G322B Audiences and Institutions
USING YOUR CASE STUDY
The issues raised by media ownership
· Vertical Integration
pre-war studio system based on a principal of studio had ownership of all
stages of a film’s life from pre-production through production, distribution and
· The Paramount Decree 1948
put a stop to this in but since the mid-70s we have seen a re-assertion of
Hollywood’s power as the studios have been integrated into huge media
conglomerates (A conglomerate is a collection of diverse companies not bound
by common activity or product, but often reinforcing – even promoting each
the control of a market for a particular product by a small group of companies
in which no one company is dominant…but where the combined might of the
companies makes it difficult for other companies to enter the market.
What are the issues raised by this for:
DISTRIBUTION AND MARKETING
Film production is dominated by films made by the major
studios. Projects are given the green light because they:
can reach large, global mass audiences
have huge potential spin-offs in other areas of media (games,
It is difficult for films made by small independent production
companies to compete against products made by huge media
Films that appeal to particular sections of the audience are
more difficult to get made (films for older people).
Difficult to make a film that reflects local/national themes or
issues and films need to have universal (or at least transAtlantic) appeal if they are going to be made.
DISTRIBUTION & EXHIBITION –
Independent film makers have to seek a distribution deal with a
distributor to make sure their film reaches an audience.
Major studios have their own distribution arm, and the
distribution and marketing planning of a film can begin months
(even years) ahead of release.
Major studio can bring the huge financial power to bear on the
distribution and marketing of the film to make sure that the film
is given the very best chance.
Independent distributors cannot compete with the spending of
the distribution arms of major studios.
The argument here is that audiences are bombarded
with films from major studios.
Smaller, more independent films are edged out of the
marketing spotlight, often go unnoticed and are
difficult to see (at least in cinemas).
How does this effect the range and diversity of films
that reach the cinema?
More challenging, intelligent and artistic productions
(independent and arthouse films) are overlooked in
favour of mainstream blockbusters etc.
CASE STUDY – Working Title Films
A film producer creates the conditions for making
movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises
and controls matters such as fundraising, hiring key
personnel, and arranging for distributors.
The producer is involved throughout all phases of the
filmmaking process from development to completion
of a project.
Working Title’s first film My Beautiful Launderette (Frears, 1985) part-financed by
Small independent production companies seek co-production deals, financial support
and investment from larger media companies.
Because the investment came from Channel 4 it was originally intended that this would
be a made-for-TV film, but the film was highly praised at the Edinburgh Festival and
subsequently came to have a theatrical (cinema) release.
Tim Bevan of Working Title describes how they financed films in those early days:
“…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, speaking for myself, my company
was always virtually bankrupt.“
“This was not a totally satisfactory state of affairs because you
have no single strategy for releasing the film and it's very hard
to make your money back.”
Working Title developed a close working relationship
with Polygram (a large media company that was
mostly active in the music industry).
Although Working Title had a strong independent
ethic, it had to seek financial support and investment
from other media organisations. At that stage, Working
Title was what Tim Bevan describes as:
“a company that’s independent in spirit but with
Polygram Filmed Entertainment was sold and merged with Universal Pictures in 1999.
Universal Pictures is a division of Universal Studios
Universal Studios is part of NBC Universal, one of the world's leading media and
entertainment companies in the development, production and marketing of
entertainment, news and information to a global audience.
Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal
Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of
· news and entertainment networks,
· a premier motion picture company,
· significant television production operations,
· a leading television stations group
· world-renowned theme parks.
NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric, with 20% controlled by Vivendi.
Universal Pictures own a majority stake in
Working Title Films.
Essentially, Working Title Films now make
films for Universal.
Essentially, Working Title Films is now part of
Universal Pictures which is part of Universal
Studios which is part of NBC Universal: a major
multinational, multimedia conglomerate.
NBC Universal is an example of a company that
is able to have a major impact on the market
partly because of horizontal integration (it
operates so many different industries which
(potentially) can all have a positive impact on
The ways in which its different companies and
subsidiaries might work in combination is an
example of Synergy.
What's the difference in your relationship with
Universal than it was with PolyGram?
Tim Bevan: “Previously we didn't have the power to
green-light ourselves but now we have considerable
creative autonomy and can in fact green-light
something if we want to. I should also point out that
we really try and keep our budgets as low as
possible and we won't green-light a film if we think
the budget is greater than what we think the film is
The success of their films has secured Working Title a degree of trust from the
studio bosses in Hollywood.
