Friday, 30 November 2012

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012) Review

Definitely one of my favourite films of the year, Thomas Vinterberg's brilliantly bleak Danish drama The Hunt stars Mads Mikkelsen and is an absolute must-see. I have reviewed it in full over at Static Mass Emporium and you can read the review here.

I loved it so much I had to immediately go and watch Vinterberg's 1998 Dogme film Festen which I had been meaning to see for a long time but had never got round to. Luckily it was free to stream at Lovefilm. It was another absolutely fantastic family drama that centred around allegations of sexual abuse. I'm not sure why Vinterberg is so hung up on this subject matter but he sure knows how to elicit powerful performances from his casts.

Mads Mikkelsen is exceptional in The Hunt and I hope he is recognised this year at the Oscars for his performance. Thomas Bo Larsen gives exquisite performances in both Festen and The Hunt and I'm surprised this guy isn't making movies in Hollywood by now.

Here's a quote from my review of The Hunt at Static Mass Emporium: “It shows the devastating result of one little seed of doubt and mistrust being planted in just one person’s mind. Though it’s filled with boys being boys and the consequences of their behaviour, it’s a little girl’s little lie and her headteacher’s nagging doubts that cause the most devastating impact.”

It's an absolutely gripping film that has superb performances and deserves to be seen by a wide audience. I hope subtitles will not ruin The Hunt's chances of success at the box office.

Seen it? What did you think?

Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012) Review

I'm super excited to announce that not only are Static Mass Emporium featuring three of my articles today, I also found out I just won a competition to have my Sightseers review posted on the Picturehouse Cinema blog. They are also sending me a poster of the film too which will go nicely on my office wall and always remind me to be cautious of people who travel with caravans.

Ben Wheatley's British serial killer comedy Sightseers is certainly one of the must-see British films of the year and you can see why in both my short review at Picturehouse Cinema's blog and also in my full review over at Static Mass Emporium. It may not be the best film that is out in cinemas this weekend, but it's still bloody silly a bit grim but also bloody funny too!

This is what editor Patrick wrote about me and my articles in the Static Mass daily digest newsletter today:

'It’s a Pete Turner day today on Static Mass as we have three articles written by the film and media lecturer who’s also currently working on a PhD.

[First] we have his review of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. “Following divisive hit-men horror Kill List, Ben Wheatley creates another genre straddling British film, this time producing shocks but also guffaws in equal measure. Sightseers has comically quirky killer characters and a very sick sense of humour, producing plenty of guilty laughs.”

I'd like to thank Patrick for having me at Static Mass Emporium, Picturehouse Cinemas for deeming me to be the winner of the review competition and finally the E4 Slackers Club for putting on a free movie every month for us students to go and see.

I hope Sightseers manages to find an audience within and outside of the UK and look forward to seeing what Ben Wheatley has in store for us next.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Black Sexuality Controlled By American Lawmen

Found this essay from my university days and thought it might be of interest to anyone studying racial representation in film:

The 1980s were a conservative time in both America and Britain.  Reagan and Thatcher were the leaders of countries that had begun a harsh backlash on the relatively free and progressive 60s and 70s.  Guerrero (1993) argues that films of this period were dominated by an ideologically conservative cycle of production.  The many interracial buddy pictures of the 80s and many of those of far more recent years are a part of this conservative cycle.  Many critics argue that black sexuality is being controlled in these films, in some cases subtly and in others such as 48 Hours (Walter Hill, 1983), literally and overtly.  As Bogle (2001) argues, interracial partners can only be ‘buddies’ when the white one is in charge.  White fear of black sexuality has been clear from the moment the two cultures collided; after all, sexuality was what one expected of savages and they were described as beastly, a term that had strong sexual connotations, in those days (Jordan, 2000).  This essay will attempt to show how black sexuality is controlled in American films, how it is not controlled by some filmmakers, and also if it can be argued that more than just black sexuality is being controlled in dominant cinema.

After the fall of blaxploitation films, Hollywood began containing the black presence on the screen in the 80s.  Black sexuality is very often controlled in the interracial buddy pictures of the decade.  The Black lead, for example Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, is put ‘in the protective custody… of a white lead… and therefore in conformity with dominant, white sensibilities and expectations of what blacks should be like’ (Guerrero, 1993).  This is shown very clearly in 48 Hours with the first of image of Eddie Murphy singing happily to soul music as he sits in a prison cell, oblivious to his surroundings.  Eddie Murphy’s character, Reggie, is literally controlled throughout the film by the white cop played by Nick Nolte.  He constantly puts down the black character and treats him like scum that cannot be trusted for the majority of the film. 

