G322 Key Media Concepts (TV Drama)Section B: Institutions and AudiencesUK films aimed at an international audienceLargely traditional UK film genresHistory of Working Title mirrors the history of the UK film industryIncreasingly typical UK film funding – co- productions with British TV companies and Hollywood studios
"Brit flicks twin towers of power"Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan have achieved the near impossibleThey’ve created a wildly successful production company in a country where the film business is subject to repeated predictions of imminent doom. Eric Fellner Tim Bevan
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 theWith interracial homosexuality to determination of new immigrant businesses.the fore it is not surprising thatthis film caused a considerablestir in a society that was sufferingthe consequences of political and Made for $400,000 it tookeconomic revolution that had as over $2.5 in the US alone.its creed "there is no such thingas society”.
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 firstAnglo-American production For Queen and Country (starring a youthfulDenzel Washington!).The success of this film on both sides of the Atlantic gave Working Titlea template for co-production that they immediately began to exploit,and one that has been the aspiration for most other British independentproduction companies since.
The Working Title Movie TemplateBritish Film + American star = $$$$$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 beenindependent producers, but it was very hand to mouth. Wewould develop a script, that would take about 5% of ourtime; wed find a director, thatd take about 5% of the timeand then wed spend 90% of the time trying to juggletogether deals from different sources to finance thosefilms. The films were suffering because there was no realstructure and the company was always virtually bankrupt."
The British film industry dilemma:Do you:A) Make culturally specific films which appeal to a national audience?ORB) Make broader, generic films with an international appeal? ? ?
The British film industry dilemma: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.
A HISTORY: 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 1980s1988 - Production deal with PolyGramFilmed Entertainment 1992 - PolyGram (a European music and media company) buys Working Title.1994 - Four Weddings and a FuneralA huge box office success due to theaccess to the US market provided byPolygram’s financial muscleMade for $6 million it tookover $244 million worldwide.Working Title produces 41 films in the1990s
1998 - Polygram bought by Universal aHollywood Studio itself owned by SeagramThe financial stability offered by the support from amajor studio allowed Working Title to move rapidlyon to the international stage, and PolyGram beingtaken over by Seagram and subsumed into its filmarm, Universal Pictures, in 1999, furtherstrengthened this.A marked change of direction took place at thispoint, with the traditionally provincial independentterritory being scorned in favour of internationalprospects. Working Title is now owned by 2000 - Seagram is bought by Vivendi, the Universal, French multimedia conglomerate which is in turn owned by Vivendi
The international activity did not prevent Working Title from continuing to supportBritish filmmakers and from engaging in what would have been consideredtraditional independent Anglo-European co-productions such as Ken Loach’s Landand 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 seemedto address issues of what it is to be British (or, more specifically, English), andparticularly what it meant to be an outsider – like the immigrants in My BeautifulLaundrette – so the genre was social realism… …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 audienceThe film was a massive hit in the USA, in part because of the view heritageBritain - a land of churches, old pubs and stately homes populated by classyEnglish 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, andplaced it at the centre of the Hollywood. It also placed considerable pressure on thecompany to become the romantic-comedy-heritage-film company, a pressure itresisted, but did not reject, realizing that a popular film could help support a numberof 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 filmsproduced since 1984 - probably the only common thread among them is the desire todo something different to what is being produced at the time, and to do it well. It is theability to make films for specific audience groups, and to not be pigeon-holed thathas enabled the company to ensure that its work remains fresh and successful.
So what is a Working Title film?It is easy to categorize them (dismissively) until you look through the catalogue andrealize that this is a company categorized only by diversity and the ability todetect 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. 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.”
Working Title and Co-productionCo-production has long been a method of sharing risk within the film industry,and when Working Title began its life, co-production was merely anotherrevenue stream that often involved pre-sale or pre-distribution deals on world ornational rights. Since one of Working Title’s principal partners was ChannelFour, and Channel Four pioneered international co-production in the UK, it is nosurprise that Working Title adopted and extended the model. 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 withPolyGram (later Universal) where US investment of 30% did not prevent themfrom obtaining EU/UK tax advantages. A 30% stake in the budget + Hollywoodsupport clearly stimulates other investors willingness to get involved in a film. It isthis advance in the model that radically enhanced the production processes andvalues in Working Title films.
