Friday, September 25, 2015

WORKING TITLE v WARP Getting started

Underpinning this blog is a comparison between two companies that, to some extent, exemplify different positions within and approaches to the film industry: the 'powerhouse' WT, a subsidiary of NBC-U with one eye always on the international market, and Indie Warp, with a clearer focus on domestic (UK) box office. WT is seen as compromising the Britishness and artistic quality of its output in order to maximise box office potential, though its recent slate may challenge that perception. Multiple award-winning Warp is seen as producing auteur films with a strong British identity (very widely defined: She, A Chinese...) generally with limited mainstream appeal - or, at least, opportunity to win major distribution and marketing backing/spending.

In time you might well view, or critically re-watch, several of their films, but we can make a start without that...

Investigate each of the following to gain an initial insight into the two companies. Sum up your findings for each:

  1. The history of Working Title (put very briefly; the Wiki is ok in this case): its first movie, new offices, ownership changes, major breakthrough films, its subsidiaries, major talent relationships (directors, actors)

Warp Films + Working Title trailers playlist compilation

I've assembled a comprehensive YouTube playlist of Warp Films' trailers, and started one on Working Title films too (I'll also add some other useful features from time to time):

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

WORKING TITLE new strategy with top two in UK box office

As I've frequently said, you can learn a lot by following box office analyses such as The Guardian's regular series.

The headline story today* is the incredible achievement of Working Title in having the top two films in the UK this week - US studios may easily manage marketing multiple movies at a time, but its rare to see this from a British company (albeit a studio subsidiary).

The benefits of their vertically integrated relationship with NBC-U are apparent, with distribution either directly through Universal or another of its subsidiaries, StudioCanal - described here as an Indie, which it has long ceased to be.

*Charles Gant's weekly, must-read, column: Peak performance: Everest climbs to the top of UK box office. Below: quotes from this, followed by bullet points on what you can learn from this.

[EXCERPT1] UK production company Working Title occupies the top two slots in the chart, with Everest and Legend. There may have been some disquiet at the company over distributors Universal and StudioCanal dating the films for release just one week apart, but both are successfully coexisting in the market. Despite a diverse portfolio of titles, Working Title was for many years defined by its Richard Curtis-scripted comedy smashes, but the success of Everest and Legend – following on from The Theory of Everything in January and Rush in 2013 – should finally redefine perceptions.
  • its extremely unusual for a BRITISH company to have the top two box office films
  • each with a different distributor (though SC is owned by NBC-U)
  • WT's reputation has been based on rom-com hits, but a more serious, drama-centred approach is emerging (making it more like Warp, a point not made in the article). Here's a screenshot of their movies since 2012 - About Time is the only Richard Curtis rom-com:

