmond - Professor Mark O'Brien, Reginald Beckwith - Mr. Meek, Ewan Roberts - Lloyd Williamson, Peter Elliott - Professor K.T. Kumar, Rosamund Greenwood - Mrs. Meek, Brian Wilde - Rand Hobart, Richard Leech - Inspector Mottrarn, Lloyd Lamble - Detective Simmons, Peter Hobbes - Superintendent, Charles Lloyd Pack - Chemist, John Salew - Librarian, Janet Barrow - Mrs. Hobart (deleted from US print), Percy Herbert - Farmer (deleted from US print), Lynn Tracy - Air Hostess (deleted from US print), Ballard Berkeley - 1st Reporter, Shay Gorman - Narrator, Walter Horsbrugh - Bates, the Butler, Michael Peake - 2nd Reporter, Leonard Sharp - Ticket Collector

A detailed piece on the film:
A comparison between the source material and the film:
A website dealing with M. R. James:
M. R. James; Casting the Runes:

A good book on the making of the film and some of the controversies around it is Tony Earnshaw's Beating the Devil: The Making of Night of the Demon (The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television and Tomahawk Press, 2005)

The title song of Kate Bush's album Hounds of Love, uses a soundbyte of dialogue from Night of the Demon: “It’s in the trees…it’s coming", a line spoken during the séance as someone has a vision of the demon’s attack.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Distribution - Questions you need to be able to answer

1/ How does distribution in the independent sector differ from that in mainstream Hollywood and other ‘industrial’ cinema?

2/ Two types of distribution: local and national. Explain the difference.

3/ What kind of things have to be considered before the release of a film?

4/ What’s the key difference between the marketing of a major commercial film and an independent film; why do you suppose this; what are the probable ramifications?

5/ What are the disadvantages of the current method of distribution?

6/ What are the advantages of digital distribution?


Distribution = releasing and sustaining films in the market place.

In the practice of Hollywood and other forms of industrial cinema, the phases of production, distribution and exhibition operate most effectively when 'vertically integrated', where the three stages are seen as part of the same larger process, under the control of one company.

In the UK, distribution is very much focused on marketing and sustaining a global product in local markets.

In the independent film sector, vertical integration does not operate so commonly. Producers tend not to have long-term economic links with distributors, who likewise have no formal connections with exhibitors. Here, distribution = collaborative process, requiring the materials and rights of the producer and the cooperation of the exhibitor to promote and show the film in the best way possible. In this sector, distribution can be divided into three stages - licensing, marketing and logistics.

A/ Licensing - the process by which a distributor acquires the legal right to exploit a film. In distribution, licensing itself can take place on two levels.

International distribution ensures that films find their way to the 90+ market 'territories' around the world. The major US studios generally have their own distribution offices in all the major territories. By contrast, independent producers have to sell their films to different distributors in each territory. Independent production companies are usually small concerns, sometimes set up for one film and often lacking the necessary knowledge or contacts of each of the territories around the world. Instead of doing this themselves, they might choose to hire a specialist sales agent, whose function is to understand the value of a film in many different markets. The sales agent will then set up stall at the film markets that take place throughout the year.

'Local' distribution - involves the distributor acquiring the licence to release and exploit the film in a particular country. The distributor will usually pay the producer a minimum guarantee for the licence. This fee will vary depending on the status and perceived commercial potential of the film, and on the range of rights that the distributor chooses to exploit. A distributor will usually be offered theatrical rights, for showing the film in cinemas; video rights, for video and DVD exploitation; and TV rights, if the distributor is able to sell the film to a broadcaster.

In addition to paying a fee to secure the film, the licence will stipulate that the distributor will also pay royalties to the producer, taken from the profits that the film generates. A local distributor will conventionally share profits equally with the producer for the theatrical leg, pay back higher royalties for broadcast rights, and lower for video/DVD.

Once the licence has been agreed, it is then the distributor's job to launch the film. UK - feature films are released initially theatrically. A theatrical opening - most effective way to create interest in film. The big screen - optimum setting for both audiences and the filmmakers.

Some months following the theatrical release, a film will be packaged and released on DVD and VHS video, then on various forms of pay television and eventually, two years after opening in cinemas, on free-to-air television. Value of the film built up by its theatrical release reaps dividends during its release cycle, influencing audiences and commercial value it subsequently commands. Each stage - successful distributor must have in-depth knowledge of marketplace - which cinemas, video outlets and broadcasters can best draw an audience for its films - and of the variable marketing costs involved in releasing a film in that territory. The trick is to weigh up the two factors, to invest as much as is needed in promoting film to draw out maximum returns.

B/ Marketing - In the UK, new films are released theatrically on Fridays. The schedule for forthcoming releases is coordinated and published by the Film Distributors Association. A distributor will assess this schedule to identify a Friday release date where there are only a few films scheduled for release. Finding a 'light' week will ensure that there will be both screen space and adequate review column inches in the press allocated to any potential release.

A further consideration for scheduling a release is the seasonality of the film. For example, it is widely assumed within the industry that specialised films have the greatest potential to reach audiences during the academic year.

Finally, the distributor will try to position the film distinctively and avoid a release date occupied by other films with similar traits (story, subject, country of origin). In recent years in the UK, these two aspects of release planning have become increasingly difficult, as the release schedule has regularly featured over 10new releases in a week.

After setting a release date, the distributor works towards the theatrical release, investing in the materials and the marketing campaign to support it.

The costs of theatrical distribution, met by local distributors, are often referred to as 'P&A', or Prints and Advertising. P&A are the nuts and bolts of marketing and distributing films into cinemas, the tools used by the distributor to create a public for its film. P&A also represent the bulk of the distributor's investment, after paying the initial fee for rights, and can range from less than £1,000 to over £1 million for the release of a film in the UK.

Distribution: Marketing: Prints and Advertising – key elements -
The quantity and production of release prints and trailers - Specialised films will often be released with fewer than 10 prints into key independent cinemas, with these prints subsequently 'toured' over a 6-month period to all parts of the UK. On the other hand, commercial mainstream films often open on over 200 prints, simultaneously screening in all major UK towns and cities.

Press materials, clips reels, images, press previews, screener tapes - For the majority of releases, favourable press response is a key factor in developing the profile and desirability of a film. Distributors consider both the quality and breadth of coverage, and this is often inscribed into the nature and scale of a press campaign.

