Monday, 23 April 2012

British Case Study: Attack the Block (2011)

Over the next few weeks, I will be putting up case studies of Hollywood, Independent and British films to help my A level Film Studies students learn more about the finance, organisation, production, distribution and exhibition of different types of films.  These case studies can be used in their exam when discussing the American and British film industries. This is the second.  The first on Prometheus is here.


Joe Cornish ‘first appeared on British TV screens in 1997 as co-star and co-creator of 'The Adam and Joe Show', a home-made comedy show famous for its sketches, songs and animations satirizing pop culture... Cornish has also directed the two Channel 4 comedy pilots 'Modern Toss' and 'Blunder', both of which were commissioned as series, as well as an intimate documentary on the making of the hit BBC comedy show 'Little Britain'.

Block is the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, a sometime writer partner of Edgar Wright who worked with the filmmaker on The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Ant-Man. Wright is even an exec producer on the film, which has a pretty high budget for a U.K. pic’

Though this is a British film with a relatively small budget compared to Hollywood blockbusters, Attack the Block still has a high budget for a British film.  Investors would normally be reluctant to give first time filmmakers £13 million to make a British film with a cast of mostly unknowns, set in a tower block and featuring characters that open the movie mugging an innocent nurse.

However Joe Cornish has had a great deal of experience in television and has developed a strong following with his radio and television shows.  He is also co-writing Spielberg’s latest film with Edgar Wright who recently had a huge international hit with Shaun of the Dead.  Like that film, Attack the Block takes very English characters, stars and settings and mixes them with a popular genre.  So the science fiction element could help to draw in bigger crowds and therefore make investors feel more comfortable putting in £13 million.  Also casting Nick Frost might draw in international fans of Shaun of the Dead, helping Attack the Block sell worldwide.


‘The film is developed by Big Talk with Film4 through a slate deal jointly funded by Film4 and the UK Film Council’

Production companies:

Studio Canalis the pan European film, production and sales distribution arm of French media group, Canal+. The UK arm, formerly known as Optimum Releasing, has established a reputation for an innovative approach to distribution and has enjoyed success with a varied mix of film titles across all genres... 2011 has seen the company enjoy its biggest ever box office returns in the UK with successes… Duncan Jones’ Source Code’ 
 Film4 ‘is Channel 4 Television’s feature film division. Film4 develops and co-finances films and is known for working with the most innovative talent in the UK, whether new or established. Film4 has developed and co-financed many of the best UK films of recent years, films like Slumdog Millionaire… Hunger… Nowhere Boy and Four Lions’

‘Since its creation in 2000 the UK Film Council has backed more than 900 films, shorts and features, which have won over 300 awards and entertained more than 200 million people around the world generating £5 for every £1 of Lottery money it has invested. 
British films developed and funded over the past 10 years by the UK Film Council include The King's Speech… This Is England, Touching the Void… Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin and Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights’

Big Talk Productions ‘is a multi-award winning Film and TV Production Company… Its credits include Spaced, Black Books… and the hit movies Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as last year’s critically acclaimed Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

In October 2007 Big Talk's film arm, Big Talk Pictures completed a slate development deal jointly funded by Film 4 and UK Film Council under which it developed Attack The Block, and in September 2009 the company completed a first look financing and distribution deal with Optimum/Studio Canal to continue to expand its film ambitions.  

Big Talk's most recent release is Paul - written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and directed by Greg Mottola for Universal/Working Title Films’

No funding from the Hollywood studios but mostly financed by British companies and the UK Film Council which is a funding body set up to help produce films that promote British culture and tell British stories.  Interestingly two of these companies are very involved in television which suggests Joe Cornish is likely to have had a working relationship with them before shooting his first feature film.


Attack The Block takes place in Wyndham House in South London, but there's no point trying to find it on Google Maps. It doesn't exist. Instead, it's a composite of a number of London locations – a bit of Islington here, and a lot of the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle there. Heygate has been seen in the likes of Hereafter and Harry Brown and gave director Joe Cornish exactly what he was looking for’

Shooting on location adds to the realism of this British film that makes it stand out from much of Hollywood’s science fiction output.  It also will save the producers money as less sets have to be built.

