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 final part of an essay explaining how the Hollywood and British production contexts differ and how these production contexts can affect the films that are produced. Part 1 of this essay on Finance, Production, Technology is here and part 2 on distribution and exhibition is here.
Trends and Genres
Both films are part of the science fiction genre which is consistently popular with mainstream audiences. Prometheus is part of a trend in Hollywood to make sequels and prequels to existing popular films whereas Attack the Block is more unique. Prometheus would get more of a budget invested in it because people are aware of the Alien films and they are already a popular series. Attack the Block is riskier as it has no built in audience except perhaps Nick Frost’s fans and people interested in the science fiction genre. Generally British films are less likely to follow trends and be a bit more unique. They are more likely to deal with real situations and characters in the social realist tradition. Attack the Block has elements of this with its working class characters but also takes science fiction genre conventions to make it a more appealing bit of escapist cinema.
A British film like Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen is a better example of social realist cinema. This is film is unique and in no way tries to appeal to a mass audience. It is about a young man in Scotland and his struggles with unemployment, poverty, drugs and crime. It has no stars, a premiere in Glasgow (near to where the film was shot) and favours unknown actors over international stars. The audience will be small as this is a film that does not offer any escapism, spectacle, beautiful stars or happy endings. As a result it is made on an extremely low budget.
Stars such as Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender can be used by blockbusters for promotion in marketing materials, at premieres and can often help the film to appeal to the target audience. For example Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in many action films and his face on a poster can help the film sell to action fans. Nick Frost helps Attack the Block to appeal to fans of Shaun of the Dead and he is featured a great deal in the trailer and posters. Sweet Sixteen on the other hand has no stars to aid in its realist depiction and the main actor Martin Compston is a non-professional chosen because he basically leads the life of the main character.
Hollywood films often work with the MPAA and BBFC to ensure that their film will be passed by these regulatory bodies with an appropriate rating. As Hollywood films need to make huge amounts of money at the box office to make a profit, the producers are often willing to trim scenes and ensure their film gets a low rating to encourage families to see it. There was some debate over whether Prometheus would receive a 15 rating or lower. Fans of Alien wanted the film to have a higher rating but Fox who invested in the film wanted a lower rating so more people could see it and they could make more money. Similarly film franchises like the Die Hard and Terminator series have become progressively more family friendly as they have continued in order to draw in wider audiences.
Attack the Block had less money to make and therefore the producers accepted the decision for it to be rated 15. Sweet Sixteen is rated 18 by the BBFC for the continuous use of very strong swear words. Although director Ken Loach wanted the film to be seen by the target audience of sixteen year olds it was aimed at and who would most identify with it, he refused to change anything to get a lower rating. He felt the language was realistic and relatable and less offensive to people in Scotland that are depicted in the film. The BBFC would not budge but the local council of Inverclyde where the film is set overturned the ruling and gave it a fifteen rating so younger people could see it.
Hollywood, independent and British films are very different in many ways. Although British films are attempting to become more commercial and Hollywood studios distribute some independent and British films that they thing will make a profit, there are still many films getting made for niche audiences on very low budgets. With the UK Film Council being a thing of the past, British films will have to be more commercial in order for the industry to survive. This may mean more British films that attempt to follow trends and fit in clearly defined genres and lose some of their distinctive Britishness. Social realist films like Sweet Sixteen always struggle to compete with Hollywood blockbusters but without government support for smaller and more realistic British films, they may in future have an increased struggle to get funded in the first place.