The design and printing of posters and other promotional artwork - The cinema poster - in the UK this means the standard 30" x 40" 'quad' format - is still the cornerstone of theatrical release campaigns. Numerous recent examples indicate that the poster design is highly effective in 'packaging' the key attributes of a film for potential audiences. Distributors will also consider other poster campaigns, ranging from Underground advertising to billboards.

Advertising campaign - locations, ad size and frequency - Advertising in magazines, national and local newspapers works in tandem with press editorial coverage to raise awareness of a release. Press advertising campaign for specialised films will select publications and spaces close to relevant editorial. For mainstream films, scale and high visibility is the key. Cost of print advertising in the UK is comparatively high - seen as making distribution in the UK a riskier business than most other countries. To extend reach of advertising and develop more effective communication with audiences at low cost, distributors look increasingly to 'viral marketing' - forms of electronic word-of-mouth via the internet, email and mobile phones.
Press campaign / contracting a PR agency - Many independent distributors in particular do not have press departments, and hire a press agency to run a pre-release campaign. This is especially the case if the distributor brings over key talent for press interviews to support the release.

Arranging visit by talent from the film - use of talent - usually the director and/or lead actors - wins significant editorial coverage to support a release. The volume of coverage can far outweigh the cost of talent visits. A distributor will consider the use of advance public screenings to create word-of-mouth and advance 'buzz' around a film.

Logistics - 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, costing around £1,000 - or double if subtitled - so 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 minutes 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 suffer cumulative damage passing through different projectors, and hands of projectionists. Overheads incurred by the distributor for the storage of prints at the UK's central print warehouse in West London - each theatrical print has a finite lifespan. The 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 licensed period.

Distribution: Digital Distribution
Towards the end of 2005, the UK distribution and exhibition sectors were starting to move towards digital distribution and exhibition. For exhibitors, digital projection, especially when married to the increasing use digital formats in production, can now replicate - if not surpass - the image quality of conventional 35mm cinema presentation. And, of course, digital sound systems have been used in cinemas for some time.

In distribution terms, the advantages of digital technology are even clearer, though perhaps longer term. Digital technology is seen to offer a more cost effective and logistics-light alternative to the tried and trusted, but unwieldy model of 35mm print distribution described above. Eventually - cheaper and much less stressful to send films as computer files to cinemas across the UK, than to transport 20-25kg tins of film in the back of a van.

Digital distribution and exhibition on a large scale has started to appear in certain parts of the world, notably China and Brazil, where conventional logistics cannot, for one reason or another, efficiently bring together supply and demand. In the UK, digital technology has been embraced by the non-theatrical sector, in film societies and schools, where the use of DVD and mid-range digital projection has replaced 16mm.

The force of this change, coupled with the new capacity of technology to replicate 35mm imaging, has led the UK Film Council to establish a digital distribution and exhibition programme for the theatrical sector at the end of 2005. Entitled the Digital Screen Network (DSN), it will eventually support new facilities in 211 screens across the country (out of a total of just over 3,300 screens in the UK), and is seen as a small but important step change towards full digital cinema.
The DSN will initially work with files transferred from a high definition digital master (either HDD5, or HD Cam). The compressed and encrypted files will be sent directly to cinemas to be downloaded, de-encrypted (unlocked) and opened as files for screening with digital projection equipment. In principle, digital distribution will, in time, change the paradigm of 35mm print logistics. Possible for the distributor to send feature film files electronically, via broadband networks, thus eliminating dependence on transportation.

There is little doubt that the advent of digital distribution has the potential radically to alter the work of distributors around the world. The comparatively low cost of film copies and additional logistical effectiveness of digital distribution provide the distributor with greater flexibility. It will be less expensive in the coming years to offer a wide theatrical opening with many copies, and also conversely, to screen a film for just one performance at any cinema. In theory - possible for both distributors and exhibitors to respond more precisely to audience demand.

All this suggests that in the future, more titles, both mainstream and specialised, will receive wide theatrical openings, and that this broadening of access at the point of release will dramatically reduce the overall theatrical period from 3-6 months to perhaps 1-3 months. Films will then enter into a second-run and repertory programming market aided by lower costs.

The shortened first-run period will in turn bring forward the distributor's release of the DVD. And there's the rub. The adoption of digital technologies offers greater opportunities for distributors to create joined-up campaigns for theatrical and DVD releases, in which, increasingly, the theatrical opening is used as a way of providing a loss-leading marketing platform for the highly lucrative DVD leg.

Slumdog and Reception Studies

Slumdog has quickly become one of the most discussed films of recent times. This is perhaps less to do with the film in terms of its narrative (although audiences seem genuinely entertained by its ideas and their presentation) and more to do with its status as a cultural object. The critical and industry discussion of the film started as soon as it was released in the US in December and at the time of its UK release in late January this intensified into a debate in the press and the media more generally. This in turn was revived and extended at the time of the Oscar triumph in February. At the same time, the film created a mixed response in India (again affected by Oscar success with some Indian commentators caught between wanting to condemn the film for being ‘not Indian enough’, but at the same time wanting to celebrate Oscar success for A R Rahman (twice) and sound recordist Resul Pookutty.

Range of debates around the film which make it a candidate for a global or possibly ‘globalising’ product. One focuses on ideas about realism – is the film denigrating India by showing the reality of poverty or denigrating it by offering a ‘Western view, a tourist’s view rather than a realist view? These are mutually exclusive arguments frequently presented.

A second argument surrounds the extent to which the film draws on existing Indian Cinema (in all its manifestations) and mixes it with Western styles. This is my position, but others argue forcibly against it. Much depends of course on the width of viewing experience of the critic. It is worth remembering that some Indian commentators may not watch any other Indian films outside of Bollywood. The extent of the release in both English and Hindi versions of the film is important, as is the success of the soundtrack album in reaching a wider Indian audience.
• What kinds of audience behaviour and consumption are increasingly global?
• What are the arguments for and against global media, in relation to content, access, representation and identity?
The Indian cinema audiences are moving towards a mode of cinemagoing that is more closely aligned to that of North America, Europe and East Asia, i.e. through the new-build multiplexes, now with digital projection. However, there is a distinct divide between the poor and the new middle class and between the rural and urban audiences. There are thousands of traditional cinemas in India in which audience behaviour will be much slower to change (see Indian research into audience behaviour quoted in Understanding Audiences and the Film Industry, 2007: 158). At the same time, satellite TV (often pirated), VCDs and DVDs (also pirated) may be supplying poorer audiences with greater access to films (as well as ‘World Cinema’ to upmarket audiences).

