AS Media Studies           Study Notes       Unit G322 Section B     Audiences and Institutions    The Film Industry      ...
A History of British Cinema since 1984Changing Fortunes: 1984-1996The 1980s and early 1990s saw a revival of both the cult...
British cinema had always had this type of film – the Gainsborough melodramas from the1940s and a host of adaptations of S...
new dimensions and twists. For example, the costume drama, that staple of middle-class,middle-England cinema, is now the h...
Another interesting film usually classed as being in the tradition of Trainspotting is BostonKickout (1995), written and d...
professional actors and up to recently with This is England (2009)With reference to the cycle of social realist dramas at ...
Significantly this speech takes place in the centre of London, the centre of the film world aswell as the political and co...
Sliding Doors (1997) was not a Working                                                 Title picture but had a Four Weddin...
contextualised by both Government backing and American confidence, as a result of a tax-break policy. DNA Films play diffe...
Case Study –Momentum PicturesMomentum Picturesis one of the leading motion picture distributors in the UK and releasesabou...
filmsreleased straight to the rental and retail markets.In 2004 Momentum Pictures turnover had grown to around £30 million...
Building AwarenessThe awareness building campaign will depend to some extent on how the title was acquired.If it was bough...
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04 g322 section b a history of british cinema since 1984

  1. 1. AS Media Studies Study Notes Unit G322 Section B Audiences and Institutions The Film Industry Part 4A History of British Cinema Since 1984 52
  2. 2. A History of British Cinema since 1984Changing Fortunes: 1984-1996The 1980s and early 1990s saw a revival of both the cultural and economic fortunes ofBritish cinema, and laid a foundation of production values, a visual aesthetic and a thankfullyfluid definition of what British culture means that continues to this day.Perhaps the desperate days of 1984 with the lowest annual cinema admissions ever recordedin the UK proved that the only way was up and resurgence began almost immediately withregard to admissions, mainly due to the arrival of a bright shiny American import ...themultiplex.The UKs first multiplex was The Point, opened by American corporation AMC inNovember 1985 in Milton Keynes and soon audiences began to rise, enthralled by this newgleaming cinema experience. Multiplexes were a world away from the dingy, slightly seedyfeel of a lot of high street cinemas and they had the latest sound technology, a huge array ofsweets and drinks (or `concessions as they are known in multi-speak), between 10-15screens, lots of parking and up to 5 or 6 screenings a day of each title.In terms of film production, one of the majorplayers in the UK production sector during the1980s and 1990s proved to be Channel Four,which provided backing to a number of films thathave proved the test of time, including TheDraughtsmans Contract (1982), The Company ofWolves (1984) and Dance with a Stranger(1986).George Harrisons company Handmade Films alsoproved itself in the film arena with a series ofwitty and original films such as Withnail and I(1986), Monty Pythons Life of Brian (1979) andA Private Function (1984). Another vibrantyoung company, Palace Pictures appeared on thescene in the early 80s with titles such as, Scandal (1988) and Letter to Brezhnev (1984).A new strand of independent art cinema began to gain popularity, with directors likePeter Greenaway, Derek Jarman, Terence Davies and Sally Potter all producing a range ofinnovative and challenging work that allowed British cinema to be judged as an artistic andculturalforce, rather than simply desperately trying to beat Hollywood at its own game at thebox office.One particular genre rose to great prominence during the 1980s and beyond, and becamealmost synonymous with British cinema itself, certainly in the USA: the costumedrama. Typified by a successful series of Merchant/Ivory titles such as A Room with aView (1984), and Maurice (1987) the films were attacked by some critics for theirseemingly unquestioning acceptance of the upper-class and aristocratic values theyportrayed. 53
  3. 3. British cinema had always had this type of film – the Gainsborough melodramas from the1940s and a host of adaptations of Shakespeare and English literature classics since the1930s – but it wasnt until the 1990s that critical debate around the genres content and stylewidened. Critics replaced the phrase costume drama with `heritage film, a slightlydismissive description which has caused debate in critical and academic circles, where it firstappeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s, for its pejorative connotations.Although the 1980s and early 1990s were dominated politically by the harsh economicpolicies of Thatcherism, British social realistcinema seemed to rise to the challenge,with a series of defiant political works giving voice to the working class such as Ken LeachsRiff Raff (1992) and Raining Stones (1993), MikeLeighs Naked (1992) and the slightlymore audience-friendly Brassed Off (1995). By the mid-1990s, Four Weddings and a Funeral had become the yardstick with which to measure success in British cinema with its massive box office take both here and in the USA. However, along with Kenneth Branaghs Shakespearian adaptations and the Merchant/Ivory classic costume dramas, Four Weddings... could be said to inhabit the world of the Edwardian heritage film in