“I don’t think there’s enough movement and action in British cinema” Joe Cornish, Production notes


ATTACK THE BLOCK started filming in March 2010, for eleven weeks. Six of those were on location... “The technique we used is quite old-school,” Cornish concedes. “I didn’t want to do CGI creatures because a) we couldn’t afford them and b) I wanted there to be something in front of the camera. I’m fed up with the aesthetics of CGI creatures”’ Production notes

ATTACK THE BLOCK’s Visual Effects Supervisor Ged Wright received an Oscar nomination this year for his work on Iron Man 2.’ Production notes

the visual effects aren't terribly impressive, but they're also not crucial -- the movie's focuses instead on the quirky character dynamic and the related social ramifications’

Cornish: ‘I knew they [the aliens] had to be practical. I knew we couldn’t afford CGI creatures. And I wanted them to be practical, because I love the practical work in movies that I saw when I was growing up. I wanted to use some digital, but with a lightness of touch. I always feel digital is best used to enhance what’s already present, than to create it from the ground up... They designed this terrific costume-suit, and then we shot that, and then there’s a little bit of enhancement by a company called Digital Negative, and a very brilliant European company called Fido. So the end result is a combination of practical, with a little bit of digital


A fast, funny, frightening action adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of savage alien monsters, Attack The Block stars Jodie Whittaker (St. Trinians, Venus) and newcomers John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones and Simon Howard. The supporting cast includes Nick Frost (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Luke Treadaway (Clash Of The Titans)’

 ‘Frost first came to prominence as the gun-mad character Mike Watt in Channel 4’s Spaced. Since then, Frost has become one of the U.K.’s most sought-after actors.  He earned a nomination for Most Promising Newcomer by the British Independent Film Awards for his role in the cult zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, starring opposite Simon Pegg.  Frost again starred with Pegg in the hugely successful hit comedy Hot Fuzz. Frost’s other film credits include Kinky Boots, Penelope, Wild Child and The Boat That RockedProduction notes

The use of unknowns is risky for investors, meaning the budget has to be little compared to international star filled Hollywood blockbusters.  However, there is also more realism if unknown actors are used and many horror films do not have stars in order to make it less obvious who will survive and who will die.  The inclusion of Nick Frost does help the film and he was featured prominently in much of the marketing.  The supporting cast of Jodie Whittaker and Luke Treadaway may also be known to British audiences as they have appeared in plenty of television and theatre work.

Ratings and classification:

Attack the Block is rated 15 in the UK.  As it has a much lower budget than a Hollywood blockbuster such as Prometheus, it can afford to have a higher rating.  It does not have to convince families and younger audience members to come and see it as it does not have to make such a huge amount of money to be profitable.  In fact, as it is a horror/science fiction, it might make it more appealing to the target audience if they know it is going to be more ‘adult’.


A great summary of the marketing including posters, trailers, premiere, interviews, merchandise and website can be found here

The marketing of the film is interesting, attempting to push the film onto a real cross-section of audiences. Produced by Nira Park, Britain’s go-to producer of ‘indie’ comedies with appeal across the pond (Shaun of the Dead [2004], Paul [2011]), the film also strives to appeal to a Kidulthood (2006) youth market, including the working class teenagers which are its focus’,5,295

Some great interviews with cast and director

International sales are being handled by Studio Canal International. Distribution is through Studio Canal's direct territories: Optimum Releasing UK, Kinowelt Germany and Studio Canal France’

The movie doesn't have a distributor... American execs are wary...  There is talk of having subtitles for any North American release.

More than that, there is even excited talk of getting the movie's remake rights and making a U.S. version of the film.

SXSW has proven to be a venue where a strong showing can lead to a release deal. Last year, Gareth Edwards' Monsters had its U.S. premiere there and its strong showing led to an acquisition by Magnet Releasing’

‘thanks to Sony Pictures Worldwide and Screen Gems, audiences here in America are going to be treated like adults who can actually decipher an accent or two, and "Attack The Block" will be released’

Nick Frost, the science fiction genre elements and ‘from the producers of Shaun of the Dead’ are all highlighted in much of the marketing.  But the distinctive British location, language and characters are also emphasised.  Film festivals are often essential for spreading word of mouth about smaller films.  They can win competitions, awards and gain valuable attention from film fans and the press.


Our new film Attack the Block written and directed by Joe Cornish has premiered to the world at in Austin, Texas at world renowned music, film and interactive festival South By Southwest to critical and audience acclaim’

The stars of British action-adventure Attack The Block will ‘tool-up’ for the UK premiere in London’s prestigious Leicester Square on Wednesday 4 May... Attack The Block will be released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on Wednesday 11 May by Optimum’

$137,580 (USA) (31 July 2011) (8 Screens)
£1,133,859 (UK) (15 May 2011) (352 Screens)

Opening weekend figures were very low compared to Hollywood blockbusters.  It was also released on far fewer screens than a Hollywood blockbuster would be.  The distributors will hope for the release to go wider as word of mouth spreads as they will not spend as much on marketing as the biggest blockbusters do. 


In places it’s as good as many of the films that Cornish has noted inspired it, such as Critters, Gremlins, and The Warriors.  It’s scary, funny, exciting, with great performances and memorable characters. The largely practical special effects are brilliant and inventive. The score is fantastic. It looks as good as any action film from the past decade’

A great deal of the reviews and interviews highlighted the films debt to American genre films.  This would no doubt help the film to appeal to international audiences who are fans of Hollywood blockbusters.

And that's Attack the Block in a nutshell.  I hope you enjoyed it and find it useful.