Thursday, May 26, 2011

Accents: Cheryl Cole dumped from US X Factor

Headline news(?!) this morning, Cole has been dumped as contestants and audience alike couldn't undertsnad her not especially broad Geordie accent, a nice illustration of the hegemony of the S.Eng accent espec where US media + mainstream audiences there are concerned!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Coen brothers 90min interview

The Israeli accents are harsh, and the shared mike setup clumsy, but this is FREE for goodness sake! A 90min interview with perhaps the most distinctively creative force in Hollywood filmmaking today (Wes Anderson? Christopher Nolan? Darren Aronofsky?) who also happen to be produced by WT...

There's a nice detail for example on how they handle their film credits; as they wish to avoid these reading 'Coens' over and over again, they adopted the pseudonym Roderick James for the editor credit - running into issues with the Oscar committee, who no longer allow proxies to pick up awards since Marlon Brando used an award to give a platform to an aggrieved native American!

Digitisation [DRAFT]

There's another thing these three new films have in common, beyond heroism, though: their DIYish use of new technology, including the easy-editing facilities and bedroom-DJ accessibility that allowed TT3D to be distilled from over 500 hours of initial footage. Christian says: "For us, it was all about using the technology. Digitalising the screens in recent years means we can make a film like this very cheaply. For the first time in my career we've not used film at all." Riley agrees: "With the technology now you can shoot high-end footage in HD that looks great. It's a lot more accessible. You can edit it at home on a Mac. It's easier and cheaper than it would have been before."
Our exam board consider digitisation, and the development of new media, as absolutely central to understanding how the media operate today ... and I fully agree! It is a topic that we look at closely with the Media Regulation exam topic for A2, as well as within the A2 music video coursework.
The impact on the film industry is already pronounced and looks likely to increase in impact and influence. In summarising in what manner and means digitisation is influencing the film industry I'll note some particular examples of films to demonstrate the points made, but you can always use your own examples, perhaps films that you read up on when undertaking coursework research.
This transformative impact spreads right across the three elements of the film business: production, distribution and exhibition. It also impacts on what the exam board refer to as 'exchange', the idea that the relationship between industry/film text and audience is not a passive, one-way affair but involves some mutual influence.
Lets consider then how this potentially revolutionary force of digitisation is impacting the film biz; in doing so, one fundamental question arises: do the potential changes being wrought open up the industry to Indies at all three stages of the business OR simply reinforce big 6 dominance ... or does the scope for piracy and the rise of home cinema undermine Indies and conglomerates alike?

