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Attack the block case study


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Attack the block case study

  1. 1. Attack The Block Case Study G322 Synopsis and Character Lambeth in South London, Bonfire Night / Fifth of November. Present Day. A young nurse called Sam (played by Jodie Whittaker) is mugged by a gang of masked hoodies: Moses, the quiet but serious leader (played by John Boyega), Pest by name and nature(played by Alex Esmail), Dennis (played by Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard). In the middle of this, a meteorite plummets from the sky into a nearby car in the street as the boys steal Sam’s valuables. Moses, ‘allows’ (“Allow It”) Sam to escape, and when he tries to ransack the car, he is attacked by a creature. Once wounded, he chases the creature and kills it, with the help of his friends. They realise the white alien’s corpse might be worth something and go to Ron (a drug dealer, played by Nick Frost) for help. Ron lives at the top of their Tower Block, in Hi- Hatz’ flat. Ron’s boss (the head gangster Hi-Hatz, played by Jumayn Hunter) lets them keep the “weed room”, the safest and most secure place in the entire block of flats. In return, Moses has to upgrade from selling weed to cocaine. Seeing this as going a rung up the ladder, and aware of the financial implications of their find, he agrees. However, this is not the end. More meteorites / creatures come from outer space to the area. On seeing this, the teenagers confidently get weapons (or ‘tool up’) to defend their ‘Block’. We are introduced to other characters (Probs and Mayhem, who are younger boys who aspire to be part of the gang) and Brewis (played by Luke Treadaway, a young zoologist and marijuana smoker, modeled on a young Joe Cornish). The new aliens are a lot bigger, jet black with huge claws and teeth which shine neon-blue in the dark. Nothing gets in their way. Sam reports the mugging (whilst with a neighbour) and goes with the police to spot the teens. She ends up locked inside the police van, swopping places with the arrested Moses, after the aliens attack. The aliens kill the police and the boys drive off in the police van - in order to escape from more aliens. They end up driving straight into Hi-Hatz, who (once he sees the aliens himself) then spends most of the film being chased by the creatures, having his three of his henchmen killed, and coming after the teen gang himself.
  2. 2. Attack The Block Case Study G322 The boys are chased to the safety of the block by aliens - apart from Biggz, who spends most of the film in a rubbish bin. Pest gets savagely bitten on the leg. At this point, Sam is returning to her flat. They see her, then force their way in. She wants them out, but they need her experience as a nurse to help Pest and decide they are now a team - a team against the aliens, much to her despair. The aliens continue to chase them. They meet some of the girls from the block, and try to hide in their flat. The girls are, at first, also skeptical out the aliens, but eventually end up killing the creatures too (with a lamp and ice skate boot). Sam manages to save Moses from an attack too, using a kitchen knife. The girls rightly recognise that the aliens are after the boys, kick them out - along with Sam. The gang - now with Brewis - make their way to Ron’s apartment. Jerome is killed, just before they get there. Once safely inside, unfortunately Hi-Hatz is waiting for them. Meanwhile the aliens are growing in number and climbing up the outside of the Block. They crash through the window, killing Hi-Hatz. This allows Moses, Sam, Pest and Brewis time to escape to the weed room. In here, Brewis sees that the UV light displays the alien pheromone that is on Moses’ jacket, and concludes that the bigger, savage and blind males must be attracted to the smell. Moses and Sam, who now trust and respect one another, create a plan and the boys return her stolen items to her. Sam (with no traces on her) is then able to help Moses with his plan, and leaves the tower block, after turning on all the gas in his flat. Moses, straps the dead (female) alien to his back, gets the beast-like creatures to chase him, before throwing the dead alien into the gas filled room, which he ignites and jumps out of the window - being saved by a UK flag hanging from the flat above. The boys are all arrested, but Sam comes to their defense. The final shot is of Moses, smiling, as the crowds shout out his name - finally, he did the right thing. Attack The Block is a British hybrid film of science fiction, action comedy horror generic conventions and codes. The tagline of Inner City vs. Outer Space refers to the urban London housing estate being turned into a science fiction setting - with two sides being created, the ‘hoodies’ (good guys)versus the aliens (villains). The muggers / gang members become the
