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Film Four Case Study

Film Four Case Study

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Published by mediababy
An Institution case study for AS Media studies (Audiences and Institutions)
An Institution case study for AS Media studies (Audiences and Institutions)

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Published by: mediababy on Mar 14, 2010
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Channel 4 Films
Introduction
When Channel Four became the fourth terrestrial channel in 1982 (the only channels you couldget then were BB1, BBC 2 & ITV) it had a brief for commissioning and showing a range of cutting edge materials which were very different to what was being shown on other channels.British film became a huge beneficiary of this policy and many films were made which appealedto quite different audiences. Many of these films became some of the best known and mostfinancially successful films in British cinema since 1982. This shows what a powerful influenceC4 has had over the long term as it has now been operating for over 25 years. By 1984 C4 hadco-produced over 20 feature films for the special slot Film on Four.Because there was a guaranteed TV premiere for these films they could afford to take more risksin terms of both their content and their treatment of this than mainstream films. Nevertheless fewof the films were about contemporary Britain. Alexander Walker (2004) correctly identifies
as a film which was more critical of the trends within the Thatcher government of the time to which could be added Mike Leigh's
(1983)which dealswith a dysfunctional London based family with everybody in it on the Dole (Income supportrather than gainfully employed). this had great resonance at the time given that unemployment inthe UK was approaching the 3 million mark under the Thatcher government.
Channel Four Films and the Industrial Context
In terms of costs C4 films were typically £500k-£600k at the top end, this compared withconventionally funded feature films of the time which typically cost around £3-4 million.(Walker 2004). C4 films proved attractive to filmmakers and producers because until 1985 therewas a generoius system of tax write offs against production costs in which costs could be writtenoff against profits straight away whilst films not initially targetted at TV had their cost writtenoff over several years. This meant that in terms of risks and returns for investors funding C4films was much lower risk in a high risk business. The Nigel Lawson budget of 1985 was toreduce this tax shelter as the government sought to ensure it got its share form the film-making business.Whilst film-makers enjoyed the tax write offs they wanted to have their cake and eat it by havingthe films given a theatrical release in the cinemas first of all. Many wanted an 18 month to twoyear window for cinema release however David Rose the commissioning editor for fiction atChannel 4 correctly felt that this wouldn't allow C4 to build up its audiences. The reality was thatthese films even when they did get theatrical release didn't enter into the mainstream anywayusually being released in a small number of cinemas which were identified with the Art House
 
circuit. From the perspective of many in the audience this acted as an artificial ckoke on themarket and represented greed from the investors by tryng to squeeze every last penny out of audiences. The problem for C4 was also that the freshness and sense of the contemporary wouldinevitably be watered down if audiences had to wait. They might even lose interest in the film.As a result few films had theatrical release and those that did had very limited ones. At this timethere was still considerable friction between the film and TV industries. Cinema was verydefensive about its major circuits of distribution and exhibition which is where the real moneyhas been made in cinema. The distributors wanted to keeep films off TV for three years and onlyin the case of commercial flops were they prepared to allow them onto TV inunder three years.Channel four was badly effected by this industry restriction on trade practices. An example cited by Walker (2004) concerns
She'll be Wearing Pink Pajamas
(1984) starringJulie Walters.Walters had starred in the very successful film
 (1983) only the previous year afilm which she is still rembered for and consequently her fees had gone up considerably. C4had put up all the funding for this film coming to £950k, whilst they had planned an initialtheatrical release they had intended to release it on TV as soon as possible in order to recouptheir very high overheads against tax. Sadly they were unable to follow this release strategy andthe film didn't justify its costs. This is a good example of the British film industry cutting itsown throat when it comes to investment in genuinely British films rather than what areeffectively Hollywood ones.During the mid 1980s the costs of video recorders was coming down considerably as was thecost of films on video and by 1990 most homes had a video-recorder. The rise of video rentalshops was an important phenomena and this began to undermine the distribution industriesstranglehold on film release.
Piracy and fear of piracy
within the industry meant films becamegenerally available to audiences much more quickly at at more reasonable prices than before.When videos were first made of Hollywood films they cost around £50-00 each at 1980 prices.Channel Four had been established with the aim of getting many programmes either bycommisioning or buying in programmes from other companies rather than producing its programmes in house which was what both ITV and the BBC did. By 1987 24% of C4 programming was externally produced and films were a large part of this 24%. C4 had anambitious target of co-producing 20 films per year which was beyond the resources of any other film making companies in the UK. According to Walker (2004) it had a budget of £6 million tospend on fully or part financing films. It typically invested between £250k - £300k per film buyijng in the TV rights. C4 also invested £750k per year in British Screen Finance and another £500k per year in theBFI Production Board. One of C4 first films 
(1982)was a co-production with the BFI Production Board . In the case of the last twoinvestments funds were matched by the government which provided extra stimulaus to theindustry.By the end of 1987 C4 was producing 17/28 films per year on a £9.5 million budget. Very few of the films directly recovered their costs and to all intents and ourposes C4 remained an 'art-house' producer as the films weren't reaching mass popular audiences they had on the other handestablished a good rapport with more specific audiences and can be used as an example of how
audiences were beginning to fragment
as more media products became available. The
 