Jacquie Jones (1993) argues ‘the black male character in mainstream film… is always the oversexed caddish character of Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours… his sexual behaviour functions as an indictment of his feral nature’.  In 48 Hours we see Reggie chatting up prostitutes in the police station before being lead away by and clearly dominated and controlled by the American lawman played by Nolte.  This portrayal of black sexuality as being insatiable and therefore needing to be controlled is present in many other films of the period such as ‘The Colour Purple’ (Steven Spielberg, 1985) and ‘Mona Lisa’ (Neil Jordan, 1986) and has been present in dominant cinema since ‘The Birth of a Nation’(D.W. Griffiths, 1915).  Guerrero (1993) argues ‘black sexuality in the 1980s was either constructed as something entirely perverse or… absent in mainstream cinema’.  Hence Murphy has no love interest in 48 Hours, Trading Places (John Landis, 1983) or the Beverly Hills Cop films.  In Trading Places, as with 48 Hours ‘the white hero… is granted a leading lady… while the film has no intention of setting up a relationship for Murphy’ (Bogle, 2001).

Another method that American lawmen, this time real lawmen, use to control black sexuality on the screen is through censorship.  It has been argued that ‘(Spike) Lee, like other African Americans who have tried to humanise the representation of black sexuality, had problems getting his film past dominant cinema’s censorship apparatus’ (Guerrero, 1993). 

Black sexuality is also controlled by far more than just American lawmen though.  It is controlled by the scriptwriters and white Hollywood’s fear of black sexuality.  Guerrero (1993) argues that there is a ‘consistent reluctance to deal honestly with Black romance or sexuality, especially when it is interracial’.  The bar scene in 48 Hours demonstrates perfectly the way in which Black men are positioned in Hollywood film.  As well as suggesting a strong fear of blacks having power (‘I’m your worst nightmare… a nigger with a badge’), the scene shifts the object of the gaze from a half naked dancing white woman to Eddie Murphy making a spectacle of himself.  At no point is Murphy considered as a partner for a white woman, instead they are both positioned for the gaze of the white male spectator.

Also Bogle argues that Whoopi Goldberg is never allowed sexuality in her films and in particular in ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (Penny Marshall, 1986), there is no romance between Whoopi and the white man she saves, ‘in such films… so unattractively and absurdly dressed was she in oversized clothes or sneakers that she seemed defeminised’ (Bogle, 2001).  However this is Bogle’s opinion of what is unattractive and unfeminine and there is a counter-argument that would emphasise how progressive it is that women do not have to appear sexy in films to take the lead roles.

On the other hand there are films that have explored and shown black sexuality, mostly made by black independent filmmakers such as Spike Lee and Charles Burnett.  In She’s Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1986), the main character of the film is a black woman and the narrative is all about her relationships with men.  The film however touches on the idea of insatiability of black sexuality as the woman has three male lovers.  Nevertheless films like Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977) ‘allow for the normalisation of the black character by valuing sexuality’ (Jones, 1993).  Similarly Guerrero (1993) argues that such a film ‘reconstructs the world on screen from black points of view cast in liberating images’.

An example of how black sexuality may not be controlled in Hollywood cinema would seem to be Lethal Weapon (Richard Donner, 1987).  Guerrero (1993) argues the film ‘contrasts the wise restraint of an older black cop… with the risk-taking, violent actions of his younger white partner’.  In this case the black character is the family man, the ‘buddy’ that is allowed a life and sexuality of his own that is even explored in the narrative.  Lethal Weapon also touches on the idea of black sexual insatiability again, with the black cop’s daughter developing a crush on the white ‘buddy’ played by Mel Gibson.  However Bogle sees something far more sinister happening in the film, arguing it ‘makes the black family acceptable for the mass white audience by carefully scrubbing it “clean” of too strong an ethnic identity’ (Bogle, 2001).  He then calls the 80s the ‘era of tan’, a time when Hollywood wanted people to forget the blackness of black stars.  Hence the family in Lethal Weapon is described as ‘a dab of black here, a dab of white there… a perfect composite tan’ (Bogle, 2001).  

