Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Hollywood Industrial Model versus the British Independent film

When the first of the rebooted Batman series, opened in 2008, it was shown in 4366 screens in the UK; when the British independent filom, This is England, opened in 2007, it was shown in only 62 screens. What does this tell us? Well, Batman, even though it was the first of the new series, was, nevertheless, part of a franchise. An earlier series of films had been made and exhibited (to varying degrees of critical and commercial success) only a few years previoulsy, but the character is something of an icon in American (and worldwide) popular culture and many people of the key cinema going age range of 15-25 will be familiar with him; furtheromore, he is historically significant in popular culture, having appeared first in the 1940s, which may broaden his appeal and there were ready made promotional partners - the comic books, cartoon DVDs, toys, T shirts etc existed long before the Dark Knight movie. Why else would it appeal? The title, Dark Knight, siginfied a new, darker, mature approach to the story which might attract an older audience. On top of that, director Christopher Nolan was noted for his sophisticated, intelligent approach to movie-making and star Christian Bale was noted for starring in left of field movies that appealed to an adult audience. All these features, plus the publicity and marketing (it had several official websites instead of the usual one) backed by the financially empowered, vertically integrated global media conglomerate, Warner Brothers, with its obvious links to Time-Warner-AOL (though it ended its ties with AOL in 2009) as well as DC Comics, the publisher of Batman (which it owned), made this movie an event release and cinema chains are in the business to make money. As much as possible. This is England (and remember, we're talking four years BEFORE the TV series), cost £1,500,000 (as opposed to The dark Knight's budget of $185,000,000) was a specific type of British movie - one that falls into the working class genre; a film that used the medium to explore working class issues and to highlight the class system and the often violent and dysfunctional effects it can have the working class community. There has been a history of this kind of film in the UK from the early 1960s, although those films often used major stars of stage or screen. It was never going to have a massive box-office appeal and was shown largely in independent cinemas. The writer-director Shane Meadows did have a significant reputation, had been nominated for numerous awards and had won several British Independent Film awards. This is England went on to receive critical acclaim in the UK and the USA and won a BAFTA for the best British film. A number of production companies were involved: Big Arty Productions, EM Media, Film4, Optimum Releasing, Screen Yorkshire, UK Film Council, Warp Films and Optimum was the distributor in the UK. In reality, the two films were not competitors, but this gives an indication of how difficult it is for a British film, particularly one that is liable to have more of a British audience - and perhaps even a specific British audience - to compete with a film made by a powerful American media giant with a global audience (and it was, not incidentally, scheduled to open at the beginning of the British school summer holidays of that year, to maximise its audience), but if you owned a cinema chain, which film do you think would bring in the most money?

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