terms of its plot and content (social and romantic complications of the Southern upper middle- classes, set against a background of country hotels, stately homes and castles) even if it did have a contemporary 90s setting. Then, on the same day in February 1996, two films were released that showed with almost surreal synchronicity the two main directions that the British national cinema would take – one was a sumptuous version of a Jane Austen novel about love, hidden passions and the English reserve, starring Emma Thompson & Kate Winsletcalled Sense and Sensibility. The other was a scorchingadaptation of Irvine Welshs novel about heroin, drink and the Scots hatred of the Englishand themselves – Trainspotting.Britpop, BritLit & BritGrit: British Cinema since 1996Through the 1990s and up to the present day there has again been a roller coaster ride forBritish cinema with huge international box office successes being set against an increasinglycompetitive financial world for independent and cultural producers, distributors andexhibitors.During the late nineties and early years of the 21st century, the traditional themes and genresprevalent in British cinema over the last century are still there, but many have been given 54
  4. 4. new dimensions and twists. For example, the costume drama, that staple of middle-class,middle-England cinema, is now the heritage film and recent titles have moved away frommerely portraying Victorian and Edwardian aristocracy at home and abroad, but havereflected elements ofcontemporary society (class conflict, the role of women) and tried tocapture the youth market of Hollywood blockbusters.Trainspotting did seem to give British cinema a shot in the arm (so to speak) and helpenhance its international profile, not only against the more traditional British genres(costume dramas, social realism) but to show that film from thiscountry could be a vibrant,exciting stylistic cinema that wasnt afraid to market itself to international audiences.Trainspotting was released in February 1996 against the rise of the cult of Britpop, whichbegan as a manufactured Stones vs. Beatles battle between Oasis and Blur (North vs. South,posh vs. working class, clever vs. ignorant), culminating in the fight for the number onesingle slot in August 1995 between Blurs Country House and Oasis power rocker Roll WithIt.As an influence on youth cinema, Trainspotting had an immediate affect, with theinevitable comparisons used by other films in their marketing campaigns, such as TwinTown (1996) and The Acid House (1998), which was also based on stories by Irvine Welshand starring Trainspotting alumni Ewen Bremner and Kevin McKidd.Twin Town shares anumber of elements with Trainspotting – non-English setting, the uncompromising sex anddrugs lifestyle of young working-class males, the dark humour, the non-tourist portrayal of amajor town, in this case Swansea ‘a pretty shirty city to quote the film, a response to DylanThomas description of thecity – and also plays on Welsh stereotypes the same wayTrainspotting does with Scottish ones. The opening monologue can be compared withRentons rant against consumerism and his blast against the Scots themselves: `Rugby. Tom Jones. Male voice choirs. Shirley Basset. Prince of Wales. Daffodils. Sheep shaggers. Coal. Now if thats your idea of Welsh culture, you cant blame us for trying to liven the place up abit, can you? 55
  5. 5. Another interesting film usually classed as being in the tradition of Trainspotting is BostonKickout (1995), written and directed by Paul Hills, set in the bleak townscape ofStevenage. Empire magazine described it as the snotty nosed kid brother to Trainspottingbut although it was released in October 1996, 8 months after Trainspotting it was conceivedand shot in 1994/1995 and premiered in the USA in October 1995. The teenagers portrayedin Boston Kickout have similar lives to Renton et al (boredom, lack of opportunities,problems with a violent sociopath in the Begbie mould) but director Hills gives the film astyle and an energy that deserves to see it break away from its Trainspotting shadow.It alsohas a cast of (then) unknowns that are now some of the new generation of British cinema andtelevision actors, including John Simm (The Lakes, State of Play), Andrew Lincoln(Teachers, This Life) and Marc Warren (Hustle).Human Traffic (1999) continued theTrainspotting tradition of mixing 90s club cultureand music, a disparate bunch of teens and twenty-somethings indulging in sex and drugs and amixture of realism/surrealism side by side. Thefilm followed an acclaimed BBC TV film, LovedUp starring Lena Heady and Ian Hart (and alsoDanny Dyer who starred in HumanTraffic).Human Traffic hasnt aged well as theloved up language and characters seem verydated – it was filmed in June 1998 andreleased inJuly 1999but it does capture the excitement andsheer noise of the late 90s UK club scene and hasan excellent young cast, particularly John Simmand Danny Dyer as the paranoid Moff, swingingfrom high ecstasy to deep depression. It also has asharp dig at the tabloid coverage of the drug andclub culture in the scene where a BBCdocumentary crew stops Lulu and Nina in a clubto talk to real clubbers. The girls say they donttake ecstasy just heroin – we never used to butthen we saw Trainspotting and they just made us want to do it.During the 1990s and early 2000s, it wasnt just the youth film that seemed to be goingthrough a metamorphosis. Traditional genres such as comedy, social realism and the costumedrama began to evolve and hybrids were formed, proving highly successful both in the UK and abroad. The social realist drama, once the domain of only one or two film-makers such as Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, began to flower with young directors such as Shane Meadows exploring the world outside London (Nottingham rather the Notting Hill) with highly personal portraits of young working- class protagonists set in the East Midlands beginning with the low budget TwentyFourSeven (1997) and A Room For Romeo Brass (1998) (costing £4.5 million between them) with unknowns and non- 56