This draws attention to the most common and worrying argument hinted at by many black critics.  It is in fact not black sexuality that is being policed in dominant cinema, but the black image and black culture that is restricted and controlled.  The conservative times that were the 80s lead to blacks being marginalised in all areas of the film industry, as Guerrero (1993) states, blacks ‘found themselves confronted with the “recuperation” of many of the subordinations and inequalities they had struggled so hard to eradicate’.  Bogle argues the backlash against counterculture and blaxploitation meant the subconscious goal of 80s films was to make ‘audiences believe such (rebellious) figures no longer existed or… they could really be tamed, disposed of, or absorbed into the system’.  This is clearly illustrated in 48 Hours when Murphy’s character Reggie chooses to go back into prison. 

It also seems there is a major contradiction in what some critics have written about the ‘buddy’ comedies.  Guerrero (1993) states that ‘Hollywood has deployed a variety of narrative and visual “strategies of containment” that subordinate the black image and subtly reaffirm dominant society’s traditional racial order’.  His first example of this is when a black star is given top billing in a film but is then isolated from any reference to the black world, as in numerous buddy films.  However he also states that ‘the buddy formula is able to attract the demographically broadest possible audience’.  Therefore the fact that black culture and sexuality is suppressed in these films is due to more than just the underlying racism in much of dominant cinema.  Hollywood’s sole goal is money, therefore having a black star and a white star sharing screen time is the most obvious way to pull in white and black audiences, and therefore maximise potential profits. 

The interracial buddy films can be seen as a fusion of blaxploitation action adventure films such as Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971) and the all white male buddy pictures such as Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969) except with the black leads being relegated to sidekick or comic relief status.  Black sexuality is controlled in these films, but this is part of a much bigger effort to control and suppress black culture in Hollywood films.  This is proven by the 90s ‘hood movies which mainly represent African American culture as revolving around guns and drugs, bitches and hoes.  This also emphasises the point that black culture must be ‘sellable’ to white audiences and hence the packaging of black culture in many films with a singular black star.

Guerrero, E. (1993) Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film, USA: Temple University Press
Guerrero, E. (1993) The Black Image in Protective Custody: Hollywood’s Biracial Buddy Films of the Eighties In: Diawara, M. (ed.) Black American Cinema. London. Routledge
Jones, J. (1993) The Construction of Black Sexuality In: Diawara, M. (ed.) Black American Cinema. London. Routledge
Bogle, D. (2001) Toms, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. USA: Continuum
Jordan, W. (2000) First Impressions In: Back, L. and Solomos, J. (eds.) Theories of Race and Racism. London: Routledge
Yearwood, G. (2000) Black Film as a Signifying Practice: USA, AWP
Miller, C. (1996) The Representation of the Black Male in Film [online] Available from: [Accessed 4th March 2004]

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

December's Best of British

Continuing our look at the best in upcoming British films, here are the details of the best of British hitting cinemas in December…

December is a strange time of year on the British film calendar. Fearing the might of Hollywood heavyweights like The Hobbit and Life of Pi, British films find it hard to compete around the Christmas season.  Seasonal favourite Nativity is getting a sequel but that came out last month and it’s too early to release serious Oscar contenders.  However there are still a few little gems to watch out for if you fancy a Brit-flick at the cinemas this month.

First up is the wonderful sounding Seven Psychopaths from Irish director Martin McDonagh.  Returning for the first time since 2008’s In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths again stars Colin Farrell who is this time joined by a fantastic cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.  It is the story of a struggling screenwriter Marty (Farrell) who inadvertently becomes embroiled in Hollywood’s criminal underworld after his eccentric friends (including Walken and Rockwell) abduct the pet Shih Tzu of a psychopathic gangster. Early reviews have not been wholly positive but it sounds like a clever film that tackles writing screenplays in its screenplay and violence in film through violence in the film. Wacky, gory and killer fun!
Life Just Is is more typically British fare with a cast of unknowns playing university graduates having trouble making the move into adult life. Debut director Alex Barrett graduates from shorts to his first feature that finds the 20 somethings searching for a spiritual answer to life's meaning and hoping to not get hurt in relationships again.  Meanwhile two of the ex-students look to be falling in love.  It promises a lot of moping, tears and staring into the distance from the giving it their best cast but it will all be down to Barrett’s script to get the audiences emotions flowing.