  3. 3. Attack The Block Case Study G322 action heroes of the film. This is a film about action in terms of being responsible for what you do, as much as it is about the genre of the film. It does make intertextual references 80s low budget, John Carpenter cult / horror film classics like The Gremlins and The Thing, but also feels very contemporary. This is also very similar to the post-modern work of Wright, Pegg and Frost. The film works at slashing stereotypes and questions the teens (and audience) on effect and consequences, respect and morality. It is arguable that the film is not dialogue driven, like many British films, but more about the action and fast pace of the film. It also suggests that the boys have to fight every day (be it to be seen as grown up, like Probs and Mayhem, or to cope with everyday life without support, like Moses and his uncle) that there are scarier things out there (not just aliens) and that dynamics between people can shift quickly. This is what makes the film feel realistic - the characters have time to develop, between the attacks, and you understand how much energy they have as young people. The film captures this youthful energy with confidence. The boys have transport - they fly around the estate on mopeds, bikes and mini-mopeds (as well as the stolen police van). The boys fight and they use very cinematic weapons; these include fireworks, samurai swords, and baseball bats. The language is fast and the decisions are made quickly. The hierarchy of the personalities, themes of personal responsibility and friendship are quickly established, allowing you to escape into the action within minutes of the film starting. Joe Cornish: Writer and Director Attack The Block is Joe Cornish’s directorial debut. Joe Cornish is probably best known for being half of the Adam and Joe comedy duo, who have had both TV and radio success - Adam and Joe is currently broadcast on BBC Radio 6 (and has been since 2007). As a director he has made a few video diaries and documentaries, including Little Britain Series 2, video diaries for Hot Fuzz (Fuzzball Rally which was a behind-the-scenes look at the US Press Tour - this included a 28 minute and a 71 minute cut) and Shaun of the Dead. Cornish has contributed to the work of Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg - and is also friends with them. Edgar Wright was an executive producer for Attack The Block and together they rewrote the script for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn(which co-starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). Upcoming work includes films on a more international scale. Cornish and Wright
  4. 4. Attack The Block Case Study G322 have co-written The Astonishing Ant Man forMarvel Studios and The Adventures of Tinin: The Secret Unicorn for Dreamworks (with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson). Production Development The film was shot in London on the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle. The title is homage to Attack The Gas Station, a South Korean sci-fi film. The idea behind the film is less exotic. In 2001 Joe Cornish was mugged by a gang of teenagers. He recalled the force in numbers, and he gave them everything he had. They gave him an idea. He was struck by how young they were and thought how he probably saw them everyday in his neighborhood. Shortly after that, Cornish watched M. Night Shyamalan’s horror sci-fi,Signs, and it reminded him of a script by John Sayles called Night Skies. This became E.T.and Gremlins - based on the concept that human were under siege by aliens. He then applied the idea of a siege on his neighborhood - South London. He wondered what would have happened if aliens had landed during his mugging. In the Attack The Block Production Notes (see Film4 site), Cornish says, “Those kids, who some people are frightened of, would suddenly become quite important - suddenly all their strengths would be usable for a good reason. It went from there really”. Cornish secured funding from Film4 to write the screenplay. Film4 develops and helps to finance films, for new or experienced writers / directors. Recent successes include 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, Four Lions, Nowhere Boy, The Inbetweeners Movie and The Iron Lady. He then presented the idea (with others) to two producer collaborators he had known for a long time, Jim Wilson and Nira Park (of production company, Big Talk). Big Talk were behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and immediately liked Attack The Block. Big Talk Pictures who have been behind many of Channel 4’s best TV comedy, asBig Talk Productions (for example, the recent Friday Night Dinner), but as Big Talk Pictures their films include Frost and Pegg’s Paul and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Big Talk had already agreed to work with the UK Film Council and Film4 to fund the development of some UK-based comedies. This idea slotted into this deal - the fact that a genre film was based around a London council estate gang worked well. UK FILM Councilwas established in 2000. It backed just under a thousand films, features and shorts. Other films funded by the UK Film Council include The King’s Speech, The Last King of Scotland, This is England(see FilmEdu case study),Touching the Void, Wuthering
