Saturday, 10 November 2012

The Relationship between Production Contexts and Films: Hollywood vs. Britain Part 1


This is another blog for my students of film and media.  Following on from my case study blogs on Prometheus, Juno and Attack the Block recently, this is the start of an essay explaining how the Hollywood and British production contexts differ and how these production contexts can affect the films that are produced. 

The Hollywood and British production contexts have many differences and can produce very different films.  There are a number of factors that affect the relationship between production contexts and films and these include finance, technology, social and political issues and use of stars.  The Hollywood production context has changed a great deal since the ‘Golden Age’ when all the studios were vertically integrated and the ‘Big 5’ had full control and dominance over the production, distribution and exhibition of films.  Now there are a greater number of studios in Hollywood that are producing films such as DreamWorks and Sony Pictures Studio as well as Paramount and Warner Brothers and others that survived from the ‘Golden Age’.

 Finance, Production, Technology

Finance has a huge impact on the relationship between production contexts and films.  Hollywood is known for making massive budget, special-effects and star filled blockbusters.  Prometheus is a perfect example of this.  It had a budget of approximately $130,000,000 and grossed over $402,000,000 at the worldwide box office.  The companies that invested in its production are Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, Brandywine Production, Dune Entertainment and Scott Free Corporations.  These companies would have considered investing so much money because of the blockbuster appeal that the film would have.  They can afford to take big risks by investing into huge budgets but they reduce the risk by working with stars and directors that they know have a reputation of making profitable films with international appeal.  Prometheus had internationally recognisable stars like Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender.  It has quite a complex storyline for a blockbuster that is hard to understand.  This might reduce its appeal compared to some simpler blockbusters but the visuals and spectacular special effects will also help it to appeal to a wide audience, despite its thoughtful themes.  It also has a star director, Ridley Scott, who had made some very profitable films previously such as Gladiator and Alien.  This also showed that he could handle the special effects that would be required in Prometheus and would be a key part of the marketing campaign. 


The British film Attack the Block had a low budget compared to Hollywood blockbusters but a bigger budget than the smallest independent films like The Blair Witch Project with a budget of $60,000.  $13 million was invested into the production of Attack the Block but it only made nearly $6 million at the worldwide box office, meaning the film made a loss.  The film only had Nick Frost as a star and he is not that well known compared to the biggest A-list stars in Hollywood.  The filmmakers would have struggled to raise the budget as there is less chance of big international box office without internationally recognised stars.  Also director Joe Cornish had never made a feature film before and the subject is very distinctly British in terms of characters and locations.  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.  It was funded by Studio Canal, Film 4, the UK Film Council and Big Talk Productions. There was no funding from the Hollywood studios and it was 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.

Prometheus was all shot in 3D and with IMAX technology and uses a mixture of computer generated and practical effects.  This makes it even more expensive to produce but also gives it more appeal to huge audiences as it promises great spectacle and the latest in cutting edge technology.  It is a science fiction film that takes place on distant planets and features numerous alien life forms, explosive set-pieces and space ships and other computer-generated special effects.  This focus on spectacle helps the film to sell to an international audience and to have a mass appeal.  Audiences see the marketing and expect something spectacular and out of this world. 

Similarly Attack the Block also combines practical and computer generated effects for its alien creatures.  Director Joe Cornish had a much lower budget so had to limit the CGI and work more with traditional techniques.  He said ‘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’ (Den of Geek).  Attack the Block was shot on locations in and around London to add to the realism.  This also makes it stand out from much of Hollywood’s science fiction output including Prometheus which was mainly shot at Pinewood studios.  It also will save the producers of Attack the Block money as fewer sets have to be built.