Working Title Films began life co-producing the short film The Man Who Shot Christmas (1984).
This led to their first film for Channel Four and the first of many landmark Working Title Films - My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Directed by Stephen Frears .
In 2009 still the most successful British film production company ever.
“ Their films have grossed more than £1.2 billion Since 1984, and that is a conservative estimate. ”
My Beautiful Laundrette ( 1984 ) A groundbreaking script by Hanif Kureishi co-produced with Channel 4, fitting their remit of offering challenging work that would not find a home elsewhere on television or in UK cinema. The story revolves around the relationship between a right-wing extremist, Johnny ( Daniel Day Lewis ) and Omar (Gordon Wemecke), the Pakistani nephew of an archetypal Pakistani entrepreneur Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey), who are brought together in revamping a run-down laundrette. Frears offers a critique of the Thatcherite work ethic and the entrepreneur society, showing a white underclass declining under the determination of new immigrant businesses. With interracial homosexuality to the fore it is not surprising that this film caused a considerable stir in a society that was suffering the consequences of political and economic revolution that had as its creed "there is no such thing as society”. Made for $400,000 it took over $2.5 in the US alone.
The success of their first three films, which all dealt with British subjects, alerted the wider film industry to this independent production company, leading first to a international co-productions in 1988 including their first Anglo-American production For Queen and Country (starring a youthful Denzel Washington !). The success of this film on both sides of the Atlantic gave Working Title a template for co-production that they immediately began to exploit, and one that has been the aspiration for most other British independent production companies since.
Appeal to international market (& success for the British Film Industry)
This approach has provoked much criticism about
the ‘ mid-Atlantic’ nature of the films.
Why UK/US Co-productions? According to Bevan: "Before co-productions we had been independent producers, but it was very hand to mouth. We would develop a script , that would take about 5% of our time; we'd find a director , that'd take about 5% of the time and then we'd spend 90% of the time trying to juggle together deals from different sources to finance those films. The films were suffering because there was no real structure and the company was always virtually bankrupt."
Working Title want to make European films for a worldwide audience.
They want to imbue them with European ideas and influences and they can’t do these things without the backing of a major Hollywood studio .
"I think anyone in Hollywood would want to do business with these guys," Former boss of Universal Studios Edgar Bronfman Jr.
1984 - Working Title founded 1985 - My Beautiful Laundrette is the first of a series of collaborations with Channel 4 Films Working Title produce a further 10 films in the 1980s 1988 - Production deal with PolyGram Filmed Entertainment 1992 - PolyGram (a European music and media company) buys Working Title . 1994 - Four Weddings and a Funeral A huge box office success due to the access to the US market provided by Polygram’s financial muscle Made for $6 million it took over $244 million worldwide. A HISTORY: Working Title produces 41 films in the 1990s
The financial stability offered by the support from a major studio allowed Working Title to move rapidly on to the international stage, and PolyGram being taken over by Seagram and subsumed into its film arm, Universal Pictures , in 1999, further strengthened this. A marked change of direction took place at this point, with the traditionally provincial independent territory being scorned in favour of international prospects. 1998 - Polygram bought by Universal a Hollywood Studio itself owned by Seagram Working Title is now owned by Universal , which is in turn owned by Vivendi 2000 - Seagram is bought by Vivendi , the French multimedia conglomerate
The international activity did not prevent Working Title from continuing to support British filmmakers and from engaging in what would have been considered traditional 'independent' Anglo-European co-productions such as Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom ( 1995 ) and 'offbeat' Shaun of the Dead ( 2004 ) and Hot Fuzz ( 2007 ).
