Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WT2 Films + Britishness

Bulding on today's lesson, here's some links + useful points on WT2 + their films, some of which you might want to use for your presentations (+ general exam prep).


Working Title 2 / WT 2: Making the Small Budget Feature

As Working Title became more bound up with larger productions it became more awkward to deal with smaller ones so WT2 was established to deal with low budget titles.  
Despite its famous name, the structure at Working Title is pretty lean. It employs just 42 full time staff, split between the main Working Title production arm and its low-budget offshoot WT2, run by Natascha Wharton, which since 1999 has produced films like Billy Elliot and Ali G Indahouse. (My emphasis, from Skillset )
WT2 has had a good success rate and clearly the whole organisation is run very effectively.
Other films it has produced are the less than well received Calcium Kid starring Orlando Bloom.
Lucy Guard, Head of Development for Dragon Pictures and Natscha Wharton  who co-runs WT2 share with us their secret to developing talent..
How did WT2 come about?
When I was at Working Title we set up a New Writers Scheme to develop new talent. Normally we do not accept unsolicited material (scripts that do not come from an agent or producer) but for the scheme we had to relax a bit and open the doors. The problem was that at Working Title, smaller films would inevitably get less attention than the bigger budget projects so we decided to set up WT2 to give proper attention to those smaller films. Quite a few of the writers we were developing on the Scheme we are now working with us at WT2 while others have set up their projects with other companies, which is great.
SOURCE: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/michaelwalford/entry/working_title_history/

Its generally bad practice to reproduce such long quotes as the one above and the one that follows, but in this case I think they're useful enough to justify this:
The success of Working Title’s formula (Notting Hill grossed $374,089,678 worldwide) of using slightly romanticised depictions of Britain and British life coupled with the use of international stars such as Julia Roberts and Renee Zellweger to appeal to an international audience has, in some ways both being of great benefit and great detriment to the British film industry. The company’s success has lead to Working Title being able to invest more money into British film production, at both high and low budget level with the creation of WT2. This has lead to young British talent such as Lee Hall (writer of Billy Elliot) being able to get more of their projects off the ground. However, the success of the Working Title formula has distorted the amount of revenue coming into the British film industry at large. Far too much money is making its way to Working Title, and many other British production companies are struggling to survive as a result. Working Title’s commitment to funding larger scale projects has had an effect on the company’s commitment to its lower budget productions, WT2 in particular has suffered greatly as a result of its parent company’s funding policy, to the extent that WT2 has produced only one film since 2004’s ‘Inside I’m Dancing’. However, other factors, such as Britain’s economic downturn have also had a negative effect on WT2’s funding. The fact that in the last five years Working Title has only produced one film through the production arm which the company claims gives the British film industries finest young talent the opportunity to bring their visions to life, is a terrifying situation for the British film industry’s largest production company to find itself in, and is an extremely worrying state of affairs for any young British talent trying to get a project off the ground, without the presence of an international star attached to the project. This is supported by the fact that WT2’s last project Gone, had no recognisable names attached to it, and the film was barely even noticed. Working Title’s lack of commitment to WT2 in recent years has worrying implications for the British film industry in general. Given Working Title’s size and influence on the British film industry it is perfectly plausible that other major British film producers such as BBC Films and Film Four may also cut back on their output, especially in the low budget production area, and given the current gloomy economic climate in Britain it is perfectly plausible that these cutbacks could have a catastrophic effect on the funding of projects involving young, British talent. Although this situation is clearly not all Working Title’s fault they, as Britain’s biggest film production company, have to take their fair share of the blame, and have to help spearhead the recovery of the British film industry at the base level, and help the filmmakers and writers of the future make their dream projects become a reality.
Again, usually its better to make the link into words, but in this case the link enables you to see the nature of the wider article this (poorly paragraphed!) quote comes from. The article is certainly worth reading in full, a very useful resource for your exam prep.

A QUICK SUMMARY OF THE ABOVE! (+ a few extra points)
  • WT2 emerged from WT's determination to foster new British talent
  • specifically, it was its New Writers Scheme that sparked the idea
  • the company were receiving interesting screenplay ideas from new writers, but didn't feel they could justify the $20m+ production budget that has become their norm (and don't foget they've gone as high as $100m with Green Zone)
  • so, it represented a partial return to WT's roots working with limited budgets
  • despite initial success (Billy Elliot was a global smash, while Hot Fuzz + Shaun of the Dead also did well), the WT2 offshoot (or subsidiary) has been largely inactive since 2004, producing only Sixty Six (2006) + Gone (2007) since
  • WT's typical budget has risen dramatically over the last decade, seeing its pseudo-Indie arm once more squeezed out of the picture, and its right to be proclaimed as a British company producing British films for a British placed into doubt
  • then again, many of these WT2 films also showed the trademark WT enthusiasm for attracting wider audiences than just the UK, not least through generally using genres recognisable to a US (+ thus, given Hollywood dominance, much of the global audience)
  • even when it didn't - Billy Eliot was essentially a social realist film in the tradition of its earliest productions (MBL/WYWH) - the narrative conveniently echoed the ideology or message of the 'American Dream': that anyone, no matter how humble their background, can make it to the top
  • remember, WT announced that WT2 would be a genre subsidiary focussing on Humour, Horror, Heart
  • budgets typically set to £5m or less
  • ...and didn't stretch to US stars, a basic part of the main WT strategy
  • ...so we can largely say: UK settings, UK cast!


