Thursday, 2 December 2010

Revision: Example Essays

Read the following example essays - and especially the markers' comments - to see how the students gained high marks:

Revision: All Past Questions

Here are all the past questions so far:

From Jun 2010:
What significance does the continuing development of digital media have for media institutions and audiences?

From January 2010:
'Media Production is dominated by global institutions, which sell their products and services to national audiences.' To what extent do you agree with this statement?

From June 2009:
How important is technological convergence for institutions and audiences within a media area which you have studied?

From January 2009:
Discuss the ways in which media products are produced and distributed to audiences, within a media area which you have studied.

Task: write an answer to each of these questions, and then compare your essays with the the example essays in the next post on this blog.

Revision Guide: Examiners' Comments from June2010

Here are some comments made by examiners about typical strengths and weaknesses in candidates' responses to the question on Audiences and Institutions:

...there were a significant number of candidates (and centres) who did not seem to understand the concept of technological convergence, despite the fact that it is clearly indicated within the specification.
...there were also a number of brief and very short answers for question two.

...popular case studies included the study of UK film companies such as Working Title and Film Four, which provided plenty of promising material, particularly when their working practices were contrasted with Hollywood equivalents, such as the Dark Knight

...institutional questions, which dealt with, a comparison of successful American institutions versus less commercially successful home grown UK industries often worked well, for example, Bullet Boy and This is England.

...more able candidates could develop an argument which could discuss and evaluate how technological convergence enables effective digital distribution, supports viral marketing campaigns, such as the Dark Knight or The Simpsons, creates media synergy and, for example, the use of Sony BMG to record the soundtrack, and merchandising tie in deals. These able candidates could also evaluate how institutions and audiences used media technology across different platforms, for example on the iPod and other mobile devices/phones and the use of social networking sites to share and offer fan comments. Candidates also discussed downloading (including the issue of internet piracy) films, but did not give specific examples of websites or how you could subsequently watch the movies. On occasion candidates could offer criticism that independent and often British film releases which do not have the budget of major conglomerate film studio’s had to find alternative non- convergent methods of distribution and marketing.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Revision: Key Concepts

The exam questions are becoming more narrowly focussed on the list of concepts which you were introduced to at the very start. You need to know them; I've highlighted key words. They are:
  • the issues raised by media ownership in contemporary media practice;
  • the importance of cross media convergence and synergy in production, distribution and marketing;
  • the technologies that have been introduced in recent years at the levels of production, distribution, marketing and exchange;
  • the significance of proliferation in hardware and content for institutions and audiences;
  • the importance of technological convergence for institutions and audiences;
  • the issues raised in the targeting of national and local audiences (specifically, British) by international or global institutions;
  • the ways in which your own experiences of media consumption illustrate wider patterns and trends of audience behaviour.
Task: Get 7 sheets of paper, one for each of the concepts listed above. For each one, divide the sheet into three sections: production, distribution and exhibition, and make detailed notes including examples from your case studies. For revision, attempt to memorise these 7 sheets and copy them out from memory. That way it'll be the first thing you can do when you start the exam.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Four Lions (2010, Warp Films)

Directed by Chris Morris

Produced by Mark Herbert and Derrin Schlesinger

Written by: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain
Studio: Warp Films and Film 4 (Wild Bunch for international sales; a division of StudioCanal and therefore a French sales company, who are owned by Vivendi!)

Distributed by: Optimum Releasing (UK)

Release date(s): 23 January 2010 (Sundance Film Festival); 7 May 2010 (UK)

Budget: £2.5 million
Profit: £608,608 from just 115 screens (box office opening weekend figures – this is very high!)

Pre-Production and Funding
The project was originally rejected by both the BBC and Channel 4 as being too controversial. Morris suggested in a mass email, titled "Funding Mentalism", that fans could contribute between £25 and £100 each to the production costs of the film and would appear as extras in return. Funding was secured in October 2008 from Film 4 Productions and Warp Films, with Mark Herbert producing. Filming began in Sheffield in May 2009.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and was short-listed for the festival's World Cinema Narrative prize. Introducing the film's premiere Chris Morris said: “I feel in a weird way that this is a good-hearted film. It's not a hate film, so I would hope that that aspect would come through."
The UK premiere took place at the Bradford International Film Festival on 25th March 2010 and nationwide release is scheduled for 7 May.