So what is a Working Title film? This was once relatively easy to answer, as the films they first made all seemed to address issues of what it is to be British (or, more specifically, English ), and particularly what it meant to be an outsider – like the immigrants in My Beautiful Laundrette . Of course, the general public know them as the re-inventors of a British romantic comedy genre through Four Weddings and a Funeral , Notting Hill ( 1999 ) and Love Actually ( 2003 )
Four Weddings and a Funeral ( 1994 ) This was the first Working Title collaborations with Richard Curtis (who’d achieved fame with the Blackadder TV series) and Hugh Grant and it set the bar for British film production, particularly in its use of soundtrack that spawned a record-breaking number one single. A rom-com that explores the relationships between a group of upper-class friends as they meet to celebrate and mourn. Curtis was able to bring established contacts to an ensemble cast (such as Rowan Atkinson ), enhancing the potential connection with the home audience The film was a massive hit in the USA , in part because of the view 'heritage Britain' - a land of churches, old pubs and stately homes populated by 'classy' English people with obligatory bumbling fools sprinkled across the social landscape. It also helped that one of the stars American ( Andie MacDowell ).
Such an unexpected success gave Working Title international clout and reach, and placed it at the centre of the Hollywood . It also placed considerable pressure on the company to become the romantic-comedy-heritage-film company , a pressure it resisted, but did not reject, realizing that a popular film could help support a number of productions with less potential for such success yet still deserving of being made. A quick glance at the list of films in its catalogue reveals a list of over 100 films produced since 1984 - probably the only common thread among them is the desire to do something different to what is being produced at the time, and to do it well. It is the ability to make films for specific audience groups , and to not be pigeon-holed that has enabled the company to ensure that its work remains fresh and successful.
It is easy to categorize them ( dismissively ) until you look through the catalogue and realize that this is a company categorized only by diversity and the ability to detect changes in the market that enable a reorientation of direction There is no other British Film Company like Working Title - it is allowed freedom to make creative decisions but it is owned by a US based conglomerate. So what is a Working Title film? How do Working Title choose which films to make? Fellner says “projects get championed by individuals in the development department and these 'percolate' their way up to the top. Tim Bevan and I then both take the decision on what to greenlight.”
Co-production has long been a method of sharing risk within the film industry, and when Working Title began its life, co-production was merely another revenue stream that often involved pre-sale or pre-distribution deals on world or national rights. Since one of Working Title’s principal partners was Channel Four , and Channel Four pioneered international co-production in the UK, it is no surprise that Working Title adopted and extended the model. Working Title and Co-production Initially, Working Title explored these deals domestically, but as its success grew it found that the international market opened up to it. Working Title took co-production further when formalizing their relationship with PolyGram (later Universal ) where US investment of 30% did not prevent them from obtaining EU/UK tax advantages. A 30% stake in the budget + Hollywood support clearly stimulates other investors willingness to get involved in a film. It is this advance in the model that radically enhanced the production processes and values in Working Title films.
“ The Working Title philosophy has always been to make films for an audience - by that I mean play in a multiplex. We totally believe in this because we know it is the only hope we have of sustaining the UK film industry. ” Despite its famous name, the structure at Working Title is small. It employs just 42 full time staff, split between the main Working Title production arm and its recently closed low-budget offshoot WT 2 under Natasha Wharton . “ When I was at Working Title we set up a New Writers Scheme to develop new talent. The problem was that at Working Title , smaller films would inevitably get less attention than the bigger budget projects so we decided to set up WT2 to give proper attention to those smaller films.” How does it work?
Does it always work? Film Year Budget (est) Worldwide Gross (est) Billy Eliot 2000 $5 million $109.3 million Long Time Dead 2002 $2 million $2 million Ali G Indahouse 2002 $5 million $12 million My Little Eye 2002 $2-3 million $3 million Shaun of the Dead 2004 $4 million $30 million The Calcium Kid 2004 $5 million £61,415 MickyBo and Me 2004 $3 million £172,336 Inside I’m Dancing 2004 $5 million $500,000 Sixty Six 2006 $3 million $1.9 million
The most important part of the business is developing scripts. Working Title has a strong development team and invests heavily in making sure that they get it right. They usually have around 40 - 50 projects in development at any time and their average spend on development is around $250,000 to $500,000 per script. They aim to make around 5 to 10 films a year, spread across different budget sizes (with an average of $30 to $40 million) and genres. How does it work? Released in 2009/10 are 10 films including the Richard Curtis comedy The Boat That Rocked , political thriller State of Play based on the successful BBC television drama but re-imagined in Washington and Green Zone , an Iraq war thriller that reunites the Bourne series star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass.
