Category: Editorials

Read the latest editorials and opinion pieces from Big Picture Film Club.


Time To Rethink The Box Office Film Charts?

August 8, 2018
Box Office - http://thetoweronline.com/

Last week news broke that the Andy Serkis directed Mowgli was acquired by Netflix and won’t see a large scale theatrical release and will be on the streaming platform in 2019 (not later this year as originally intended). This decision marks two important changes in the film industry: major film companies becoming more risk-averse with theatrical releases, and the ability for streaming services to now take on would-be “blockbuster” film releases.

Earlier this year Sci-Fi horror Annihilation suffered a similar fate, going directly to Netflix for its international release. And with 11 million viewers in its opening 3 days the Netflix original Bright, starring Will Smith, was a glimpse into what a big budget feature film can do while still being premiered on a streaming service. So, how does the rise in straight to Video-On-Demand platforms change how we should view the film charts? When can a VOD movie be considered a commercial success? And what does this mean for the film industry?

Where do they stand?

The basic cinema experience hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. Major film companies like Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures have primarily worked on the basis of a theatrical release of a film. This has meant we’ve had a fairly consistent measure of what the current popular films are as a measure of revenue generated at a cinema’s Box Office on any given week. For the UK cinema Box Office, this information has been collated by analytics company ComScore since 1991. Cinema admissions in the UK have remained fairly stagnant over the last 10 years, with most annual admissions in this timeframe being between 165 million – 170 million. Therefore the growth in domestic ticket revenue has been driven by higher ticket prices and premium cinematic formats such as IMAX & 3D cinema.

On the other hand, by the start of 2018 over 11 million households in the UK held a subscription to Netflix, Amazon or NOW TV, up 25% from the same period the year before. This represents just over 40% of UK households signing up for a Subscription Video-on-Demand service. More notably, streaming revenue is expected to overtake traditional Box Office revenue in the UK by 2020.

Gnarls Barkley (Danger Mouse & CeeLo Green)
Gnarls Barkley (Danger Mouse & Ceelo Green)

Although both industries have their differences, comparisons can be drawn from the music industry. A key watershed moment in the U.K music industry landscape was in 2004 when digital downloads were included in the charts, which saw Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” land the number 1 spot from digital downloads alone in 2006. 10 years after the introduction of digital downloads, the UK’s Official Charts Company incorporated streaming data into the charts for the first time in 2014. While the music industry has arguably had a tougher time monetizing its music and avoiding piracy, it has in recent years been more receptive in changing its measures of success to better reflect how people are consuming music. Although the Box Office remains the gold standard for measuring commercial success of a film, the growth of Netflix, Amazon Prime and others will surely begin to question how we measure success within the film industry.

A measure of success

As part of the eligibility criteria for feature-length films, both BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television Awards) & Oscars require films to have a commercial theatrical release, with films that have had their first exhibition on streaming platforms ineligible for consideration. Smaller, more niche film awards like the Streamys & The Webbys have emerged in an attempt to fill this void. This resistance of the ‘old guard’ to acknowledge new media is nothing new in arts and entertainment. The recent banning of Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival is further proof of this. Despite opposition, The Venice Film Festival is bucking the trend and will screen 6 Netflix films this year. Whilst it’s a risky move for the festival, ultimately it is one that would see it on the right side of history in years to come.

In a world shifting towards Netflix & Amazon, great talents within the filmmaking industry are still not properly being acknowledged for their work on those platforms. A large part of this issue is what our measure of a successful film is in this day and age, an intermediate solution might a secondary industry-recognised film chart based on streaming. Or maybe we should look into adopting a version of the music industry model?

In the immediate future expect the Box Office chart based on cinematic ticket sales to remain. However, in an industry where money talks this discussion will continue, particularly as the revenue and influence of subscription streaming platforms continue to grow. If the music industry has successfully amalgamated digital, streaming and physical retail sales into a chart to accurately reflect the most commercially successful films of the moment, surely the movie industry can too?


