AS Media Studies
Unit G322 Section B
Audiences and Institutions
The Film Industry
The Film Industry
The Film Industry
Since the invention of cinema at the end of the 19th century, there have always been three
main areas concerned with getting films on screen and in front of audiences.
For this exam you need to develop case studies on a particular studio or production company
or film. The institution must be part of the contemporary film industry and it must produce
and/or distribute films to the UK. The focus will be on how this institution relates to:
1. Production: funding and making films.
2. Distribution: marketing films and getting them into cinemas and out on DVD as
well as any spin offs/related media products.
3. Exhibition: people paying at the cinema, renting or buying DVDs and
downloading and purchasing related products.
Production was, is and probably
always will be the most written about
and the most discussed of the three. It is
how films are created. It concerns stars,
special effects, million dollar budgets,
walkabouts at premieres and Oscars. It's
the glamour and the glitz. It's
Hollywood. Or Bollywood! However,
without the other two equally important
links in the chain, we would never see
the films that are created. Distribution
and Exhibition are virtually unknown
worlds to the general cinema-goer – they may have heard the terms but know very little
detail about what constitutes a distributor or the difference between an art house cinema and
This section will provide an overview of contemporary film production, distribution and
consumption in relation to UK audiences, case studies on specific films, and institutional
case studies. Starting with…
Film Distribution (find out more details here http://www.launchingfilms.tv/)
Of all the world film markets the UK has the greatest concentration of ownership and the
greatest degree of integration between film distributors and cinema exhibitors.
(Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Culture)
This describes everything that happens in between production (making the film) and
exhibition (people watching the film in cinemas or on DVD, on television, via the internet or
on a plane, or anywhere else). Far from being straightforward, distribution involves all of the
deals done to get films shown (many films never get seen) and, just as importantly,
This marketing involves paid for 'above the line' advertising, which will be funded as part
of the project, such as trailers, posters, billboards and various spin-offs which are of mutual
benefit to the film and another commercial agency, for example a McDonalds 'Happy Meal'
with a film theme. It also includes related merchandising and 'below the line' publicity
which is not paid for, but again generates mutual interest. For example, an interview with a
star in a newspaper or magazine and reviews (the former will generally be positive, but the
latter is, of course, the great unknown for film producers).
It is crucial not to see film distribution as a 'helpful' stage in the life of a film whereby
distributors treat all films equally and ensure fair play in getting films to the public's
attention. The key players, the big companies who control much of the industry, control
distribution of their own products, and of others. Effectively films are loaned out to cinemas
for a fixed period and release deals are done that secure access to a certain number of screens
at a time.
Q1. In the UK film market, an increase in the number of screens available to show
films has not led to an increase in the number of films being shown. Why?
Five Major Distributors dominate the UK Film Industry
United International Pictures, Warner Brothers, Buena Vista, Twentieth Century Fox and
Sony and each are affiliated with a major Hollywood studio. Roughly nine of every ten films
seem in the UK are viewed through these distributors.
UK Cinema Admission 1984-1999
72m (first UK multiplex opens)
Source: Film Distributors Association
Though their parent companies are involved in producing only one third of the films released
in this country they earn three quarters of the overall box office from a limited number of
blockbusters. Although there’s an increasing amount of competition among exhibitors, the
majors have increased their market share since 1985 through the opening of an increasing
number of multiplexes. Unfortunately a rising number of screens does not mean a wider
variety of films as long ‘holdovers’ of popular films are common, as are the same film
starting at different times during the afternoon and evening.
Looking at the UK cinema admissions for the last 20 years, there is certainly a correlation
between the opening of the new multiplexes in 1985 and a massive return of people back to
the cinema. There was a steady rise of admissions until 1994.
Q2. In your opinion what might account for the fact that cinema attendances have
fluctuated between 139 million and 176 million between 1999 and 2008? Hint: Look at
some of the films that were released
(You can find them here - http://boxofficemojo.com/intl/uk/yearly/ )
Source: CAA/Nielsen EDI
Distributors also deal with exhibitors who are no longer (as used to be the case) owned by
the same Hollywood companies, but who do, for reasons of profit, prioritise Hollywood
films over others. Usually the blockbuster films we are familiar with are distributed via
'blanket or saturation release', so even if a small UK independent company manages to get
its product into cinemas, it is usually competing for attention with one or more films that
take on the status of an 'event'. One of the outcomes of the distribution arrangement outlined
above is that half of the films released in Britain do not reach the whole country.
