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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

OWNERSHIP, EXAM How ownership impacts range of products available

JAN 2013: What impact does media ownership have upon the range of products available to audiences in the media area you have studied? 



  • Indie v conglomerate/subsidiary
  • Budgets; tentpole dominance (Elberse v long tail)
  • Co-productions norm at every level
  • WT reduced to first look; recent and future releases budgets
  • Warp budgets rising: '71 £5m
  • Casting, star system
  • Micro-budget productions (Le Donk, Hinterland, Wandering Rose, Colin...)
  • vertical and horizontal integration (music/OSTs - Arctic Monkeys; Avatar eg; Universal theme park)
  • digitisation (viral marketing, social media, YouTube, piracy, DVD editionalising and regions)
  • Distribution; foreign markets distribution; self-distribution and VoD
  • Pre-selling Euro rights to finance: Loach, Leigh Indie model
  • Role of UKFC/BFI (Warp X!), regional arms (Screen Yorkshire), BBC Films, C4/Film4, Lottery; tax breaks
  • Gant rule: WT rom-coms, Billy Elliot, US struggles of Tyrannosaur etc (but smart marketing of '71)
  • genre, hybridity; marginalisation of straight/adult drama/social realism; WT2 and 3 Hs (SotD, z-r-com)
  • Oscar bait exception - mid-budget dramas (Theory of Everything)
  • Four quadrant strategy
  • Big six and hegemony of comic book/CGI tentpoles/franchises (Elbe's v Anderson's long tail)
  • setting, representations (incl. Hollywood using Asian settings, characters)
  • product placement, tie-ins
  • UGC, fan-made videos, mash-ups
  • Release windows: Disney/Alice eg: grip of cinemas, US 1st norm, but For Those in Peril; Avatar and simultaneous global release

That's by no means a comprehensive list, but more than enough to keep you going!

This is the core issue. It ties into most of the other 'issues' I've highlighted. Budgets and distribution are tied to this, and all three points form the core of a response to this question, and many more. Audience is a factor, but will be more central in many other questions. Digitisation is important here, and will be for any possible question.

In an essay you could work on a smaller point and compare Warp/WT ... and any additional examples that help to showcase your wider knowledge and/or contextualise a point, OR go through Warp examples then WT. Even then, you can still - as I do below - add in further examples as you go.

Until '71, budgeted at £5m, twice their previous highest (the £2.5m Four Lions), all of Warp's output fell into the low budget category. This impacts on genre, cast, settings, representations, marketing, distribution, (non-)inclusion of tie-ins ... it is the single greatest factor.

WARP'S RANGE: The range of genres is quite remarkable. Whilst best known for their social realist films (Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur, Shane Meadows' This is England), they have produced music documentaries (Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo, Stone Roses, All Tomorrow's Parties), comedies (Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee, Four Lions), horror (Donkey Punch, Hush) and many more.

She, A Chinese is a good example of the arthouse, niche films they are associated with; basing a British film, mostly subtitled, on an illegal Chinese immigrant, is hardly calculated to inspire distributors to invest heavily in marketing and prints. One of their biggest successes, This is England, also exemplifies their approach, typically centring on working-class protagonists and communities, and moving beyond the middle-class, Southern English settings and characters that Working Title routinely rely on. At £1.5m this is one of the most expensive Warp productions, but would not have happened without considerable financial support from the UK Film Council and its regional wings Screen Yorkshire and EM Media, plus FilmFour. [You could compare to WT's Trash...]

This is quite typical for Indie productions, and even their highest-budget production, '71, reflected this, much of the budget provided by the Yorkshire Content Fund (itself largely funded by the EU). The UKFC and now the BFI, with the regional bodies such as Screen Yorkshire also continuing, pour government and EU money into such companies and such films in the recognition that without this they would most likely not be produced. A film which opens with an unknown child actor (cast after being seen truanting from school!), in his tiny bedroom peeling wallpaper, and a mobile hut outside his window bearing the graffiti 'Maggie is a Twat', is not an easy one to market.

With approaching 150 releases behind them, Working Title (WT) have of course also built up an eclectic mix of genres, taking in heritage films (Elizabeth), family and children's comedies (Bean, Nanny MacPhee), thriller (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), musical (Les Miserables), and many more. They began with a made-for-TV social realist film, with some comic elements, 1985's My Beautiful Laundrette, that was characteristic of many British Indies in its bold foregrounding of a mixed-race love triangle including two gay men. Critical acclaim at the Edinburgh International Film Festival saw it get an unplanned cinematic release, and a subsequent US release, and the seeds of  WT's very different path were sown. By 1991 they had an LA office and within a decade would be 67% owned by Polygram, later bought up by NBC-Universal, one of the vertically integrated 'big six' conglomerates that dominate cinema globally.

Their first breakthrough hit was Four Weddings and a Funeral, which laid down a template for much of their future success. WT prioritise mainstream, commercial success, specifically in seeking to make British films attractive for the global market, particularly the USA. As the 'Gant rule' reminds us, a typical US cinema hit will gross ten times the UK take. The

The contentious decision of the BBFC to give this an 18, for its climactic violent scene and use of the 'c-word', further diminished its commercial prospects, with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey a rare exception to the rule that 18-ratings minimise box office prospects. A comparable Indie film, Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen, also centred on teen working-class characters (this time in Glasgow), likewise got an 18 for use of the 'c-word', despite the actors themselves improvising the script. This meant the young leads were banned from their own premiere. Several local councils over-ruled the BBFC, re-rating to a 15, which was what the producers had expected.

It is speculation whether the BBFC are unconsciously favourable towards studio films, but the controversial decision to give the ultra-violent Dark Knight, a tentpole film, a 12, and the decision to give Working Title's World's End a 15 (despite frequent use of the 'c-word'), suggest this could be the case. The documentary film This Film Is Not Yet Rated found clear evidence that the US equivalent, the MPAA, was guilty of this, with Trey Parker contrasting the refusal of the MPAA to explain any cuts or their rating for his low budget Indie debut feature Orgasmotron, but bending over backwards to help him out with the Sony production South Park: The Movie.

It took five months to reach just $329k in the US box office, peaking at just 14 screens.

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