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

You can split up into pairs to share this work, or all tackle every section, using tags and seeaches of this blog and your own online searching. Your findings should be on your blogs for Friday morning. This blog's tags and links lists (or searching/browsing it), your own searching, boxofficemojo and imdb, will all help ... Here's a guide to researching box office, distribution with useful links.

  1. [short task] What are the key points from Gant's analysis about Working Title in this article?
  2. [short task] What 'rule' is Gant famous for, how does it work, and can you find an example in the current or recent UK/US box office which demonstrates this? (look for a rough fit, not mathematical precision) As well as a tag, you'll find a links list on box office (the 2nd one after the tag cloud)
  3. Find and note at least 6 useful points Gant has previously made on Working Title or Warp by reading several past columns. You can use this Google search to help, and the blog tag + links list described in 2 above. 
  4. When Gant describes WT's previous reliance on Richard Curtis and rom-coms, what films was he referring to; give examples of the budgets and US/UK/world box office of at least 3 of these, counting the number of countries they got theatrical distribution (cinema release) in. You'll need to use boxofficemojo as well as imdb, though you could also find all this info on my blog, with tags such as Working Title and Richard Curtis and for several individual films.
  5. Profile Everest, including: director (and any notable films they've done before); any co-production credits; budget; box office (UK, US, world); number of territories its been theatrically distributed in; cast: any major stars?; who you think the target audience is - base this on analysis of trailer + posters, which should be embedded in your post. Use IMDB, boxofficemojo, etc
  6. As above, profile Legend.
  7. Provide a brief timeline of WT's history, plus brief detail of their various subsidiaries (eg WTTV, WT2, WT Australia).

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