A co-production with some funding from the Irish Film Board, Grabbers looks like an insane amount of fun from the Emerald Isle. Off the coast of Ireland, an island is invaded by bloodsucking aliens with long tentacles. The heroes discover they have to get drunk to stop the aliens feeding on their blood.  It looks from the trailer as much fun as that sounds! 

Others to look out for this month are Boxing Day and Dead Europe.  

What British films will you be watching this month?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

World Cinema: Distinctive Visual Features

In my continuing goal to become a better teacher, I am putting up more exam answers to help students to see how to structure an argument and refer in detail to a text.

This is an example of an answer for Section A of the A2 Film Studies examSection A covers world cinema and there is a focus on urban stories and how they deal with issues of power, poverty and conflict.  The films looked at are City of God, La Haine and Tsotsi.

Check out my answer on social and political context here. 

This answer is on visual features of the films studied.

What are the distinctive visual features of the world cinema films you have studied?

World cinema films are often positioned as art house films and therefore their visual styles can be very different from their Hollywood counterparts.  However in the case of some world cinema films such as City of God, there are elements of the visual style that could be aimed at a much wider audience.  The three films studied, City of God, La Haine and Tsotsi all have very different visual styles but they are also all devised in ways that emphasise the realism of the representations on screen.

City of God and La Haine have very different visual styles.  Both use the mise-en-scene of real locations to add to the realism of the films.  In City of God, the filmmakers chose to shoot in the real Brazilian favelas that are depicted in the film.  This adds to the realism and the choice to use many non-professional actors also aids this.  The film looks in many ways like a documentary with its real locations, lack of recognisable star faces and also the cinematography that captures the scenes.  The favelas are very unfamiliar to global audiences and the striking poverty including endless grey concrete and shanty style huts, skinny animals wandering around and the electricity wires that hang precariously in many shots all increase the sense of hardship that the inhabitants face.  The characters’ clothes are similarly torn and raggedy and Benny’s desire to get new clothes after earning more money through drug dealing reflects his desire to break free of the poverty of the slums.

Similarly the locations used in La Haine emphasise the realistic nature of the content.  Les banlieues on the outskirts of Paris are filled with more grey concrete.  High rise flats are hemmed in together so that the sounds of the estate ricochet around.  Though not in as desperate poverty as the slums of both City of God and Tsotsi, the locations used in La Haine are still grim, depressing and hopeless.  The youths in La Haine sit around in simple playgrounds, one flicking a discarded syringe with his feet and hanging out in the cramped apartments that are very different to the open plan luxury of the Parisian apartment they later visit. 

All three films contrast their poverty stricken locations with opposite locations to emphasise the poor conditions.  In City of God, we see the journalists large open plan offices and one journalists house (that Rocket notes has hot running water), in La Haine the youths end up in the centre of Paris in a lush art gallery where the attendees are offered free champagne and called ‘sir’ and in Tsotsi the audience sees the contrast of the townships where Tsotsi lives with the gated mansion of the rich people he steals from.  These contrasts help to emphasise inequality in society and help the audience to empathise more with the youths in the films who struggle with crime, drugs and violence.

Another contrast between the films is that whereas La Haine and Tsotsi are set over short periods of time, City of God is set over decades and the mise-en-scene effectively shows this time span.  Les banlieues and the townships stay the same but the favelas in City of God noticeably change from sun drenched, open and almost optimistic looking places to grey, concrete lined alleyways that hem in the characters and give a sense of claustrophobia.

None of the films use a star which helps to create more realism as the faces of the characters are far more believable and their performances and occasionally improvised dialogue in the case of City of God adds to the sense that the viewer is watching real people’s lives.

However all the films are stylised in some ways.  La Haine uses black and white cinematography to enhance this realism by linking it with the real footage from news reports shown in the opening credits.  This real footage gives the viewer real social and political context at the start of the film as we can see that riots and confrontation with the police are genuine occurrences in the French banlieues.  Similarly City of God also uses real footage but places this at the end of the film in the closing credits.  Unlike La Haine which uses black and white to give a sense of grey, boring reality to the scenes, City of God begins with bright colour (in the sixties and seventies) but as the narrative progresses, the colours become duller as the concrete trappings of urban development take over.  The use of colour reflects the more innocent crimes of the early characters before plunging the audience into the darkness and despair of the later scenes.  Tsotsi uses naturalistic lighting but also emphasises the beauty of the townships through the golden sunset tinged establishing shots.

