Films in search of an audience and an audience in search of a film: Genre and Industry.

This was an exemplar answer I put together for the old WJEC Film Studies A level specification. The new course does not feature an industry segment buuuut the new AQA Media course does! This then could prove useful.

Study the items in Part B of the resource material, which include:

– Poster for Cowboys & Aliens, released in 2011

– Extract from a blog discussing film genre

– Forum discussion on movie genres.

Use this material, together with your own studies, to answer the following question:

How important is genre for audiences and producers?

exam insert 1exam insert 2exam insert 3

Item 1 shows a poster which contains features typical of two distinct genres. It suggests that genre is significant but is not fixed. Item 2 implies that producers use genre to help to generate an audience and that audiences enjoy both the pleasures of genre recognition and subversion. Item 3 confirms that certain genres dominate Hollywood production, and the resulting box office, and also that there are a variety of reasons why audiences seek out particular genres.

Producers use genre as a way of streamlining the production process. Hollywood has set up, in its history a series of sub-industries which serve genre production. Western films required stuntmen, animal handlers and armourers (all roles that needed to be re-invested in during the 90s mini western boom for films like Unforgiven). Science fiction requires specialist art-department and SFX investment. Companies like Industrial Light and Magic (founded by George Lucas to help him to make Star Wars in 1977), or Double Negative post production in London, require there to be a regular turnover of science-fiction and fantasy films. Without a regular series of movies, such Avengers: Age of Ultron (Marvel 2015) or the upcoming extension of the Harry Potter universe Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Warner Bros), the industry cannot support the sub-industries it needs and studios have to undertake tasks in-house, which the Classical Hollywood studio system proved was both expensive and unwieldy.

Another reason that producers like genre films is that distributors have a variety of clear practices that they can employ to fit specific products. This is not completely inflexible. The progression of trailers for Warner Bros upcoming Suicide Squad (based on the DC comic) shows that after the relative financial and critical failure of Batman vs Superman (27% on Rotten Tomatoes and a $250m budget used to make $860m as opposed to the similarly budgeted Avengers $1.5bn) comedy was a key element used to push the Marvel product beyond the comic Fanboy market and trailers two and three for Suicide Squad highlighted Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn over Jared Leto’s Joker as hers is the more comedic character. Genre product marketing can be tailored to appear in specific places. Advertising and content could be released for Empire magazine before Captain America: Civil War’s 29th April 2016 release date. The magazine specialises in spectacular film product reviews. Non-genre films are harder to target-market.

Item 2 suggests that genre is used by audiences in choosing to view product. Kirby Ferguson’s series “Everything’s a remix” explains that audiences enjoy re-workings of the familiar and producers can use reboots to generate an audience. The upcoming Ghostbusters reboot may have had a negative online reaction (YouTube’s ComicbookGirl 19 is typical) but as item 3 suggests comedy outperforms other genres and reboots tend to make a profit. The poorly received (49% on Rotten Tomatoes) 2014 action remake Robocop more than doubled its $100m budget whereas original features may not break even (Disney’s 2011 Mars needs Moms made on a budget of $150m made only $39m).

Recent developments such as Secret Cinema (Back to the Future and 28 Days Later) indicate that audiences enjoy additions to familiar experiences. Immersive spectacle added to well-known films is profitable with £155k being made on one day with one showing of 28 Days Later.

Genre may not however always be important and audiences can become jaded by genre (as item 3 suggests). Non-genre products can be successful as long as they reach the right audience. Festivals such as Sundance give indie films a chance to pick up a distribution deal. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s (known collectively as Daniels) film Swiss Army Man won Best Director 2016 at Sundance and picked up a U.S. distributor in A24 (who distributed Spring Breakers and Ex Machina). These are non-genre products and need distribution through art-house cinemas and festivals. There is however a trend towards non-genre, original, features entering a more mainstream market. Tangerine (Sean S. Baker) was shot on iPhone and cost $100k to make but took nearly $800k. In the U.K. Ben Wheatley’s recent film High-Rise is his most ambitious project yet (costing above £5m, which is considerably more than Sightseers) and although it has yet to make back its investment as it is soon to be released in America, with U.S. – recognisable stars such as Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller, it should be a success. Without the J.G. Ballard novel as source material, star actors and a recognisable director the package would be much harder to sell and a post-Loki Hiddleston is a good face to build a marketing campaign on.

In summary producers like genre products as they reduce risk and audiences enjoy the predictable pleasures of genre products. Genres however need to change and evolve or the audience will desert them. Audiences need help to find, and trust, non-genre products and festivals, critics and marketing need to be employed effectively to make them a success.


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