Tim Bevan talks about the structure of Working Title
It is significant that Working Title have stayed in England and although
they have a small office in Hollywood, their operation is very much
based in London. The core pool of talent on which they rely is also
English. Variety Magazine describe them as being
“transformed into one of the cornerstones of Universal Pictures
while remaining true to their British roots and indie spirit.”
In writing about media ownership you can argue that Working Title has not
been completely swallowed up by Universal and instead has simply gained
the security to make the films it wants to make.
Fellner says: "I guess technically not owning the company means we lost control, but
the way the film business works is that it's people-driven rather than structure-driven.
Tim and I are by profession film producers, and the business of Working Title is
producing films. By dint of that we get to run it how we want.”
Bevan says: . "We turned the whole thing upside down. We were now part of a big
structure, so we spent much less time on finding the money and much more on
developing decent scripts ... It's no surprise that two or three years after  we
started to have a considerable amount of commercial success from those movies."
"When we were independents we were very wary about the studios. But what we
realised through our experience with Polygram is that being part of a US studio
structure is essential if you want to play the long game in the movie
business. Six studios control movie distribution worldwide. The various supply
engines, like talent agencies and marketing people, understand the studios and
everyone who is playing seriously in the film business will be part of a studio structure."
So how involved are Universal?
Universal's involvement will vary widely from project to project. Bevan gives two
contrasting examples - Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and with a budget of
just over $20m, and The Interpreter, a thriller directed by Sidney Pollack and starring
Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.
Pride and Prejudice
"With Pride and Prejudice they said OK - they hadn't met the director, they didn't
question any part of the casting, when they saw the movie they were delighted with it.
The Interpreter is patently a huge movie, one of their cornerstone films of the year. By
the time you've taken into account marketing and so forth, it's a gigantic investment.
Collective heads are on the line for a film like that, rather than just our heads."
However, being part of Universal does NOT mean, that
Working Title Films do not have to worry about money
Yes, they do have the security of bigger budgets for
production and they don’t have to chase around for
deals with independent distributors.
But, they still have to come up with projects that are
going to work and indeed, you could argue that there is
more pressure on them to secure the sort of box office
success that Universal expects.
- Independent production companies simply cannot sustain themselves and grow
without investment from major media organisations?
- Investment is necessary if production companies are not going to spend all their
energy chasing funding. With the security of studio backing, they can devote their
energies to the development of the film.
- It could be argued that Working Title has managed to retain its British identity
and made resolutely British films despite its involvement in Universal. Interestingly,
however, you could argue that the version of Britishness that it promotes is
packaged for American audiences and distorts the reality of modern British life:
Historical/Heritage Dramas – Atonement (literary adaptation), Elizabeth, Elizabeth: the
Golden Age, Les Miserables, Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy.
White upper/middle-class rom-coms; Bridget Jones’s Diary; Bridget Jones: The Edge of
Reason, Four Weddings and A Funeral, Love Actually, Pride and Prejudice.
Looking at it very cynically, you could even argue that Working Title shows how it is not
possible to sustain a genuinely alternative/subversive approach to filmmaking. It is
ultimately necessary to ‘sell-out’ to a big audience and ultimately ‘sell-out’ in terms of
chasing the biggest audience. It is arguable that My Beautiful Launderette (1985) the first
Working Title film was also the most radical/controversial/political/subversive.
State of Play is an interesting example of the Americanisation of Working Title. It’s made
by a British Director (Kevin Macdonald), has a British star (Helen Mirren) and is based on a
British TV drama set in Britain (State of Play written by Paul Abbott). However, no doubt to
appeal to an American audience, the film’s action has been transplanted to Washington
DC and the film stars a major Hollywood star, Russell Crowe.
· It is also interesting to note that Working Title has a very strong and longstanding relationship as producers of films by the highly successful American
film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen. They have described their role as very handsoff and it is difficult to see these films as being British in any real way.
State of Play is an interesting example of the Americanisation of Working Title. It’s
made by a British Director (Kevin Macdonald), has a British star (Helen Mirren) and is
based on a British TV drama set in Britain (State of Play written by Paul Abbott).
However, no doubt to appeal to an American audience, the film’s action has been
transplanted to Washington DC and the film stars a major Hollywood star, Russell
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