 breakthrough films for C4 were
My Beautiful Laundrette
(1985),
 Letter to Brehznev
(1985)
Mona Lisa
(1986). A useful boost was that these films also found an alternative audience in theUnited States.By 1989 the bonanza for the film industry through TV funded film was beginning to dry up.Channel reduced its financial committment to film making reducing its annual production targetdown to 16 films and capping its financial committment to any one film to one third of theoverall costs. The head of film at Channel Four David Rose was about to retire. He had had aconsiderable influence on the success of C4 Film with about £50 million spent on around 160films up until this point. Many in the British film industry were critical of the C4 approacharguing that the small scale cutting edge film that C4 had built its reputation around was dead.They further argued that C4 had not acted as the launchpad for British cinema which they hadexpected instead film makers still had to find a considerable amount of finance for themselves. Inall honesty this sounded like the carping on of filmmakers eager to break into the Hollywoodmarket and get themselves fame and fortune. Pure greed and overblown egos and the hubriswhich has seemingly beeen present in the British film industry for decades. In the first instance if the ideas for British films were so good why shouldn't they go out and sell it to find the financial backing? People in other types of business do this all the time. Rather than looking to theamazing effect that C4 had in stimulating a distincly British type of film which was representingaspects of British society greed was the driver of these criticisms.Walker (2004) suggests that many in the British film industry including the likes of DavidPuttnamand Working Title(the production company which had grown dramatically on the back  of Film Four) were impatient for the bigger budget more ambitious films. TV financed filmswere too small in their cope and their appeal so the argument went.Despite this criticism one Film Four success of the time was
. There was a hugedebate about whether this film should receive a theatrical release at the time. Eventually the BFIarranged some limited screenings and thenPalace Picturesscreened it in a range of university /art house cinemas around the country. It reached around 200 screens out of the 3,000 available inthe country at the time. Walker is keen to point out the problems that independent British filmshad in Britian compared to releases in continental Europe:
 In Europe where a culture of exhibition existed and was valued, Loach's film was a popular success, ahcieved full-scale releases in several countriesand won the new European Film Award in 1992
(Walker, 2004 p 122)
In 1991 C4 decided to back the
(1992)as a co-production withPalace Pictures  (Stephen Woolley) along withMiramax run by the Weinstein's. it was also backed by British screen. Overall it had what Walker described as '
an anorexic budget of £2.3 million' 
(Walker,2004 p 149).
Successes of the Early Years of C4 Films: Developing NewAudiences
Films that were especially successful in the early years of C4 were
 Letter to Brehznev
(1985) and
My Beautiful Laundrette
(1985).
was a seminal film of the mid 1980s

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