Is this a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’? Cultural imperialism? Hollywood is approaching the newly emergent Indian media conglomerates with rapidity, but also some trepidation. (DreamWorks was effectively bought by the Indian major, Reliance, not the other way round.) In an Indian context, issues over identity may be played out much more in a Hindi v Tamil/Telugu stand-off or fears that a ‘globalised’ and unified Indian national identity might threaten as a regional power to overwhelm Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Other aspect of debate - the role of the Non-Resident Indian audience in the UK. To a large extent, Bollywood films in the UK are still playing to a ‘diasporic (i.e. Indians living in the UK) audience’. Both Hollywood and Bollywood seek that potential crossover hit – an Indian produced film that attracts a general UK and US audience. Slumdog is arguably nearer to that goal than the Hollywood co-produced Indian films so far released.

Slumdog as a Global Film?!

Global media?
If we take global media to be concerned with media forms that are produced in several different production contexts around the world, which then circulate in more than one market and in so doing influence production in the second market. In this way the medium is increasingly globalised as domestic industries mutate through a process of interaction.

In terms of film, up until now the predominant form of change in the international film industry has been of a hegemonic Hollywood across most markets slowly absorbing new talent and ideas thrown up by smaller commercial industries, which have in turn often imitated and stolen Hollywood material. In this paradigm, Hollywood has had little contact with the major film industries of India and has recently found itself to a certain extent rebuffed by renascent industries in Japan, South Korea and the ‘three Chinas’. This challenge to Hollywood has been met by the activities of the major US studios in seeking production deals with South Asian and East Asian producers. In historical terms, this represents something of a return to the 1960s when Hollywood studios attempted to create co-production deals in Europe, especially in Italy and with Japan, but the current engagement with India and China is new. However, the early attempts to engage directly with Indian producers on films such as Chandni Chowk to China (2008) has so far proved strikingly unsuccessful. It is in this context that the distribution and exhibition of Slumdog Millionaire has been so striking.

What makes Slumdog Millionaire so different?
• An Indian property – an Indian novel, Q & A, written in English by Vikas Swarup;
• A UK production company, Film 4, and its partner, Celador, the owner of the rights to the TV format at the centre of the novel, WWTBAM;
• A UK scriptwriter, Simon Beaufoy and UK director Danny Boyle
• Indian musical composer, A R Rahman
• UK dept heads and Indian crew
• One UK actor plus stars of Bollywood and parallel cinema plus non-professional actors
• An Indian shoot and shared post-production India/UK
• A Hollywood studio as North American distributor via its specialist label
• A British/French distributor in the UK
• An Indian subsidiary of a Hollywood studio (Warners) as distributor in India
• Appearances at international film festivals, culminating in awards in the US and UK
• Given a budget of either $10 million or £10 million (sources vary), Slumdog has been a major commercial success. As of 3/3/09 box office grosses were as follows:
US $100 million; UK $37 million; after these, the biggest markets have been France, Australia, Italy, Spain; India (Hindi) $2.6 million; India (English) $3.4 million.
Note that the film has not been a big hit in Hindi markets, but has done very well in English language markets (don’t forget it is still a third Hindi in the English prints). Since tickets for Hindi halls are generally likely to be lower priced than the English language screens, it still means a sizeable audience of around 8-10 million Indians (plus pirated DVD viewings etc.).

Slumdog as a British Film?!

a) A key issue about the British film industry is what defines British cinema
b) Slumdog – set in India; source material was by an Indian writer, although not written in traditional Indian literary style; many of the film’s crew were Indian; all but one of the principle and the majority of the supporting cast were Indian; almost a third of the dialogue is in Hindi.
c) Director, writer, lead actor, key members of the film crew were British; two-thirds of the dialogue was in English; the initial funding for the production was British; the production company and producer were British.
d) It was passed as British by the UK Film Council and thus received tax allowances. However, this has fairly stringent criteria, based on cultural content, cultural contribution, cultural hubs and cultural practitioners and films have to score at least 16 points out of a possible 31 to pass. On cultural content it may get 5 or 6 – the subject matter has some British cultural connection and the dialogue is mainly in English; cultural contribution – it uses British creativity; cultural hubs – although it was filmed abroad there was post-production work in the UK , cultural practitioners – most cast and crew are Indian, but key figures are British. Be lucky if you could award it 12 or 13 points. However, it is believed it passed on the strength of a letter of support written by Christian Coulson, in which he argued the film was a meaningful contribution to British culture.

It could have received tax allowances had it been a co-production with an Indian company as the UK has co-production agreements with certain countries; or if it had qualified as British under European conventions (for which it could’ve received support for screenings, distribution etc.). However, it was a wholly UK-financed production (US money was only involved for distribution) and it was not a co-production with an Indian company.
Influence of British production background as opposed to British/American like Working Title films – no American star.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2009)

a) CNN news item about the Hole in the Wall Project in Delhi giving street kids access to computers – kids taught themselves skills and enjoyed themselves
b) Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat posted to London, saw the news story about the ex-Army major who cheated on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Saw this was top-rated show in India too – recognised a global format and wanted to write a novel.
c) Most unlikely person to win - most likely to be accused of cheating if he won in India – uneducated kid from the slums.
d) Had to be about hope, survival and redemption to appeal to a wide audience
e) Q&A published 2005 in UK and India. Success - Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4

First moves towards adapting it for the screen
a) Even before it was published Swarup’s agent sent a proof copy to Tessa Ross, Head of Film 4; saw possibilities, purchased it, pitched the idea to writer Simon Beaufoy.
b) Beaufoy is a known ‘name’ in the business, a writer with a successful track record – he was needed to secure more funding.
c) Beaufoy – scriptwriter of the Full Monty, one of the most commercially successful Brit films of all times ($240 million worldwide on the back of considerable promotion by Fox Searchlight). Worked with Bille Eltringham on small-scale Brit films about Asian community - Yasmin (2004) – more in common with the films of Ken Loach – script arose from discussion and workshops among the Asian community in Keighley, Yorkshire.
d) Beaufoy – background contained elements that seemed relevant to Slumdog and his name would be attractive to potential backers and directors.
e) Q&A is a book comprising various narrative strands and Beaufoy saw the need for strong narrative – visited Mumbai for research – decided on the idea of explaining the story through the answers the boy gives – which is in the book – but got rid of many of the subplots and extra stories to trim the narrative, making it streamlined to fit the Hollywood model and make it more filmable and, of course, widen its appeal.
f) Key change – instead of the central character being an orphan brought up by an English clergyman, Beaufoy changed him to a Mumbai Muslim slum dweller with a brother Salim.
g) Stronger focus on the romantic elements came later at Danny Boyle’s request, as was the structural change that saw Jamal arrested BEFORE the final question, thus adding suspense and tension.
h) Beaufoy certainly introduced some elements to appeal to the UK audience – the call-centre scenes and the way the staff have to soak up elements of British culture, but overall he remains faithful to the spirit of the novel.