The British cinema market is the least hospitable in the world for British films as they are
largely distributed by the subsidiaries of their US competitors.
(Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Culture)
Another major problem for independent distributors in the UK is the cost of launching a new
film – which is upwards of £1 million - so independent producers handling smaller budget
British or subtitled foreign films must pay prohibitively to launch them, and then face having
only limited distribution outlets, run by their competitors to show them in.
Q3. MATHS TEST! In 2011, UK film distributors invested £330 million in
advertising their new releases and on 35mm film prints. If around 450 new films
receive a theatrical release in the UK every year. How much, on average, do
distributors spend distributing a film in the UK?
Q4. This spending stirred up enormous demand - 171.5 million cinema tickets were
bought UK in 2011. This is great news for cinemas – what’s the downside of all this
excitement generated and consumer demand for film PRODUCERS in the UK?
Q5. In 2004 the average cost of releasing a US film domestically was $39m, in
addition to the average production cost of $63.8m, making an overall average
production/distribution cost per film of $102.8m. What effect might this have on
Hollywood production and distribution if these increases have continued?
(source: FDA Yearbook).
Why is digital distribution so important? It’s called the problem
Perhaps surprisingly, given we live in the digital age, one of the obvious problems smaller
companies face is a rather old fashioned one. Every film shown in a cinema is a separate
'print' of the film, projected via a reel. The major companies can afford to produce far more
prints than the smaller companies, knowing the expensive outlay of funds at this stage will
be worth it in relation to box office returns. A small company producing a less commercial
product cannot afford to do that, so people who do want to see more 'alternative' films often
have to wait until their local independent cinema has a print, and often there is little choice
over where and when to see it. The UK Film Council addressed this problem via its Digital
Screen Network (http://industry.bfi.org.uk/dsn) the deal was that cinemas receiving financial
support to equip themselves with digital facilities (thus avoiding the issue of prints) were
expected to show more films from independent distributors.
A film has to make two-and-a-half times its production cost in order to go
into profit. A print of a film costs about a £1000 to make so, in order to open at 204
cinemas, a total of £204,000 would have been spent on prints alone in order to do this. A
distributor would have to be certain of making a large profit in order to get back this type of
cost. If a distributor does not think there will be a large audience for a film they will not
invest in making a large number of prints as the box-office takings may well be low.
Experience of similar films and their box-office takings for various locations are looked at to
determine the number of prints used. If a distributor has to make up new prints of the film, it
is very costly. However, they may be able to obtain used prints from the US which have
already been shown in cinemas and are not as expensive. Print costs are taken into
consideration when the distribution budget is being set for the film. Once all of these factors
have been assessed, the distributor can estimate the total distribution budget for a film and
how much they should spend on marketing it to a potential audience.
The Special Relationship with Hollywood
The United Kingdom is the biggest producer of international films in terms of worldwide
appeal and another market where a film hitting $100 million isn't unheard of, although $30
million is more common. Not only do they produce a lot of their own films, the U.K. also tends
to be the international market that is most receptive to Hollywood films, especially comedies.
(Source: http://www.the-numbers.com/glossary.php )
UK cinema has always enjoyed an ambiguous relationship with America. On the one hand,
UK cinema has a tremendous advantage over other European national film for the simple
reason that America is huge and Americans speak English. Couple this with the fact that
many people across the world speak English as a second language, and there is potentially a
huge audience for British films as a result of this linguistic access. But the flipside of this
coin is obvious. American films have the same advantage and the American studios have
enormous capital at their disposal. They produce more films, those films are more
expensively created and they can afford to take more risks, knowing that one success will
pay for nine failures at the box office. So while British film producers periodically
experience boom periods and have the possibility of attracting a large global audience, in
Britain we are generally consuming an ever more American diet of film. And because of the
popularity of Hollywood films in the UK, the distribution of films into our cinemas and
DVDs into our shops is dominated by US companies, who are clearly going to put their
money and resources into pushing their own products first.