BILLY ELLIOT (Stephen Daldry, 2000) [IMDB] [Wiki]
The tale of a Leeds lad bullied for taking up dancing doesn't seemly greatly promising in terms of wider, non-UK box office appeal .. until we consider the point on how its ultimately uplifting narrative matches the American Dream concept so neatly. Its success followed other initially grim, social realist movies that ultimately provided the feel-good ending that Hollywood largely adheres to: The Full Monty being the prime example.
Nonetheless, it broke out of the narrow middle-class/Southern English mould of most UK-set WT films, and featured a challenging regional accent (which generally appear for comedy value, and signify backwards, unsophisticated stupidity in most WT productions - eg the comedy Welsh character 'Spike' (Rhys Ifans) in Notting Hill or the Scottish character in Wild Child who nobody can understand). Like all WT2 films, its budget came in well under £10m (indeed, £5m or less is the typical WT2 budget).
A modern-day Kes with box office appeal?!
It made a star out of its young lead, Jamie Bell, just as WT have launched the careers of Daniel Day-Lewis (MBL), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) and many others before.
YT trailer:

The US trailer makes a firm link between this film's narrative and that of the 'American Dream'; the voiceover says: "Inside every one of us ... is a special talent ...waiting to come out" ... while the familiar Rocky theme tune plays, helping to defuse any confusion or alienation a non-UK audience might experience when hearing such unfamiliar regional accents. The comedy aspect of the film is as heavily pushed as the drama; this is both humour and heart.

LONG TIME DEAD (Marcus Adams, 2000) [IMDB] [Wiki]

If BE was a WT2 'heart' film, this was horror - but, as with most teen-targeted horror, there was the requisite dose of 'heart' in terms of a romance sub-plot. I've not seen this one, but appears to be set in S.Eng and centre on safe middle-class Caucasian characters. 
UK/US appeal? Genre picked for US/global appeal, and seems to use recognisable S.Eng, but the lack of a major US star always reduces the likelihood of a UK film achieving 'breakout' status abroad, and this one failed to get cinema releases here or in the US, despite WT's relationship with the major distributor Universal.
YT Trailer (15-rated):

ALI G INDAHOUSE (Mark Mylod, 2002) [IMDB] [Wiki]

The £5m budgeted comedy (so, the 3rd H: Humour) managed over £10m at the UK box office, but failed to get a US release despite an obvious strategy to appeal to a non-UK audience (perhaps, overall, the cultural references were just too British for a wider audience?). It was a satire on a genre the US (and global) audience would recognise (gang drama), with a postmodern spin given that the lead was a white Jewish actor playing a black gangsta-wannabe (the joke being that many po-faced politicians and celebrities responded to him as if he was black, unconsciously associating his idiotic behaviour with a negative racial stereotype).
The US-friendly touches included an opening scene shot in LA which accounted for a quarter of the entire budget [the montage of LA cityscape shots that open the film makes a neat binary opposite with Warp Film's TisEng opening]; the gangs/genre it satirized; iconic US rap songs like NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" that opened the movie [tho' of course rap culture/music has become a globalised icon of US cultural dominance]; and even very British signifiers such as the jungle/drum'n'bass track made less alien for a non-UK audience by adding in a hip-hop phrase (boo-ya-ka!). The film made heavy use of iconic London landmarks (Ali G is chained up outside the Houses of Parliament for example).
NB: I surmised this film didn't get a US release because I found no US data on IMDB. As it seems to have started pushing a lot of info onto IMDB Pro only, I double checked using the site The Numbers - I was right! (The film made $26m worldwide but zip in the US) See http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2002/0AGIH.php
YT Trailer (15-rated):

The marketing for this film was aimed well beyond the UK: WT/Universal managed to get a starring role for the Ali G character in the video for Madonna's "Music":

MY LITTLE EYE (Marc Evans, 2002) [IMDB] [Wiki]

A £2m horror flick that made its money back at the UK box office, but failed elsewhere, despite the Big Brother theme. Set in US, US characters (but not stars), hardly showing a commitment to developing new British talent.
YT Trailer (18-rated):

SHAUN OF THE DEAD (Edgar Wright, 2004) [IMDB] [Wiki]

A £4m horror (actually, an innovative hybrid: zom-rom-com that hit all 3 of the WT2 Hs) that proved a minor US hit, launching Simon Pegg in particular (he went on to co-star in the mega-budget Star Trek remake), and would eventually lead to the $45m WT production Paul with Pegg + Frost reunited, this time in the US. Raking in £6.5m in the UK, it was given a major marketing push, with the distributors funding prints for 369 screens at its peak (roughly double this, 672, at its US peak - far short of the 4-5,000+ of most US box office no. 1s, but it still made  a very respectable $13.5m ).
Most of the intertextual references were to US movies, which obviously helped, and the bottom line is that without the backing of a US distributor (Universal), a major (part of the 'big 6' no less), it wouldn't have had much of a chance, but you could debate over how much it compromised itself to appeal to a US audience. It is simply a very, very well made production with an innovative script. 
And was directed by someone who got their first break at the Co-Op's Young Filmmakers' Festival...
YT trailer (15-rated)

Orlando Bloom flop (£64k in UK!!!!).
YT Trailer (12-rated)

MICKYBO + ME () [IMDB] [Wiki]
NI-set £4m flop.
YT trailer (15-rated)

NI-set comedy.
YT trailer (15-rated)

SIXTY SIX (Paul Weiland, 2006) [IMDB] [Wiki]

YT trailer (12A-rated)

GONE (Ringan Ledgwidge, 2007) [IMDB] [Wiki]

YT trailer ()

HOT FUZZ (Edgar Wright, 2007) [IMDB] [Wiki]
The West-Country accent must have been a hard sell for US audiences; instantly recognisable to a UK audience though. 
YT Trailer (15-rated)

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