Novel – British or Indian?
a) Indian characters, Indian setting, Indian cultural content, so…
b) BUT, not a literary novel in the same way as those Indian novels that win literary prizes and praise in the UK (i.e. the books of Vikram Seth); this is more of a deliberate attempt to write a novel that would be popular, using a recognisable ‘global standard modern English.’ The writing assumes an understanding of global culture rather than specific regional Indian culture – increases its appeal overseas – something reflected in the film.

Funding Crisis
a) Film 4, the Channel Four film unit has only 11 staff and a budget of £10m; Tessa Ross had to find partners to help fund the film.
b) Key decision – took the film to head of Celador Films – Christian Coulson - experienced producer with several important credits (Dirty Pretty Things (2002), The Descent (2005) and Eden Lake (2008)). More than that, Celador International owned the rights to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Though Swarup had been inspired by the cheating scandal in millionaire, he had used a fictional quiz in the book.
c) Ross wanted the rights to use Millionaire – think of how the film would be an advert for the quiz worldwide – it’s an excellent example of cross promotion – people who are familiar with the quiz (and it is known worldwide) may be more likely to se the film; people who see the film may be more likely to watch the quiz.
d) Problem – Celador International was breaking up but Coulson ensured Film 4 would get the rights. The deal put in a small amount in equity and a TV rights payment. Celador Films then added £8m for the production budget with the assistance of a UK tax credit. Still small budget – average Hollywood film costs about £30m.
e) Coulson, as producer started preparing the film even without any overseas distribution deals in place.
f) Six months later, March 2007 – Celador and Film 4 offered the film to Danny Boyle who read the script and accepted it.

Danny Boyle and British Cinema in India
a) Long history of ‘British’ films made in India – many American using British actors.
b) More relevant to are ‘Diaspora' films – made by Indians not living in India or by British Asians – funded by the UK - Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay!
(UK/France/India, 1988) and Gurinder Chadha’s Bride and Prejudice (UK/US, 2004).
c) Boyle – a ‘name’ director – Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), but necessarily someone whose name guarantees box-office success. Had a bad experience on The Beach – didn’t have control and had problems with the British and America crew on location; this time, he wanted complete control and wanted to use Indian cast and crew, though with British heads of departments.
d) Style is obviously European/American – lots of moving camera shots, slow-mo, sped up shots, tilted camera, atmospheric lighting.
e) He had no obvious Indian/Asian connection and for preparation watched Indian films like Ram Gopal Varma’s Company (2002) and those by Mira Nair, such as Salaam Bombay! (1988), which was part funded by Film 4.
f) Insisted on Anthony Dod Mantle, whom he’d worked on 28 Days Later as cinematographer and who had worked on the Dogme films for Lars von Trier.
g) Tabrez Noorani - Line Producer who had worked in India and who had worked with Loveleen Tanda, who is credited as co-director (India) and Casting Director and who had worked with Mira Nair
h) Heads of departments were British but most of crew and cast (with the exception of Dev Patel) were recruited in India. Lots of the second unit crew and assistant directors were well-respected Bollywood technicians.
i) Two of the cast were major Indian character actors – Amil Kaur and Irrfan Khan.
j) Film was shot with combination of 35mm and digital film with 40:60 ratio. Smaller, lighter digital films were useful in action scenes in narrow streets and alleys; some cameras were in fixed positions to catch action from different angles; second unit work was carried out by Bollywood crews in different locations.
k) Shooting took place between Nov 2007 and Feb 2008.

a) Boyle sent a rough cut on DVD to A. R. Rahman, major composer on the World Music scene who has scored many Indian films of varying styles and who has a huge fan base in India, so he could write a soundtrack – another selling point for the film.
b) Rahman teamed up with M.I.A. for two tracks, thus adding to the movie’s appeal to an audience interested in World music. One track, Paper Planes, was nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year.

Festivals, Release Pattern and Distribution
a) Coulson sells film negative pickup rights to two distributors – Warner International (for distribution rights in North America) and Pathé International (a French company) for the rest of the world. These deals accrued $13m which covered the budget and the equity costs of the producers.
b) Feb 2008 – Pathé sold international distribution rights again to more partners at Berlin Film Festival
c) May 2008 – film promoted at Cannes BUT Warners closed their specialty divisions – looked like they would cut their losses and release the film straight to DVD in North America (but cinema release would still have gone ahead in the UK and the rest of the world because the distributor for those regions was Pathé).
d) Warner allowed Coulson and Ross to show film to Fox Searchlight, which distributed much of Boyle’s earlier work, and an agreement was reached that left Warners with a stake but allowed Fox Searchlight distribution rights for North America.
e) Fox deal just in time for Toronto Film Festival – a major international festival and one which is crucial for the success of non-Hollywood studio films in North America. Fox had a history of recent success with the American indie film Juno in 2007 and this became a platform for its Oscar campaign. Slumdog won audience award – a sign of how popular it would become.
f) Platform release in US and Canada – started in 10 screens on Nov 16; by Christmas week – 589 screens; 1500 by late January. 2900 in March after Oscar success.
g) Wide release elsewhere – 324 screens in UK on Jan 9, building on success in US and Canada. Increased box office takings in first three weeks – number of screens increased as did takings – due to word of mouth and promotion on TV, radio, press and the internet.
h) Release in India on Jan 23rd – English language prints (still with 1/3 of the film in Hindi) in multiplexes in city centres; Hindi-dubbed prints in traditional cinemas in suburbs and in the country. English language version more popular and Hindi-version has been listed as an ‘average’ box-office performer – though this is quite an achievement as many Bollywood films are ‘flops’ or ‘disasters’.

