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Rachel Young

PC4

Media Mr Ford

Why was Ex Machina a successful film?


Low budget, relatively unknown actors and a first time director only
suggest that a film is set for failure. There is no doubt that without
the right backing, no matter how well written, directed and
performed Ex Machina was, it just wouldnt have made sufficient
ground or be financially viable. The films blueprint builds on an idea
of substance, something that had never been done before and if it
had, with no professional execution. It has innovatively seemed to
have filled a gap in the market that had not or since been
threatened by any other production. Its one of a kind plot sparked
the imagination of many critics and audiences across the globe
providing a platform of excitement that had no choice but to live up
to its high expectations.
Although a futuristic film about events and advances in technology
that may or may not happen in the future, Ex Machina fell back on
old principles in terms of marketing and distribution. Very much
playing it safe in order to ensure that financially this low budget
production at minimum made its money back, one of the ways it
secured its success was through its chosen distributor. Universal
Studios (also known as Universal Pictures) is an American film studio
that is listed as one of the Big Six studios in the world. This means
that both creatively and financially a movie release in conjunction
with the company is an incredibly safe option. Due to its size, scale
and reputation, it would be almost impossible for Ex Machina to fall
by the wayside unnoticed. Universal was founded in 1912 making it
the worlds fourth oldest major film studio. It has produced some of
the highest grossing film in history and also those with a legacy
most hope for. These include: Jaws (1975), E.T (1982) and Jurassic
Park (1993).
As part of the films distribution, it proved crucial that it was only
available to a limited and select number of people before general
release. By holding the film back and not widely screening previews,
it had the ability to promote itself as a must see to many in the
film industry. It began to build its own hype. It only had one preview
before general/theatrical release; this was at South By Southwest
festival in Austin, Texas. The film was screened on 14 March 2015 to
only those at the festival. SXSW is an annual film, interactive media
and music festival that also accommodates conference with some of
the biggest names in the industry. It began in 1987, and has
continued to grow in both scope and size every year. What sets it
apart from other festivals of a similar layout is that SXSWs ethos is
very much focus on up-start projects. The film festival highlights
independently produced films and emerging directing talent with
unique visions, which is exactly what Ex Machina provided. It is
becoming more and more of a prestigious achievement to have your

Rachel Young

PC4

Media Mr Ford

film, album or play debuted at the festival it has the perfect


audience to really promote your work.
Ex Machina had a relatively low budget compared to many other
productions that have been released this year. Its estimated
$15,000,000 budget was kept low in a number of ways including
using minimal sets (the majority of the film shot in one location),
employing a start up production team including many recently
graduated creative arts students and also casting a cast of
upcoming actors. A low-budget film is a motion picture shot with
little or no funding from a major film studio or private investor. As
Alex Garland was a first time director, it was a sensible choice not to
seek major funding as to avoid disappointment and financial
difficulty if the film didnt make back the money invested or make a
profit at the box office. This calculated move meant that the
pressure of the film doing well was a lot less than it could have been
meaning that the film making process could be much more creative.
It was only restricted by its small budget, not the wishes or
motivations of investors. Many low-budget films that do not gain
attention or acclaim are never released in theatres but this was not
what happened to Ex Machina. It was shown on over 2000 screens
in the US alone. Due to this being a collaborative effort form both
UK and US filmmakers, the budget was relative to the country. For
example, this may be seen as a high budget film in a less
economically developed country. Due it its uniqueness in the
market in terms of plot and direction, the film was able to acquire a
cult following. This has since been identified as adults aged 24-34;
possibly because of its intelligent narrative. Due to its concept being
widely admired, this may be why it was given a wider release than
some other low budget films have done in the past.
The films official release date across the world was 21st January
2015. The only other significant production released in January this
year were Taken 3 and Paddington, neither of which straddled the
same genre or overlapped audience with Ex Machina. The timing of
the films release was crucial to both its success in theatres as well
as media popularity. With little to compete with and its timing in the
New Year, it had its fair share of media attention including trailer
advertisement and TV coverage. This meant that it was getting
attention without much effort or financial investment.
Critically the consensus seems to be surrounding the use of ideas
rather than effects although it was noted that the AIs, especially
AVA, were slick and realistic. Its critical response was widely popular,
especially on acclaimed reviews website Rotten Tomatoes. The
monthly visitors to the site is 26 million globally, meaning that its
review on Ex Machina was already highly likely to be viewed, even if
by accident. A bad review in front of an audience of that scale could
ensure that a film fails completely. The site is incredibly

Rachel Young

PC4

Media Mr Ford

impressionable on many people, not to mention a trusted source


since it has been going for almost 20 years. Once word has spread,
it cant be retracted. Ex Machina scored a high percentage on the
site (92%) which almost guaranteed that other journalists would
follow suit. It is important that the film is liked by the general public
as well as critics on Rotten Tomatoes too. There is a section for
audience reaction which is equally, if not more, sort after. Again, Ex
Machina scored highly proving that it was a firm favourite amongst
the public. This also gave a firm idea of how well the film would do
at the box office and when released on DVD and download. It is a
very trusted way of determining whether or not a film will do well.
There is always, without doubt, a split between what critics say and
what the audience rates about the film. This occurs because those
reviewing see so many more movies and therefore tend to overreward what's different, ambitious or unconventional. This played
into Ex Machinas hands perfectly, as it has already been stated that
it is a very individual film.
The actors cast in the film are relatively unknown, or are just
starting off in their career. Alicia Vikander who plays AI Ava, has
been named by many since the films general release as an actor to
watch out for. However, she had not played any roles of note
before Ex Machina although was well casted as an AI as she had
trained as a professional ballerina making her control over her body
perfect. Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb) is a slightly more known Irish
actor who has previously starred in small roles in the Harry Potter
films. However, it is his father Brendan Gleeson who is best known
for his performances in supporting roles in films such as Braveheart,
Gangs of New York, 28 Days Later. This is where the link can be
made. Producer, Andrew Macdonald, is a Scottish film producer, best
known for his collaborations with director Danny Boyle in
Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. Trainspotting had an immediate
impact on popular culture and proved to be a missive hit as well as
a long lasting legacy as one of the most notable British Films ever
made. 28 Days Later was released in 2002 and is a British postapocalyptic horror film also directed by Danny Boyle and produced
by Andrew Macdonald. There is very much a cross over of actors
between these films, meaning that they would have been chosen on
a trustworthy basis, having worked with them or family members in
the past. 28 Days Later was also screen written by Ex Machina Alex
Garland, assuring the theory even further. Many similarities can be
drawn between the films, due to the production team. For example,
a breakdown of society and clever use of location; depicting busy
locations (Oxford Street, Westminster) as desolate demonstrating
camera skills similar to scoping the Norwegian landscape in Ex
Machina. These connections of trust ensure that the team behind
the film could only work to the best of their ability, which is another
reason why the film is a success.

Rachel Young

PC4

Media Mr Ford

The worldwide box office taking was $36,659,611. The ending of the
film poses many questions to the future of Artificial Intelligence and
its integration into human everyday life. It is also noted that there is
heavy emphasis on psychological confrontation and attachment
issues towards AI that can be seen as unrealistic. It poses the
question whether AI Ava is actually becoming a human being but
the film also takes things further than just asking what makes AI
smart; its about what it means to be human. Ending on a
cliffhanger only builds Ex Machinas brand more so if it was to return
for a sequel, it would in no doubt do as well.