The potential impact on production budgets is the key point here: digital film-making is seen as substantially cheaper than traditional celluloid-based film-making. Why is this?
digital cameras are smaller and more portable
traditional cameras, with canisters of film (35mm or 70mm usually) inside are often used in conjunction with tracks laid down on location or in the studio (thus 'tracking' shot) for their smooth movement
the time taken to set up shots is radically reduced with digital cameras
indeed, films such as the $800k Indie Monsters and even the big 6 release Cloverfield (Paramount's $25m found-footage flick tried to apply a veneer of Blair Witch-style credibility) featured just ONE cinematographer. Monsters' entire crew amounted to just 4 people...
Viewing daily rushes is traditionally a major production cost, involving processing of expensive film and requiring projection rooms. Digital shots are instantly avaiulable for review, and Monsters 4-man crew included an editor who travelled with the shoot to check each day's footage on his computer
Its not so long ago that digital film-making was seen as remarkable and unusual; WT's Atonement received much publicity as a digitally-shot high-profile release. At $40m it wasn't cheap, but would have cost much more if shot in the traditional manner
Now, digital film-making is rapidly becoming normalised and unremarkable. The Coens' latest, True Grit, was shot and edited using equipment and processes fundamentally similar to that used by Media students here at IGS: HD digital cameras (we use these at A2), Apple computers and the software Final Cut for editing (again, we use this at A2), and the use of the web to share rushes, rough cuts etc and gain/give feedback on these while the shoot is ongoing
The UK Film Council reacted to the slowness of our bigger production companies to develop a digital production base by funding the Indie Warp Films to set up a subsidiary, Warp X, to shoot 6 low-budget films over 3 years, with a total package (including National Lottery money) of just £4.5m, using digital equipment. They were concerned that the UK wasn't developing a workforce experienced and skilled in digital production swiftly enough. Their intervention was successful, and the UK is now something of a world leader - one wonders what would have happened if the previous government had had the approach the current ConDem coalition have to the creative industries (they've scrapped all funding to the UKFC)
Donkey Punch was the first Warp X production, and the fact that its budget, less than £1m, was mostly taken up by the £600k cost of hiring a boat (the main setting) is symbolic of the impact on costs of digital film-making. This slasher-at-sea was a modest success, but one that likely wouldn't have been made by traditional means - just look at the bloated fiasco that was Kevin Costner's Waterworld (or even some of the legendary waterfront scenes from Apocalypse Now) to see how problematgic this would have been with traditional camera kits and crews.
Even more so, the parent company Warp Films green-lit an experimental mockumentary production by Shane Meadows, Le Donk and Scor-zay-zee, which he shot in just 5 days. The budget was a mere £48k (with the added boost of synergistically featuring Warp act the Arctic Monkeys!), at which level film companies can afford to take greater risks. Warp have since announced plans to develop a strand of films with 5-day shoots, potentially opening up the industry to newcomers who otherwise would never get the chance to shoot given the usual multi-million cost involved. Even WT have gotten in on the act with their own production funds including a WT Australia subsidiary for low-budget digital shoots (eg Ned Kelly)
So, production costs are potentially slashed, and the Indies have been swift to take advantage of the potential. Smaller, more portable cameras mean much faster setups and vastly reduced crews, while the editing process and checking of rushes also becomes a much cheaper, swifter process.
CGI and SFX are also now coming into reach of the Indies; both Duncan Jones' Moon and Monster made use of superbly impactive and convincing SFX (or VFX as Gareth Edwards prefers to term these) on budgets more traditionally associated with CGI-free social realist productions. Jones, in the behind-the-scenes feature on the Monsters DVD, shows how he was able to improvise scenes based solely on coming across a stimulating location not in the call sheet in the knowledge that SFX could be added later.
BUT ...
Does this really mean that the days of the big 6 dominance is over? Does digitisation mean that we don't now need to think about the consequences of such few companies controlling the 'dream factory', shaping at least some part of our collective unconscious and belief systems? (Chomsky and Herman's propaganda model argues that our mass media do not work on behalf of the mass audience but rather to reflect and reinforce the narrow interests of the rich, big business elite who control the major media, citing concentration of ownership as one of the five filters that effectively washes out any radical, especially left-wing [think social realist for example], counter-hegemonic material. Flak is another filter, which the horizontally integrated conglomerates such as News Corporation are able to deploy against films such as The Wind That Shakes the Barley [a WT production], Hunger and, a film that some of WT's key personnel cut their teeth on before launching the company, Hidden Agenda)
Well, no, not necessarily! It does provide an opportunity, though if any Indie makes a success out of this its almost inevitable they'll be swallowed up by a conglomerate, as WT was 20 years ago now.
Certain fundamentals are not changed by digitisation, foremost amongst which is what Richard Dyer describes as the star system. Our consumption of films, and thus their marketing, is very heavily centred on stars and their identities, not just in a particular film but also through their previous work and wider media appearances, including the gossip magazines and tabloid press. We pay for access to a star persona as much as any desire to follow a 90-minute fictive narrative!
This is of course an unstable process: the screen king of nearly 3 decades, Tom Cruise, jumps rather dementedly up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch to express his love for his new bride (and combat public hostility to his adherence to Scientology), and becomes toxic, no longer a $20m+ a film must-have but someone with a tainted star persona who could sink your blockbuster's prospects. Kiera Knightly has hoovered up many such A-lister fees, but failed to show that her presence alone can sell a film, her successes coming within ensemble pieces.
Star-free films such as TisEng will continue to struggle initially, but the strength of word-of-mouth can lead to huge DVD sales after brief cinema runs.
To sum up, the basic fee (before additional % of profits which some also negotiate, most famously Jack Nicholson) for just one A-lister in just one film would cover the entire annual output of most if not all of the UK Indie releases in a single year! The star system is not yet threatened by digitisation, though there is scope to digitally reproduce dead stars and so slash this particular production cost!
If we think again about Atonement, WT's first large-scale digital production (its low-budget subsidiary WT2 uses digital production), after the cast the major cost was rights to the internationbal best-seller book it was based upon (ditto BJD!).
Indies then still cannot compete when it comes to stars or rights to hit books/comics.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Monsters: slick sci-fi shot by 4-man crew!!!!