  6. 6. professional actors and up to recently with This is England (2009)With reference to the cycle of social realist dramas at this time, the working underclassis a phrase developed froma description used by American academic Charles Murray in TheEmerging British Underclass, which according to Claire Monk sought to portray(ing) a classseen as parasitically dependent and work-shy rather than work-less.Monk goes on to look ata series of films that, in continuing the work of the British New Wave and the films of KenLoach and Mike Leigh during the 1980s and 80s, show a series of working class (mainly)males in situations where their guile, a canniness and earthy humour, and sometimes adangerous veer towards the criminal, help to alleviate the fact that they are unemployed,disenfranchised by society, lacking in education, social status and wealth. Two films in particular, released within a year of each other and usually spoken and written about in these terms. The Full Monty (1997) and Brassed Off (1996) are on the surface very similar, but they also have elements that set them apart.Released nine months apart, the two films have obvious similarities. They were both sold as comedies, with Brassed Off having an additional romantic element through the relationship between Gloria (a good old-fashioned northern name) and Andy. Both were set in Yorkshire and based round traditionalindustries (mining and steelworking). Both attacked the Thatcherite policies of theConservative government and both showed a group of men trying to find ways out of theirpredicament – one traditional (using brass band music), one unnatural (male stripping).TheFull Monty is played mainly for laughs with a mixture of visual gags and jokes, Carry On-type innuendo and a number of comedy set pieces, most famously the dole queue dance toDonna Summers Hot Stuff.Brassed Off, althoughcontaining amusingsequences and dialogue, ismuch darker in tone and isa much more political filmin the sense that blame isgiven out to the (thencurrent) Tory governmentdirectly, first by Phil(Stephen Tompkinson) ashes having a breakdown ata childrens party, and thenin the impassioned finalspeech by the dying Danny(Pete Postlethwaite) at theband concert in the AlbertHall. 57
  7. 7. Significantly this speech takes place in the centre of London, the centre of the film world aswell as the political and commercial world in the UK, and could be seen as throwingLondons metro-centred culture of Four Wedding/Notting HQ/Bridget Jones/Love Actuallyback in its face.Not as successful The Full Monty in box office success,Brassed Off is actually a much moreinteresting film in terms of themes and content than its romcom marketing image sets it up tobe, and is certainly worth closer examination. Regionalism became the thing in Britishcinema features during the 1990s, with locations across Britain being used as the real thingrather than just backdrops to pad out footage between London based sequences. Apart fromGrimethorpe, Halifax (Brassed Off) and Sheffield (The Full Monty) we have been treated tobig screen views of Newcastle Upon Tyne (Purely Belter(2000)), East Durham (Billy Elliot(1999)), Manchester (24 Hour Party People (2001)) and Cardiff (Human Traffic).There was also a rise in new talent coming from the regions including the aforementionedShane Meadows from Nottingham, Lynne Ramsay from Glasgow, and MichaelWinterbottom from Manchester, who have all made a mark on the national andinternational scene, but have also kept their local perspective, making films either in theirregion or about local subjects. Perhaps the most recent successful British genre internationally (apart from the USA co-production franchise of James Bond and the Harry Potter series) has been comedy, particularly the films produced by the Working Title Company. Based in London, and co- funded by Universal Studios in Hollywood and StudioCanal in France, they have international distribution deals for their films across Europe, US and other key territories, so before the film is even made, it is booked into screens across the world. This is obviously a massive plus in creating an audience for the films and has helped them build a worldwide box office of over $2.5 billion dollars. Following on from Four Weddings and a Funeral there was the Hugh Grant + a Hollywood actress to attract the US audience series of Notting Hill, BridgetJoness Diaryand Love Actually, all which proved hugely popular at the UK and international box office.In the US and UK to date (April 2004) these four films alone have taken at least£333,000,000. For the USA and the rest of the world then, with a few internationalexceptions (Billy Elliot, The Full Monty), British cinema is Working Title and London basedromantic comedy. 58