How does it work? “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 42full time staff, split between the main Working Title production arm and its recentlyclosed low-budget offshoot WT2 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.” 2007 - Why did WT2 close down?
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 millionShaun of the Dead 2004 $4 million $30 millionThe Calcium Kid 2004 $5 million £61,415MickyBo and Me 2004 $3 million £172,336Inside I’m Dancing 2004 $5 million $500,000 Sixty Six 2006 $3 million $1.9 million
How does it work?The most important part of the business is developing scripts. Working Title has astrong 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 theiraverage 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. 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. Bound to be a success, right?
Oh No! 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 millionAs you can see, not all of their films have been unqualified successes - as onewould expect in the movie industry. Earlier flops include Captain CorellisMandolin (2001). It was their most expensive film to date, with a budget of $57million and, ironically, the one that seemed most likely to succeed. Adapted fromthe popular book of the same name, with an all-star cast, it still managed todisappoint with the critics and at the box office making only $62 million worldwide.
Oh Yes! Film Year Budget (est) Worldwide Profit Gross (est) Senna 2011 $2 million $12 million x6Johnny English Reborn 2011 $45 million $160 million x3.5Tinker Tailor Soldier 2011 $21 million $80 million x4 Spy Contraband 2012 $25 million $96 million x4 The Big Miracle 2012 $40 million $24 million Anna Karenina 2012 $31 million $65 million* x2 Les Miserables 2012 $61 million $465 million* x8
Does it always work? Released in the UK on April 1st 2009 Budget of $50 million Richard Curtis romantic comedies have traditionally done very well at the box office Typical Working Title co-production with Universal and Canal+ Familiar Working Title faces and some up-and-coming talent Famous US star Traditional marketing campaign with synergistic merchandising and tie-ins – soundtrack released on Mercury Records owned by Universal… Increasingly traditional digital marketing strategies… Large scale release - 400+ screens in UK Medium scale release in US – 800+ screens It died in the UK yet it still did quite well in the US We’ll look at why?
Why did it ‘sink’ at the box office? Richard Curtis takes the complex, The reviews weren’t great… fascinating subject of 60s pirate radio and turns it into infantalised farce. The Guardian Richard Curtis‘s The Boat That Rocked sloshes about merrily and has some Curtis’s new film is a love letter magical moments…overlong, muddled to the music and rebellious spirit and only fitfully brilliant. Daily of the 1960s. He has given us Telegraph *** what he imagines to be the era’s cocktail of sex, drugs and ‘The Ship That Sank’ would be a more rock’n’roll — but he’s turned itappropriate title for Richard Curtis’s latest into something as cosy and and most disappointing entertainment. comforting as a sweet cup of Time Out ** tea. The Times ** Terrible reviews tend to turn into terrible word of mouth…
Why did it ‘sink’ at the box office? 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 goodword 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…? Last Friday saw the U.S. release of the film Pirate Radio. During the 7 month delay in its arrival on these shores 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 Remember - the percentage of available to anybody around the world with an box office that comes from the Internet connection.opening weekend has increasedfrom 15.7% in the 80s to 33.1% How did this affect it’s opening weekend today… in America?
Why didn’t it ‘sink’ at the US box office? While its gross intake was relatively modest, at just under $3 million (over 800+cinemas) 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. 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 appearsto have done pretty well, especially considering its foreign origin, subject matter and rather middling reviews (54% on the Rotten Tomato scale). Somehow the forces behind the movie found a way to ‘compete with free’ and position it to be profitable in the US, even before its inevitable DVD and Blu-Ray releases there.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?
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 have Working Title been successful again? http://www.launchingfilms.tv/index.php 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 http://benjaminwigmore.blogspot.com/2009/04/boat-that-rocked.html
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