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Tag: Hollywood

Editorials

Parasite Director Bong Joon-Ho Once Described The Oscars As “Very Local” Does He Have A Point?

February 17, 2020

Bong Joon-ho, the talented director behind Okja, Snowpiercer and more, recently described the Oscars as “very local” when asked if he thought it odd no South Korean film has ever been nominated for an Oscar before. The director’s meaning seems to be that the Oscars are very biased towards American films. As I’m sure everyone is aware Parasite won four Oscars last weekend, including Best Picture but even with this burst of internationality – are the Oscars “local” awards?

The Undisputed Champion of Film Awards

Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for "Parasite" at the Governors Ball after the Oscars,
Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (10552686aw) Bong Joon-ho holds the Oscars for best original screenplay, best international feature film, best directing, and best picture for “Parasite” at the Governors Ball after the Oscars.

I think most people in America and the UK see the Oscars as the film awards. Winning Best Picture at the Oscars is probably the closest we have to declaring what was the best film of that year. After all, there are many film awards that are specific to the host country, indeed, in South Korea they have the Blue Dragon and Grand Bell awards, both specifically for South Korean films. But I don’t think that’s how the Oscars present themselves. For a start films from all over the world can, and do, win awards, they are not limited to American or English-language films. There is an unspoken rule that every film – or at least every film that had a release in LA – is in contention. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Green Book, not only beat every American film but every Dutch, South Korean Mexican and every other country’s film as well.

Awards Around The World

The BAFTA (source: variety.com)

It does seem that a lot of countries have films awards that are specific to their country, and the Oscars (and the BAFTAs in the UK) are somewhat an exception in ostensibly being worldwide. But I’d argue that for many countries it’s not their national awards but their film festival that is the big deal. France’s, and perhaps the world’s, most famous film festival is the Cannes Film Festival, with it’s biggest award being the Palme d’Or. Just glancing over the winners of this award since 2000 – nine of the winners had some French involvement if we eliminate co-productions that goes down to two French films. Using the same criteria, The Golden Bear from the Berlin International Film Festival only has two films where Germany was involved in co-production. Without prior knowledge of the geography of Italy, I don’t think someone could work out any bias in the Venice Film Festival to its host country, since 2000 Iranian, South Korean and Venezuelan films have won the Golden Lion with only one Italian film winning that award in that time.

10 Billion Reasons Why

Hollywood Hills Sign
The Hollywood Sign (credit: Wikipedia)

So why do films from outside America fare so poorly at the Oscars? Well, most Oscar voters are US based so perhaps there is a bias there. But also the American film industry is huge – making over $10 billion in 2017 and it would make sense that the biggest and most successful country would dominate awards. Again, like no other country American films are watched around the world. In Britain and America to even consider watching a film, not in English, is considered a signifier of high-brow intellectual tastes, whereas to like American films in other countries is the norm. However, it can’t simply be that America makes more films if nothing else India actually produces more. Parasite is only the twelfth film that isn’t in English to be nominated for Best Picture – and the first to actually win – and I think it is impossible to argue that such a list represents the best films ever made.

Another very interesting point in all of this is that for all of Parasite’s success at the Oscars it received no acting nominations. The same was true of Roma last year, a film not in English that did well at the Oscars, and Slumdog Millionaire which won eight – including Best Picture – but featured a cast of non-white actors who when compared to typical Oscar nominees weren’t at all famous. To me it seems bizarre that a film that was considered the best of the year would not contain a single-acting performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. Is this bias towards American actors (and admittedly British actors who seem to be at no disadvantage) or is it simply that Kang-ho song and Sun-kyun Lee do not have the name recognition as Brad Pitt and Renee Zellweger? As a case in point, I could rattle off the stars of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or The Irishman but had to look on IMDb to find the names of Parasite’s stars.

I think it’s clear that the Oscars is not really a competition without bias but despite this a foreign film can still win big. And, of course, even being nominated for an Oscar will raise the profile of a film that lacks the marketing power of something like Joker. If pushed I feel that most people would admit the bias towards America and would see that as perfectly natural.

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Editorials

The Formula For A Successful Film

June 16, 2019
Successful at the box office

Films are a big part of modern life. We quote, discuss and review them daily. But with thousands of movies released each year, what makes certain movies into a phenomenon? What is it about select movies that capture the public’s attention and makes them successful? Is there a formula to it?

Today we are going to explore a recent study and see what conclusions they have come to about how to make a successful film. We will look at the purpose of the study, highlight their findings, their methodology and highlight examples of where their findings can be seen today and places where the study falters.

Purpose & Method

The paper we are looking at is called, The Data Science of Hollywood. This study was made to see how certain emotions can affect the types of media that people want to watch. And how production companies can customise their products to meet the preferences of audiences.

To accomplish this the authors compiled 6174 feature film scripts and charted the emotional journeys presented in each. They did this by analysing the sentences used within the script, declaring them as either emotionally negative, neutral or positive and then charting their use over the course of the script.