[EXCERPT2] First place: Everest
Everest had been in development for more than a decade before cameras rolled in 2014 with Icelandic director Baltasar Korm├íkur at the helm; in 2004, Stephen Daldry had gone to Everest to film background shots. The true story of a notorious climbing disaster in May 1996 – the subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air and other published accounts – the 12A-certificate film is targeted broadly, with significant presentation in 3D and Imax. A handy £658,000 in previews boosted the opening total to £3.16m. Comparisons are tricky, since climbing disaster films are rare. Fictional feature Vertical Limit (2001) kicked off with £1.9m, or about £3m when adjusted for ticket-price inflation. Cliffhanger (1993) began with £1.35m.
  • Everest is another in a recent line of WT serious dramas
  • its not a 'tentpole' but is taking the four quadrant approach, seeking male, female, young and older audiences - the 12A is key to this strategy
  • releasing on IMAX and 3D formats is also driving this four quadrant strategy - these push up production costs considerably, but are also key to the wider cinema industry's fightback against the rise of high quality home cinema
  • there have been comparable movies, but Everest is taking in much higher box office
[EXCERPT3] Everest is the eighth No 1 hit for Universal this year, following The Theory of Everything, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fast & Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, Jurassic World, Minions and Straight Outta Compton. Universal, together with Fox (six chart toppers) and Disney (five) have dominated the box office this year. Warners, Paramount and Sony have had four No 1s between them; indie StudioCanal scored last week with Legend.
  • after mixed fortunes in recent years, Universal is 2015's leading distributor (the dominance of American, specifically 'big six', vertically integrated distributors continues in the British market and globally)
  • StudioCanal is misleadingly labelled an Indie here: its a subsidiary of NBC-U, and you'll see it listed on many Warp and WT films (previously named Optimum Releasing)
Above + below: Screenshots from Amazon Prime's 'Hidden Gems' list: StudioCanal is seen as a distributor of alternative, not so mainstream films: 21/36 films on this list are distributed by SC. Several of these 'hidden gems' are Warp Films productions, a fair description as they tend to get very limited marketing and so pass under the radar. Until now, YOU probably haven't heard of most of their films! Note the typically high (for Warp) BBFC certs from this small sample: 18 (Tyr, Kill List) and 15 (Sub); a similar sample of WT films would more likely be 12/15.
[EXCERPT4] Second place: Legend
Despite pretty decent weather at the weekend, Legend fell by a relatively gentle 34% in its second frame, delivering a 12-day tally just short of £10m. Legend’s total is just ahead of Tom Hardy’s other big 2015 hit, Mad Max: Fury Road, at the same stage of its run, after two weekends of play. The success of Fury Road rested on an appetite for a high-profile franchise revival, whereas Hardy’s dual performance as Ronnie and Reggie Kray is Legend’s chief selling point.
Until a year ago, StudioCanal had scored only two £10m-plus hits – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and Rush. In the past 12 months, that tally has risen to six, with the release of The Imitation Game, Paddington, Shaun the Sheep Movie and now Legend, which crossed £10m on Monday. As for Hardy, his biggest hits have been in supporting roles in blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. Fury Road was his first lead role to pass £10m in the UK, and Legend is his second, making 2015 a significant turning point for the actor. Legend will soon be nudging the top 20 18-certificate films of all time in the UK, a list led by Fifty Shades of Grey, Gone Girl and The Wolf of Wall Street.
  • no matter how good the marketing campaign, factors such as weather can determine a film's fortunes. Also:
  • Distributors look carefully at what competition they might face in any given release window (not unlike TV schedulers)
  • most major movies make the highest amount of box office in the opening weekend and 1st week of release, with the take usually sharply falling from there; the marketing spend is focussed on that opening (there are exceptions: Warp's Four Lions had its number of prints doubled (from 115 to 230) after a surprisingly successful opening week)
  • typical WT production strategy: including an A-list star to help sell the movie in the US and the wider world; they don't rely on UK box office (Warp largely do)
  • StudioCanal typically distribute lower budget, often Indie (eg Warp) films, but since summer 2014 have had FIVE films grossing over £10m in the UK (a figure few films hit), having had only ONE before then (WT's TTSSpy in 2011)
  • 18-rated films rarely make as much as 12/15-rated films as 1 of the 4 quadrants (youth) are ruled out; Legend is a fairly rare example of a WT 18-rated film (most Warp are 15 or 18 by contrast) but will be at least one of the top 20 highest grossing 18s in UK history
[EXCERPT5] Top 10 films, 18-20 September
1. Everest, £3,160,154 from 567 sites (new)
2. Legend, £2,446,860 from 544 sites. Total: £9,972,511
  • a British production company having the top two is unheard of; US production dominates the UK market 
  • a UK hit will be on 300-550 screens; a US hit 3,000-5,000 screens


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This is England research task

In Media Studies we don't simply consider the final product; 'the' text is just part of what we consider. To fully appreciate how and why the media language of a film takes the form and direction it does, we need to be aware of wider, contextual factors - marketing and distribution, production company/ies profiles, director record, box office, editionalising (eg director's cut on DVD), etc.

This short task, followed by a series of screenshots you can save and blog on, will get you started on this investigative path.

I have frequently blogged on this film and the wider franchise; you can find more posts using the tag, though I'm still working my way through 100s of posts across multiple blogs retro-tagging (as I only started tagging relatively recently).

IMDB This is England entry.
BoxOfficeMojo This is England entry.


Sunday, September 06, 2015

FESTIVAL Aesthetica Warp masterclasses and more York November 2015

The ASFF has attracted important industry figures. ASFF tag.
One of the 2015 masterclasses is focussed on convergence

I've led trips twice to the ASFF, a film festival that screens short films + music videos in unusual venues around York, linked to the magazine Aesthetica (focussed on photography and other media arts), and its been a great experience for students - here's an account by one student.
Another 2015 masterclass

The masterclasses have been superb, and simply ideal - we've heard directly from the likes of Barry Ryan (senior producer at Warp Films), Danny Cohen (cinematographer on several Warp and Working Title movies, including Dead Man's Shoes and Les Miserables if memory serves me right?!), and Craig McNeil and James Harman (respectively, music video producer and director for the world's largest music Indie, Beggars Group and his long-term editor).
A topic I've blogged on a few times...

BELOW: Details, links, prices

Thursday, September 03, 2015


His book, which gives his first hand accounts of each of his low budget Indie productions, including cult classic Repo Man, is superb. This article is a rather shorter affair that very shrewdly reflects on the realities of crowd funding.

Amongst his list is the paramount need to interact with the audience: keep feeding them with digital goodies throughout the process - behind the scenes, blog diaries, teaser clips...

Alex Cox: seven things I learned about crowdfunding movies

DISTRIBUTION Netflix debut at Venice promotes simultaneous distribution

Netflix threatens, along with Amazon Prime, to disrupt the traditional distribution model of film, especially cinematic exhibition. Despite issues explored below, having just released its first feature film production, its already green lit two more - and they're confident (hubris?!) that their user data removes much of the traditional uncertainty, the high stakes gamble, around film...

is already backing two alternative satirical features: Brad Pitt’s forthcoming military parody War Machine and a mockumentary, Mascots, made by Christopher Guest, of Spinal Tap and Best in Show.

