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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

WT: The Theory of Everything

Working Title's latest could be taken as a 'chick flick' - the marketing heavily centres on the romantic narrative - but, even if it's hardly a four quadrant movie (youth appeal?!), the biopic format and the science sub-plot should help boost male appeal too (being stereotypical in the manner that distributors are).


You don't need to have viewed a film in full to get to grips with analysing, the trailer generally reveals a lot you can utilise: good examples of mise-en-scene and key information on characters and setting; genre/s and which are being emphasised - title font and soundtrack also contribute to possible semiotic analysis here; target audience/s; intertextuality; distinctive (or uniform) marketing for different territories. You may also spot age ratings (MPAA and BBFC); occasionally there will be a sharp contrast between the US (which tends to heavily penalise sexual content but go very lenient on violence) and UK (which tends to be more liberal on sexual content but stricter on violence - so, the BBFC passed Baise Moi with an 18 despite its unsimulated sex scenes, but sought to ban The Human Centipede; Meadows and Warp were disgusted when TisEng got hit with an 18 which sharply undermined its box office prospects).

1: We open on a grand historic building in the South of England - a world away from TisEng's Shaun and the council estate he resides in
2: A formal do, dickie bow and all. TisEng's Shaun gets bullied for only having one non-school pair of trousers ... flares.
3: A fantasy, magical England ... again, compare with Warp-style mise-en-scene
4: The 'chick flick' clincher...
5: Gondolier, grand historical buildings, formal wear ... when TisEng's Shaun 'courts' his girl, they go out to a backyard shed, where she issues a crude, blunt invitation
6: Idyllic wedding. Swap the confetti for snow and it recalls the Quality Street ad-style scenes from BJD. On a less critical note, the cinematography is plush and accomplished - lots of brown tones for his early student days, and often that slightly washed out look of 60s/70s photographs and video stock. 
7: To help denote 'grittier' moments, more 'naturalistic', low key lighting is also used. No question, this is a slickly produced film.
8: Much like the various Hugh Grant characters, Hawking is actually represented as of modest means, but 'modest' in WT terms (not unlike much US TV, where everyone seems to own huge apartments/houses) is radically different from Warp - cheap lager and bottles of cider v champagne.

See IMDB list
Note the multiple country entries: there were festival screenings plus initial 'limited release' - where a film, typically a 'difficult' or 'challenging' film that isn't a straightforward commercial prospect, is released in key territories where cinema-goers best match the primary target audience, in this case looking for regions where ABC1 cinema-goers are clustered. This is to attempt to build up word-of-mouth and buzz around a movie. The kings of this strategy are Miramax - I highly recommend the hugely entertaining book Down and Dirty Pictures which explores the American Indie scene, not least the distributor battles.

In this case the MPAA's PG-13 and BBFC 12A are similar. The 12-rating helps give the movie a possible added secondary 'family' audience as well as the primary adult audience. With initial release in the UK on January 1st (November 26th for the US), this provided enhanced potential to tap into the holiday market during school holidays whilst simultaneously providing adult-oriented counter-programming at a time when cinema screens are dominated by child-centred animations and teen-targeted superhero franchise flicks.

Most US-produced films are released first there then across the rest of the world, the US prints often touring the globe (though the larger tentpole movies, following a new trend sparked by the example and success of Avatar, might get a simultaneous worldwide release, an expensive but arguably efficient - and piracy-battling- strategy). Several territories got an Xmas release; the slightly later UK release was perhaps explained by a desire to maximise the prospects of the Bafta campaign, which is seen as an influence on the Oscar campaign in turn.