About Chris Morris/Four Lions
Certain artists establish such a niche for themselves that they become journalistic shorthand for a certain category. For Chris Morris, the satirist behind The Day Today and Brass Eye, the category is the absurdity of modern media culture

Morris's conclusion, according to the film's producers, Warp Films, is that terrorism is a daft as well as a deadly business. "Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce," the company has said. "At training camps young jihadis argue about honey, cry for their mums, shoot each other's feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking … Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five-a-side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it's also about berks." Morris's project, they maintain, "understands jihadis as human beings. And it understands human beings as innately ridiculous."

Web 2.0?
Four Lions’ website contains aspects of sharing links for you to link trailers and the website to social networking sites. It has a live twitter feed streamed across the webpage to encourage interaction and buzz about the site/film. You can download jpgs and pdfs of the posters too, to continue to support a grassroots media support, in local areas. It has interactive software that responds to your ‘click’ – click the four men and they either fire or run for you! (see pic right.)

On the links page, it contains hyperlinks to online multimedia interviews, web content and to the production company websites. On the ‘Where to Watch’ page, if you click a cinema venue, it takes you directly to the booking page of that cinema.

Case Study 3: Warp Films

Warp (and WarpX) is an excellent case study for you because it highlights a lot of the key concepts of film production and contemporary media practice.

Since its birth as a shop and record label in Sheffield in 1989, Warp has become one of the World’s most respected creative organisations. Originally just a record label/shop, Warp Records, Warp have since launched two film production companies – Warp Films and Warp X (for low-budget, digital productions only)

Warp Films was set up with funding from NESTA, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts. It is based in Sheffield with a further office in London and has 14 full-time staff.

Warp X is a separate company from Warp Films, and was set up to exclusively manage and co-produce films for the Low Budget Feature Scheme tendered by UK Film Council’s New Cinema Fund and Film4 in 2005, to revitalise the low-budget sector of the British film industry. Warp X is building on Warp Film’s reputation for combining creative originality with commercial success. Both companies share the same office space and some support staff to make them as resource efficient as possible.

Since then high-profile features have come courtesy of Shane Meadows, whose masterpieces Dead Man’s Shoes and This Is England have enjoyed widespread success, the latter winning ‘Best British Film’ at the 2008 BAFTAs.

In 2004, Warp pioneered the sale of unrestricted mp3s via the launch of award-winning download store Hosting nearly 500 other independent labels, Bleep has sold over 2 million tracks to date. Several of their film productions - mostly documentaries - area available to download royalty free. Why would they do this, when most other production and distributino companies are keen to protect their digital rights from piracy? Plainly, it benefits WarpX to have as many people as possible spreading good word-of-mouth about their products, as a form of viral marketing.

Synergy and Distribution
One of their key financial backers is Optimum Releasing, who are closely involved in the development process and distribute the films theatrically and on DVD in the UK. In April 2008, Australian film distributor Madman Entertainment announced "a collaboration" with Warp Films. Warp and Madman plan to make "at least 2 films together over the next 3 years." Optimum is a small, British-owned distributor operating in an industry dominated by major Hollywood distributors, and this relationship therefore benefits both themselves and Warp Films.

Warp X only make digital films. They say “we make digital films with budgets between £400,000 and 800,000 for theatrical distribution in the UK and internationally. Our films are genre based but with acutely original interpretations that will ensure they stand out in the market place. We do not make character based drama or ultra-cheap versions of mainstream Hollywood studio films.” Digital film-making is a lot cheaper than 35mm.

Targeting British Audiences
Warp X say that they only produce films which qualify as British. Even more specific than that, they would strongly prefer producers to shoot in Yorkshire or some other northern region of England, but "if there is a compelling creative need to shoot elsewhere, then we will put the needs of the film first."

Warp X's joint abjectives as outlined by the UK Film Council and Film4 include:
  • to provide new opportunities to increase participation of groups currently under-represented in the UK film industry such as writers, directors, producers and actors who are disabled, women and/or from black and minority ethnic groups.
  • to encourage filmmakers to explore social issues of disability, cultural/ethnic diversity and social exclusion through the content and range of individual film projects.
  • to create much-needed progression routes into the UK film industry for identified filmmaking talent, who may have experienced some success through their first feature film or through short filmmaking, but who need further infrastructural and other support to make their next film(s) a success.  
My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117 (Dir: Chris Morris - 2003)
Dead Man's Shoes (Dir: Shane Meadows - 2004)
Rubber Johnny (Dir: Chris Cunningham - 2005)
Scummy Man (Arctic Monkeys short film/music video)
This Is England (Dir: Shane Meadows - 2006)
Grow Your Own (Dir: Richard Laxton - 2007)
Dog Altogether (Dir: Paddy Considine - 2007)
At the Apollo (Arctic Monkeys Dir: Richard Ayoade - 2008)
Le Donk and Scorzayzee (Dir: Shane Meadows- 2009)
Four Lions (Dir: Chris Morris- 2009)

