Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tyrannosaur: archetypal Warp/UK Indie movie?

dir. Paddy Considine [Wiki]
Principal producer: Warp X [Wiki]
Budget: £750k
Box Office: UK £243k, US $22k
Guardian microsite with multiple features, interviews etc

Warp Films trailers and distributors (my guide post)

Its a superbly crafted film (they didn't struggle to find rave reviews to feature on the poster + other promotional materials), typically enough for Warp Films/X, the Sheffield-based UK Indie launched by the ambitious record label Warp, home of dance acts such as Aphex Twin plus Indie rockers Arctic Monkeys.*

Considine had featured heavily in Warp's back catalogue as an actor, with lead roles in their first two releases (the 2002 Chris Morris [Four Lions, 2010] short My Wrongs... and Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes (2004; he would also lead in Meadows' 2009's Le Donk... ). The Wiki  describes it thus:
Typically grim mise-en-scene. Plain docu-style TNR titles
It depicts an environment similar to what Considine witnessed growing up on a council estate in the Midlands, although the film is in no way autobiographical. It stars Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan, with Paul Popplewell and Sally Carman. The film's title is a metaphor, the meaning of which is revealed in the film. It was filmed in Spring 2010 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.
The film is an expansion of Dog Altogether, a short film for Warp Films that Considine wrote and directed, which won the Best Short Film BAFTA and BIFA awards as well as the Silver Lion award at Venice in 2007. Mullan and Colman also appeared in the short film with Karl Johnson.
Want moreoverviews/reviews? Try this, or Peter Bradshaw's 4-star Guardian review, or RottenTomatoes of course, where critics and users agreed it was rather good (83%, 85% respectively).

Warp.net: horizontally integrated company
*Fraser's 2006 Warp short Scummy Man, with 16mm cinematography from Danny Cohen (Les Mis), is based on an Artcic Monkeys track; Richard Ayoade (Submarine, 2010) directed a 2008 live DVD; they cameoed in Meadows' 2009 Le Donk...; and singer Alex Turner provided 5 tracks for Submarine's soundtrack, all suggesting this is an Indie which cleverly horizontally integrates where possible and seeks out synergies. Their website certainly demonstrates convergence between the music and film labels.

Lets tease out in which ways it initially appears to be a typical Warp (and therefore, UK Indie) movie:
  1. Low budget (£750k would barely cover the catering on a big 6 tentpole movie!)
  2. Reliance on financing from UKFC (whose government funding has passed to the BFI, part of the Coalition's questionable "bonfire of the quangos"). As the Wiki notes, 'The film received a grant of £206,540 from the National Lottery fund through the UK Film Council. The remainder of the film's budget came from Warp X, Inflammable Films, Film4, Screen Yorkshire, EM Media and Optimum Releasing (StudioCanal).' [my emphasis] Screen Yorkshire and EM Media are UKFC regional subsidiaries, currently seeking to continue financially supporting film-making and culture in their areas. 
  3. Co-financing from either C4/Film 4 or BBC Films (Film 4 in this case)
  4. Lack of any major stars (Mullan, Colman and Marsan would be widely recognisable to a UK audience, but hardly rank alongside Hollywood A-Listers who can command basic salaries of $20m per film!) 
  5. Generally handheld cinematography, reducing costs whilst strongly signifying documentary-style realism
  6. Digitally produced, again, significantly reducing production costs (quicker setup, instant access to footage to review, quicker to edit, and cheaper to distribute for cinemas with digital projectors)
  7. Very strong language right from the outset, leading to an 18 rating (also for the graphic violence). Its widely argued that the BBFC are easier on studio films (was The Dark Knight, ultra-violent as it was, really a 12 film? Was Ken Loach's social realist Sweet Sixteen really deserving of an 18? Consider how few WT films receive an 18, and why that company would consistently alter the language spoken by their characters to avoid this: teens are the core cinema-going audience, so 18 ratings risk losing a sizeable chunk of that audience, and also ruling out the 'family audience' too.
  8. Social realist genre/style, reflected in above points about finance and lack of stars, but also...
  9. Set outwith the SE/South/London that most higher-budget or US (co-)financed productions tend to focus on (the film's shot in Leeds)
  10. Its not a given that this entails grim, bleak mise-en-scene (again, in sharp contrast to the safe, glamorous London or glorious countryside both seen in the highly typical WT/Curtis rom-com BJDiary), but ...
  11. The central protagonist is working class, a stark contrast with the middle-class focus evident in the many Hugh Grant roles in Working Title productions (as the satirical Monkey Dust sketch "Curtisland" highlighted, the working class (and ethnic minorities) are kept out of Curtis-scripted or directed WT movies, or else used for cheap laughs, such as Rhys Ifans' Spike answering the door to the world's press in his Y-fronts (Notting Hill). It is notable though that the somewhat heavyhanded non-diegetic soundtrack at the start of Tyrannosaur unsubtly anchors the reading that we should sympathise with the plight of this troubled character.
  12. The central protagonist is not an easy character to empathise let alone sympathise with (TisEng's Shaun falls in with neo-Nazi skinheads; Mike Leigh's Naked [Wiki] opens with the lead seemingly engaged in rape - hardly a recipe for easily marketable commercial success) 
  13. The above factors mean this isn't an easily marketable movie, so distributors are unlikely to pour money into a high profile marketing campaign - how many buses did you see plastered with Tyrannosaur ads?! Tie-ins and product placement are also effectively ruled out.
  14. Word-of-mouth, tied into critical reception, especially from film festivals such as Sundance, are therefore vital for the prospects of films like this.
  15. Difficulty with foreign distribution: both Four Lions and TisEng eventually crept to $300k US takings after several months on 15 screens at peak; Tryannosaur's experience was even worse. The rave reception from Sundance opened the door to US distribution ... but unfortunately their Indie US distributor took 9 months to release it, losing any momentum from Sundance, and failed to even release a trailer in time for the release. Read more about it here. After months, it managed a mere $22k, never getting beyond 2 screens.

