Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Should UK ban Hollywood?

If you read the article on Bangladesh recently lifting, then putting back in place, their ban on Indian, Bollywood movies, you find a useful example of a small nation fighting to avoid being dominated by a much larger, economically powerful country (an example of cultural imperialism being resisted).
Read the article and, where it says Bangladesh, read the UK... [excerpt:]
Bangladesh's near-four-decade-old ban on movies from Bollywood has been reinstated after the commerce ministry's decision on Saturday to lift the injunction, in an effort to boost the country's struggling cinemas, was greeted with furious protests by local actors and directors.
Films from India have been proscribed in Bangladesh since 1972, the year after the country's independence, to protect the local film-making industry. However, the number of cinemas has fallen from 1,600 a decade ago to 600 this year, a decline which cinema exhibitors attribute to poor-quality homegrown films failing to draw viewers. At the same time, Indian films are hugely popular in Bangladesh and locals can get their Bollywood fix on cable TV and through pirated copies which circulate widely.
"Film enthusiasts can easily see good Indian films on cable television so why should we stop Indian films being screened in our cinemas?" Kazi Firoz Rashid, president of Bangladesh Cinema Halls Owners Association, told AFP.
"By contrast, the standards, scripts and production of Bangladeshi films are so stale and poor they have trouble winning hearts or making enough money," he said.

Should Britain ban Hollywood? Would this transform the fortunes of our film production companies? Or are we just too tightly tied into the US film industry to be able to go it alone? [If you read any history of UK cinema you'll find that there have been times when limits were placed on US films being screened, and/or a minimum number of UK movies set for cinemas...which Hollywood got round by producing ultra-cheap movies in the UK. This was as recently as the 1980s, when Thatcher ended the policy]

This article on Sacha Baron Cohen's latest deal is an illustration of why UK producers simply can't compete with the lavish scale available to Hollywood:

The Borat and BrĂ¼no creator's new comedy, where he plays a goat herder and a deposed dictator, has been snapped up in a lucrative deal after a bidding war
Sacha Baron Cohen with wallaby at Australian premiere of Borat
It's the quirky tale of a British comic, a Hollywood studio and a rare $20m offer to shoot a new movie. Oh, and don't forget the goat.
According to the Deadline blog, Sacha Baron Cohen's next movie has been snapped up by Paramount in a lucrative deal which instantly catapults him into the ranks of Hollywood's biggest stars. It will see the comedian play the dual roles of a goat herder and a deposed foreign dictator who finds himself lost in the US.
Paramount reportedly sealed the deal by sending a real live goat dressed in a studio T-shirt to Baron Cohen's LA home, after offering him a "20-20" deal. A rare phenomenon in an increasingly straitened Hollywood, this would give him $20m (£13m) upfront and an initial 20% share of the new film's gross, rising to 30% if the movie is successful.

The concept of films, and a film industry, being crucial for a nation's sense of identity and pride in itself can be seen with the tale of the record-budget $55m Russian movie that flopped. Seen as just too closely linked to the Russian government, the movie, and particularly its high profile director, lost credibility with the Russian public, and has initially taken a feeble $2.5m despite the nationalist narrative, portraying a Russian WW2 victory over the Nazis.   [excerpt:]
The premiere took place inside the Kremlin. Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, did not manage to turn up. But Mikhalkov's fervent support for Putin and his strong Russian nationalist views are well known.
The film has many virtuoso setpieces but sticks closely to the Kremlin's approved version of the war: as the heroic Soviet triumph over Nazi barbarity.
This fact appears to have put the public off: the film has played to near empty halls, with box office receipts of just $2.5m from its opening weekend. Burnt by the Sun 2 cost a record $55m to make.
"The reasons it has flopped are psychological [not artistic]," critic Oleg Zolotarev said. "Mikhalkov is no longer seen as a director but as a state bureaucrat."

Monday, April 26, 2010

UK motion-capture studio?

The actor, whose performances as Gollum and King Kong were created through motion capture, is to head his own studio specialising in the technique

As he told a recent British Screen Advisory Council discussion on working with digital film technology, Serkis caught the bug of "cyber-thespianism" working with Peter Jackson at his Weta studios in New Zealand, first on The Lord of the Rings trilogy and then on King Kong. He has since directed performance capture for two video games, one in America and one in New Zealand. That made him wonder why the same facility wasn't available in Britain, when so much of the original technology was developed out of Oxford and Cambridge.

End of medium budget film?

I've touched on this before, the growing sense that mid-level Hollywood cinema is being squeezed out by tightening economics on the one hand and the Big 6's tentpole strategy on the other (making fewer movies, and concentrating on mega-budget blockbusters). Karl Sutter argues [NB: there is some strong language in this blog piece] that US cable TV (think HBO, home of The Sopranos, The Wire and many more) has become the new home for much of the talent that would previously have worked on $10-50m movies. [There is no set definition for low or medium budget movies]
It was Walt's observation that cable is now fulfilling the creative and compensatory void that has been created by film's dying middle-class.

Challenges facing UK directors

I've also linked to this in the post on women directors, which, like many others, I keep updating when I find useful new articles.