Why is Hollywood so important? Look at the numbers…
In 2011 there were 1.3 billion admissions to North American cinemas, generating gross
Box office receipts of $10.2 billion. The UK is the fourth largest audience for American
films after Japan, China and France with $1.7 billion worth of admissions.
Chinese box office grew by 35% in 2011 to become the 2nd largest International market
behind Japan, experiencing by far the largest growth in major markets.
Though films are still made now for a core ‘youth’ audience (14 - 24 y.o males) whose
decisions over which films to see are driven by the star names attached to them their
attendance declined in the last year down from 7.4 million in 2010 to 6.6 million in 2011.
The numbers of the 25-39 y.o. attending cinemas spiked from 7.7 to 9.7 million.
A handful of leading actors effectively control what films are made by the studios.
Q6. Why are more ‘middle aged’ people going to the cinema in 2011? Who, in your
opinion, are the current most bankable leading actors for the ‘youth’ market in the
(Going here may give you some help: http://star-currency.forbes.com/celebrity-list/england )
The Current Hollywood Climate
Since the success of Titanic (1997) and, 15 years later, Avatar (2010), the studios have
tended to focus even more on what they perceive to be the taste of an ever-younger audience.
The key demographic now seems to be the 14 to 24 year olds. Younger audiences are not
too bothered about the intrinsic quality of the film, how it is lit or edited for example. They're
not the least bit interested in qualities of what used to be called the ‘well-made’ film. They
are almost entirely concerned with star names, style and genre. Most alarmingly for the
studios they've proven to be surprisingly discriminating in detecting attempts to pander to
what are perceived to be their lowest-common-denominator tastes. And the high-profile
failures of several summer sequel movies (previously thought to be bullet-proof) have made
the studio bosses even more nervous.
Older audiences do not ‘open’ a movie because they'll wait till the queues subside before
they'll go to see a film. They're not the ones who will patiently stand in line to swell the
numbers on the all-important opening weekend. Given an increasingly crowded marketplace
the opening weekend becomes the crucial indicator for distributors of all widely released
films. Fall at the fence of that opening weekend and you're rapidly trampled under the feet of
the incoming batch of movies!
A second major shift in recent years has been the growth of the international distribution
market, which now accounts for around 60% of a Hollywood film's theatrical revenues.
Foreign sales are almost entirely name driven and the perception of what makes a ‘name’ in
the foreign markets is very different from the US. Several stars who are now considered hard
to market in America can still open a film internationally and generate buoyant sales in the
Partly as a result of these factors, it is increasingly difficult to get well-written, thoughtful
mid-value films (i.e. in the $25 - $50 million budget range!) made in Hollywood. There is
a seemingly endless market for movies made around or below the $12m mark for the teen
and art-house circuits. The prevailing wisdom is that it's hard to lose money at this level.
Studios would prefer to spend $80m+ on high profile, high-concept ‘tent pole’ pictures with
bankable stars and a large visual effects budget. And a very short list of actors now
effectively determines which films get made.
Q7. Go to the site: http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2011&p=.htm and find
out the top 10 films in the US last year. Then click on each film to find out the total
budget. How many made two-and-a-half times their budget? They’re the only ones who
made the studios a profit…
In the current recessionary environment, and especially after a treacherous and disappointing
summer season, there is a danger that the studios will become ever more reluctant to take
decisions on which projects to green light. As the cost of making movies spirals so does the
cost of marketing and distributing them. The average cost of a Hollywood movie now
stands at a staggering $60m - before marketing! Add a minimum requirement of $30m to
open the movie and you can begin to understand the studio's desperation about bringing costs
under control. Big stars and big directors mean gross point participants that further erode the
profitability of a big film. More and more we're seeing studios co-financing
films in an attempt to minimise their downsides. Ultimately, the studios could become
simply distribution and marketing entities, acquiring product from outside and from their
subsidiary production arms.