Netflix’s Sarandos recently told BBC Radio 4 that the great advantage of home streaming films is that it allows the menu of films to be tailored. “We use a lot of algorithms to put things in front of people that we know they are going to like. This brings a lot of efficiency to distribution.”

We've seen this in the UK with A Field in England released in cinema at the same time as its premiere on C4, the principle producers, but here's a useful term to note, tacked to a bang up to date example...

Here's a key paragraph from the article below, featuring quiffed critic Kermode's take on this phenomenon:

When it is commercially released in October,Beasts of No Nation will be immediately available to see not only in selected cinemas but also to subscribers to the Netflix home entertainment service – which now boasts more than 50 million international subscribers. “Simultaneous distribution”, as it is known, is a development that Mark Kermode, chief film critic for the Observer, has identified as the fast-approaching reality. “Traditional distribution models are beginning to unravel,” Kermode has said. “The future will allow audiences to choose when and where they see movies.”

There's another side to this seemingly inevitable march of digitisation and the convergence it brings: the traditional distributors and exhibitors (ie, cinema chains) are strongly opposed to the loss of the traditional cinema release window.

Disney was forced to back off plans to merely shorten the window with Alice in Wonderland, but Netflix has faced protests from French cinemas arguing its actively seeking to undermine the Francophone cinema culture.

Back in the States, the major cinema chains have refused to carry the film, worried that it, and the simultaneous distribution model it represents, presents a real threat. Here's more from the article:

As well as facing down an angry French lobby, Netflix has to contend with the response of the huge cinema chains in America – Cinemark, Regal and AMC – which are retaliating by not showing Beasts of No Nation. They have argued that video-on-demand releases violate their policies and intentionally undermine their fragile business model. Over the past decade, the time between the theatrical release of a film and its availability to see at home has been shrinking. While studios may welcome the fact they have to pay out only once on an advertising campaign, it is not good for the large multiplexes that rely on attracting crowds for as long as possible. In Britain, Odeon, Vue and Cineworld are holding out to retain a 17-week theatrical window in a battle of nerves. As it is, even big box-office receipts at an opening weekend are no guarantee that a film will make money. It depends on the financial cut between the studios and the distributors. Multiplexes make their money from soft drinks and popcorn.

Digital disruption is probably unstoppable, but it won't transform the cinema landscape without a fierce fight from powerful cinema chains in particular.

There's yet more to consider here, a point I've made many times...

Festivals remain a key element in the marketing of unusual studio films, which could get stuck in the relatively small arthouse circuit, and Indies.

Both Birdman and Gravity got a major boost through critical acclaim at Venice (Birdman) and an extravagant, widely reported launch at Venice (Gravity), which can raise otherwise no-hoper Indies to Oscar contender, a lucrative mantle and great for the brand of their distributors (the Weinsteins built Miramax through their legendarily ruthless and incisive Oscar campaigns). Here's a further quote:

Independent film-makers have little chance of competing unless they can make a fuss at a high-profile festival. Hayman cites the example of British director Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave, which won rave reviews at the Telluride film festival in Colorado five months before its release and a subsequent blaze of awards. Such films are valuable to production studios because they often light the path to Oscar victory, something that is not going to happen with a comic-book franchise.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to quote box office guru Charles Gant, coiner of The Gant Rule. Noting that DreamWorks chief Katzenberg's recent speech, appraising the release window as getting in the way of audience or consumer choice - even if that ultimately makes cinema a niche experience - was difficult to argue with, he discussed 'collapsed windows':

“The cinema is the best place to see a film, but if that’s the case it ought to be able to compete with widescreen TVs and tablets and phones and every other platform. If its USP is actually its exclusive window to show films, I think that’s a bit sad for cinemas.”

Gant also points out that “collapsed windows”, which offer a legal way to see a film at home at the time of maximum excitement, when it has just been released, may be the only way to combat piracy. “People will no longer have the excuse that they couldn’t get a babysitter, so that’s why they watched the movie via pirated content.”

Netflix takes on Hollywood with its first film premiere at Venice festival

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

NBC-U Universal living the DreamWorks?

NBC-U - or perhaps more accurately corporate parent Comcast - looks set to pick up DreamWorks next summer.

It's distribution deal with Disney, which had been spectacularly successful overall although there have been tensions more recently, runs out in July 2016.

Universal are thought to be set to pick up Spielberg's mini-studio.

Without wanting to be like the Dundee Courier with its infamous Titanic headline, I can't help but wonder if this is going to push Working Title, already demoted to a first-look deal, even further down the pecking order?

Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks leaving Disney for Universal – reports