Handheld camera is used throughout City of God enhancing the documentary feel, whereas La Haine features more steadicam movement with long flowing shots following characters through their environment.  City of God is hectic in both its cinematography and editing.  The opening chase scene is a great example of how the films subject (a chicken running for its life) and the film form used reflect each other.  The point of view shots from the chicken, the close ups on the chicken’s face and the low angle shots of Lil Ze are rapidly cut together to give the impression that the viewer is watching something as it happens and gives a sense of the hectic, danger-filled environment of the favelas.  There are many close ups that can disorient the viewer by not allowing them the conventional establishing shot that sets the scene.  On the other hand the close ups give a great level of detail about the favelas helping to create a realistic and atmospheric representation. The close ups of the chicken’s face in the opening scene accompanied by close ups of blood, knives, instruments sets up a party atmosphere but also a tension and fear for the chicken’s life (and by extension protagonist Rocket’s life). The use of point-of-view shots also helps the viewer to identify with Rocket and we often see events from the view of him or his camera.

The use of strobe lighting in Benny’s death scene and the parallel editing between Blacky entering the dance hall and the rest of the people partying creates unbearable levels of suspense and is a standout scene where editing, cinematography and mise-en-scene are used to create meaning for the viewer.  The fast cuts, quick zooms and unsteady camera all emphasise the hectic nature of the scene.

La Haine uses much slower paced shots with a very deep depth of field in its cinematography. This conveys a sense that life is much slower in les banlieues with the boredom of the main characters being emphasised. The three youths look like they belong in their environment as they are constantly in focus and the camera often tracks them through the streets of their estates. There is one shot where the camera floats over the streets and flies high above the buildings as a DJ plays a tune from his window.  This one shot alludes to the sense of freedom provided by music. One scene in City of God is similar to La Haine with its use of depth of field as the story of the apartment is relayed to the viewer.  This scene is all one shot and fades between different moments in the story of the apartment as characters come and go. La Haine uses this same technique when Hubert is smoking in his room. The camera stays in the same position but the image jumps or fades to Hubert in different positions.  Both these scenes draw attention to the editing while using static shots of a single location. The cinematography of La Haine also changes when the youths arrive in Paris.  The depth of field becomes shallower and the youths suddenly stand out from their environment, reflecting the way they feel and their exclusion from the environment they find themselves in.

The editing also adds to the restlessness of the camera in City of God with lots of quick cutting and speeding up of footage.  La Haine, on the other hand, favours shots with a longer duration and the editing is less choppy than in City of God.  This emphasises the idea that life is fast in the favelas, whereas life is boring in les banlieues.  However tension is created by using a number of ‘explosive’ cuts at the beginning of La Haine.  The image cuts, for example, on Vinz pretending to shoot a gun at his mirror image and hitting a boxing bag.  The sound of a gunshot is used on each of these cuts.  This means the combination of lengthy shots punctuated by sharp, loud cuts keeps the viewer on edge and builds expectations of something abrupt happening after the youths spend so long sitting around being bored.

Overall the most noticeable visual features of the films are in the mise-en-scene. The striking realism of the locations is very powerful and gives audience a powerful sense that what they are watching is real. City of God’s flashy editing and handheld camera aesthetics work to both give the film a documentary feel but also to draw attention to the style of the film, perhaps taking away some of the realism. Tsotsi is the most traditionally shot of the films and again it is the mise-en-scene that is most powerful.  However the editing and cinematography of both La Haine and City of God add to the meanings created in the films and is rewarding on repeat viewings. Most of all they have several scenes that stand out in the memory for their effective and experimental visual features.

What do you think?  Do I get an A?  Any feedback always welcome.

Writing for Static Mass Emporium

In my continuing quest to make a portfolio of all my online scribblings, I am now moving from the interviews and news stories I have written for Filmoria to my writing for another fantastic film website Static Mass Emporium.

This site takes a slightly more academic but also personal approach to film criticism and analysis.  There are many different sections on the site including those on cult cinema, new releases, directors, and deconstructing cinema one scene at a time.  It is a great honour to be published alongside the other works on there.

The first ever article I had published was on the work of director Michael Moore and had already appeared in Media Magazine. This is the only article I have had published for the Director's Chair part of the site but I am very keen to contribute something on Danny Boyle in the future.

The article on Michael Moore is here.

I have contributed three articles for the Deconstructing Cinema section so far. The first was on the monster attack scene in Cloverfield where the statue of liberty is beheaded.  The next were on the open ending of La Haine and the dinner table scenein American History X.


La Haine

American History X 

I have written some reviews for the Cult Cinema section mainly leading up to Halloween and focusing on some horror classics:

For the New Releases section, I have contributed the following:


Safety Not Guaranteed

And my first article for The Emporium section is a review of Dangerous Minds.

I will update this post as I have more articles published over at Static Mass Emporium.  For now head over and check out some of the other brilliant articles there.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Film News Stories

In the same way that I'd like to keep an online record of all my interviews that I am conducting for Filmoria, I would also like to keep tabs on the news stories I contribute so I'm going to start now by creating a list and adding to it as time goes on.

News stories are fun, quick and a real test of your ability to come up with something fresh to say about a poster, trailer or a new still from a film when you know that other sites have already had a pop at the story.

Writing for Filmoria has taught me to use sources and to always credit the source.  This is good practice and helps people to head back to the sites that break the stories first.  Sometimes it seems silly to contribute a news piece on something you know has already been covered by other sites but as I love writing about film, this is rarely the case.  I've usually got something new to add when I cover the story... I say new rather than interesting but you be the judge!

Here are my news articles for Filmoria:

Made of Stone Poster

Rebellion Poster and Images

Rebellion Trailer

Spring Breakers Posters

Saoirse Ronan Joins How to Catch a Monster

Die Hard 6 Looks Likely

Entourage Movie Green Lit

The Sweeney Publicity Stunt

Before Midnight New Stills

New Warm Bodies Poster

Gremlins Reboot Rumours

A Good Day to Die Hard R rated

The Last Exorcism Part 2 Poster

Berberian Sound Studio Wins at BIFA's

Filmoria on the Radio

Rise of the Guardians Magical Funland

New The Impossible TV Spot

Star Wars: Episode VII Director

More Dark Knight Rises Bonus Material

The Dark Knight Rises Bonus Features

Independence Day 3D

Keep an eye out for more news stories at Filmoria.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Vote for the Best Found Footage Film

As part of my PhD thesis research I'd like to know what are the most popular found footage films to you my lovely readers!  I've put a list of the most commonly known ones here but please feel free to let me know if there are others you prefer!

Please vote for your top 3 and if you fancy leaving a comment on why they are your favourites, I would really appreciate it.  I know most people seem to hate found footage but I bet you've all seen a few of these and I bet you've even quite liked at least a couple of them.

If you hate found footage with a passion, then please feel free to just vote for the three that you least hate.  I'd love to get as many responses as possible to this so please feel free to share with anyone and everyone!  This is the first ever poll at I Love That Film and I hope it won't be the last.

I was tempted to put End of Watch on here but I don't think it really counts as there is so much in it that it is not shot from the camcorders that the characters carry.  Same as REC 3.  I haven't seen Lovely Molly yet so not sure where that sits either.

Personally I love voting at your blogs so I hope you will enjoy contributing to this one.  Here's the poll!  Voting closes on 30th November!  Happy voting!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Radio Debut at Amazing Radio

On Wednesday I got the opportunity to record a segment for Amazing Radio talking film with Ruth Barnes on her breakfast show.  It aired today at just after 9am and thanks to the wonders of internet radio and all that, you can still listen to it for a little while!  Head here to hear the show, click on Amazing Rewind - Ruth Barnes At Breakfast 16.11.12 and my part starts around the 2.07.00 mark!  I was representing Filmoria and was asked to discuss the new releases heading into UK cinemas this weekend.

It wasn't the best week for me to be doing this unfortunately as I hadn't seen all the films on release and I'm not going to admit to how many of these films I've actually seen.  But I gave it my best shot at sounding like I knew what I was talking about and apart from all the umming and aaahing and stuttering and my monotonous tone, I think it went pretty well.

Also with Ruth saying such kind things about Filmoria and also my radio debut, I forgot to get the web address for Filmoria out.  I'm sure people will be able to find it with a search engine but I still would have liked to say  There anyway I hope that sort of makes up for it.

Anyway the host Ruth is absolutely lovely and knows her stuff.  She is a Haneke fan and had clearly done her research on the films we discussed so the whole thing was an absolute pleasure and I'm incredibly grateful to Filmoria for the opportunity!

The films we discussed were:

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 2 reviewed here

Amour reviewed here

Up There reviewed here

Can't embed the trailer sorry!

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet

 Head here to hear the show, click on Amazing Rewind - Ruth Barnes At Breakfast 16.11.12 and my part starts around the 2.07.00 mark!

If you give it a listen please let me know how you think I did!

The Relationship between Film Producers and Audiences: Part 1

There is a two way flow of information between producers of films and the audiences that they target.  Producers gain feedback from audiences about their films through audience research.  This is often done through test screenings but increasingly through internet research to see the responses of bloggers and opinion makers to early marketing and news surrounding the films.  On the other hand producers use a huge range of marketing techniques to deliver information about films to their target audience and beyond.

 Audience Research

Test Screenings are the most common form of audience research used by Hollywood and the film industry as a whole.  Often long in advance of the release of a film, a small audience will be invited to a secret preview.  Effects may not be completed, the soundtrack may be temporary and the film will sometimes have barely left the edit suite before it is screened to a few people to gain feedback from the audience.  Questionnaires or focus groups are used after the film and the audience asked to participate.  The audience will be responsible for giving the filmmakers feedback on what does and doesn’t work and the responses could lead to drastic changes in the film or the marketing strategy before it is finally released.  

Silent film star Harold Lloyd and producer Hal Roach are considered to be the pioneers of test screenings.  The pair would take early cuts of films to a theatre to gauge audience response. Directors (and stars) in the early days of the Hollywood studio system were contracted to work on films the studio wanted them to and almost certainly had no say over the final cut of the films. In the case of Should Sailors Marry? (1925), the ‘director/writer Jess Robbins washed his hands of the picture’ (Sinnott, 2005) after test screenings produced negative responses.  Producer Hal Roach got a replacement director in to re-shoot some scenes and the film was salvaged.

However sometimes it can be the director who wants test screenings and invites feedback from audiences.  Billy Wilder screened an early cut of his classic Sunset Boulevard (1950) for an audience and was told by a woman in attendance that "I never saw such a pile of shit in all my life" (Hennigan, 2003).  After attending this test screening, he chopped the opening and closing scenes due to the audience’s responses.

Test screenings can be responsible for a huge range of changes made to a film from a complete re-shooting of the ending all the way down to just a title change.  For example the title of the Bond film Licence to Kill (1989) ‘was initially… Licence Revoked, but this was changed after test screenings revealed that US crowds associated the term with driving’ (Radford, 2008).

Many films have had drastic changes made to them at huge costs.  Little Shop of Horrors (1986) was test screened in front of an audience of families and as a result had a completely new ending created.  Seven (1995), David Fincher’s bleak serial killer masterpiece, ends with (SPOILER!) the hero’s wife’s severed head delivered to the hero in a box.  The film shows the graphic, gory aftermath of several severely sickening slayings and was tested in front of an audience told they would be seeing the new Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman movie.  At the time Freeman was best known for being in Driving Miss Daisy and Pitt for Legends of the Fall.  As a result ‘one older woman who walked out halfway through the movie said, "Whoever made this piece of filth should be shot"...directly to David Fincher’ (  Fortunately Pitt and Fincher fought for the depressing ending and the studio kept it intact, resulting in the film becoming a classic of the crime genre.  

Bleak, uncertain or open endings are often the casualties of test screenings.  Blade Runner (1982), Fatal Attraction (1987) and Australia (2008) all had different endings to those originally scribbled by the writers and shot by the directors. Monahan (2008) argues the studio executives require directors to shoot new endings so that filmgoers will be left ‘with a collective smile on their faces and therefore, so the logic goes, render the film more lucrative.’

Some films have benefited greatly from test screenings including Paranormal Activity (2007).  The footage from audience test screenings was used in the trailer to show how people were reacting to the film. See below.

Some critics are fearful that test screenings are damaging as they can lead to piracy and leaks. Others are concerned about the demographic that are targeted by the major studios.  ‘‘’Typical'' American moviegoers get to tell the Hollywood bigs how to improve their products before they're released. Test-audience members are often white males, 16 to 32 years old, who are recruited in L.A. suburbs, usually from colleges and shopping malls’ (Vaughn, 1991).  As this demographic is considered to be the biggest cinema-going audience, studios pay more attention to what young white males have to say.  Therefore films aimed at different ethnicities, gender and age groups may be affected by the desire to appeal to the widest audience with the most disposable income.  

Monahan puts his criticisms most bluntly; ‘First, test-audiences are essentially filmmaking-by-committee, and as everyone knows, no committee has ever made anything entirely worthwhile in the history of creation.  Second, when you really think about it, it's the bleakest endings that stick most powerfully in the mind’ (Monahan, 2008).  

So, is it fair that audiences and profit-hungry executives get the final say after filmmakers shed blood, sweat and tears creating the films?  Just remember if you get into a test screening; the power to change the movies could be in your hands.  

An extended version of this article first appeared in MediaMagazine.

Part 2 on Marketing coming soon.


What do you think of test screenings?   Necessary evil, sensible, fair, terrible, cruel and unusual?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Skyfall Film Club Review

Following on from participating in the From the Red Carpet film club for Looper and Premium Rush, I joined in again for the discussion of latest James Bond flick Skyfall.

Some of my contributions included:

‘Probably my favourite Bond ever, but then again I’ve never been the biggest Bond fan in the world.’

On Javier Bardem's terrific baddie: ‘Personally I would say he’s easily ONE of the best ever. So sympathetic, and what an incredible backstory. I loved how it was such a personal vendetta.’

‘Naomie Harris is absolutely gorgeous, but the verbal sparring between them was a bit lame and it was a shame she had to be told what to do in the action scene at the start. She seemed pretty capable but could have been more badass.’

Check out the From the Red Carpet review of Skyfall here.

I absolutely loved the film.  I thought the opening scene was filled with spectacular action, the cinematography and production design was some of the finest of the year and the mixing of the old with the new made it a Bond for all audiences.  I can't see how it would fail to satisfy any Bond fan or anyone who just loves a good action film

Adele's theme is a classic and the opening credits were suitably morbid and beautiful. Bardem made a hugely satisfying baddie with a standout scene that made me care more for him than any other Bond villain in history and finally the other cast members slotted into place in very exciting ways for the future of the franchise.  I had hoped for the ending to get more emotional but this is a minor complaint.

What I most loved about it was how it went from such huge epic globe-spanning stuff at the start to an incredibly personal and restricted story by the end.  I leaned more about Bond than ever and setting the action in one location for much of the final half was genius.  I hope Sam Mendes will be back for more.

 In other news, please go vote for The Master to be this week's film club pick as otherwise it's Twilight!

What did you think of Skyfall everybody?  Feel free to post links to your reviews in the comments!

Interviews @ Filmoria

I have been doing most of my writing for Filmoria recently and this has given me all sorts of new and amazing opportunities.  I now get sent to screenings and get sent DVD and Blu-ray screeners to view at home and review.  It means that I've had to cut back massively on posts for I Love That Film but I hope that some of you may still follow the links over to Filmoria for the pieces that interest you!

Juggling writing for three websites, maintaining this here blog and continuing with part time teaching and PhD is getting hectic.  At least I don't have kids yet!  I'm desperately hoping to find a way to get paid for writing about film so that one day I can cut right down on the teaching!

Anyway today I thought I would share the interviews I have done for Filmoria over the past three months.  I have to say interviewing these people has been one of the most nerve wracking parts of the job but also without a doubt the most exciting!  It's fascinating talking to the people behind the films and I hope to get many more interviewing opportunities in the future.

It feels like I have had a great range of interview experiences so far.  The first one was a roundtable interview that other film writers were present for.  This was very daunting as everyone was more experienced than me and it was my first time even using a recorder.  The second was at a gala screening and I was in a press pit fighting for the attention of celebrities with other journalists.  The third one was face to face, just me and the director and was a piece of cake and finally I did an interview with Susan Blackwell over Skype.  Next I hope to get the opportunity to conduct a video interview.  That would be cool (and save me transcribing)!

So it has been a hugely interesting and exciting few months with a real range of opportunities.  I'm really looking forward to getting the chance to tackle more interviews, though I was also quick to learn how long they take to transcribe!

For the time being, here are the Filmoria interviews so far:

Mathieu Kassovitz, director and star of Rebellion

Denzel Washington, Robert Zemeckis and the producers of Flight on the red carpet

The Baytown Outlaws Writer Griffin Hood

Untouchable Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano Interview

Paranormal Activity 4 Gala Screening: Katie Featherston Interview

Hello Quo Director Alan G. Parker Interview

Margin Call Interview – Susan Blackwell Means Business

Who is the coolest person you have interviewed?