The Ingredients Of A Cult Classic

July 27, 2018

Take a huge helping of interesting, often strange, characters. Add a dash of quotable dialogue and a sprinkle of marketable merchandise. Mix it all together with an audience dead set against the consumerism taking over Hollywood and you should have the makings of a cult classic. But is that really all you need to create a film which will be passed down through the generations? Films that can often spawn their own sub-cultures, festivals and even religions?

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a “cult classic” is; a film which has “enduring appeal to a relatively small audience” and exists outside of “mainstream” cinema. Cult films consist of an eclectic collection; there is no set genre which these wonders stem from.

During Hollywood’s formative years, there was not a great deal of opportunity for films to reach cult status with the quick turnover of productions. However, this began to change with the introduction of Midnight Movie screenings. These often featured films which were considered too shocking for mainstream audiences. “Freaks”, the 1932 MGM production, was one such controversial feature of the midnight screening.

However, the status of the cult film gained momentum with the development of distribution. Whereas before, low-budget, non-confirmative films had to rely on midnight screenings to reach viewers, home cinema allowed potential cult movies to reach a wider target audience. Television channels began to provide their own form of the “midnight movie”, showing films that didn’t cost a lot. (This is actually where I remember catching my first glimpse of The Rocky Horror Picture Show – a cult classic which is firmly cemented as one of my favourites!)

This access to films only increased with the creation of VHS. Now fans could pass on the treasures they had discovered to other, like-minded potential fans. If a movie had been banned then this only added fuel to the cult film fire. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange gained such notoriety when it was withdrawn, meaning that any rare copies of the film added a particular magic for the cult following it amassed.

Much like A Clockwork Orange, the success of the cult classic seems to lie in it having some sort of controversy attached to it. As previously mentioned, these films often appeal to a small, niche audience and tend to challenge the typical conventions instilled by Hollywood. Many productions have reached the dizzying heights of cult status due to their focus on extreme, and often taboo, subject matters. The aforementioned Clockwork Orange had such graphic depictions of violent acts that it was withdrawn in the UK for  27 years after comparisons were made in high profile crimes.

Another way that a film can become a cult classic is by being so bad that it’s good. Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room is one such offering- it has been described by critics as one of the worst films ever created.” As a result, it has gained a massive cult following. So much so, that another film was created just last year, The Disaster Artist, to celebrate just how bad it is!

But what of those hugely successful films which have followings around the world? The Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises have gargantuan fan bases and have stemmed a multitude of sub-cultures such as festivals, conventions and even theme parks. Do these productions warrant the title of cult classic? Or do they fall short somehow? And if so, why?

Perhaps it is because these films have become so commercialised that they cannot be given the title of cult classics. Those films deserving of the title do so because of the microcosm that is their fan base; that “have you heard of this film?” moment. Whether you have watched the big blockbusters or not, you’ve definitely heard of them which is not always the case with those movies that are deemed cult films.

Some critics argue that the term has lost its value with it now being attached to any production which seems to break away from convention or challenge the mainstream. But the real cult classics will stand the test of time; that’s what makes them a classic after all.



Artificial Intelligence: The New Art of Storytelling?

July 10, 2018
Robot Writing

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. It is how we handed down the ancient myths and legends and how lessons have always been taught. Before written words, stories were communicated through pictures or symbols. Stories help to stimulate our imaginations and, perhaps most importantly, build a relationship between the storyteller and their audience.

The same can be said for media texts; they are stories which the writers and directors feel need to be shared and they have particular ideas about how these tales should be told. These decisions are influenced by numerous factors including environment,  personal experience and emotional ties.

So is the emerging trend of using Artificial Intelligence (A.I) taking away the personal touch that writers, directors and editors bring to a production? Or is this simply the direction that the film industry is moving in and we just need to get on board or get left behind?

AI has been used in other areas aside from the film industry to help predict the success of a piece of work. Wattpad is an online program and app which currently has 65 million users worldwide. People are able to publish books via this website and it has seen some become bestselling authors. Sounds brilliant, but where does AI come into it? The website uses ‘plot-analysing software which is able to determine which subjects and content have previously been successful, profile audiences and basically create the perfect plot for a target audience -all a user has to do is write the book to fit.

