G322B Audiences and Institutions FILM INDUSTRY: USING YOUR CASE STUDY
1: The issues raised by media ownershipSome background:· Vertical Integrationpre-war studio system based on a principal of studio had ownership of allstages of a film’s life from pre-production through production, distribution andexhibition.· The Paramount Decree 1948put a stop to this in but since the mid-70s we have seen a re-assertion ofHollywood’s power as the studios have been integrated into huge mediaconglomerates (A conglomerate is a collection of diverse companies not boundby common activity or product, but often reinforcing – even promoting eachother’s interests).· Oligopolythe control of a market for a particular product by a small group of companiesin which no one company is dominant…but where the combined might of thecompanies makes it difficult for other companies to enter the market.
What are the issues raised by this for:PRODUCTIONDISTRIBUTION AND MARKETINGAUDIENCE
PRODUCTION –Film production is dominated by films made by the majorstudios. Projects are given the green light because they:can reach large, global mass audienceshave huge potential spin-offs in other areas of media(games, merchandise etc) It is difficult for films made by small independent productioncompanies to compete against products made by huge mediaconglomerates.Films that appeal to particular sections of the audience aremore difficult to get made (films for older people).Difficult to make a film that reflects local/national themes orissues and films need to have universal (or at least trans-Atlantic) appeal if they are going to be made.
DISTRIBUTION & EXHIBITION –Independent film makers have to seek a distribution deal with adistributor to make sure their film reaches an audience.Major studios have their own distribution arm, and thedistribution 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 thedistribution and marketing of the film to make sure that the filmis given the very best chance.Independent distributors cannot compete with the spending ofthe distribution arms of major studios.
AUDIENCE 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 FilmsA film producer creates the conditions for makingmovies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervisesand controls matters such as fundraising, hiring keypersonnel, and arranging for distributors.The producer is involved throughout all phases of thefilmmaking process from development to completionof a project.
Working Title’s first film My Beautiful Launderette (Frears, 1985) part-financed byChannel 4.Small independent production companies seek co-production deals, financial supportand investment from larger media companies.Because the investment came from Channel 4 it was originally intended that this wouldbe a made-for-TV film, but the film was highly praised at the Edinburgh Festival andsubsequently 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, thatwould take about 5% of our time; wed find a director, thatdtake about 5% of the time and then wed spend 90% of thetime trying to juggle together deals from different sources tofinance those films. The films were suffering because therewas no real structure and, speaking for myself, my companywas always virtually bankrupt.““This was not a totally satisfactory state of affairs because youhave no single strategy for releasing the film and its very hardto make your money back.”
Working Title developed a close working relationshipwith Polygram (a large media company that wasmostly active in the music industry).Although Working Title had a strong independentethic, it had to seek financial support and investmentfrom other media organisations. At that stage, WorkingTitle was what Tim Bevan describes as: “a company that’s independent in spirit but withstudio backing”
Polygram Filmed Entertainment was sold and merged with Universal Pictures in 1999.Universal Pictures is a division of Universal StudiosUniversal Studios is part of NBC Universal, one of the worlds leading media andentertainment companies in the development, production and marketing ofentertainment, news and information to a global audience.Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi UniversalEntertainment, 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 inWorking Title Films.Essentially, Working Title Films now makefilms for Universal.Essentially, Working Title Films is now part ofUniversal Pictures which is part of UniversalStudios which is part of NBC Universal: a majormultinational, multimedia conglomerate.
NBC Universal is an example of a company thatis able to have a major impact on the marketpartly because of horizontal integration (itoperates so many different industries which(potentially) can all have a positive impact oneach other.The ways in which its different companies andsubsidiaries might work in combination is anexample of Synergy.
Whats the difference in your relationship withUniversal than it was with PolyGram?Tim Bevan: “Previously we didnt have the power togreen-light ourselves but now we have considerablecreative autonomy and can in fact green-lightsomething if we want to. I should also point out thatwe really try and keep our budgets as low aspossible and we wont green-light a film if we thinkthe budget is greater than what we think the film isworth.”The success of their films has secured Working Title a degree of trust from thestudio bosses in Hollywood.
Tim Bevan talks about the structure of Working TitleIt is significant that Working Title have stayed in England and althoughthey have a small office in Hollywood, their operation is very muchbased in London. The core pool of talent on which they rely is alsoEnglish. Variety Magazine describe them as being“transformed into one of the cornerstones of Universal Pictureswhile remaining true to their British roots and indie spirit.”
In writing about media ownership you can argue that Working Title has notbeen completely swallowed up by Universal and instead has simply gainedthe security to make the films it wants to make.Fellner says: "I guess technically not owning the company means we lost control, butthe way the film business works is that its people-driven rather than structure-driven.Tim and I are by profession film producers, and the business of Working Title isproducing 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 bigstructure, so we spent much less time on finding the money and much more ondeveloping decent scripts ... Its no surprise that two or three years after  westarted to have a considerable amount of commercial success from those movies.""When we were independents we were very wary about the studios. But what werealised through our experience with Polygram is that being part of a US studiostructure is essential if you want to play the long game in the moviebusiness. Six studios control movie distribution worldwide. The various supplyengines, like talent agencies and marketing people, understand the studios andeveryone who is playing seriously in the film business will be part of a studio structure."
So how involved are Universal?Universals involvement will vary widely from project to project. Bevan gives twocontrasting examples - Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and with a budget ofjust over $20m, and The Interpreter, a thriller directed by Sidney Pollack and starringNicole Kidman and Sean Penn. "With Pride and Prejudice they said OK - they hadnt met the director, they didntquestion 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. Bythe time youve taken into account marketing and so forth, its 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, thatWorking Title Films do not have to worry about moneyany more.Yes, they do have the security of bigger budgets forproduction and they don’t have to chase around fordeals with independent distributors.But, they still have to come up with projects that aregoing to work and indeed, you could argue that there ismore pressure on them to secure the sort of box officesuccess that Universal expects.
CONCLUSION:- Independent production companies simply cannot sustain themselves and growwithout investment from major media organisations?- Investment is necessary if production companies are not going to spend all theirenergy chasing funding. With the security of studio backing, they can devote theirenergies to the development of the film.- It could be argued that Working Title has managed to retain its British identityand made resolutely British films despite its involvement in Universal. Interestingly,however, you could argue that the version of Britishness that it promotes ispackaged for American audiences and distorts the reality of modern British life:Historical/Heritage Dramas – Atonement (literary adaptation), Elizabeth, Elizabeth: theGolden Age, Les Miserables, Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy.White upper/middle-class rom-coms; Bridget Jones’s Diary; Bridget Jones: The Edge ofReason, 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 notpossible to sustain a genuinely alternative/subversive approach to filmmaking. It isultimately necessary to ‘sell-out’ to a big audience and ultimately ‘sell-out’ in terms ofchasing the biggest audience. It is arguable that My Beautiful Launderette (1985) the firstWorking 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 madeby a British Director (Kevin Macdonald), has a British star (Helen Mirren) and is based on aBritish TV drama set in Britain (State of Play written by Paul Abbott). However, no doubt toappeal to an American audience, the film’s action has been transplanted to WashingtonDC and the film stars a major Hollywood star, Russell Crowe.
· It is also interesting to note that Working Title has a very strong and long-standing relationship as producers of films by the highly successful Americanfilm-makers Joel and Ethan Coen. They have described their role as very hands-off 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’smade by a British Director (Kevin Macdonald), has a British star (Helen Mirren) and isbased 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 beentransplanted to Washington DC and the film stars a major Hollywood star, RussellCrowe.