  8. 8. Sliding Doors (1997) was not a Working Title picture but had a Four Weddings... connection in the casting of John Hannah, and also had a bankable US star (Gwyneth Paltrow) playing a London girl, complete with a (rather good, in fact) accent.One of the interesting aspects of Sliding Doors was its rather tragic denouement (for one of Paltrows characters at least) which comes as a shock to the audience, but fits perfectly with the randomness of the what could have happened if... plotline. 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, then there was a step backwards from 123 million to 114 million in 1995 and another drop in 1998 from 139 million to 135 million. 2003 saw a drop from 175 million to 167 million, for which the unusually hot and long summer could be claimed as a factor. Apartfrom the blip in 2006, cinema admissions in the UK have grown steadily in the last ten totwelve years.Q1. What are the main genres produced by the UK film industry in the last 25 years?Try and think of some more recent examples from the last few years. Who do you thinkgoes to see these types of films?Case Study - DNA Films & 28 Days Later (2002) Owned by Duncan Kenworthy and Kevin MacDonald, DNA Films was bolstered greatly when it secured a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight in 2001, and is thus another example of a British film success story being dependent on collaboration with an American major. Prior to the merger the company had success with 28Days Later. Since the deal was struck it has had a run of success with such films as TheLast King of Scotland, Notes on a Scandal and The History Boys (all 2006), all findingan audience both domestically and internationally for a focus on British cultural issues.DNA Films is a company with a 50/50 ownership split between The UK Film Council andFox, and offers a great example of how the contemporary boom in British film is 59
  9. 9. contextualised by both Government backing and American confidence, as a result of a tax-break policy. DNA Films play different roles on different projects. For example, it wascreative producer on the film Sunshine (2007), but provided finance and distribution onlyfor Notes on a Scandal. This flexibility is another feature of the contemporary filmindustry.28 Days Later (2002) is a hybrid genre film (combining horror, thriller and science fiction)that explores the theme of total devastation caused by a deadly virus, known as `the rage,that is spread after animal rights activists release an infected monkey from a research facilityin Cambridge. In 28 days the virus spreads, killing all but a few survivors including Jim(Cillian Murphy), who awakes in hospital from a coma to discover that the virus has claimedthousands of lives, spreading all over the world. The unfamiliar sight of London devoid of cars and people is conveyed by digital video technology, one of the earliest uses of this format in British feature films. Jim explores the post-apocalyptic world, meeting survivors who journey with him across the country, eventually settling with others in a military encampment outside Manchester. Rather than creating solidarity, the survivors terror of becoming infected makes them ruthless, and they turn against one another as the film develops a devastating exploration of human nature in crisis. The films generic hybridity and location shooting combine to produce a nightmare scenario that is rooted in realism. The scenario tapped into contemporary fears about experimentation on animals, genetic engineering andAIDS. The stylistic energy that was evident inTrainspotting was repeated here and the cast (including Christopher Eccleston, who had starred in Boyles successful thriller Shallow Grave (1994) and was associatedwith other British revivalfilms such as Elizabeth (1998) ensured that the film was a box-office success in Europe and the US, confirming the transnational appeal of much of recentBritish cinema.For the seven films the company has made roughly a fifth of outlay has been returned, butthis is expected to rise as 28 Weeks Later was produced taking advantage of theaforementioned 20 % tax relief. Perhaps ironically, given his success in the film industry,MacDonald is pessimistic about the publics interest in UK film: My theory of the British film and TV business is that if there were no more British films in the cinema, nobody would care. But if you turned off Coronation Street and Match of the Day, theyd be rioting in the street.(Source: Guardian Finance 2007)Q2. DNA Films last two productions were Dredd 3D (2012) and Never Let Me Go(2010). What kind of films are they? How are they different from earlier films? Havethey been successful at the box office? 60
  10. 10. Case Study –Momentum PicturesMomentum Picturesis one of the leading motion picture distributors in the UK and releasesabout 20 theatrical films a year, with another 25+straight to video titles using a fully-integrated distribution operation.Momentum has a diverse output with recent successesincludingthe Ian Curtis biopic Control (2007), foreign language films like Amelie (2001)and Downfall (2004), British films like Vera Drake (2004) London to Brighton (2006)as well as ‘Indiewood’ breakthrough films like Lost in Translation (2003).Theydistribute across all genres –family, upscale, foreign-language,action, horror and quality TV. Theirslate for 2011/12includedhorrormovie The Woman in Black, teenromcom Chalet Girl, heritage filmThe King’s Speechand the caper -comedy Gambit.It is owned byAlliance Filmswhich is a majormotion picturedistribution/production companyserving Canada, the UK and Spainand has, as its major shareholder, theQuebec regional government!Changes in the UK Market since 2000The UK film market has changed significantly since 2000 (when Momentum began). In thatyear: Film4 and Sky Pictures were very active; Granada Film was in full flow; the UK FilmCouncil’s Premiere Fund and New Cinema Fund were not yet active, and the GermanNeumarkt was booming, providing financiers with plenty of money to invest in the mediasector.Granada Film, which recently won the 2002 Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Bloody Sunday, is to close as a separate operation. The film-making arm of the TV and media group Granada will be brought in-house to become part of the comedy and drama department. The news comes soon after the closure of Film Four and will leave the BBC as the only British broadcaster with a significant stand-alone film-making operation. (BBC News)By the end of 2003 a mini-crisis enveloped the UK film industry. Film4had all butdisappeared due to £20 million of cutbacks; Sky Pictures, Granada Films and British Screenhad disappeared; even French broadcaster Canal+ was scaling back. Furthermore, the rentalwindow was being closed due to decreasing profits creating greater potentialfor 61
