Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Brit Film #1: In the Loop

Whoa, was it really 3 months ago that I wrote this post, introducing a new strand analysing the recent upsurge in successful British films? That didn't quite take off did it. But better late than never, here is the first of what will (hopefully) be a series of blogs. Just to recap - the idea will be to look at the British films over the last 18 months or so that have been successful and of course to examine why they worked. Success in this industry is defined in so many ways. So for the purposes of this blog, it's my call really. But I will hopefully explain why I think it is so.

Admittedly, I'm starting rather gently with probably the easiest film to look at on this yet to be fully compiled list. In the Loop was probably the easiest film to make too. By that I don't mean the actual making of it per se; writing the script, raising the money, shooting it, etc - all of which are a continued nightmare of twists and turns seemingly no matter what the project. But because In the Loop is a movie spin off of an extremely successful TV show, The Thick of It, conceptually, everyone pretty much knew what they were getting. That's massively important and it's a leg up that cannot be underestimated. It's why book adaptations are so popular. It's why comic book adaptations are so popular. Not to mention video games and of course sequels of all of the above. Everyone lives in a state of fear of what will and won't work - in other words, what will and won't make money - so if it's 'worked' in one medium, it's that little safety net that helps studio bosses sleep at night.

So I doubt selling In the Loop was that hard. The problem would be, how do we make this British TV show travel? Because for a British film to be properly successful, domestic box office takings is never going to be enough. And of course here came the very savvy decision to not make a quaint British film about a leadership election or something like that - but to comment satirically on the single biggest defining thing of this century - the global war on terror. With America's invasion of Iraq extremely unpopular with both the young, i.e. the biggest cinema going audience, and the predominantly liberal left that makes up the majority of the film industry, this was a project that would hit the right notes here and abroad.

The film itself is kind of like the Malcolm Tucker show. He dominates the movie in a way he never did in the early TV series. Now, I don't know much about acting, but I did hear that shouting, whilst you'd think that would be hard, is actually a lot easier than a quiet, nuanced performance. Not to denigrate Peter Capaldi's tour de force in any way whatsoever, but on that basis the real star of the show is Tom Hollander's Simon Foster. We watch as character after character crumbles in the face of having to take a moral stand against something they don't believe in - and yet only Foster seems to feel bad about it. The movie is almost entirely dialogue driven (you can find a review of the script here) and most of us don't have the luxury of a brilliant TV series to act as a kind of prequel/pilot/something or other. So I'm not sure I recommend trying to mimic the style. But it's the content that helped this find an audience and resonated with people who saw it. On the one hand it's quintessentially British - and on the other hand it's zeitgeist enough for everyone around the world to get it. So whilst I realise it's a really general point, when thinking of the screenplays we write, there is definite value in making them reflective of the culture we know best - British. But at the same time, what is it, what's the one thing (or more than one thing) that will make it accessible to people abroad; for example a universal topic, theme, or character emotions?

So what makes this a success? It's pretty obvious isn't it. It got nominated for an Oscar. Best Adapted Screenplay to be precise - which is an interesting choice bearing in mind the 'adaptation' came from a TV series and much of the script is improvised. But nevertheless that nomination is a valuable industry stamp of success - and anyone who says otherwise may be being a little disingenuous - that opens many doors for those involved. According to Christine Langan, Head of BBC Films, In the Loop was made for £4 million. Internet figures suggest it only took around $7 million at the world wide box office. So by no means a commercial success. But tellingly, Armando Iannucci's next film has a budget of $20 million. A bigger budget is of course by no means a guarantor of success. Sometimes the studio interference you get because of it means it's quite the opposite. But one thing is for sure. You don't tend to get given more money if your previous movie has been deemed a failure.

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