The following is written primarily with the A2 exam in mind, but also has obvious application for the AS, given the example of digitisation explored. What follows is a bit of info on and analysis of Monsters, an $800k UK Indie produced in a manner genuinely very similar to that of IGS Media students' work... I'll look to get the DVD into thje Lib so you can watch the extras for yourselves.

With thanks to Simon Walpole (IGS Helpdesk technician) for the suggestion, one nice example of how the relationship between planning and creatively shooting can be very fluid: Monsters, Gareth Edwards' feature debut, shot for $800k through Vertigo Films but achieving a real gloss, CGI-heavy look nonetheless.

The DVD extras include an extensive behind-the-scenes doc on the shoot (and additional docs on the editing and creation of VFX [ie SFX]) which reveal the highly guerrilla-style approach. I've often used the examples of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh as low/micro-budget Indie filmmakers who usually rely heavily on actors' improvisation; the lack of advance scripts is one reason they've struggled to get funding in the UK despite hoovering up awards over the past three deacdes across Europe.
Edwards here works in a similar fashion. The aesthetic effect is not unlike social realism, although of course he's highly dependent on post-production CGI (with the titular monsters seeking to cross the US border from Mexico there is clearly an allegory of a contemporary social issue too: immigration, with the US spending billions on a security wall to keep immigrants out). His initial treatment lacked some detail, but the central concept (and his showreel of a short with impressive SFX on micro-budget and a BBC feature) was strong enough to win the backing of an Indier production company, Vertigo. The manner the film was shot exemplifies the potential impact of digitisation: Edwards acted as the sole cinematographer, with a boom operator/sound recordist, editor to check through each day's rushes and producer forming in essence a 4-man crew. Thats a FOUR MAN CREW. Check it out here ... and compare this with the listing for Cloverfield (which had the working title of Monstrous!), big 6 member's $25m JJ Abrams' produced but highly comparable 2008 release (Matt Reeves directed). This had a much bigger crew ... though again was shot with a single cinematographer (in both cases credited as DoP - Director of Photography).
The Monsters shoot was researched and planned: the cast and crew would speed through various locations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and the USA in just over a month's shooting, which required thorough advance planning. Nonetheless, Edwards continually improvised the narrative, and other then the two co-leads (a couple in real life, which he had insisted upon for a convincing chemistry - and tested this by sleeping on their couch for a week prior to finalising the casting!), used non-actors throughout, such as the police escorts that local authorities offered up for most of the shoot. The leads themselves generally improvised the script - as did the locals conscripted into the film (indeed, many shots were shot documentary style, Edwards taking advantage of the language barrier and inobtrusive portable single camera set-up to film genuine interaction with various locals). Furthermore, and I've seen many great examples of this across AS and A2 work, kept a constant eye out for locations that might work within the overall framework of the film, often coming up with new material to utilise what looked like interesting locations as the small crew travelled around. Cloverfield had a huge set-design team, not to mention extensive make-up personnel, but Monsters really was comparable to the way you yourselves produced your work.
One final observation: there is a great irony here; Monsters successfully set out to make a glossy, convincing sci-fi flick that would sit comfortably alongside Hollywood multiplex fare ... while Cloverfield, a genuine production of a Hollywood major, set out to attain an Indie look and credibility, almost mimicking the archetypal Indie breakthrough hit, slasher Blair Witch (Abrams explicitly cites this as his inspiration in the interview below). Of course, the film with genuine Indie sensibility has no announced plans for a sequel, but Hollywood loves nothing more than a franchise and Cloverfield 2 looks a good bet. (Its also a good example of how digitisation and new media are more than just a threat, through piracy, to the film industry: there are already several fan-made Cloverfield 2 trailers on YouTube, helping to generate pre-release - even pre-production! - hype and anticipation):

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wild Child + audience


[a quick point on this from your sample essays: if addressing the male gaze theory/use of Emma Roberts to attract a secondary male audience, think of what other issues tie into this. This links to hybrid genre. Also to budget: the likes of Warp cannot afford US stars; WT routinely use them - you'd give specific figures for this, and consider the very nature of WT, its funding and its unsusual focus on the US audience given its a UK company. Richard Dyer's star system also relevant. Points on Maslow/U+G model can also be raised]