I counted 48 territories with theatrical release dates from the IMDB list - its notable that the list of companies and territories under its company listing is very limited in comparison, potentially giving a very misleading picture if you relied just on this.
It may appear that NBC-Universal dealt with UK distribution but not US ... until you look into Focus Features:
Focus Features (formerly USA FilmsUniversal FocusGood MachineGramercy Pictures and October Films) is the art house films division of NBCUniversal, and acts as both a producer and distributor for its own films and a distributor for foreign films.Focus Features was formed from the 2002 divisional merger of USA Films, Universal Focus and Good Machine. USA Films was created by Barry Diller in 1999 when he purchased October Films and Gramercy Pictures fromSeagram and merged the two units together (Wiki)

Some thoughts later, here's a few links for now:
Focus Features' () site;
It's very basic - none of the specially-commissioned games or other unique multimedia content that we've seen with so many other WT-produced films (tho' lets not forget its often WT themselves, not the distributor, that go the extra mile, as was the case with the Hot Fizz PacMan and Shaun of the Dead Space Invaders). As is now standard (and even Warp, with their generally bare bones approach, provide content like this for most films), we get a range of video 'extras', some of which will probably re-surface on the DVD.
The Focus page has now been updated to reflect (and emphasise!) the Oscar noms.

Deadline.com box office/audience analysis;
ScreenRant's look at the trailers;
AwardsWatch.com considered its US box office prospects back in November, with Oscar potential possibly key to an extended run, and competition from the similarly British mathematical-genius themed but starrier The Imitation  Game (Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch) a major impediment:
One of two tortured British mathematical genius Oscar contenders opening this month, The Theory of Everything has been standing in the shadow of The Imitation Game for much of the season. However, there’s actually a solid chance that Theory of Everything could prove to be triumphant in the box office arena, at least before the Oscar race is truly underway. While Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch are bigger household names than Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything has had a strong marketing campaign, selling the film as more of a love story, and Stephen Hawking is, arguably, a better-known historical figure than Alan Turing. Focus Features has moved from being a prestige studio to more genre-based films this year with the leaving of James Schamus, but so long as they remember how to release a platform Oscar contender, this movie should perform well, finishing with a final total in the $25 million range.
Wiki (film Wikis are generally very, very useful);
The-Numbers.com - box office report and more;
WeAreUKFilm - body that represents the UK film industry at several major international festivals; this link is to TIFF, where TofE had a triumphant premiere (swiftly winning US then Canadian distribution, even though Universal passed on North American rights (but did take up European rights and at the time of writing UIP has released 'wide' in four Euro markets
Screen - review;
WWD - behind the scenes feature;
HitFix poster analysis;
GoldPoster - gallery of multiple posters;

the geek in me wants the focus (no pun intended) on his contributions to physics and cosmology. The marketing from Focus Features, however, is making it very clear that this is a love story first and foremost. The trailer set that construct up a few weeks ago and today it's made all the more obvious as Hawking's theorems and whatnot literally play in the background of a romantic encounter with his wife Jane on the film's official poster. (from HitFix article)
Almost all of the posters feature 2-shots, ranging from MLS to MCU, anchoring the romance as central to the film.
There are some variants which are text-based too, with endless scientific equations forming the backdrop.
There are further variants intended to sway Oscar and Director's Guild voters, typically highlighting positive reviews from prominent sources such as Vanity Fare, including one landscape poster of a beach front where Hawking's wheelchair is in ELS to the right edge of the frame, stressing the artistry of the cinematography over the romantic narrative.
There are multiple international versions, reflecting the wide international release, with Italian, German, French and UK posters all sharing the same two-shot.

The fonts reflect the choices made for the film trailer (and the titles used in the film itself): a combination of upper and sentence (lower) case combined with equally contrasting sharp-edged serif font (like a broadened Times New Roman), connoting serious drama (the biopic and science elements) and handwriting-style swirling font, also italicized, to connote softer, feminine characteristics, and perhaps conjure up images of a love letter. The use of thin lines to frame the title also add retro connotationswhich fit with the historical setting, and reflect WT's frequent delving into heritage drama as a means of successfully packaging British-set films for a wider, international audience.
This HitFix gallery is a good indication of the dominance of the romance-signifying two-shot
This is the most widely used international layout, including the UK
Oscar voters have been directly targeted; if they win any the film can expect a major 'Oscar bounce' (as Slumdog Millionaire did)

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