Hollywood in the 1990s - The story of Mr. Jones So how does contemporary Hollywood
work? The story of the production of one
particular film provides an answer. The
British director Mike Figgis (pictured right)
had just finished directing the American
studio backed, critically acclaimed, and
highly successful Internal Affairs (1990). He
had, as a consequence, been given the 'green
light' to direct a relatively personal project,
Mr. Jones (1993), the story of a manicdepressive to star Richard Gere. However,
very soon the control of the shoot and the type of film Figgis wanted to make were contested.
As soon as shooting began Figgis was repeatedly visited and phoned on the set by a team of
producers who were financing the film. They set about trying to reshape the film because, on
seeing the rushes, they found it too 'dark', and potentially, therefore, a box office disaster.
(Figgis has commented that every response to the film at this stage was made solely in
relation to the likely bottom dollar success of the movie.)
'When Ray Stark says jump, you jump.'
Mike Figgis, Director (Moving Pictures, 1994)
The recommendations the producers made included asking Figgis to give the film 'more
light' by having some of the shoot relocate to the beach (even though the central character
was supposedly locked in a secure hospital!). The contest over the film continued up to the
final cut, when the first full screening took place in the presence of the Executive Producer,
Ray Stark, an old Hollywood mogul. After viewing it Stark called the film a `goddamn piece
of shit' and went about wrestling control from Figgis. The film was re-edited by another
director, and when finally released sank without trace. Figgis has continued to treat studios
with caution, with the finance for his films (Oscar winning) Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and
the digitally shot Timecode (2000) raised independently.
The story, if taken as an indicator of contemporary production more generally, indicates:
1. Producers are still some of the most powerful people in the film production process.
2. Producers have a narrative formula, a notion of a successful (standardised) template
for a successful picture that they expect directors to work to.
3. Art, authorship and creativity are eroded by the business side of the industry.
High Concept Cinema
'If a person can tell me the idea in 25 words or less it's going to make a pretty good movie.
I like ideas, especially movie ideas, that you can hold in your hand.'
(Steven Spielberg, 1985)
The specifics of the Figgis case can be applied more widely to Hollywood cinema today.
This increasing trend to approve projects with a particular narrative structure and filmic look
relates to a desire to reduce much of mainstream, commercial cinema to profitable, in box
office terms, High Concept ideas. One critic defines High Concept cinema as a cinema
reliant upon the pre-selling to producers of a relatively standardised package of key film
ingredients, and to the related trend for mass saturated marketing of High Concept films
when they are released. Wyatt argues that High Concept cinema can simply be defined as the
'look, the hook, and the book' of a film.
The look - High production values, fast (music video style) editing, with a concentration on
visuals, on consumerist items, on the look and style of the iconic, beautiful characters, and
mise-en-scene. Star vehicle projects, laden with spectacle and action - a modern return to a
'cinema of attractions' or the over-reliance on visualisation at the expense of narrative
The hook - Simplified and simplistic
narrative pattern (capable of being
relayed in less than 15 sentences).
Love interest. Universal values of
good and evil pitched against one
other. Star-genre-director vehicle.
Music by famous composer and
international pop band. Merchandising
The book - Popular best selling fiction
the source of the script/film.
An early, high-octane example of High Concept cinema would be Top Gun (1986); a stargenre-director vehicle (for the pouting, muscular, all-American Tom Cruise, the action film
genre, and Tony Scott, the action director). Top Gun is a film over determined with visuals
and visual effect (notably the aerial dog-fight scenes) and punctuated with long shots of
iconic images (including the chrome reflecting motorcycle); a film with a tub-thumping
popular soundtrack and a narrative pattern that could be retold in less than 15 sentences; a
film based on a magazine article and produced by the pre-eminent architects of High
Concept cinema during the 1980s, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.
'Simpson … was a vulgarian with an instinct for what sells movies to the archetypal teenage
boy in Des Moines — more gorgeous scantily clad women, more explosions and more smartass
one-liners.' Nick James (2000)
Simpson and Bruckheimer are credited with heralding in the High Concept 'event' film in
Hollywood, changing the nature of how films were produced by developing the practice that
a three-act script was the benchmark for box-office success. This shifted power away from
the director to the producers and, to some degree, screenwriter.