Wild Child (Nick Moore, 2008), a $20m WT film (so, a medium-budget film) can be used to make a number of points linked to audience.
These will include aspects of...
  • semiotics (giving specific and precise ""Use of Examples)
  • genre + hybridity
  • gender + representation issues...
  • male gaze theory
  • using Celts for comedy (or simply non-S.Eng white m.cls!) [Shirley Henderson character]
  • social class
  • audience theories such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the Uses + Gratifications model
  • UGC/fan made media
  • digitisation + piracy
  • soundtrack/marketing + horizontal intergration/synergies
  • vertical integration
  • targetting international audiences as a UK producer
  • budget + stars (Richard Dyer's star system)
  • intertextuality (postmodernism): St Trinians (+ the film industry's lack of creativity)
A couple of links for you:
IMDB entry
St Trinians IMDB
YouTube vids:
Piracy: the film online
Everlife music video
Soundtrack listing
Fan-made trailer

Here's the trailer:

IMDB narrative summary: 'Since Malibu brat Poppy Moore's mom passed away, she has pushed her rich, usually absent dad Gerry shamelessly. When his patience wears out, she's shipped off to her mother's former English boarding school for girls, Abbey Mount. On her first day she makes enemies of most dorm mates, especially dominant lacrosse school captain Harriet, and of staff disciplinarian Mrs. Kingsley. Unwilling to accept the strict regime, she decides to misbehave and take the blame for everyone until she's dismissed. The school only appealing feature for her is Kingsley's dashing son Freddie. When the dream prince transfers his favor from ambitious, uptight Harriet to unruly Poppy, that changes everything.'

Monday, May 09, 2011

Compare marketing of Avatar v BoatThatRocked

This is covered in real depth at the fantastic '12cMarketing' blog:

Avatar: eg of Big 6/Hollywood dominance

Whilst your main case studies are of Warp + WT, binary opposites in terms of scale, representations and target audience, it is also useful to have an example of how Hollywood works at the very top end. Working Title may be pushing the envelope with its $100m-budget Green Zone (Paul Greengrass, 2010) - an utter flop that would have bankrupted WT if it were an Indie and not a subsidiary - but thats not even close to the almost absurd $237m spent on producing Avatar. (Even this pales beside the $300m budget of the third Pirates of the Carribean).
Indeed, there is some speculation that the actual budget was closer to $500m (although an in-depth report in Vanity Fair magazine suggests that that is the full production + prints/marketing figure (budgets only cover production, even though prints/marketing, as part of the distribution process, typically cost the same again). This is a prime example of a growing trend amongst the 'big 6' (20th Century Fox being the producer): producing fewer films and basing the company around a smaller number of mega-budget releases, increasingly released simultaneously worldwide rather than the expensive prints touring territory by territory. The simultaneous marketing blitz often demonstrates the global reach of these mostly vertically AND horizontally integrated conglomerates.
As well as the unescapabale billboard, bus and general paid-for media ad campaign for Avatar, the UK was far from unique in seeing News Corporations other assets being fully exploited in a prime example of horizontal integration (having global TV/satellite, and web, operations also helped with the vertical integration!). The Guardian's Media Monkey column noted on 18th January 2010 how Murdoch's tabloid The S*n was deployed to assist this blitz:
So how many times can the Sun find pretexts for mentioning James Cameron's movie Avatar in its news pages? Answer: quite a few. "Rugby in a 3D first ... 3D fever, begun by film Avatar", "3D set to go seedy ... adult film makers have jumped on the Avatar bandwagon", "District 9 review: James Cameron's £300m breathtaking Avatar is currently taking cinemas by storm ...", "Ava-Ta Very Much ... The huge success of 3D blockbuster Avatar is helping Cineworld to battle the recession" and so on. The Sun is owned by News International, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which also owns Twentieth Century Fox, which made ... Avatar.
News Corporation also benefitted from its Sky network, enthusiastically pushing Avatar as a 'must see movie', but also using its Xmas Eve 2010 UK TV premiere on Sky 3D to push subscriptions for the company. This also points to some of the hidden benefits from News Corporation and James Cameron's huge investment in the film: not only did it help to establish 3D cinema as a real force (cinemas charge large premiums for 3D films), the R+D work behind it ensures that Cameron has developed cutting-edge technology which can be used for further films (the cameras and other equipment were actually leased out to other filmmakers). As Avatar eventually soared to $760m in the US (totalling $2.7bn worldwide, trouncing Titanic), it reinforced Hollywood's big 6 conviction that spending to levels unimaginable by other nation on Earth (possible because they profit from most nations on Earth!) is a wise and sustainable strategem.