  5. 5. Attack The Block Case Study G322 Heights and We Need to Talk about Kevin. On the 1st April 2011, the British Film Institute (BFI) become the Lottery distributor for film funding, when the DCMS(Department for Culture, Media and Sport) axed the council as part of cost cutting drives. Studio Canal and Big Talk are not conglomerates. They only release films within a limited geographical reach, and cannot take the financial losses that the big five studios can. The language used in the film is a major topic. Cornish wanted the science fiction film to be as realistic as possible, and heavily researched all the elements for his film. This included speech from his neighborhood. For example, “Allow It” and “Believe, Bruv”. Cornish was inspired by the works of The Colour Purple, Butcher Boy and A Clockwork Orange where the characters have their own language. He felt that the boys also had their own culture and language, which was conventional in a science fiction film (for example Klingon in Star Trek). To secure this, Lucy Pardee (Associate Producer) and Cornish spent a year visiting London youth clubs and interviewing the young adults. Cornish wanted to understand the lingo and attitudes of the characters he had created, but needed the youths to make it more real. He asked the teenagers what they would do, and what they would say. Pleasing to Cornish was the fact that they agreed with the many of the narrative and script details. Cornish decided to create a lexicon of about ten words. These are repeated in the film, so the audience could understand the context and the words, if they have never heard them before (this became even more important with the film’s international distribution). When it came to casting the unknown ensemble, Cornish and his team searched through the youth clubs they had visited and local drama workshops. John Boyega (Moses) had been in several plays, Alex Esmail (Pest) had only acted in his drama class, and Franz Drameh (Dennis) had been involved in a film before, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. Cornish worked heavily with the inexperienced group, and allowed them to have a say in their characters - particularly their costumes and body language. The script also changed; one area was in terms of the relationship with Sam. For example, the boys felt they would have been more angry towards Sam - and for longer than the original script dictated - mainly as she goes to the police.
  6. 6. Attack The Block Case Study G322 The other actors were chosen (Jodie Whittaker and Luke Treadaway) to work well besides the more inexperienced actors. Nick Frost is not only one of Cornish’s old friends, but an experienced British actor of both cult TV (Spaced) and more recently film (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Paul). He was able to help with his experience and his marketability. Production The principal photography took place between 1st March 2010 and 15th May 2010. Of the eleven weeks, six were on location - at night. The location in the film was the fictional Wyndham House in South London, but in reality it was a mixture of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, and Islington. Heygate Estate is a deserted estate, and had been used for other films, Harry Brown and Hereafter. Cornish compared this to the 70s science fiction locations for A Clockwork Orange and Logan’s Run, where the architecture is futuristic rather than stereotypically depressing. The London housing estates, when they were first built, were seen as futuristic; Cornish saw the estate as being the perfect location for his modern, sci-fi tale. To emphasis this, the block was made to look like a spaceship in its own right, as part of the production design; tube lighting, dark corridors and stairwells, as well as distorted sounds, all add to the effect. Other low budget / high visual effects included presenting a map of the block, so the audience could understand and connect with the narrative (like reading Lord of the Rings)and the budget did without an expensive aerial shot, as well as wetting own the streets to emphasise the lighting. The Director of Photography, Tom Townend, was selected by Cornish after he saw a Virgin Mobile advert by him. Townend had also worked on The Unloved, Harry Brown,Ratcatcher and 28 Days Later. He also asked Steve Price of Basement Jaxx, another newcomer to film, to compose the score. The result is a minimalist electronic based soundtrack, although there are percussion and orchestral elements. The decision was made for no source music so the action edit led the music, not the other way around. The creatures were not CGI, as Cornish wanted something that you could really ‘see’ in front of the camera. The aliens were therefore performed by quadrupeds. The movement coach was Terry Notary, famous within the industry (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Tintinand Avatar). Cornish was keen to take the animalistic imagery stereotypically used in the British press for