Q8. Jerry Bruckheimer is still producing films today – find some of the recent films
he’s produced and look at the trailers. Is he still a ‘high concept’ producer? Michael
Bay has taken over his mantle as the go-to man for the ‘event’ movie. Watch some of
the trailers for his recent films – does he deserve his reputation for films that are high
on effects and low on narrative?
Case Study - Sony Synergy
The definition of High Concept cinema draws
attention to another trend in Hollywood
cinema, and one that actually encompasses
much of the modern mass media: the trend of
synergy, a new form of vertical and
horizontal integration, and convergence.
Synergy can be defined as a 'strategy of
actively forging connections between directly
related areas of entertainment'. Synergy can
take two interrelated forms.
1. Cross institutional synergy. This
involves the development of a
connection between two or more
media institutions to aid the
development, production, distribution
and marketing/merchandising of across
a range of media. For example, Skyfall
(2012) is the latest James Bond film
and is co- produced by Eon
Productions and distributed by MGM
2. Hardware and software
convergence. Media institutions are not only increasingly global but also multimedia.
Media institutions increasingly control or manufacture not only the technology that
something is watched, or listened to on, or downloaded from, but they produce the
talent, the products that are then 'played' on these technologies. Media institutions
have begun to converge technology, entertainment and reception in new ways.
In this synergetic age, then, film and cinema becomes just one interconnected branch of a
multimedia institution's output. Film production and distribution are constantly linked to how
they connect with (selling) the institution's other software and hardware. If we take the Sony
Corporation as an example we find that Sony owns and forges links together between its
various media production centres:
This integration is supported by the technology that Sony manufactures: Computer chips, CD
and DVD processing; radio, hi-fi, mini-disc, CD and Walkman production, film cameras,
film stock and film lenses, televisions, video players, DVD players; all Sony products that
you can buy online or in branded Sony 'Design Centre' shops. So tonight I could watch a
Sony produced film like The Amazing Spiderman (2011) using my Sony DVD player on my
32-inch Sony, Digital Television or watch it on my Sony Xperia Tablet. Later I could listen
to the Sony produced soundtrack by James Horner released on Sony Classical, on my Sony
hi-fi. And just before I go to sleep I could probably play the Sony produced game on my
Sony Playstation 3...
The growth of synergetic media institutions has accelerated over the last few years, with the
major players trying to extend into telecom industries and the Internet revolution. The world
has got smaller as these multimedia institutions have got bigger.
'A major studio spends to stimulate all of the revenue streams, from merchandising to
video to theme parks. Look at animated features like Shrek (produced by
DreamWorks). It will gross $300 million world-wide, but when you look at all revenue
streams, that number more than doubles.' (Bart, 1999)
Synergy – a Summary
Increasingly, media corporations are now in
effect able to give publicity to, advertise and
promote films made by their film production
arm via their own newspapers, magazines,
radio stations, TV stations, satellite or cable
channels, or through the Internet.
Important financial spin-offs from films are
also contained 'in-house': film-related books
can be published by a company that is part of
the media corporation's stable of companies,
TV or satellite rights can be sold to a company
within the same group, soundtrack CDs can be
put out by another company within the group.
In these sorts of ways the business energy of
any single company is magnified, even
multiplied, and 'synergy' is created.