One person who did just that is Beth Reekles, author of the highly successful book ‘The Kissing Booth’ which she published at just 15 years of age. In 2013 she sold the film rights to Netflix and it is now one of the streaming sites most popular searches.

Wattpad now has its sights set on the film industry with its additional creation, Wattpad studios, and aims to continue its successful use of artificial intelligence.

Jack Zhang’s company, Greenlight Essentials, uses a specially created algorithm to discover which plot will be successful based on existing lucrative productions.

Greenlight used this strategy to come up with a script for a new horror called “Impossible Things” – they made the trailer for just $30 and it accumulated 2.3 million views on YouTube. Needless to say, potential investors quickly showed an interest.

Surely though, this reliance on computers is sapping the feeling from the scripts being created? That’s one thing artificial intelligence is yet to master: emotional intelligence.

This possibility was tested when director Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, a New York University AI researcher used a ‘recurrent neural network’ (that helpfully named itself Benjamin) to create a sci-fi script called Sunspring. The machine was fed scripts of existing sci-fi success stories including classics like Ghostbusters and more recent offerings such as Interstellar and created its own script in a similar way to predictive text on your smartphone. (The term “predictive” implies that creativity isn’t a crucial factor here!)

The result? A script that consisted of completed, coherent sentences individually yet, when these were put together, it all started to go a bit downhill! The film created looks professional and the actors played their parts well but these aspects had nothing to do with artificial intelligence, highlighting that human influence is surely a prerequisite of a successful production.

Zhang agrees and feels that the creativity is still the most vital aspect of storytelling stating; “If you give 50 screenwriters the same [plot] elements, they’ll still come up with 50 different screenplays.” This seems to be the crux of the issue; artificial intelligence can help in the creative process prior to production by looking at what elements have proved successful, although even that could take away from the next surprise hit.

I’m sure Zhang won’t mind me saying that he sums it up perfectly:  “[A.I] is like a compass, but someone still needs to sail.” Based on Sunspring, I don’t think scriptwriters have too many stormy seas to navigate just yet!




Film Critics vs Film Audiences: What Happens When They Don’t Agree?

July 4, 2018
Movie Theatre

A trip to the cinema is a luxury these days what with having to arrange babysitters and, more often than not, prop my eyes open with matchsticks; so I need to know I’m going to relish the experience instead of wishing I’d stayed home in front of Netflix…again.

I’ve always sought out reviews of the latest releases to help me decide on what films are worth the immediacy that a trip to the cinema elicits and which films I can happily wait to arrive on my screen at home. Most recently, this was the case for John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place; the rave reviews did not disappoint.

But what happens when the film doesn’t live up to the hype?

Ari Aster’s film Hereditary received high praise when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year, with many critics describing it as one of the most terrifying horrors of all time. It received an 89% rating from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, yet only 57% as an audience score with some calling it the worst film they had ever seen. The stark contrast in opinion is often difficult to fathom. Perhaps it is important to consider whether it is the film that is an issue here or those providing the reviews.

A recent study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism entitled Critic’s Choice? found that of the top 100 films of 2017 only 24% of the top critics, those featured in major publications, were female and 11.2% were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. It is questionable whether a critic can give a true review of a film in which a multi-cultural audience can engage with if they themselves are analysing it through a narrow lens.

The Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences, the group which selects the Oscar nominations, has this year extended invites to 928 people in a bid to diversify their group of critics. Now, 38% of the Oscar’s governing body is made up of people of colour with 49% being female. Not a moment too soon considering there was talk of the event being boycotted due to its primarily white nominees in recent years.

The Time’s Up Now campaign recently posted on their Instagram; “When top critics deciding which movies are ‘good’ are overwhelmingly white and male, audiences aren’t getting the full picture….”  While it is vitally important for the issue of diversity in film to be addressed until it is no longer an issue, would film criticism be doing its job if it only talked about what was “good”?

Alissa Wilkinson, in her article for Vox, does not feel that it would be. She believes that critics are art makers in their own right stating, “the art a critic makes is a review or an essay, something that is less about “supporting” a movie and more about drawing on an individual’s experience with a film to make an argument about that movie. It includes evaluation of the film, but it also, done well, is a passionate argument for the importance of art itself.”