The movies were then grouped into one of six categories:

  • Rags to Riches – A film that continually builds positive emotion
The Shawshank Redemption is used as an example of rags to riches stories
  • Riches to Rags – The film is about a continual emotional decline
Toy Story 3 is a riches to rags story
  • Man in a hole – The film follows someone falling emotionally before rising out of it
The Departed is a man in a hole story
  • Icarus – The film charts an emotional rise followed by a fall
Mary Poppins shows the Icarus journey
  • Cinderella – This film begins building positive emotions, before declining and then rising again at the end
For a modern Cinderella story, look no further than Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Oedipus – This film begins with an emotional decline, followed by a rise and finishing with a decline
Little Mermaid is a great example of the Oedipus narrative

They then compared this data with various sources to see how successful these different journeys were with audiences. They looked at box office takings, IMDb audience and critic ratings, award nominations and wins and number of viewers. So, what did the researchers find?

Findings

Of the six narrative categories, the researchers found that the Man in a hole stories tended to have a higher average box office gross ($37.48 million). Cinderella was the second highest ($33.63 million on average) and Oedipus being third ($31.44 million on average).

Particularly successful examples of the man in a hole story from the past year include Black Panther and Halloween (2018). Both were among the top 25 highest grossing films of 2018 and began with the characters leading relatively normal lives before something turns their existence upside down. But they eventually fight to reclaim their happiness.

The Other Side

However, there are less successful films in this category, such as Mortal Engines. Which charted the journey of a privileged citizen as he is exiled from his city and eventually destroys its corrupt government with the help of the rebellion. It was one of the biggest box office bombs of 2018. And garnered an IMDb audience rating of 6.1 and a critical rating of 44/100. Halloween (2018) also did not perform greatly with IMDb users and critics, only garnering a 6.6 from users and 67 from critics.

On average the study found that Man in a hole films received the lowest average ratings from IMDb users and critics. IMDb Users usually rated Rags to riches stories highest. Successful examples include Avengers: Endgame, which charts the emotional rise from the low point of Infinity War, and is both the most successful film of the year and currently ranked as the 19th best film of all time on IMDb. This shows that films associated with positive emotions tend to work well with general audiences.

Meanwhile, movies with higher critical ratings tended to be Riches to rags stories. Showing that critics favour tougher emotional journeys. Examples include Jordan Peele’s Us. Which charted the continual emotional decline of its characters and has an 81/100 rating from IMDb critics compared to a 7.1 from regular users. But still managed to gross $175,005,930.

The Studies Failings

There are however several areas where this study opens itself for criticism. Firstly, relying on IMDb ratings to gauge public opinion can cause problems as people only tend to leave feedback/reviews if they’ve had a negative experience which can slightly skew the results. And IMDb scores are usually given by a different audience than those who see the movie in theatres. Meaning that an IMDb score doesn’t necessarily measure the satisfaction of people who saw the film in cinemas and contributed to its box office.

And the oversimplification of the emotional arc categories is very confusing. For example, The Shawshank Redemption is given as an example of the rags to riches story which supposedly continually builds positive emotions, but the film still has several emotional low points throughout. Meaning that the categorisation of these films is somewhat flawed.

Successful?

From this research we can conclude that the words of William Goldman hold true, “Not one person in the motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work”. A film’s success at the box office does not guarantee audience or critical satisfaction. The use of IMDb as a method for gauging public opinion is also flawed. And the categorization is oversimplified and there are continual examples that prove the study wrong on an individual basis.

But this study did raise interesting points with its research. Showing that the most successful films may not be aimed specifically at critics or general audiences. Instead, they are the ones that generate the most discussion. And the mixture of positive and negative emotional arcs ensures the box office success of the man in a hole films because they appeal to the preferences of critics and audiences.

Also Read: Spoiler Etiquette: To Spoil Or Not To Spoil…

Podcast

Episode 008 The Big Picture Film Club Podcast ft Mark J. Blackman

September 30, 2018

After a busy hiatus planning our last event and other projects which we’ll be revealing soon, we are back for another episode with our good friend, writer/director Mark J. Blackman.

One of only *three* directors to have screened two of their films at our Film Club events, we catch up on what he’s been up to since. Diving right into it, we explore the process of making feature lengths, the importance of cinema and his top 5 favourite sci-fi films.

Read about Mark’s Top 5 favourite sci-fi films here. Listen to the full podcast here.

Editorials

Hollywood & The Military: A Special Relationship

August 14, 2018
Independence Day - Will Smith & Jeff Goldblum

What do the headquarters for the United States Department of Defence and Shia LaBeouf have in common?