Less than 20% of total film revenue now comes from the domestic box-office. So, although a
good first weekend is crucial in giving a film that vital initial impetus, there is now a whole
range of ways of subsequently recouping the financial outlay involved in making films
Summary - Recent Changes to Hollywood
The studios have to be able to move with the times and respond quickly to changing
circumstances. Major recent changes in their operating environment have included:
1. The change in the audience demographic towards people aged between 14 and 24;
films put into distribution and their marketing campaigns now reflect this;
2. The increase in marketing spend needed to open a movie. Their average spend on
prints and advertising is now running up as high at $50 million , 80% of which is then
spent in the four weeks leading up to and including the opening week of release;
3. The pressures of working in the multiplex environment where, if a film doesn't
perform well in its opening weekend, it will be shifted to a smaller screen for the rest
of its run;
4. The development of smaller ‘indiewood’ operations (see later) within the studios to
cater for non-mainstream (i.e. not 14-24!) tastes.;
5. The huge success of DVD and increasingly Blu-Ray has enabled the studios to open
up their libraries of old titles again;
6. The growth of the international market to the extent that it is now bigger than the US,
which has encouraged the studios to focus on those elements of their films which will
play well overseas;
7. The move to more ‘Day and Date’ releases internationally so that overseas audiences
do not have to wait to see films that have already opened in the US, reducing the
danger of pirated copies of films entering these markets;
8. The need to combat piracy which is growing very fast in almost every country by
devising alternative methods of bringing films to the paying public.
Despite the growth in the DVD market and the improvement in the hardware for watching
films in the home, going to the cinema to see new films will remain an important activity,
especially with the growth of IMAX and 3D films (see below). Digital cinema will become a
reality and when it does, cinemas will be put to more imaginative use, showing sporting and
other important local or national events and making better use of time slots which have not
traditionally been popular with moviegoers.
Case Study - The growth of ‘Indiewood’
Working Title Films and Hollywood
We’ll look at Working Title films in more detail later but, until then here’s an
introduction…Working Title began in the early 1980s when money for film production was
tight. They were able to produce My Beautiful Launderette (1985) with the full financial
backing of Channel Four, but usually had to put funding packages together from a variety of
sources, including television companies and US independent distributors. Altogether, they
put together about 20 films in this way, though they did not make any money from them and
never had the cash flow to develop the best possible films from the scripts that they had.
They realised in the early nineties that they had to be linked more closely to sales and
distribution and needed readier access to development and production funds.
They found all of these elements in their partnership with Polygram which began in 1992.
As one of Polygram’s labels, they were able to spend more money - and time - developing
projects and to increase the ratio of projects in development which went into production to
about 1 in 10. As a result of this relationship, they were able to give the appropriate time and
money to the development of Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) within a well-financed
studio atmosphere but without the additional interference that might have come from being
directly tied to one of the Hollywood studios. The success of Four Weddings helped set them
up for further successes both within Polygram and after the sale of Polygram to Universal in
Background - Hollywood in the early Noughties
The 1990s and early 2000s saw the
creation of independent or specialistoriented divisions by all the major
studios, either through the takeover of
existing entities or the creation of their
own operations from scratch, or a
combination of the two.
Sony Pictures Classics was created in
1992. 20th Century Fox established Fox
Searchlight in 1994. Paramount
Classics was launched in 1998.
Universal established relationships with a number of independent labels during the late
1990s and early 2000s, eventually settling on its own Focus Features label in 2002.
Universal also absorbed the British major independent Working Title, as part of its
acquisition of PolyGram from the Dutch corporation Philips in 1998.
The end of Working Title's independent status is dated to this buy-out in 1998 which had a
significant impact on it, creating a reliance on success in the American market that shifted its
output towards an emphasis on less radical material like Notting Hill (1999), Bridget Jones's
Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003). It has maintained some commitment to lowerbudget and/or more challenging productions, however, its post-Universal production slate
including examples such as United 93 (2006) alongside Shaun of the Dead (2004).
Case Study – Lost in Translation (2003)
The complete set of studio- owned 'independent'
sections was completed in 2003 with the creation
of Warner Independent Pictures by Warner
Bros (though this subsequently closed in 2008)
and the launch of DreamWorks' cartoon
subsidiary Go Fish. The territory occupied by
these operations, along with Miramax, became
known as 'Indiewood', often used as a
disparaging label by those for whom studio
involvement was a betrayal of the true spirit of
independence, but characteristic of a hybrid brand
of cinema in which markers of indie-style
distinction are often combined with relatively
more marketable dimensions than might be found
at the radical/alternative end of the commercially
distributed independent spectrum.