  11. 11. filmsreleased straight to the rental and retail markets.In 2004 Momentum Pictures turnover had grown to around £30 million a year and theirstrategy shifted from buying more expensive films which offered a higher chance of beingsuccessful in the UK market, to having a broader buying strategy which might unearth someless likely successes. This included becoming more involved in films at the production stage,and investing in the production budget, to develop a strong relationship with the producerand director which will help them in creating their distribution strategy.Since the 2003 blip there is a bright side - the BFIs production funds (see last section) arevery active and the proportion of budgets being covered by tax breaks has risen to around15%. The independent distribution sector in the UK is stronger than for many years withcompanies like Momentum, Pathe, Icon and Entertainment (with outside help fromHollywood and government) increasing their share of the market.Current Acquisition Strategy Momentum’s acquisition strategy is all about finding titles that the distributor thinks they can make money from. This requires a combination of buying the film at the right price and generating sufficient revenues from it to cover the costs of acquisition and marketing. Another strand of the strategy is to try to acquire a blend of titles that includes some top quality films that will help to keepthe staff motivated alongside those titles that are bought purely for their potential to generatesignificant revenues (hopefully the two are not always mutually exclusive).Once a title has been identified as a possible acquisition, they will run low, wide andsaturation scenarios to test the implications of different levels of performance for revenuesand profits. This analysis can also help to influence the level of marketing spend that theyput behind each title to give it the best chance of performing to the desired level in themarket. If the numbers stack up, the next step is to meet the people involved in the film tocheck that the relationships will work over the course of the campaign - the success of thefilm can be severely affected if these relationships do not work out.Momentum will get involved in a film at any stage of its development, from treatment toafter its first festival screening. Their budget of $15 - $20 million per annum is rarely fullyused - it is more important that they buy the right films - and the right blend of films - thanjust use up their budget. They also seek to strike a balance across the different types of rightsthey have and the markets that particular films will play in. Some films are bought more forthe home market than theatrical release. 62
  12. 12. Building AwarenessThe awareness building campaign will depend to some extent on how the title was acquired.If it was bought following a successful festival screening, and therefore, already has somerecognition in the press and the public, then this can be built using different techniques thanif the film has not yet had any exposure. Audience research - This is usually done by setting up different screenings of the film and inviting a range of people to get their opinions and reactions to the film. From these screenings the distributor is able to get a good indication of which types of audience will like the film. Research is often undertaken in the US and their findings would be passed to the UK distributor for consideration when planning their campaign. The UK distributor would however also undertake their own research since the US findings can only be used as a rough guideline to audience reaction in the UK.They will usually arrange early screenings of their films to key critics and exhibitors beforerolling out to a broader audience over time. Screening results are helpful in developing theappropriate strategy but do not always tell the whole story. Critical reaction is particularlyimportant in the UK as negative press coverage can adversely affect almost any release. Onlyhorror films tend to be critic-proof.Tips 1. No one ever really knows where the hits are going to come from. But if the distributor believes in the project and gives it the right backing, it will perform. 2. The UK distribution sector is stronger now than for many years - but the lack of investment in films by the broadcasters means there are fewer good films coming through. 3. Acquisition strategy should try to ensure the right balance between different genres and films that will perform in different exploitation windows. It is also important to release some high quality titles to boost staff morale and the companys standing.Q3. Summarise in your own words what kinds of films Momentum Pictures look todistribute and why? Go to their website for more recent examples.( 63