The marketing campaign for Avatar was no less extravagant than the production itself, and tells us much about how the media giants today use new and social media, as well as more traditional methods such as tie-ins with companies such as MacDonalds. A reported $18,000 a day was spent on Google adwords for the US alone!!! (This is where you pay to have sponsored results at the top of a related Google results page) Perhaps ironically (given News Corporation's disastrous purchase of MySpace just as Facebook began to consign it to a slow death), 20th Century Fox used social media with real panache. As reported here, Facebookers were able to submit questions to Cameron through an official Avatar Facebook Page, the results of which were spun off into an MTV Behind the Scenes special (neatly using two global brands!).
As reported here, Avatar had run up 1.15m Facebook fans by Jan 2010, and 800,000 MySpace 'friends', fantastic resources for well-directed marketing. It was a hit on Twitter, a massive story throughout the blogosphere, and 'If that wasn't enough the Avatar YouTube page drew in millions of fans in their drones, loaded with behind the scenes information and fake videos by the character Dr Augustine.' as reported in this fantastic analysis, which also highlighted...
A high-tech approach was used, creating online games for the McD's website. 'The game called PandoraQuest was accessible on McDonald’s local Web sites around the world from December 18 2009. The games goals included finding hidden objects within three different Pandora landscapes. Retrieving all objects enables the player to advance deeper into Pandora and reach their goal of becoming a member of the “RDA Research Team” as seen in the movie.
A key component to the game was McD VISION, an augmented reality experience that immerses players in Pandora. In addition to this was PandoraROVR a vehicle which can transport the player all around the web version of Pandora.'
'McDonald's also ran a Twitter campaign, asking followers to be the first 10 to decode daily word scrambles. The grand prize was a private screening of Avatar over a Big Mac lunch with producer Jon Landau (Source: Promo Magazine.) '
There were also tie-ins with Coke zero and an interactive trailer which gave three options for buying tickets - Avatar has truly shown the future of blockbuster marketing. LG even launched a brand new smartphone as a tie-in to Avatar (the Chocolate BL40). This campaign also saw the growing trend of trailer-as-event taken to new levels. The obligatory visit was made to Comic Con, home of the all-important (as far as sci-fi box office is concerned) geek, but more than this the second teaser trailer was premiered live to 80,000 people inside the Dallas Cowboys football stadium - an event heavily hyped by Fox News (another News corp subsidiary). Almost as spectacular, the release of 16mins of advance footage to IMAX cinemas caused a real sensation.
If you think about the audiences targeted, this is pretty damned comprehensive...
McDonalds (children, parents - two age ranges - plus the vital teen demographic)
LG's smartphone - the tech-literate early adopters, a natural target for sci-fi (and the story of the technology behind the film became a key part of the hype by itself)
Comic Con - the (male, teen to 30-something) geek
Coke Zero - fairly female friendly, and yet another global brand
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace - smart; used by a growing proportion of the entire population, not the preserve of the young it was in the mid-noughties
Google adwords - again, fairly universal!

You can read more still at these links:
Vanity Fair article
LG's press release
Incredibly detailed article (
Brief one on use of social media
The Facebook/MTV tie-in (brief)
Well illustrated, in-depth overview (
How digital marketing helped Avatar break records (in-depth: Media Shift)

Budget $237m - tentpole strategy
Main production co Twentieth Century Fox = Big 6 (a subsidiary of the conglomerate News Corp., owned by R. Murdoch [S*n, Sky, Times etc in UK = much scope for horizontal integration, + vertical integration as also has exhibition arms [Fox TV network, Sky etc])

Revision materials

This is a long, long post. I'll update my own materials at the top of this post, but have found a range of excellent resources from other centres too which I'll embed below.

As Exam Brit Cinema Revision Guide 2011

Film Industry Terminology 2011







A blog that provides overviews of some of the topic prompts provided by the exam board:
7audiences (1)

8own-experiences (1)

Friday, May 06, 2011

Past papers and revision guides

Revision materials will be added here shortly; in the meantime you can access older versions at and elsewhere on the blog
Past papers, plus markschemes with examples of essays, can be accessed at

The Jan 2010 paper is here (also embedded below); its markscheme here; examiners report here. There aren't exemplar essays available for this paper, but there for the June 2009 and June 2010 exam papers.

Two recent examples are embedded below:

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

BJD marketing

BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY and love actually MARKETING compressed