Fine, so it appears an absolutely typical Warp/UK Indie production. Lets look a little more carefully...

Mullan is the lead, and it is somewhat autobiographical (just as Meadows' TisEng reflects his own upbringing and experiences), but Olivia Colman co-stars, and the narrative centres around the tangled near-romance between the pair, whose initial appearance as binary opposites is gradually eroded (you could argue that they switch roles as violent/sensitive types by the film's denouement). It should also be noted ' --> When the BAFTA Award nominations were announced on January 17, 2012 the shock omission of Olivia Colman in the Best Actress category led to global trending of both Olivia Colman and Tyrannosaur on Twitter ' (from the Wiki).
The juvenile romance of TisEng, also featured in the TV spin-offs, and the spiky romantic entanglements of Naked perhaps illustrate that this isn't so unusual after all for this seemingly uncommercial film-making style. Being as stereotypical as marketing-conscious film producers need to be, are we getting romantic sub-plots to boost the appeal for a female audience?

Stuart McGurk of GQ magazine called Tyrannosaur "The best British film of the year", whilst Empire said it was "Riveting, uncompromising, brilliant" and gave it 4/5 stars, as did Total FilmThe GuardianSunday Mirror, and Evening Standard. The Daily Star Sunday and LoveFilm gave the film 5/5 stars and The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it "One of the most powerful films of 2011."The American film critic and blogger Jeffrey Wells was so taken by Tyrannosaur after seeing it at the Los Angeles Film Festival that he started 'Hollywood Elsewhere's Tyrannosaur fundraising campaign' with the idea of raising $2,000 to cover the rental of a screening room so that the film could be shown in Hollywood with the hope of gaining recognition. Wells claimed this was the first screening financed by a critic.[10]Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling Peter Mullan's performance muscular and unrelenting. He also remarked: "This isn't the kind of movie that even has hope enough to contain a message. There is no message, only the reality of these wounded personalities."[11]Mark Kermode of BBC Radio 5 Live, hailed the film as one of the 11 Best Films of 2011.[12] Kermode went on to award Olivia Colman Best Actress in his own Annual Kermode Awards. She tied with Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin.By 18 December 2011, the film had won 21 awards from 28 nominations worldwide.When the BAFTA Award nominations were announced on 17 January 2012, the omission of Olivia Colman in the Best Actress category led to global trending of both Olivia Colman and Tyrannosaur on Twitter.[13]

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