a) Most British films that have done well abroad have been made by companies with direct Hollywood studio connections – like the films made by Working Title which is owned by Paramount; Slumdog looks set to be the most commercially successful British independent film of all time – earned approx $300m at the box office so far.
b) Won eight Oscars and nominated for two more; won seven BAFTAs and nominated for another four; plus a host of other awards in the USA and around the world.
c) At the time of writing, still a release of 2000 prints in China, Japan and Korea.
d) Success in Britain. In a proportionate way, Slumdog has been the biggest success in the UK, making $45-50m. Possible reasons why – appeals to the multi-cultural society that the UK has become; the appeal to 15-25 year old audience of a young British lead actor known for his role in Skins; the use of the very recognisable and popular Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; plot elements with universal appeal – hope, love story, rags to riches; the film features some aspects of India we’re familiar with – Millionaire, scenes in the call centre, cricket; flashy kinetic camera work with unusual angles and tilts; dramatic lighting, narrative style – appeal to a cine-literate audience. A lot of it may down to its success in the USA and Canada, the press coverage this received (British films that do well in the USA always receive a lot of press coverage – there seems to be a feeling that when a UK film does well, we’re putting one over on the Americans but there’s also the feeling that we’ve achieved something to be proud of culturally which is not an everyday event!
e) Success in the USA. Many of the same reasons (including Millionaire, which is a hit there too) – the rags to riches story resonates with the idea of the American Dream where anyone can make it as a success, no matter your background. However, flashy as the camera work and editing are, there are none of the explosions or special effects that are normally associated with big box office hits in the US (though there is the romance), nor are there any actors the bulk of the audience would be familiar with. The key to its success may be down to the ethnic diversity of the audience – there are large southern Asian populations in many North American cities, especially in the northeast, including Toronto, where the movie first took off and New York; however, the film received heavy promotion in the US – Boyle and Patel devoted themselves to hundreds of interviews on TV channels across the US (especially on Fox subsidiaries) as well as in print media and there is a mass of promotional material on the official Fox website. It should be noted, however, that the trailers in the US didn’t play Indian music. The platform release strategy, picking up momentum as it received nominations which were widely covered in the media, also boosted audience interest and you could say its success was driven by awards and nominations.

Convergence and the Film Industry II

Have you seen Paranormal Activity? The promotional campaign behind it is as interesting as the movie itself and is another example of a major Hollywood studio (Paramount) using new technology to sell a movie:

The biggest movie marketing success story of the year is likely to be Paranormal Activity, the cheap little indie horror film that Paramount has slowly but surely turned into an event and now a moneymaker. Oren Peli directed Paranormal Activity two years ago (1997); the film had been screening in the Los Angeles horror community (i.e. someone had a screener and was passing it around to all the critics and filmmakers in LA) and the buzz was strong. The film, everybody was saying, was scary and good. Made for very little money, it looked like an indie horror film that could get some attention and make some cash.

Then it got bought by Paramount Vantage (a subsidiary of Paramount), but the plan was to remake it with stars and a budget and FX. People were hoping that the original film would still see the light of day in some shape or form, if only as a DVD release, but it was obvious that a larger budget remake, which would eschew Peli's cinema verité approach, would ruin the premise.

Paramount made cutbacks and closed down Vantage. Plans for the remake were scrapped; however, the buzz about the original was still strong amongst horror fans and news was leaked about the high-profile interest of Steven Speilberg who allegedly suggested the ending that the released version has.

In the summer of 2009, Paramount ‘leaked’ rumours that it was going to release Paranormal Activity, but no-one seemed to have a real release date and it wasn't even clear where the movie would open. However, this seems to have been part of Paramount’s plan to set up a really innovative, exciting marketing campaign that would make use of social networking like no other campaign before it.

The studio rolled the film out at a number of midnight screenings across the country on September 25th. One of the places where the film premiered was Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, where hundreds of die-hard genre fans lined up for a chance at being the first to be scared by the movie. Paramount had made a possibly risky move, using a quote from Dread Central (the premier website for breaking news, original content and active community in the world of horror, covering movies, DVDs, games) on their advertising calling Paranormal Activity one of the scariest movies ever made and a strong positive buzz came from these screenings.
Paramount started a ‘viral’ campaign by using on Twitter (including a "Tweet Your Scream" promotion), Facebook and other social networking sites to convince people to 'demand' that the movie come to their home town. The movie’s own website encouraged fans to "Tweet Your Screams." More than 6,500 followers on Twitter read breathless 140-character reviews such as: "Just got back from seein Paranormal Activity & I'm still LITERALLY shaking. Sleepin w/ the lights on tonight." And, of course, they would spread the word, both verbally and on internet sites like

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore told The Economic Times: “We all spend a lot of time talking about Facebook and Twitter and our ability to communicate. Here’s a case where it allows people to rally around a movie they care about and for them to have a sense of participation, then tell other people, ‘Hey, this is something you should see, too.’”

Of course, Twitter and Facebook appeal particularly to the younger generation, the 15-25 year-olds who form the core of the audience for horror movies.

The studio also worked with Eventful Inc., a San Diego company known for promoting concerts. Using an Eventful feature called "Demand It," Paramount asked fans to determine where the film would show next by clicking the ‘demand’ button on the website.

"When they saw the success of that early campaign, the question at the studio level was does this thing deserve a nationwide release, and they were not sure," said Eventful President and Chief Executive Jordan Glazier. "So they put a big number out there and said, 'Hey, let the fans decide.' "

That number was 1 million "demands," which Paramount said it would take to release the film nationally. Glazier thought reaching that number would take weeks. It took four days.

The 'demand' push itself was a touch phony, though, but in a great way. Buoyed by the buzz from the midnight screenings, Paramount already planned on opening the movie wider on October 16th, but the one million 'demand' strategy was a way of making it look like the people themselves wanted this to happen (this sort of fake grassroots movement is common in politics, where it's called astroturfing and in business, it’s the idea of giving people ‘ownership’ of the product, so they will feel part of it and be more likely to buy it).

The 'demand' strategy is wonderful because it creates the feeling of a solid fan-based buzz, which is important in the modern Twitter land/blog world where young audiences trust their peers for movie recommendations far more than older people writing in newspapers. The strategy allowed actual fans of the movie to get involved and feel like they were doing something to share an experience they enjoyed with more people. And on top of that, it puts Paranormal Activity squarely in the underdog position, which is always attractive to people.

