Friday, April 18, 2014

4 Weddings Reunion

Listen yourselves here.
Students aren't exactly a prime demographic for BBC Radio 4, so its a fairly safe bet that none of you were listening to the latest episode of The Reunion, a series which brings back together those involved in major cultural, sporting and news events to reflect. This saw the director, producer and several of the cast reunited, along with archive material of Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, the great Barry Norman on Film 94, and so forth.
At the time of writing you can still listen to it yourselves through the iPlayer.
"A fabulous object, says Curtis, as Kenworthy heaves out a huge, leatherbound folder. It's the size and weight of a couple of Britannicas – a shooting schedule filled with miniature detail about the day-to-day demands on cast and crew. The volume, Kenworthy explains, is a relic of pre-computer film scheduling. "Four Weddings was on the cusp of old-style British film-making," Curtis adds. "It was the last movie I worked on that was cut on [original] film stock, not computer. I've always been grateful that it was shot by Mike in such a lively, gritty way. It's a sketch movie, and he directed it as if it were a drama."

A few interesting points from the R4 feature - though this is obviously far from a 'contemporary example' it is still useful to help to grasp how the industry operates, and to get a feel for how student productions do echo some characteristics of major feature film shoots!
  • Given the role the film played in laying the foundation for the phenomenal success of Working Title as the leading UK film production company (discounting the Potter/Bond franchises), its easy to forget how very, very modest the budget was: just $4.5m (about £2.5-3m).
  • Director Newell recalls how this meant even basic reshoots were generally impossible, and most shots had to be done 1st take - student filmmakers actually work under less (financially-directed) pressure than this! Unlike Newell and producer Duncan Kenworthy (his involvement predates WT picking up the film for development; he played the main role in putting together an attractive package, with name stars, tight script and distributor-friendly director attached), you're not considering the cost of overtime for salaried crew, plus catering, travel and accomodation costs and how to cover this from a budget which is already carefully calculated to see you through the entire production!
  • Some of the climactic scenes featured machine-made rain; the noise this generated rendered the dialogue recordings useless, necessitating studio re-dubbing. As Grant's lines were full of 'ahs' and other stuttering, they feared this could be near impossible - but it transpired Grant had carefully rehearsed every stuttered syllable, and they got it in just two takes. Student filmmakers can certainly learn from this; using basic equipment as is generally the case, re-recording audio and overdubbing often leads to huge leaps in quality (and therefore renders your film more convincing).
  • $10m, nearly triple the production budget, was spent on marketing for the opening in the LA territory (a common US tactic is to target a particular market to generate word-of-mouth and buzz which can help with a wider nationwide roll-out).
  • The distributor (Polygram) tactic was unusual here: go for US success first to help sell the movie in the UK! Generally speaking, higher budget movies are always released in the US first, with a few tentpole movies (Avatar being an example) released simultaneously worldwide (that hugely inflates the distributors' costs, with prints costing $000s each).
  • Hugh Grant got paid a mere £35k, while his co-stars each got £17.5k!
  • Nobody expected a quarter $billion worldwide smash, and so the producers were careful to follow the guidelines of US TV networks, whose fees were considered as key. Specifically, this meant that the succession of 'f-words' (or 'f-bombs' in modern parlance!) in Curtis' screenplay were replaced by a fusillade of 'buggers'; the US censors understood the term in the sense of 'mess up' rather than its more literal sexual connotation.
  • Curtis - not least by yours truly! - has been widely attacked for his stereotyping, and issues around race and social class in particular. This film is mostly in keeping with that ... yet, and i confess I'd never thought about this, the movie does feature a monogamous, committed gay couple, one of whom provides the tear-jerking funeral. For a film that set its face on US success, that was certainly a very brave move. Curtis recalls distributors saying they'd simply overlook that element in their marketing!

If YOU come across any useful features or articles, or have anything to add, please pass details on and I'll blog on them when time permits.

Here's the full iPlayer blurb on the radio feature:
In spite of its largely unknown cast, a promiscuous leading female character, a tragic death and a tiny budget, Four Weddings and a Funeral is still one of the most successful British films ever made.
It's 20 years since it opened in Britain - making household names of its stars, and taking an estimated $250 million worldwide.
The project was on the back burner for years as the determined and faithful production team tried desperately to raise enough money to make it work. The script went through more than 17 re-writes and dozens of actors were auditioned and rejected until exactly the right people were found to play the leading roles.
During filming, actors were collected one-by-one across London to save money on individual cars. Aristocrats (who owned their own morning suits) were hired as extras for the wedding scenes and US movie star Andie MacDowell was convinced into accepting a lowly fee, all to ensure that the film came in on budget.
Even after filming was complete, in just six weeks, both the film's leading man Hugh Grant and director Mike Newell believed it would flop. No-one anticipated that it would in fact be a box office smash in the US, and around the globe, and win five Baftas. It also succeeded in catapulting the poetry of W.H. Auden to the top of the best-sellers list.
Twenty years on, Mike Newell, writer Richard Curtis, producer Duncan Kenworthy and actors Kristin Scott Thomas and James Fleet are reunited to relive a landmark experience for them all.

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