Thursday, 26 April 2012

Independent Case Study: Juno (2007)


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 third.  The first on Prometheus is here and the second on Attack the Block is here.

Director and writer:

Jason Reitman had only just completed directing Thank You for Smoking but as it was not released yet, he had difficulties acquiring the script for Juno.  He said it was ‘very hard... Thank You for Smoking had not come out yet, so I didn't have much going for me at the time. I was in the midst of finishing Thank You for Smoking, but I didn't have any street cred(ibility) yet’ http://www.movieweb.com/news/exclusive-director-jason-reitman-talks-juno

The script was also written by a first-timer, Diablo Cody.  ‘Before her screenwriting debut Juno received a rapturous standing ovation at this year's Toronto Film Festival, before Steven Spielberg called... Diablo Cody was giving halfhearted lap dances to greasy men at a Minneapolis strip club’ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20157948,00.html

‘When Jason Reitman, who'd made a name for himself with 2006's Thank You for Smoking, read the script for Juno, he scrapped plans to direct his own project to work with Cody instead. ''When I think of the response to Diablo and her screenplay,'' he says, ''the only person I can equate it to in recent history is Tarantino, that kind of overwhelming excitement about a fresh new voice.''’ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20157948_2,00.html

Independent film is where a huge amount of talent gets its big break.  Both Reitman and Cody have gone on to more commercial and bigger films since Juno, working with the likes of Clooney in Up in the Air and Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried in Jennifer’s Body.  Only after Reitman’s first film was a success, did he get the job of directing this feature.  However there were still problems with funding.


Finance:

Budget: $7.5 million

‘There are a variety of methods and many different levels of independent film financing that can range from multi-million dollar backing from major studios right down to personal savings and credit cards of one individual’ http://www.makeindependentfilms.com/financing.htm

During promotion for the film, the actress playing Juno,  Ellen Page, said ‘I read the script a couple years ago -- it was one of those things that takes time [to get off the ground] -- and I fell in love then, but it kind of just dwindled away, didn't have money, so on and so forth. And then it came back around again, and I got excited all over again’ http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/juno/news/1694026/ellen_page_on_juno_the_rt_interview/

‘the kind of movie Cody wanted to see initially scared off every major studio. ''A lot of people were worried that we would be protested by right-to-lifers or pro-choice people,'' says producer Lianne Halfon of an early incarnation of the project, which was ushered by her company Mr. Mudd... Even after Fox Searchlight greenlit the film, expectations were modest. ''We thought it was going to be a smaller movie because of the subject matter,'' says studio COO Nancy Utley’ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20175163_3,00.html

The production companies listed on IMDb that financed the film are:
Actor and producer John Malkovich
The involvement of Fox Searchlight demonstrates the modern trend of independent films being made by subsidiaries of the major Hollywood studios.  They take on more challenging and often more complex material but still desire to make profitable films and therefore hope for some mainstream success.  Juno, like so many other modern ‘independent’ films is actually not independent from the major studios and is therefore more independent in terms of its script, characters and story.  A film about a subject like teenage pregnancy is a concern for investors and so funding was hard to come by and expectations for the box office figures are kept low to ensure the film will be profitable.

Organisation:

As early as 1992, Hollywood majors were recognising that in order to capitalise on the potential mainstream success of independent films they needed not only to continue winning the distribution rights to unexpected, alternatively financed hits, but actively seek out the important directors with whom to collaborate. Sony Classics, Paramount Classics and Fox Searchlight were thus created by their respective, internationally co-owned, parent companies to deal with requests for funds. The result of such diversification was that, by the late-1990s, those 'independent' films and film producers winning plaudits were in fact conventionally financed, mainstream pictures; Boys Don't Cry and Election being funded and distributed by multinationals News Corporation and Viacom, with Miramax now a 'major independent' attached to the transglobal Disney corporation. With this, the criteria by which art-house films were marketed and exploited was also fundamentally changed. Higher budgets, increased advertising and wider platform releases all brought the 'independent' sector closer to the high stakes movie-making of the commercial cinema than ever beforehttp://www.thefilmjournal.com/issue6/americancinema.html

Today, every major film studio has specialty departments designed to create offbeat, smart contenders for the awards. They typically are films with modest budgets (usually less than $50 million) and limited promotion — at least initially.