With the rise of social media and websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, anyone can now be a “critic” and due to the viral nature the internet, these are often the first reviews that potential audiences see. However, these people are often just criticising the films they have not enjoyed whereas a good film critic analyses and evaluates a film, discussing both the positives and negatives. Yes, it is influenced by their own experience but the majority of critics do their job for the love of film rather than just to say what they like or don’t like in the box office at that moment in time.

Critics can offer a unique interpretation of the films they review, as can audiences who also offer their opinions, however it is necessary to add diversity to those with the power to influence in order to provide audiences with a cacophony of voices to help form their own interpretation.


Equal Writes: Why We Need More Female Writers

June 18, 2018

Diablo Cody. It was a name that first came to my attention when I was 17, sat in a cinema on an awkward double date, watching the opening credits of Juno. I didn’t consider the writer at that time but the character she created has stayed with me since and is one I return to frequently. Juno makes me laugh and makes me cry in almost equal measures; she is strong yet vulnerable, funny yet awkward, confident yet desperate. All things that she should be, that all women and girls are, and Cody translated that perfectly for my awkward 17-year-old self along with a host of others, I have no doubt.

However, only 16% of working film writers in the UK are female, an independent report from The Writer’s Guild has found.  The Sundance Institute reports that just 4.2% of the 100 top grossing American films are directed by women, the amount written by them is much lower.

At a time when teenage girls are facing ever-growing pressures from social media, exam stresses and every other hurdle that adolescence brings, surely there needs to be far more people writing from their perspective? By that, I don’t mean creating the common characters that girls are almost forced to aspire to, due to lack of alternatives, such as princesses who’s happy ever after involves a handsome prince who saves them from danger in that typical Propp trope of damsel in distress waiting for the protagonist to rock up. I mean characters with dimensions; with feelings; with flaws; with vulnerabilities.

But this isn’t just a necessity for teenagers. Young women are now finding themselves in a world where their voice is being heard, where they are told to speak up, yet they are still dealing with the damage resulting from difficult teenage years where they were reading articles entitled “10 ways to keep your man interested.”

Fleabag, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and first aired in 2016, tells the tale of a young woman manoeuvring her way through sexual encounters, family disputes and her unwillingness to deal with the loss of her best friend. Initially, it seems like Waller-Bridge is just challenging the idea of feminism in this series adapted from her award-winning play but it is, in fact, a funny and, at times heartbreaking, analysis of the effect that objectification has on women. Not just the objectification that women are victim to on a daily basis, on the street, in the workplace, online but the objectification that is presented as normal in the mainstream media. Ultimately, it is relatable. Whether you don’t see much of yourself in the main character or it feels like a mirror image – the issues caused by, what Laura Mulvey dubbed The Male Gaze, continue to have a lasting effect on the female audiences consuming media texts and experiencing issues with very few scripts or characters which present these experiences from the women who experience them.

However, this isn’t just an issue for women; this also impacts men. If you get told something enough, you begin to believe it – so it is hardly surprising that women are perceived as weak, sexual (without being promiscuous, of course), objects by some men when that is the only representation of them available. And this is why it is important to allow women to tell their stories – because men need to hear them too.

So what is being done about this issue? The Writer’s Guild are calling for “programme-level TV equality monitoring data to be released” and for “public funders to pledge a 50/50 split between male and female-written films by 2020.” A 50/50 split when over half of the UK is female seems perfectly reasonable. Although, it is only recently that voices are being raised against the embedded white male misogyny which has run Hollywood since its very beginnings. Not only do we need to break down barriers for female writers but we need to break down barriers for those minorities who struggle even more to get their story told; women of colour, women of the LGBTQ+ community, transgender women – all of these stories matter and all of them can and will have a lasting impact on those people who feel they have never seen themselves on screen.

I only hope that every young girl gets their Diablo Cody moment.