What Paramount may not have expected is the level of success the film would find in its initial limited release. The movie made around 5 million dollars that weekend, pushing it into the top 5 while playing on only 159 screens. The weekend's top movie, Couples Retreat, grossed $34.2 million, but that was in 3,000 cinemas. Paramount planned to go even wider on October 23rd, going into another 1000 cinemas against Saw VI. Bear in mind, the movie cost only $15,000 to make. The average cost of a Hollywood movie is over $30 million...

Paramount has truly figured out the way to harness social media and make it a strong marketing tool, by whipping up the illusion of a strong public demand so much that it seems to have turned into a legitimate public demand. That's the best kind of gimmick - one that ends up not being a gimmick after all. The problem, of course, is that an event isn't enough on its own - you have to have a movie that actually works, that actually makes people want to Twitter that they've just been scared.
The Marketing of Paranormal Activity – Questions

1. When was Paranormal Activity made?
2. Why did Paramount Vantage buy the film and NOT release it?
3. Interest in the film was kept alive amongst horror movie fans and received a
boost when which famous director said he was a fan?
4. How did Paramount first start to promote the film and what information did
the company NOT give out in order to tease the potential audience?
5. To build an audience for the film, how did Paramount first release it?
6. How did it enlist Dread Central website to help promote the film – and why?
7. These tactics resulted in a lot of positive comments about the film, but how
did Paramount capitalise on this?
8. What did Facebook and Twitter allow people to do?
9. How did Paramount work with Eventful Inc?
10. Paramount Executives knew a wider release would work, but how did using
the ‘Demand’ button strategy boost the chances of snaring a large audience?
11. Why do you think using Twitter, Facebook and web-based promotion is
important to the main audience for horror films, bearing in mind it falls
into the 15-25 age-group?
12. How successful was it on its first weekend of limited release? Give some
13. What do you think platforming is?
14. What do you think is meant by ‘viral marketing’?

Convergence and the Film Industry I

This isn't particularly British, but stay tuned...
Convergence - i.e. the way the industry's use of various aspects of new technology converge to produce the desired aim of getting people to watch a film - may well turn up on the exam paper.

First of all, you need to point out that the cash-strapped British film industry is less adept at this than the Hollywood industrial model.

After this, you could point out the way Sony uses convergence; you've got example from the Spider-Man film a few years back, but google Sony-Columbia, find some recent releases and check out some of their films' the websites. Look at the site for The Bounty Hunter, for example. What's on it? Trailers? Interviews? What about the social network site links? Do you get trailers on your facebook page? Chances are, you'll have to do this at home because YOU HAVE BEEN PROTECTED at school, but try out the links.

You've got the old technologies - the print and film-making process - though both will be affected by the use of changes involving digital technology (in the editing process of both, for example; possibly in the use of digital movie cameras; the use of digital software and computer generated images for special effects; digital sound), the trailers in the cinema and on TV, the soundtrack (but it's a score rather than the expected soundtrack consisting of music artists - though, oddly enough, several artists are clearly audible on the soundtrack - watch the trailer!) the poster and interview campaign in magazines and on TV, merging with the more obvious new technologies clearly visible in Sony's efforts to promote the film via its website and social networking sites. You'll notice on the main Sony site, you can get PSP downloads for some movies.

What of YouTube? If you check at home, you'll notive the trailer has been posted with the message "Embedding disabled by request" - meaning it's the official trailer, posted by the film company to target YouTube users.
You'll notice the site involves you to play a game. This helps you become involved in the film, creating a sense of ownership that might encourage you to see the movie.

And remember, this is a fairly low-key movie. It's not a special effects fest that would lend itself to some kind of X-Box computer game.

In terms if digital technology, don't forget the inevitable future appearance of the film on BluRay and DVD - and check out the post on Sony below to see the siginificance of the role of the company in this.

Beyond the legal reach of Sony, the film will also be promoted and watched via new technology. People - particularly fans of the two stars - will blog or tweet about it; some may copy reviews to their blogs or post the trailer; some will undoubtedly watch it illegally on a streaming site or download it from a file sharing site like rapidshare and perhaps copy it to a disc and give it to friends. Of course this final example isn't likely to lead to an increased profit for Sony unless the person receiving the disc wants to buy a better copy when it's released on BluRay. Likewise, the soundtrack with the music artists isn't available, yet you can Google The Bounty Hunter soundtrack and find sites where someone has put together playlists containg all the songs for people to download them - an example of a consumer using the net to become a producer - a 'prosumer', like yourselves with your blogs. Whether someone who downloads the playlists and listens to it would get the urge to watch the movie or DVD is, however, another matter.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

British Cinema Industry Case Study: Working Title

Working Title Films is a British film production company, based in London, England. The company was founded by Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe in 1984. It produces feature films and some television productions. Eric Fellner and Bevan are the co-owners of the company now.

The company sarted by producing left of field films that explored contemporary issues in society, like My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), then became a mainstream success after Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)became a worldwide Among the company's films are Richard Curtis-scripted romantic comedies, which usually star Grant, and Coen Brothers' films, but has in recent times moved into many other types of film, such as United 93.

In 2004 it made a profit of £17.8 million pounds sterling. As of 2007, all its films are distributed by Universal Pictures, which owns a 67% stake in the company, and many of its recent films are co-productions with the StudioCanal, the French-based production production and distribution company that owns the third-largest film library in the world. The remaining shares are owned by the company's founders, BBC Films, and private investors.

The film company also has a smaller low-budget film brand, WT2 (Working Title 2) which has produced films such as Billy Elliot (2000) and Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Recently the company produced the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, a comedy starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

Sarah Radclyffe, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner were highly successful in creating popular, British-based films of international appeal with this company. Its first film, Stephen Frears' Channel 4-backed My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), led to an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay for Hanif Kureishi and an acting one for Daniel Day-Lewis. More recently it has successfully produced Four Weddings and a Funeral (d. Mike Newell, 1994), Bean (d. Mel Smith, 1997), Elizabeth (d. Shekhar Kapur, 1998), Notting Hill (UK/US, d. Mike Newell, 1999), Bridget Jones's Diary (UK/France/US, d. Sharon Maguire, 2001), About A Boy (Germany/US/France/UK, d. Paul Weitz, 2002). Actor Hugh Grant and writer Richard Curtis have been party to several of these films.

A key element in the company's working methods has been its attention to marketing, striking deals with American and European companies, thus ensuring world-wide distribution for its products. A frequent observation of the company's methods is the inordinate amount of time spent on developing scripts and extensively working on re-writes. Despite its access to high finance, especially after its deal with Universal and StudioCanal, Working Title is still committed to low-budget films with new writers. Such was the case with Billy Elliott (d. Stephen Daldry, 2000).