Friday, 7 May 2010

Case Study 2: DNA Films

Company Website:

DNA Films is an independent film production company set up in 1997 by Duncan Kenworthy & Andrew MacDonald. They have produced a relatively small number of films which have been successful both commercially and critically, including:
  • 28 Weeks Later (2007)
  • Sunshine (2007)
  • Notes on a Scandal (2006)
  • The History Boys (2006)
  • The Last King of Scotland (2006)
  • 28 Days Later (2002)

DNA films have a distribution agreement with Fox Searchlight, a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox which specialises in independent and British films. This is an example of synergy, where two companies work together for mutual benefit. DNA benefits from Fox Searchlight's access to funds and a worldwide distribution network, while Fox gains cultural and artistic kudos by supporting more 'edgy' productions. They might get lucky with a film which breaks out and becomes a world-wide commercial success, or they may benefit from the long tail effect.

28 Days Later is probably their most successful since it made enough money to spin off into a franchise, with the sequel 28 Weeks Later released in 2007 and 28 Months Later which looks like it's currently languishing in production hell. It is also a brilliant example of many of the concepts which you need to understand.

While 28 Days was distributed through Fox Searchlight, 28 Weeks was distributed through Fox International - this might sound like a trivial difference, but what it shows is that the franchise had, in effect graduated from being a small, risky proposition to a big commercial release.

It has spawned at least one fan film called The Rage (2008). The existence of this is due to the proliferation of digitial film-making technology which is cheap enough and easy enough for amateur film-makers to use. As such it is also an example of user-generated content, which is one of the features of what we call Web2.0. The audience is becoming involved in the production and distribution of their own work via the internet.

View Year 12's Research Presentation on DNA Films:

Have you got any further information to add to this case study? Add it as a Comment below.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Case Study 1: Working Title Films

Task 1: Go to Working Title's homepage and choose one of their productions which are either on current release or coming soon. Investigate how many different ways the internet is being used to promote this film, i.e. trailers, featurettes, photos, games, special offers etc. Do any promotions rely on the convergence of digital technology? Do any promotions involve several different companies working in synergy (i.e. to support each other)?

Write your answers in the form of comments to this post:

Monday, 19 April 2010

Digital Cinema Exhibition

The future of digital cinema exhibition in the UK?

Wouldn't it be great if you could pick the films that your local cinema is going to show? Read more at
This clip from the BBC's 'Click' programme is a few years old but is still incredibly useful - it explains what digital cinema projection is, and how it benefits both audiences and institutions. Watch it! Make notes!

The Changing Face of Cinema

According to the Cinema Exhibitors' Association (CEAUK), "at the end of 2009, it was estimated that there were some 540 digital screens in the UK, of which some 420 were 3D-enabled".

The number of digital cinema screens around the world reached 16,405 in 2009, up 86.4% from a year earlier, with further growth expected in 2010 as digital 3D pushes the market toward a 35mm-free cinema sector, according to Screen Digest.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Film Distribution: Summary Notes

The section of the DVD-ROM on film distribution covers the high-budget, mass-market commercial end of the process. See the 'links' box on the left of the page for more sources of useful information - especially the ScreenOnline page which explains just exactly how expensive and time-consuming traditional film distribution is.

For the business side of the movie industry, the most compelling aspect of digital cinema is distribution. In today's system, production companies spend a lot of money producing film prints of their movies. Then, working with distribution companies, they spend even more money shipping the heavy reels of film to theaters all over the world, only to collect them again when the movie finishes its run.

Because the distribution costs are so high, production companies have to be extremely cautious about where they play their movies. Unless they have a sure-fire hit, they take a pretty big risk sending a film to a lot of theaters. If it bombs, they might not make their money back.

If you take the physical film out of the equation, things get a lot cheaper. Digital movies are basically big computer files, and just like computer files, you can write them to a DVD-ROM, send them through broadband cable or transmit them via satellite. There are virtually no shipping costs, and it doesn't cost the production company much more to show the movie in 100 theaters than in one theater. With this distribution system, production companies could easily open movies in theaters all over the world on the same day.

The digital distribution system also helps out the individual theaters. If a movie sells out, a theater could decide to show it on additional screens on the spur of the moment. They simply connect to the digital signal. Theaters could also show live sporting events and other digital programming.

However, you should not forget about the low-budget end of things.