Not a great deal actually apart from the fact that the above-mentioned department, also known as The Pentagon, worked closely with Michael Bay on 2007’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which LaBeouf also starred in. The term “worked closely” might be a slight understatement as, in exchange for the use of military grade weapons and real personnel as extras, the Pentagon had a huge influence on the final script.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the Pentagon and US Military have been backing productions since the beginning of Hollywood itself. The very first Academy Award in 1929 was won by Wings, a movie heavily supported by the Pentagon. But is this influence a positive one? Despite the fact that production companies are paying for the use of military equipment and locations, the Pentagon still gets the final say on which films get the go-ahead. Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, unsurprisingly, did not get Pentagon approval. Perhaps they had an issue with the General’s “unorthodox” way of getting a nuclear attack organised!

When you consider that military provisions are technically “owned” by the tax-paying public, surely the military should not get this level of control and a degree of impartiality should remain?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In David Robb’s book Operation Hollywood he highlights both the humorous and disturbing elements of the military’s special interest within the film industry. One such instance is the nationality of an Admiral in the James Bond Movie GoldenEye changing from American to Canadian because he was perceived as too incompetent. Laughable, right? However, this level of influence gets more sinister as Robb shows when he discusses the film Thirteen Days. This movie focused on the Cuban missile crisis but was rejected by the Pentagon due to its depiction of Generals being in favour of invading Cuba. The issue? This depiction was based on actual taped discussions from within the White House at the time. In this instance, the director, Kevin Costner, refused to make the changes but it is frightening to consider how many directors have accepted the Pentagon’s ‘revised’ version of events simply to get their movie made.

With the development of special effects, directors are not as reliant on the military backing as they used to be. Independence Day was denied Pentagon funding because Will Smith’s character was dating a stripper, something that was simply unacceptable for a member of the military (*cue eye rolls*) The production company’s response? They just did it themselves; technology had developed to such a point that the backing was not needed.

So what does the military get out of this financial backing of Hollywood blockbusters other than a mention in the end credits? It is said that recruitment in the Navy went up by 400% after the release of Top Gun (another backed film). Yet, now the films being given funding are largely aimed at children (Transformers, Iron Man and G.I Joe.) Is this an attempt to make war look fun? A new way of upping those recruitment figures? It is alarming and does not present the idea of special interest groups in a positive light.

Perhaps it is interesting to note the positive outcomes from the lack of involvement from a particular interest group. Gabriela Cowperthwaite intended to document why SeaWorld was so successful and how it kept families returning time and time again. However, when SeaWorld refused to be involved in her project so began their downfall as it led to her uncovering ‘the dark side of SeaWorld’ in the hugely successful 2013 documentary Blackfish. Many positive changes have occurred since the release, most recently top UK travel agent Thomas Cook have said they will no longer sell tickets to the park.

Of course, there can be positive outcomes from outside influences in the film industry. Slowly, but surely, there are more LGBTQ+ voices being heard in Hollywood, along with people of colour. Gay rights activist, Ronald Nyswaner wrote the 1993 film Philadelphia which was seen as groundbreaking at the time in its portrayal of the homophobia surrounding HIV/AIDS. Oprah Winfrey, who can be considered an institution in herself, became involved in the 2014 film Selma as producer and Ava DuVernay, a woman of colour, as director who had to allegedly rewrite 90% of Paul Webb’s original script.  Although these aren’t outside ‘groups’, their influence and experience had a positive impact on the productions.

Special interest groups tend to want a particular image to be projected, the military is an apt example of this. Unlike product placement which aims to reach new audiences but not necessarily influence their viewpoint, the involvement of special interest groups can have a suffocating effect on the creativity that the film industry should ultimately inspire. While the influence of activists and minority groups can definitely bring a positive contribution to a production, perhaps the military should stick to what it knows rather than wading into Hollywood. But don’t expect them to loan anyone their fighter planes!

Podcast

Bootlegged VHS & The Romanian Revolution

January 17, 2018

Stumbled across a fascinating interview about Romanian icon Irina Margereta Nistoir, whose indirect role helped evolve the Romanian Revolution.

The country felt the impact of being culturally and societally left in the dark, isolated from the rest of the world with Western culture banned during dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule. Chuck Norris Vs Communism tells the story of how the banned American films were smuggled into 1980’s Romania during a time where free speech and access to media was controlled by the government.

Irina was a film translator for Romanian State Television, a censorship committee that decided what to broadcast, translating their communist ideologies. The role was never suited to her, so when a colleague asked if she could translate films for a friend, she leapt at the opportunity, risking her freedom by single-handedly dubbing every line of every character in over 3000+ bootlegged movies.

There was a desire to learn about a forbidden society and underground film clubs soon became popular. Watching these films became a matter of survival, and classics such as Rocky and Dirty Dancing eventually became tools for imagination, growth and development.

Truly a remarkable woman whose contribution to film has impacted history and the world over, her iconic voice became a symbol of hope and freedom. The revolutionary role of movie-smuggling helped liberate the people of Romania, and at this year’s SXSW Irina will be discussing how the same could be done for the people of North Korea.