It points one way forward for UK commercial feature production because it often focuses on genre film-making, especially romantic comedy and move away from the small-scale TV funding of its early hits (Channel Four backed My Beautiful Laundrette and Four Weddings and a Funeral) towards bigger budgets, international financing (and American stars) and global distribution. For example, Bridget Jones’ Diary cost £22 million to make and was distributed by Universal and Miramax (Disney). But this approach doesn’t guarantee success; the recent co-production deal between Channel Four and Warner Brothers failed artistically and financially with films like Charlotte Gray (2001).

Working Title is often criticised (often by middle class critics) for its middle class films like Notting Hill. Their feeling is that British films should explore/highlight contemporary issues like class, but if all those Hugh Grant foppish romantic comedies leave you cold, it is worth knowing that Working Title has been home to the highly regarded Americans, the Coen brothers since The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). If you’re worried about the politics of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, rest assured that Working Title was also behind left-wing satire Bob Roberts and co-chairman Eric Fellner produced Ken Loach's controversial political film about Northern Ireland, Hidden Agenda.

Stephen Frears, who directed Working Title's first feature (My Beautiful Laundrette), as well as the more recent High Fidelity, believes that Working Title co-chairmen Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are the most powerful film producers ever to be based in London. 'There has never been anyone as successful as Tim and Eric. They're incredibly successful at making a certain kind of film.'
Their £389 million 1999 deal with Universal gives them permission to okay budgets up to £15 million on their own. 'They have learnt to make films for export,' Frears adds, 'I think that is very clever of them, it's very smart, and new in my lifetime.' Bevan and Fellner are in the same business as smart, major studio connected ex-indies like Miramax. The only difference is that Working Title are based in London.

Both Bevan and Fellner started off producing pop videos in the early Eighties, when they were in their twenties. Along with Sarah Radclyffe (who left in 1990, and went on to produce The War Zone and Ratcatcher), Bevan founded Working Title in 1984, and its first film was My Beautiful Laundrette. Fellner, meanwhile, was producing Sid and Nancy. 'He just seemed like a very, on top of it, organised guy, who would be a good producer,' remembers director Alex Cox, 'He turned out to be a fantastic producer. We had a relatively small budget, but it was really Eric who managed to turn a comparatively small budget into an 11-week schedule.’

Fellner joined Working Title in 1992. By that time, though, Bevan had the film that would set the formula for Working Title's biggest successes. No one who saw it in 1989 thought that The Tall Guy (co-produced wit London Weekend Televsion) was the future of British cinema, but in many ways, it was. A romantic comedy scripted by Richard Curtis, it paired posh British talent (Emma Thompson) with an imported American star (Jeff Goldblum), along with Rowan Atkinson running amok. When Working Title rejigged the same elements five years later to make Four Weddings and a Funeral, they moved from being big by British standards to serious players.
A big part of the Working Title story is loyalty: the same names (Frears, Curtis, Grant, Atkinson) crop up again and again over the years. Equally important is Polygram, the company that (along with Film Four) kept British film alive in the Nineties. Think of the hits that weren't Working Title productions - Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Lock Stock - (The Full Monty is the big exception) they all had some Polygram involvement. Working Title and Polygram were vital to each other. In fact, it was Polygram's Michael Kuhn who brought Bevan and Fellner together. When Universal bought and dismantled Polygram, the deal with Working Title was the one thing they kept.

One of the factors that led to the end of FilmFour was the increasing globlaisation of the market which meant greater competition from Hollywood. Working Title’s response to this has been to make films with American stars to appeal to an international market, but this has led to criticism about the mid-Atantic nature of their films and this situation is a perfect example of the key ongoing debates in British film industry: what constitutes a British film and should British films be culturaly specific and appeal to a limited audience or can they be broader generic films with a wider appeal – and thus potentially have the chance of making more money? And does it matter? And why can’t we have both?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

British Cinema Case Study: Amber Films

Amber is a film & photography collective, founded in the Newcastle upon Tyne in 1969, incorporating Amber Films, Side Gallery, Side Cinema and Side Café (, with a self-determined remit to record working-class life in its region. The work is rooted in social documentary, built around long-term engagements with working class and marginalized communities in the North of England. There is an integrated approach to production (which includes documentaries, dramas and photographic projects), publication (including exhibitions, books, DVDs and works created specially for the web) and distribution.

The approach is celebratory, even when the marginalization of lives and landscapes makes this more difficult. Production grows out of the relationships with these communities, and creativity is inseparable from that of the people with whom Amber works. Rooted in practical craft skills (camera work, direction, editing, sound, etc), there is an egalitarian, collective approach to the filmmaking. Technological innovation has made the different processes ever more democratically accessible, and Amber has taken advantage of this to extend its on-going experiment in collective creativity.

Amber's contribution to British film culture should, therefore, be located both within an important strand of independent film-making, and a tradition of social realism that dates from the documentary movement of the 1930s but that also has clear antecedents in post-war European neo-realism.

Amber's first film, Maybe (1969), had its origins as a student film by Murray Martin and Graham Denman. Having obtained financial support from Northern Arts (Amber's only continuous sponsor), they then produced Launch in 1973, documenting the construction and launch of a tanker at the Wallsend shipyards. Produced with a budget of only £400, Launch exemplifies Amber's approach to aesthetics, politics and working practices.

Amber is committed to accessibility This is one example, along with its geographical remoteness from London and its sometimes curious funding arrangements (including owning both a racehorse and a pub), of the genuine eccentricity that has played a part in Amber's survival.

With funding from Channel 4 under the terms of the ACTT Workshop Declaration, Amber produced its first feature film, Seacoal, in 1985. The result of two years living and working with the seacoalers, the film incorporates elements of straight documentary, improvised sketches and fully dramatised reconstructions. Contrary to the charge of romanticism that is sometimes levelled against Amber, their films such strive for an honest depiction of the frequently harsh realities of working-class life on the margins, one which certainly pays tribute to its dignity but which is far from romantic. Furthermore, the films stand as important social documents, as these different ways of life are steadily eradicated.

It is disappointing that films such as Amber's Like Father (2001), unlike mainstream productions set in a similar environment, such as Billy Elliott (d. Stephen Daldry, 2000), can only obtain a very limited theatrical release. Like Father is arguably Amber's most accomplished film to date, exemplifying their characteristic working practices (two years building the film in the community with a largely amateur cast, including the three main leads), their aesthetics and understated politics in a narrative that interweaves the personal and the political with genuine social authenticity and considerable emotion.