Social networking sites such as youtube and facebook allow small, independent film-makers to find an audience, gather a following, and generate a word-of-mouth buzz about their work. In extreme cases it may even lead to interest from the mainstream industry. Just look at what happened to Fede Alvarez's homemade trailer about an alien invasion.

No, seriously. Look at it. It's completely brilliant.

There is some debate about exactly how original it is. See how many references (or rip-offs, if you prefer) you can spot to films like District 9, Independence Day and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - and by the way, there's an instant commendation to any of my students who can spot the reference to Battleship Potemkin. But then, when has Hollywood ever been particularly bothered about originality?

The point is this: just as the proliferation of digital technology is allowing more consumers to become creators, so those creators are also becoming their own distributors, marketers and promoters. Digital technology is increasingly blurring the lines between parts of the film-making industry which were traditionally very separate.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Film production: Plenary Notes

The effects of digital technology on the process of film production:
  • as a cultural product, films are more or less unchanged since the early c20th - they are still primarily narratives running at around 100min.
  • David Puttnam's concept of the 'digital sandwich' - top layer of production: analog celluloid film + middle 'filling' of digital distribution and marketing + bottom layer of still mostly analog projection equipment in cinemas (athough this is now changing as more and more film-makers use digital cameras as a matter of course and more cinemas invest in digital projectors)
  • At the low-budget end of things, cheap technology allows for 'guerilla' film-making. These have tiny distribution compared to mainstream industry and so probably a minimal impact, except that there may be a growing 'long tail' effect. See 'Sweding'.
  • Low-budget fan movies, e.g. Troops and Browncoats: Redemption. Yes, these are geeky, but that's one of the defining features of 'We-Think'.
  • At the expensive mainstream end of things, mostly the effect of digital technology has been to drive up costs. CGI, for example, demands a highly skilled workforce (an experienced digital compositor's salary can be £50k - £60k). Look at how much 'Avatar' cost to make.
  • For big budget films the cost of film stock and processing is a marginal percentage of the overall costs, which are mostly made up of 'above-the-line' wages.
  • Some advantages are that while on set a monitor can allow the director to see the actual footage which has been captured, rather than having to wait for it to be developed. Digital technology tends, on the whole, to be smaller and more portable. There is no need to change reels of film so actual 'filming' can be faster, and back-ups can be saved for security against loss or damage. Footage can be uploaded to post-production facilities (editing, VFX, sound etc) while principal shooting is underway, which means that production and post-production may actually be happening at the same time rather than one after the other.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Digital Sandwich

Very useful notes on a lecture given by David Puttnam (director of Chariots of Fire) on the effects of digital technology on film production, distribution and exhibition. It's a few years old now, but well worth the read.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Essential Reading 1: "The Long Tail", by Chris Anderson

“The Long Tail” is a theory created by Chris Anderson (editor of 'Wired' magazine) about how the Web has opened up difficult-to-reach markets in the media and entertainment industry. Anderson observed that, before the Web, media companies’ primary model for making money was to focus on producing and selling “megahits” – the small number of songs, films, books and other products that deliver the highest sales volume (the dark blue region of the chart below). High costs have traditionally made producing, promoting and delivering the thousands and thousands of low-grossing, niche offerings (the light blue region) financially unattractive, or even prohibitive.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Starting to Look at the Film Industry

Your understanding needs to be only of the modern British cinema industry; you don't need a detailed knowledge of its history. But the emphasis of the examination is very much on the impact of digital technology, and so you do need to have some appreciation of the role technology has played generally in the ups and downs of British cinema.

The first few tasks you do in class will be to give you a basic grasp of how things have changed - very broadly - from the 1930's until now.


Section B of the Key Concepts examination requires you to write an essay about the relationship between media institutions and audiences, focussing on one particular area of the media. In your case, this will be the British Film Industry. After you have answered the question on the TV Drama extract, you should have 45 minutes to answer this question.

The OCR Media Studies Syllabus says:
You should be prepared to understand and discuss the processes of production, distribution, marketing and exchange as they relate to contemporary media institutions, as well as the nature of audience consumption and the relationships between audiences and institutions. In addition, you should be familiar with:

  • the issues raised by media ownership in contemporary media practice;
  • the importance of cross media convergence and synergy in production, distribution and marketing;
  • the technologies that have been introduced in recent years at the levels of production, distribution, marketing and exchange;
  • the significance of proliferation in hardware and content for institutions and audiences;
  • the importance of technological convergence for institutions and audiences;
  • the issues raised in the targeting of national and local audiences (specifically, British) by international or global institutions;
  • the ways in which your own experiences of media consumption illustrate wider patterns and trends of audience behaviour.