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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ghost Stories

Casting Martin Freeman seems a real coup for Warp - after all, he was the lead in the tentpole Hobbit franchise (combined budgets $675m, box office $2.9bn). However, IP was the key marketing factor there, and he cannot be considered an A-List star any more than Lord of the Rings star Andy Serkis can 'open a film' by himself. Freeman's presence does help with marketing though, and gaining distribution, but the lack of progress there is significant. Hollywood conglomerate Lionsgate picking the film up for distribution is a coup, as one of what many now argue should be called the big seven to reflect their considerable global success in recent years (expanding the traditional big six of Disney, Warner Bros, Fox, Universal, Sony, Paramount).

However, that is for the UK only (reflecting Freeman's greater profile in his home market, where TV show The Office made him a star, popular with men and women as his role centered on a romance narrative), Lionsgate are not, for example, picking it up for the US or any other territories. Many of Warp's films (especially on their digital subsidiary Warp X, or the also low budget Warp Australia) have failed to attain UK distribution, with fewer still getting theatrical release in the US or other markets. Even when they have, the case of Tyrannosaur (...) is typical of their struggles to make impact with films lacking stars, and typically centred on working class protagonists, often outside of the London setting that is familiar to an international audience.

The Lionsgate announcement came in Feb 2016, but there is still no release date or even evidence of press packages or material designed to stimulate potential audience interest: photos, videos, fantasy or horror convention appearances. With the notable exception of Le Donk..., which provided customisable Christmas cards and a downloadable comic, Warp's use of web 2.0 tools has been surprisingly weak. In theory, the radically reduced costs of online distribution (with digitally equipped cinemas, something the UK leads the world on, able to stream films) and marketing somewhat level the playing field with studio subsidiaries like their UK rival Working Title. Marketing is of course the principle domain of distributors, not producers, but Working Title have shown how a producer can successfully boost the marketing of a film independently from their distributor. The Cornetto Trilogy was boosted by clever, but cheap, arcade game adaptations (Shaun of the Dead Pacman, Hot Fuzz Space Invaders: fun for a youth audience used to mobile gaming, and nostalgic for an older audience who are also represented by the films' characters). They commissioned web designers RedBridge to boost their website with such marketing materials, accompanied by a wide range of stills and videos posted during pre-production, the shoot, post-production and all the way through the release phase, including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's video diary. Films such as Paul, also starring Frost and Pegg (with the usual Working Title addition of an American A-lister, Seth Rogen, and also set in the US; the Brits were the true aliens of this sci-fi comedy hybrid) also benefit from Facebook pages run by both Universal and Working Title in multiple languages to directly target multiple territories (France, Spain and more in the case of Paul).

As of May 2017, over a year since the Lionsgate pick-up announcement, with shooting apparently done in October 2016, the Warp website presents a single image with a broken YouTube link, and a non-functioning hyperlink on the sole image itself. Click on the Twitter link and instead to taking you to the film hashtag, you get a tweet template. Click on a dropdown arrow and you get greeted with an illustration-free ream (3 scrolled PC screens worth) of grey text on a black background - which hasn't been updated for nearly a year ("shooting started yesterday...")!

Remarkably, this is the extent of Warp's own promotion of their upcoming film!
Click on the YouTube and this is what you get!
They even seem to have messed up the Twitter element
This highly unappealing text, horribly outdated, is all thats below the dropdown arrow. 

What is also notable is the lack of any mention of BFI (formerly UK Film Council), BBC or C4 involvement, some combination of all 3 being central to the financing of the entire Warp catalogue up to now. The film is listed on the British Council site as in post-production, but there is no mention of any link with the BFI.

Indeed, they have actually pre-sold the UK rights, with shooting not commencing until 6 months after Lionsgate picked it up, based on Freeman being attached and the marketing potential of the IP (intellectual property) of a hit West End play that also gained multiple international markets, from Russia to Peru! This is a financing model more typical of the very low budget social realist movies by British auteurs Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, whose lack of scripting routinely denies them access to UK grants through the BFI/UKFC, but who typically pre-sell rights to several European territories to fund their productions. Without the additional element of a hit book, however, it is questionable how far the theatre link will guarantee box office success. Working Title have had success adapting multiple hit books, not least the Bridget Jones franchise (and About a Boy, which WTTV have also adapted into an NBC TV series), and of course had huge success with Les Miserables - though its $61m budget and global distribution through parent company Universal, plus the multiple A-list cast, helped!

However, this is actually a notable step away from Warp's typical genre base - most movies have blended in a social realist approach to more saleable genres, from their debut feature Dead Man's Shoes (horror) to teen rom-com Submarine (although the Warp X Bunny and the Bull was a clear exception). The Screen feature announcing the movie noted the Woman in Black comparison: a low budget horror fantasy that hit big, and this (alongside the IP factor with the promise of pre-built recognition), given Freeman's modest international profile, was probably key to the pitch, given the film industry's aversion to original ideas, which are hard to market

It must be noted that Warp are the production company while the company that will get the main co-production credit, Altitude, are exclusively handling sales. The importance of personal relationships in this large-scale, even at Warp's level, industry is clear to see: Altitude's founder, Will Clarke, was formerly a key figure in Optimum Releasing, UK distributor of many Warp releases (now StudioCanalUK, just another NBCUniversal subsidiary!). The BFI has little

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