Mark J Blackman’s 5 Must See Sci-Fi Films

May 6, 2018
Neon Short Film - Big Picture Film Club

Big Picture Film Club screened Neon last year as part of our Hidden World event. Neon is a Sci-Fi / Fantasy Drama, which tells the story of Elias, A man is forbidden by higher powers from pursuing love, culminating in the plan to end his life and finally escape his heartbreaking existence. Writer / Director, Mark J Blackman’s short film takes the idea of Cupid and masterfully embellishes the underlying mythology and transplants it into a new dark and twisted world.

We caught up with Mark J Blackman’s to give us his 5 Must-See Sci-Fi Films, which he feels are important in understanding and contributing to the genre, here are his recommendations:

1. PI (1998)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

I don’t think any film has ever succeeded in a more intense juggling act. As far as debuts go, this – for me – is the one. Fusing faith, math, stocks, stock (16mm) and a post-industrial jungle soundtrack from former PWEA boy (one Clint Mansell) the result is pure punk filmmaking of the highest order. A film that I obsessed over and decided would be a terrific first-date film many moons ago. Suffice to say, the success of the date was not a sealed deal. A life-long love of all things Aronofsky on the other hand…


Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

I was far, far, far too young to see this on bootleg VHS when it came out. It repulsed, fascinated and inspired me beyond words, Tsukamoto’s ethic becoming something that I have long since admired. I get a lot of flack for preferring this over the body-horror of his more revered original, but this one has a nauseating control of its audience, pummelling away with its sound and fury as it explores parental paranoia and deformed masculinity in a manner that elevated Tsukamoto from Japan’s DIY Lynch to Asia’s Cronenberg: films about national displacement and isolated identity rather than just pure viscera. Tsukamoto’s themes are – along with Tarkovsky’s – perhaps the most beautifully presented within the genre.


A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Whilst 2001: A Space Odyssey IS the better of Kubrick’s two forays into science-fiction (how many films are about life itself?), it’s Alex’s journey that I always find the more pressing picture: featuring a structure only ever once almost bettered (Goodfellas), its exploration of unapologetic sadism, deconstruction by the state and un/deserved rebirth is a pitch-perfect horror-show that always tears me up inside as a viewer. A cinematic Molotov, it’s at once a hypnotic, nauseating, humorous, sickening and wonderful ride. It also earns an absolute aesthetic salute from me due to its mesmerising use of stark, scummy brutalism.

4. MIRACLE MILE (1988)

Miracle Mile

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

I was invited to present an introductory talk on this mostly unsung gem at the amazing Sci-Fi Theatre that runs once a month in London. Actually, let me rephrase that: I strong-armed my way into presenting an introductory talk on a film I have been obsessed with since being utterly terrified of it as a child. I’ve always been a romantic. I’ve also always adored apocalyptic nightmare fuel: fuse them together, add Tangerine Dream’s best score (yes, even over Thief and Sorcerer) and you end up with a film that uses the beating heart of love as the countdown to the ultimate nightmare. Whilst some of the film has not aged well at all (hair. HAIR), Miracle Mile is a real diamond in the dark. Watch at your peril. A huge influence on me and what love stories can be.

5. STRANGE DAYS (1995)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Scripted by Cameron yet directed with a mix of emotion, rage and pitch-black playfulness that I could never imagine him mustering, Strange Days is a perfectly dense 140 minutes of mini-disc MacGuffined, death-squad-promising, immaculately soundtracked neo-noir. An almost-cyberpunk almost-epic that presents a window into what people thought the last days of 1999 were going to be, it’s now a frightening mirror as to what America has almost become: wired into the feeds of others for entertainment, oblivious and/or indifferent to the increased police presence and a progression of race relations that – in the light of the likes of Charlottesville – feels like the country truly needs a thunderbolt from God. Bigelow’s best, hands down.

Mark J Blackman’s own short film, Neon will be released on Wednesday 16th May, available on www.neonshortfilm.co.uk


Will Virtual Reality (VR) Films Ever Takeoff?

March 23, 2018

Much has been said about how Video-On-Demand services like Netflix have changed the movie industry over the last years, with Netflix and Amazon Prime being key plays leading the charge. Cheaper technology has also allowed for a lower barrier entry for filmmakers – even Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Unsane, was shot on an iPhone! Although the technology is still maturing, tech companies are investing heavily in Virtual Reality (VR), will this be the next area the film industry can capitalise on?