Good detail in this article on how the careers of British directors (Lynne Ramsey), and even the fate of one of our foremost film companies (Film4), can be turned upside down when Hollywood takes interest in a project which was all set to be directed by Ramsey for Film4:
[Ramsay] read [The Lovely Bones] when it was half an unpublished manuscript. Like many readers to come, Ramsay was gripped by the voice of a 14-year-old girl narrating her murder from beyond the grave. Film4 signed her up to adapt it.
But then several things happened: Sebold delivered the rest of the story, which departed into a gooey spirituality at odds with Ramsay's vision; the novel became a huge bestseller; and Hollywood heavyweights such as Steven Spielberg began to show an interest. Suddenly, The Lovely Bones was a potential blockbuster, and Ramsay's involvement started to look incongruous.
Meanwhile Film4 was downsized under new management. Its new head, Tessa Ross, was bemused to find herself courted by the most powerful players in Hollywood, all because of The Lovely Bones. Ross eventually bowed to the logic of the marketplace, and dropped Ramsay in favour of Peter Jackson. Jackson proceeded to make an utter mess of the film, but that's another story.
The article goes on to highlight the difficulties British directors face in building a career:
Next month sees the release of Philip Ridley's Heartless, his first film since The Passion of Darkly Noon in 1995. Richard Stanley is gearing up to shoot Vacation, his comeback after his career nosedived with his firing from The Island of Doctor Moreau, also in 1995. These two don't have the cachet of Ramsay or Pawlikowski, but they illustrate the general point that sustaining a career is much harder than starting one for many indie film-makers, particularly those with a distinctive vision. That's something the UK Film Council should bear in mind, as it concentrates its production funding on new directors.
As ever, there are some insightful comments following the article:
Does Ramsey make the sort of films that people want to watch these days?
I feel that stuff like Red Riding is far more relevant, look at its success in US. Made for TV, sold as movie in different markets - cool looking, genre movie deep in story, but routed in context (70s yorkshire in this case). I hope that '...Kevin' is like that, it certainly has the scope to be.
Ramsey's films have that 90s 'film council funded' feel to them, lot's of silence bookended with gritty and staring out of windows. Is that really going to put the British industry on the map right now? [jonaent, 22 Apr 2010, 1:13PM]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Perils of web marketing

Interesting article, which looks at the examples of movies which have sought to build appeal through silly titles which bloggers will pick up on, Snakes on a Plane being the prime example. Excerpt:
Once it's completed, Hobo With a Shotgun will become the latest film to join the ranks of that increasingly depressing sub-genre – the Deliberately Dumb Internet LOLZ movie.
You know the type of movie I mean. The one that doesn't have much of a budget and gets marketed purely on the fact that its title makes a handful of blogs get all ironically OMG about it for a couple of days. Snakes On a Plane started the trend in 2006 – by the time the internet heard that a) there was a film about some snakes on a plane called Snakes On a Plane and b) the internet had actively rewritten parts of it to make it even more stupid, then hype became so deafening that its success was all but guaranteed. Until it was released, that is, because then it became apparent that it would struggle to make its money back domestically.
But that didn't stop other producers from realising that if you give your film a ridiculously on-the-nose title, then the internet will go crazy for it. Just look at how it fell for Hot Tub Time Machine or the impossibly tedious Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus when they were released. And soon there'll be Hobo With a Shotgun as well, lapping up the kind of online attention that YouTube videos such as Monkey On a Segway or Bear On a Trampoline did. Except that you'll actually have to pay to see Hobo With a Shotgun, and people tend to expect a little bit more than a funny title if they're actually going to cough up for it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The 1st iPhone movie

The first film made for the iPhone
Is this the start of a whole new cinematic genre? 
Ryan Gilbey 4 April 201
An early adopter of Murder on Beacon Hill
An early adopter of Murder on Beacon Hill
The torture of seeing films intended for 30ft cinema screens being squeezed into a 2.5in space has done nothing to deter millions of iPod users from downloading those burnt offerings. But now the traffic is heading in the opposite direction for the first time, with the screening next Sunday at the Boston International Film Festival of a 43-minute movie that was only ever made to be watched in the palm of the hand, and even then in bite-sized, site-specific instalments.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kermode: 3D is Rubbish!

Excellent Film Guardian article by Mark Kermode, fellow quiff-bearer, on the economic importance of 3D to the film biz, but also on why he sees it as basically a con.
There's an interesting comment too by 'chewtoy':
Call me paranoid, but the new 3D offensive has a much more sinister side to it than merely fighting piracy and getting bums into cinema seats. Cinematic immersion is a concept straight out of Brave New World. It's the extreme opposite of the Brechtian distancing (a.k.a. alienation) effect. The audience is meant to lose itself passively and completely in the depicted action, being transformed from consciously critical observers to mindless consuming drones.
This touches on a key debate within Media Studies (and amongst practitioners too; whole movements, such as the French New Wave, have come about as a response to the perceived power of the media over the audience): whether an audience is essentially passive and meaning is controlled by texts' authors (eg the hypodermic syringe model), or active and in control of meaning (eg the uses and gratifications theory).
The article: