Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Case study questions for FS6, Section B ( Independent film and its audience )

“A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.” Director, Steven Spielberg.
F6 Critical Studies Section B
From the WJEC's specification

Understanding and appreciation will be fostered through the development of skills in:
  • reflecting critically on key concepts and critical approaches used in the analysis of film texts;
  • bringing learning from other modules to bear in discussing issues and engaging in debates within cinema;
  • clarifying personal responses to both of the above.

Independent film and its audience

The opportunities for independent film-makers working outside the main commercial system, together with issues on how they reach their audience, is the focus for this study. The definition of 'independence' is itself to be explored and contested rather than simply 'given'. Technological, as well as economic factors should be considered, including the opportunities of indepedent film-makers within 'digital culture'.
Consider how major studies sometimes label their low-buget films as "independent." But what is a low budget film.? For a major studio and distributor "low budget" may mean no "a list" actors and any film that is less than a blockbuster. Major studios also have subsidiaries who make and distribute budget films, (perhaps for as much as ten or twenty million dollars!).
Paramount have "Vantage" and Disney release their low cost films through Mirimax. It's a bit like flying first class (the blockbuster) and then resorting to a major carrier's budget airline such as British Airway's "Go" when watching a "cheapie". The major studios sometimes get a little bit more ambitious and try to make "art-house" films. These films are made and distributed by their subsidiaries. And sometimes, these films do well and do better at the box office than was expected.
The Coen Brothers' "No Country For Old Men" crossed over from a medium budget film to a blockbuster because of its success at the Oscars. No doubt this helped extend its release in the theatres and it gave a big push for its release on DVD.
If you need an analogy for how mainstream films compare with films with much smaller budgets think the Premier League and the leagues below. Remember also that the major studios love the cachet of the "indie" scene and see it as a great selling point when making and marketing films. Paul Greengrass had great success with a genuinely independent film (low budgets and uncertain distribution) with "Bloody Sunday". The majors liked his shakey indie camerawork and he went on to give "The Bourn Supremacy" and "The Bourn Ultimatum" similar treatment in their flashbacks and fight scene. Universal wanted Greengrass and that "indie" style to add grit and realism to the Bourn films.

Tie as many of these points as you can to case studies on ONCE and The Lives Of Others. (T.L.O.O.)
Remember to include ONCE and/or TLOO to help make your points

To what degree can we call such films “independent”?
How do mainstream films differ from independent ones?
List some “independent films” and consider why they are independent.
In what ways do independent film directors cross over into the mainstream and vice- versa. (Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, began his career in independent film. What are the advantages and disavantages?)

Funding and production
What were the funding and casting issues? (history)

The freedom that “INDY” film-makers have to make films
What opportunities do independent film-makers have outside the commercial system? (In what ways are they freer and in what ways are they constrained?)
What were/are the economic issues?
Consider permits and locations.
The "indy" film's look and style
How important "realism" for the film
How the camerawork establishes realism and framing
Use of mise-en-scenes, lighting, colour, props, blocking, facial expressions, etc.
Technological issues
What are the technological issues for this film and for independent films in general? (Equipment, cameras, editing, lighting, technical personnel?)
What opportunities do independent film makers have within “digital culture”?

Distribution and marketing
How do these films reach their audiences? (How do they find distributors? How are they distributed? Which companies distributed these films?)
The importance of film festivals for distribution
Find out the awards the film received and the the significance of film festivals for independent films? What impact do they have? The Sundance Festival was crucial for ONCE’s later success. Why? See IMDB and independent film websites (see the column on the right) for the other awards, etc.
How was the film’s audience targeted by poster, trailers, airtime on television and radio shows. (Once was discussed on a Radio 4 cinema review show either late last year or earlier this year.
Where the films exhibited? (Numbers and types of cinemas.)
(What was the gross take, music sales? Digi-download figures?)
Promotion, DVDs, costs, etc. Oscars, Awards, etc. How do the latter affect independent films?
Was digital distribution possible? How can independent film-makers take advantage of this form of distribution.
What kinds of deals were struck for the distribution of the independent films that you studied. Which genres did the distributors prefer? What kinds of battles needed to be fought?

What were the release patterns? For how long? How many cinemas? Which cinemas? Where they independent ones/chains? How much did the films gross. Give dates and figures. Consider also the DVD releases and the distribution, sales and figures for those.

Audiences and reception
Who are the audiences for independent films like ONCE? How were they reached?
How important was word of mouth?
Find and read reviews by Roger Ebert, US newspaper, The Guardian, etc. and consider the points that they make about independent films.

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