The term 'Indiewood' began to be coined in the
late 1990s to describe the territory in which the
line between the indie and studio sectors was
becoming blurred, especially much of the output
of Miramax and the other studio indie/specialist
divisions. If the form of indie cinema that came to prominence through commercial
distribution in the 1980s and 1990s often mixed distinctive or alternative qualities with more
conventional/mainstream features, Indiewood has been taken to signify a hybrid that tends to
lean more towards mainstream Hollywood than edgy Art House. It suggests the exclusion of
the more challenging or radical end of the indie spectrum in favour of commercially safer
films with greater potential for crossover from niche to larger audiences.
Much of the responsibility for the creation of this phenomenon can be attributed to the
specific strategies adopted by Miramax, particularly its award-garnering prestige
productions like The English Patient (1997), but ‘Indiewood’ qualities can also be
identified in a range of features produced by its rivals. A notable example is Lost in
Translation (2003), written and directed by Sofia Coppola and released by Universal's
Focus Features in the US and Momentum in the UK, it earned positive reviews and
numerous awards, including the Best Original Screenplay Oscar and Independent Spirit
Awards (the indie equivalent of the Academy Awards) for Best Film, Director, Screenplay
and Male Lead.
Lost in Translation positions itself clearly in the ‘quality', specialist arena at the level of its
overall tone, mood and the absence of any strong narrative drive. The story of two
individuals, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob Harris (Bill Murray), who find solace in
each other's company during enforced periods of residence in a luxury Tokyo hotel, the film
is primarily a mood piece, a wry and quite touching observation of fleeting moments of
human connection amid the various alienating aspects of each character's life: he an actor
being overpaid to endorse a Japanese whisky, she the philosophy-graduate wife of a
photographer with whom she seems to have little in common. The film faintly begins to
sketch the possibility of romance between the two, but pulls back from anything like a
consummation, leaving the pair heading their separate ways although only after an inaudible
(thus ambiguous) final exchange that leaves a partially open-ended impression.
At the same time, Lost in Translation also displays
more conventional dynamics. The impression of two
lost souls finding one another is a familiar theme,
even if not fully developed. Much of the humour
offered by the film is reliant on somewhat
stereotypical meetings of East and West, and the star
presence of Bill Murray is central to the selling of
the film. Lost in Translation is also keen to include
its own diegetic markers of distinction, to underline
the position it seeks to take up in the wider cultural
field, primarily through the negative reference point
provided by a minor character, Kelly (Anna Faris
left) a Hollywood actress presented as a crass and
superficial figure who represents the cinematic polar
opposite to that with which Coppola's film wishes to
By 2002, the largest remaining players outside the studios were Artisan Entertainment and
Lion's Gate. Each qualified as a major independent or mini-major studio through the scale of
its involvement in film production and distribution along with other interests such as
television and DVD. Artisan made its name through its high-profile release of The Blair
Witch Project (1999) and established a reputation as a suitable home for unconventional
indie features such as Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000). Lion's Gate
achieved its initial mark in similar territory, early releases including Buffalo '66 (1998) and
American Psycho (2000). Each grew through a careful strategy of diversification, an
important aspect of which was the purchase of back catalogues to provide the kind of
stability achieved by the studios. The eventual outcome was the takeover of Artisan by
Lion's Gate in 2003, creating a single entity the scale of which meant that it was more likely
to survive in a marketplace still dominated by the majors.
Q9. Look up the companies:
a) Fox Searchlight; http://www.foxsearchlight.com/
b) Paramount Vantage; http://www.paramount.com/film-group/paramount-vantage
c) Sony Pictures Classics; http://www.sonyclassics.com/index.php
d) Focus Features. http://focusfeatures.com/
Find some recent ‘Indiewood’ type films - ones associated with a certain ‘Art house’
feel yet connected to a big Hollywood studio – that these companies have produced.
Who are their films aimed at?
Q10. Write a short essay answering the following questions:
a) To what extent does Hollywood dominate the UK film landscape?
b) How has it managed to retain its stranglehold?
Make sure you provide examples both from these pages and of your own.
This is a good place to go to find out about film distribution:
Q11. How many of the current top 15 films on release in the UK are actually
distributed by UK companies?