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.
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.