VR in Games

VR currently has a 90% public awareness, according to YouGov. Further indicators of early mass adoption of VR can be seen in the gaming industry. VR Systems saw a 23.5% year-on-year rise in 2017, cracking the £100m barrier for the first time. Currently, 6% of the British population own virtual reality headwear; At the equivalent time after widespread release, wearables had 4% penetration and tablets had 3%. The gaming industry has led the charge in this area with PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift & HTC Vive making up the vast majority of sales and with more game developers working on games specifically for VR growth in VR games looks to be strong moving forward.

The major film studios have been a lot slower to adopt VR as a way to exhibit films. However, VR  is used as a medium to create immersive experiences based on a film title, rather than actually making a movie to be watched via VR. In this instance, particularly with horror films like The Conjuring 2, a VR based experience acts as a great promotional tool to complement a wider marketing roll-out.

Should We Expect a Breakout of VR Films?

A current problem is that currently there simply aren’t that many platforms designed for VR films – particularly feature-length ones. Currently Video-on-Demand powerhouses Netflix & Amazon Prime do not support VR, however tech giants Facebook & YouTube have enabled 360 VR videos to be uploaded onto their platforms. This makes the two social media platforms a key testing ground for wider adoption of films in VR.

Many more experimental independent filmmakers have begun to explore VR as a method of producing short films. The Invisible Man (shown below) is an example of how the medium can be utilised to produce a compelling film.

 Moving Forward

Since its inception over 100 years ago how we experience film has remained largely unchanged, however, what we have seen through television/VoD services, as well as 3D cinema is complementary user experiences running parallel to traditional cinema. At least in the immediate future what seems most probably is that VR will simply add another dimension to the ways we can experience the “moving picture”. With new technology, new ways to creatively exhibit films will surely soon follow.


Five Must See Films for 2018

January 7, 2018

As the 2018 “awards season” approaches, we get the opportunity not only to celebrate the biggest films of 2017 but to start looking ahead at what’s to come for 2018. We decided to put together a selection of five of five must-see films for the coming year. Our list comes from a selection of filmmakers who have screened films with Big picture Film Club.

1. “The Sisters Brothers”

Directed by Jacques Audiard; starring Jake Gyllenhaal & Joaquin Phoenix [Recommended by Brady Hood]

Brady: Upon first reading the novel of the same name I instantly fell in love with the writer Patrick De Witt and immediately bought all of his novels (as well as enquired about the rights!). Add this delightfully wicked and charming story to a director who I consider one of the greatest around and surely we’re on to a winner!! But most appealing is to observe what Audiard will do with the comedic tone of this story when all his other films have very little to laugh about. A very appealing prospect to behold and what I hope will be a fantastic move for two very talented storytellers.

2.Ready Player One

Directed by Stephen Spielberg; starring Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke [Recommended by Nick Barrett]

Nick: I guess the only film I’m really looking forward to is Spielberg’s Ready Player One as I’m a big fan of the book and all round eighties nostalgia geek. From the trailer it looks like they’ve nailed the look of the ‘stacks’ and the virtual Oasis environment – can’t wait!

3.A Wrinkle in Time

Directed by Ava DuVernay; starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine & Gugu Mbatha-Raw [Recommended by Molly Boughen]

Molly: I am eagerly awaiting the release of this film as I am a huge fan of Ava DuVernay, a brilliant director who leads the film with a strong female cast, writers and her as a director.


Directed by Harry Hitchens [Recommended by Molly Boughen]

Molly: Breakthrough is an independent documentary funded through Kickstarter by the production company Studio Everyday. It is a wonderful documentary by Harry Hitchens following other artistic people and why people make art.

5.The New Mutants

Directed by Josh Boone; starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Maisie Williams [Recommended by Dan Horrigan]

Dan: I’m really looking forward to New Mutants and it’s array of characters. That alongside a rumoured horror vibe sends the anticipation levels through the roof. This will be awesome.

Big Picture Film Club would like to thank Brady Hood, Nick J Barrett, Molly Boughen & Dan Horrigan for their contributions.