In essence, such films are orchestrated to start off as word-of-mouth favorites among devoted moviegoers. As a result, they can wind up as Academy Award nominees with relatively few people having seen them’ http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/movieawards/oscars/2008-02-21-oscar-box-office_N.htm

These quotes highlight the studios’ dominating of the independent sector in recent years.  They use their subsidiaries such as Fox Searchlight to make smaller films that can make big money thanks to festivals, competitions and awards.


Production:

‘Many independent producers don't watch the market for trends and analyze what movies they are competing with. They simply make a film and put it out. Studios have marketing departments and develop strategies for the best times to release a film’ http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-2007-independent-film-box-office-numbers-1848390.html

‘To keep to the budget, high profile stars like Jennifer Garner took cuts in their usual pay’ http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/09/sunday/main3812797.shtml

This happens a lot with independent films.  See also Pulp Fiction.
‘Reitman, whose wife, Michele Lee, is from Vancouver, specifically wanted to film here after having worked here on TV commercials, and not because he was told to for budgetary reasons’ http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/etoday/story.html?id=4462e21d-ef83-4405-bc6a-e50cb1a578e5

"at the time there was a great deal of excitement about Jason Reitman. When we were just going into production he was being nominated for a Golden Globe. Lots of people were very interested in being a part of it. It was a very modest budget, so a lot of people were working for lower rates. Not low, but lower, and they had tight budget constraints and they did fantastic jobs." http://www.canada.com/reginaleaderpost/news/arts_life/story.html?k=11507&id=388a098f-854a-439f-a0c8-1c90da0eb7b0


Independent films typically have short shooting schedules and do not use the latest and most expensive technology such as CGI, Imax and 3D.  They do often feature stars but these stars often take pay cuts to appear in what they think will be critically adored and popular films.  It is shot on locations rather than in expensive studios with built sets.


Stars:

‘Ellen Page starred in the controversial film "Hard Candy" and appeared in "X-Men: The Last Stand". "Juno" is a reunion of sorts for Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, who both starred in the acclaimed Fox comedy "Arrested Development." Jennifer Garner starred on ABC's "Alias" and is known for such films as "13 Going on 30." Olivia Thirlby recently starred in David Gordon Green's Sundance hit "Snow Angels." JK Simmons played Nick Naylor's boss in Reitman's hit "Thank You for Smoking." Allison Janney starred on NBC's "The West Wing" and will soon be seen in the upcoming movie musical "Hairspray." Rainn Wilson plays Dwight on the NBC hit series "The Office."’ http://www.jeremywalker.com/pages/films/film_juno.htm#

‘On the teen appeal front, there’s Superbad‘s own supersensitive Michael Cera, presciently cast as the nominal male lead to the film’s obvious breakout star, Ellen Page (X-Men 3; Hard Candy)’ http://popwatch.ew.com/2007/09/04/telluride-day-4/

Lots of the stars here are famous from television and less so from feature films.  This can be typical of independent films that often do not have the budgets to afford the biggest stars.  However the stars they do get will help the film to cross over into the mainstream and be a draw for audiences to see the film.