As you can see, not all of their films have been unqualified successes - as one would expect in the movie industry. Earlier flops include Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001). It was their most expensive film to date, with a budget of $57 million and, ironically, the one that seemed most likely to succeed. Adapted from the popular book of the same name, with an all-star cast, it still managed to disappoint with the critics and at the box office making only $62 million worldwide. Trouble ahead? Film Year Budget (est) Worldwide Gross (est) The Boat That Rocked 2009 $50 million $36.3 million State of Play 2009 $60 million $87.8 million The Soloist 2009 $60 million $37.6 million A Serious Man 2009 $7 million $26.2 million Green Zone 2010 $100 million $86.4 million
Richard Curtis takes the complex, fascinating subject of 60s pirate radio and turns it into infantalised farce. The Guardian Why did it ‘sink’ at the box office? The reviews weren’t great… Richard Curtis‘s The Boat That Rocked sloshes about merrily and has some magical moments…overlong, muddled and only fitfully brilliant. Daily Telegraph *** ‘ The Ship That Sank’ would be a more appropriate title for Richard Curtis’s latest and most disappointing entertainment. Time Out ** Curtis’s new film is a love letter to the music and rebellious spirit of the 1960s. He has given us what he imagines to be the era’s cocktail of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll — but he’s turned it into something as cosy and comforting as a sweet cup of tea. The Times ** Terrible reviews tend to turn into terrible word of mouth…
Social recommendation is key - a personal recommendation from a friend, colleague or relative can be the most powerful trigger for a cinema visit. Pre-requisite for favourable 'word of mouth' are high levels of awareness and strong interest. Negative word of mouth is extremely difficult to overcome. Post-release, hopefully, a combination of good word of mouth and further advertising will combine to give the film 'legs'. Why did it ‘sink’ at the box office?
It got a different name in the US…? Why did it ‘sink’ at the box office? During the 7 month delay before the U.S. release of the film Pirate Radio, both DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the film came out in non-American markets, ensuring that U.S. viewers would have access via the Internet to copies. In fact, a cam version debuted on Piratebay soon after theatrical release, with DVD and Blu-Ray rips appearing in mid-August, eminently available to anybody around the world with an Internet connection. How did this affect it’s opening weekend in America? Remember - the percentage of box office that comes from the opening weekend has increased from 15.7% in the 80s to 33.1% today…
Pirate Radio actually did very well on a per-cinema average which put it in third place among films in wide-release for the weekend, but its gross intake was still relatively modest, at just under $3 million (over 800+ cinemas) While it is impossible to know with any real certainty what impact downloads of the DVD or Blu-Ray rips may have had on Pirate Radio’s box office, the film had to also contend with its foreign origin, subject matter and rather middling reviews ( 54% on the Rotten Tomato scale). On top of all of this, it had to ‘compete with free’ in order to be profitable in the US, even before its inevitable DVD and Blu-Ray releases there. But maybe the existence of free versions on the Internet did less to drive down demand for the film, but instead fostered awareness and interest in the movie above and beyond what the producers were able to do via PR and advertising? Why did it ‘sink’ at the US box office?
http://filminfocus.com/focusfeatures/film/pirate_radio/ http://www.workingtitlefilms.com/ http://www.workingtitlefilms.com/film.php?filmID=120 http://www.filmeducation.org/theboatthatrocked/activity3.html Despite being a very successful business model over the past 25 years Working Title have had a series of flops that would have ‘sunk’ a UK film company that lacked the backing of a Hollywood studio. Despite making films with tried and trusted talent in recent years ( Richard Curtis , Matt Damon ) box office has not been great. How do you think Working Title can be successful again? http://benjaminwigmore.blogspot.com/2009/04/boat-that-rocked.html http://www.launchingfilms.tv/index.php