Over the past thirty three years, Amber have not merely survived but thrived, in spite of the erratic financial context for independent, regional and workshop production. It is unfortunate that a distribution and exhibition system increasingly aligned with mainstream commercial product has restricted opportunities for audiences to view their original, accessible and relevant films.

SHOOTING MAGPIES (2005) 80 mins; digital video
Fine performances and an unflinching gaze... New York Times
Special Mention, Britspotting Festival, Berlin 2006
Emma, a mother at fifteen, now in her early twenties, wants some kind of normality for herself and her two daughters in an area where drug use is common. When, one last time, Emma tries to get her partner Darren off heroin, ex-youth worker Barry is drawn into a chain of events that begins to threaten the relationship he has built with his son.

Set in post-industrial East Durham, in the North East of England, Shooting Magpies is a film about hope and survival. Shot on digital video, Shooting Magpies is the third feature film in Amber’s coalfield trilogy. The Scar (1997) looked at the lives of women after the Miners’ Strike and the campaign against closures. Like Father (2001) explored men’s lives.

Made with the financial support of Northern Rock Foundation, Northern Film & Media and Channel 4.

Music: composed, performed and produced by Rick Taylor & Frank Gibbon; recorded at Wildtrax Studio, County Durham; guest musicians: John Miles Jnr & Chuck Fleming.

THE MAKING OF SHOOTING MAGPIES - the film grew out of relationships, workshops and Coalfield Stories, a photographic programme to document changing lives and landscape that sprung from the making of Like Father in 1998. Barry Gough was one of the subjects of Peter Fryer’s Fathers. Emma Dowson was a participant in a video and photography project developed with a group of teenage mothers.

Many of the characters were living the lives they do in the film and the narrative emerged from the peole involved. Many local people (together with the Queen on a fleeting visit to the coalfield) appear as themselves in scenes where fiction and documentary is blurred.

Initial develpopment was funded by Channel Four, but when the broadcaster restructured its film department, Amber felt the need to reclaim some kind of independence and control so they decided to make the feature with considerably less expensive digital video, particularly when the filmmakers were pleased with the quality of the material that had been shot to research the production. Working with a small team, the film was shot with available light and virtually no location budget.

Digital video takes cost pressures off improvisation and experiment and digital editing allowed access to a far wider group of the filmmakers than traditional analogue editing. Amber had already used video in a variety of documentaries and it had benefited from National Lottery funding that enabled a switch to digital editing for Like a Father in 2001.

Further funding from Northern Rock, which was already supporting Amber’s photographic project, Coalfield Stories, not only facilitated the finishing of Shooting Magpies, but also helped the filmmakers plan for the future in a way that hadn’t been possible since the demise of funding from the Channel Four Film Workshop franchise.

The decision to use digital video came out of a desire to get on with things in the absence of a budget. DV allowed Shooting Magpies to be developed on the hoof, using available light. Cost pressures were taken off the experimental process and the production took on a life of its own, fitting around the cast’s daily lives and taking advantage of events happening around them.

Finance difficulties extended the shoot over eighteen months, and there were plenty of events to consider. In many ways it was a return to Amber’s approach in the 70s and early 80s: a small crew, flexible enough to exploit the unpredictable, incorporating it in an evolving narrative that draws its energy from the texture of people’s real lives.

Shooting Magpies has been distributed in a number of ways

1. There was a regional tour, which had three strands:
a) The communities of the people involved in making the film (Easington, Seaham, Thornley, Stanley, etc.)
b) Communities of interest associated with the film (support groups based around drug abuse and carers in that territory, family support groups, prisons/young offenders, etc.)
c) General film audiences (Tyneside Cinema, film societies, Side Cinema, etc)

2. There were screenings on the international festival/independent cinema circuit (Locarno, Vancouver, Berlin, Cork, New York, etc) and in London (BFI Southbank)

3. The film was nationally broadcast on More4 (Channel4 digital channel)

4. The film has been released as a DVD, available from Amber at Side Gallery or from our online shop.

There is also a trailer for the film, which can be seen on our website and which Amber put on YouTube.

Digital technology helps in the distribution in that it is easy to produce the work on DVD and that distributed version is of a much higher quality than was formerly possible via VHS. As things move on, it will be possible also to deliver the film as download. Amber are currently planning a web TV operation and may stream/make available as download a lower resolution version of Shooting Magpies along with other work.

Amber has what they call in the business world a 'long tail' operation. We own what we produce and continue to sell it in different versions over many years - we sell work to television and on DVD that was produced in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The strategy is to make more of this work available through digitisation (work for which we will also attract grants) thus increasing sales as a long term income strand. Our DVDs are short run, in-house productions, so we don't have to invest in stock and so we can adapt to changing formats. Digital technology has had an impact on distribution, and its impact will increase significantly in the coming years.


There was a £17,000 development grant from Channel 4. We had roughly £40,000 from Northern Film & Media. Amber supported some of the work through taking on a commercial project for Tyne & Wear Museums (audio visual material for Newcastle Discovery exhibitions) and they put some of their first year's revenue money from Northern Rock Foundation into it (say £40,000 of £100,000).

Over a three year period, they raised/spent maybe £100,000 to £120,000 on the film. At the same time, there were the Coalfield Stories photography projects, which, while they all delivered their own exhibitions/videos etc, contributed significantly to the research for the film. Amber raised around £170,000 for Coalfield Stories between 1999 and 2005.

It's also hard to say how much the film has made - again, Amber doesn't really look at it this way. Money is raised to make the work and that helps support making it. Any income then contributes to supporting the organisation long term. Amber is not a commercial organisation - the collective is interested in film as a cultural form.

The Film Council has decided to focus its support on the film industry and has made it clear that it isn't interested in cultural or regional film. Amber strongly disagree with this policy and feel that cultural and regional film is a vital part of the mix.

Amber received £10,000 for the screening on More4 (as part of a total package of £50,000 around four films).

New Technologies - Latest Development!

A recent development has been Side TV, a medium for streaming Amber's short & feature length films, documentaries, dramas, talks & animations, works from the archives & new productions. Amber films & programmes will be screened alongside ones by friends old & new and by the new generation of filmmakers gathering around the Amber operation.

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Trailer for Shooting Magpies (2005)