Distribution:

‘A slow release (what most indies use) is to release on a limited number of screens in a few key markets and hope word of mouth drives up ticket sales. Then they will expand it (increase screen count) as ticket sales increase. The advantage is that it keeps P&A (prints and advertising) costs to a minimum’ http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-2007-independent-film-box-office-numbers-1848390.html

The best movie of 2007 is coming to theatres 9 days earlier than expected. The film, Juno, directed by Jason Reitman was originally scheduled to hit theatres on December 15th, but has been moved up to take advantage of all the incredible advance buzz.  Juno will now hit theatres on Wednesday, December 5th in New York and Los Angeles, and will expand on a platform release in the subsequent weeks’ http://www.slashfilm.com/junos-due-date-sooner-than-expected/

"Juno" will open in an additional 13 cities on Friday, upping the total theatre count to about 40. Another 17 cities will be added on Dec. 21, and the film will further expand on Christmas Day before going nationwide Jan. 4’ http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117977409?refCatId=13

In the film, the protagonist Juno talks to her friend on a phone shaped like a hamburger. It’s a charming illustration of her quirky character, and there’s even a joke about it in the script.
The producers of Juno apparently sent a hamburger phone to journalists to entice them to review the film’ http://www.friendswithbenefitsbook.com/2008/01/27/great-movie-marketing-and-a-hamburger-phone-from-juno/

‘Paul de Carvalho, manager of Fox Searchlight in Australia, said the studio brought 100 Juno-branded phones to Australia for use in promotional giveaways’ http://www.theage.com.au/news/technology/junos-hamburger-phone-sparks-online-sales/2008/02/06/1202233932553.html

Distribution for this film is very different to most Hollywood blockbusters.  The film starts out at festivals and on a limited number of screens.  As buzz builds and word of mouth spreads, the film gets a wider release.  It is also released at a time when it is likely to get attention in the awards season.  The marketing is quirkier and less traditional than Hollywood blockbusters.  Note also that the posters and trailers emphasise the critical response to the film and the awards it has won.


Exhibition:

‘There are numerous reasons why indie films have small success. One of which is the number of screens they are released on. A typical studio wide release is 3000 plus screens. The Dark Knight was released on 4366 screens1. Most indie films are released with very small screen counts; many times only on 3 to 5 and sometimes a couple of hundred. If an indie gets a wide release it is usually because it already has some buzz. For instance Hostel 2 opened on 2350 screens but it was a sequel to a film that was a huge success’ http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-2007-independent-film-box-office-numbers-1848390.html

‘In 2006 Little Miss Sunshine was opened on 7 screens in late July. Within 2 weeks it was expanded to 58 screens. Toward the end of August it began to get Oscar buzz and was expanded to 1602 screens. Of course Little Miss Sunshine went on to win 2 Oscars which helped its theatrical run that ended in March 2007. Although it is not typical for a small indie film ($8M budget) to do this well ($100M+ worldwide gross) it does happen using the slow release’ http://voices.yahoo.com/analysis-2007-independent-film-box-office-numbers-1848390.html

‘"Juno," playing in seven theaters in Los Angeles and Gotham, scored a boffo per-screen average of $60,016, one of the best on record for that number of theaters and outperforming the openings of previous Searchlight hits "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Sideways."’ http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117977409?refCatId=13

‘Fox Searchlight... recently made the decision to start rolling Reitman’s film out on December 14 — which, as screenwriter Diablo Cody ... says on her blog, "is not a messin’-around release date. It’s kind of a scary release date. It’s a we-believe-in-you release date”... The studio’s optimistic judgment call on that release date may not represent a sure Oscar-bait belief so much as an "everybody in the family over 15 will have a good time and go home hating each other less at Christmastime" kind of thing’ http://popwatch.ew.com/2007/09/04/telluride-day-4/

 ‘Juno has become a massive crossover hit, sailing past $100 million and landing Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. The Best Picture race may include such high-pedigree contenders as There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and Atonement, but little $6.5 million Juno has surpassed them all’ http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20175163,00.html

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic:
 $143,495,265
   62.0%
 $87,916,319
   38.0%


Worldwide:
 $231,411,584


Juno has been incredibly successful for an independent film.  This is due to a clever script and great characters but also due to a clever distribution plan that has seen it embraced by a mainstream audience.

That's Juno in a nutshell and also hopefully a bit of insight into the state of modern American independent film.