  7. 7. Attack The Block Case Study G322 teenagers and personify it with these savages beasts. He wanted the humanity of the youths to shine against the ‘aliens’ who were interested in attacking all in their path to get what they wanted. Distribution Target Media ran the media campaign. Its primary audience is aimed at the teen / youth market and secondary target market are those with cultural capital - fans of Nick Frost, Spaced, the work of Wright / Pegg and Adam and Joe. All marketing tried to direct the audience to the social network sites and there was a large TV and print campaign. Standout media included an E4 promotion for the young audience, the social media (Twitter and Facebook) and a national 6 page outdoor campaign. The estimated budget costs is £9 million ($13 million). The film was distributed by Optimum Releasing for the UK. Optimum have released films including Tyrannosaur, Brighton Rock, Submarine and BBC film, The Awakening. It was released on the 13th May 2011. There were no initial plans for US distribution. One of the reasons for this was the use of London accents and the slang used by the teens. There was even talk of subtitles being needed. However due to the press and audience reaction (Cornish asked the audience if they had understood the accents and they said yes!) at South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, Screen Gems (owned by Sony Pictures) purchased the US rights. Exhibition The release date was 13th May 2011 in the UK. The opening weekend figures are £1,133,859 for the UK. This was on 352 screens and it was third in the box office results. This amount of
  8. 8. Attack The Block Case Study G322 screens would constitute as a wide release. This is quite unusual for a British film without a major studio distributor, but is common for European co-production. The UK DVD and Blu-ray Disc release was on the 19th September 2011. On a limited edition glow-in-the-dark box set is on offer. You can see that a creature is on the sleeve, instead of the case. In the USA, it had a limited release to 8 screens and took $137,580. It was eventually released to 66 screen across the USA. The US theatrical release was on July 29th 2011. The USA DVD / Blue-ray Disc was released on 25th October 2011. The USA release of the DVD and Blu-ray Disc actually traded on the accents as a selling point: “It’s an alien invasion, bruv - believe it” and its coming to you from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Trust, fam!” The Blu-ray and DVD bonus material included five featurettes and three filmmaker & cast commentaries. It gained critical acclaim with 75/100 on Metacritic and 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was UK film critic Mark Kermode who gave it a mixed review, wanting it to be scarier and funnier. Attack The Block both won, and was nominated for, many awards. Included in this: • 2011 Nominated for Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Best Film Screenplay • 2011 Won Toronto Film Critics Association Awards, Best First Feature • 2011 Won Los Angeles Film Festival, Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature • 2011 Nominated for British Independent Film Awards, Most Promising Newcomer (John Boyega) and Best Debut Director
  9. 9. Attack The Block Case Study G322 • 2012 Nominated Black Reel Awards for Best Actor and Best Breakthrough Performance(John Boyega), Best Ensemble, Best Film, Best Original Score and Outstanding Foreign Film As the film has had a return of $5,824,175 (£3,803,943), the film is not seen as a commercial success. It does however look like ancillary markets (not theatrical) will raise this return considerably over time. This is seen as the DVD ‘drip’ venue that many British films rely on post- cinema release. Notes • Attack The Block Official Website • Film4’s Mini ATB Site • British Board of Film Classification for Attack The Block • Attack The Block iPad Game • Attack The Block Trailer • Film Education Study Notes on Attack The Block • Attack The Block Twitter • Box Office Mojo on Attack The Block page=intl&id=attacktheblock.htm • Attack The Block on Facebook Attack the Block and Race The ethnicity of the ensemble cast and the representation of black youths is a point of note. There is the argument that the race of (most of) the cast give it an air of realism and there is cultural stereotyping for the purpose of entertainment (for example, use of slang, reference to the ‘black’ ‘monsters’ – see below). On the positive side, John Boyega (Moses) was nominated asOutstanding Actor and Outstanding Breakthrough Actor for the Black Reel Awards. These comprise of 50+ voters (based in Washington DC, USA) who select performances featuring African-American as well as people ‘of colour throughout the African Diaspora’.Attack The Block was also given a special mention at the 2011 Black Film Critics Awards as it had a primarily black cast “portraying each character each character with a dignity seldom seen on screen and even more rarely in a science fiction film”.
  10. 10. Attack The Block Case Study G322 Juxtaposed to this, there have been negative comments about potential racism in the film. Sam’s neighbour calls them “monsters” - the boys not the aliens. The aliens themselves are “blacker than black”. The black young men are portrayed as muggers, drug dealers, seemingly to be able to get their hands on dangerous weapons quickly, as well as ganging up on a single white female. (It is worth stating that there is a white boy who also does these things, and several of the criminal adults are white too.) Some critics felt that using black teenagers on a housing estate added to the representation of crime and fear being used in the UK press, particularly after the Summer 2011 riots in London. Others felt that the fact that Joe Cornish was white allowed him to get funding for this film in the first place. Attack the Block as a High Concept, Post-Modern Movie Another interesting fact is that although Joe Cornish had never directed a film before, he had a huge amount of film knowledge and was very film literate – cultural capital. Adam and Joe are known for their film parodies, mainly with a collection of teddy bears. Rather like their friends, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish is very cine-literate. Influences for the film include Diva (moped chase) and Subway (foot chases). The film (likeAvatar) can be seen as a High Concept movie. This is when the narrative gets appeal from the main concept. The idea is the selling point (what if aliens attacked a council estate in South London?), which can be pitched to a producer in about a dozen words or the title says it all (Cowboys and Aliens, Snakes on a Plane, Scott Pilgrim versus The World). The high concept movie’s appeal is easy to define and see - the main premise is clear for the audience so gratification is easy. This became popular in the late 1970s and more so in the 1980s (An American Werewolf in London and what if an alien befriended a boy / what if a shark started to attack people? E.T. and Jaws). Films were now appealing to teenagers like never before, and fantastical story-lines could actually be huge financial success stories - again a new idea.
  11. 11. Attack The Block Case Study G322 High Concept films tend to be action, horror and science fiction (what if? films) and although we are now used to summer blockbusters, Attack The Block has shown that a summer film can be low budget instead of flashy, have substance rather than a poor / weak script and a director can be an auteur bringing in a fan base. In terms of British film, Attack The Block and this new wave of films by Wright / Pegg / Frost / Cornish illustrate a few things about British cinema and its audience today. These directors delight in referring not to heavy weight classic films (which film students may be taught about at University level), but more post-modern, popcorn favourites like the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter. These young directors (in their thirties) are inspired by the films of the 1980s - the films they watched when they were young. Attack The Block was released against the computer generated SFX heavy, Hollywood Blockbuster Cowboys and Aliens starring Harrison Ford (USA A-list star, Indiana Jones) and Daniel Craig (from the James Bond franchise). In a time where actors and films are commanding huge amounts of money (Cowboys and Aliens had a reported budget of $163 million and gained $94 million), there is also a demand for more low budget (looking) comic book style films - Wright and Pegg’s films illustrate this with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Shaun of the Dead. Their films also embrace intertextuality with pop-culture references and film parodies scattered across the narratives. The film is 88 minutes long, which makes it comparatively short against many cinema films of the moment. This helps to emphasise and maintain the fast pace of the film, that starts with a mugging and gathers speed throughout. The lack of dialogue adds to this, as the gang chases and escapes its attackers. There is also a real sense of the unknown - you do not know what is going to happen next. It is refreshing to see no romance, although we have a young male and female as the protagonists, and we are unsure who will be killed next. The audience is not allowed to relax, as something could be lurking around the next corner. British genre cinema has been associated with heritage drama and gritty social realism. One reason for this is due to the marginalism of UK films, on an international level for the more commercial American hits and the increased demand for expensive FX films. Another matter is that the archetypal American action film - the Western - does not really sit well on a British stage. Attack The Block does challenge this - it is a story of a gang under siege (Western), it had SFX (effective, but not expensive), and it is a definite British film (location and lexicon), without being depressing nor in period dress. At a time where franchise films are everywhere, British films are hitting back; Duncan Jones’Source Code and Moon, and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters are all examples of ‘clever’ films which are not ‘typical’ of the British genre, they are all science fiction films. Attack The Block not only illustrates that British films are ‘attacking’ the stereotypical summer films, but the notion of films today need high-profile actors, experienced directors and huge budgets behind them to achieve cult status.