JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Working Title Films builds its image on "auterist," award-winning movies, such as The Man Who Wasn´t There

…but romantic comedies starring Hugh Grant and written by Richard Curtis have provided Working Title Films its money-making formula.

What helps to sell the cycle on both side of Atlantic is an U.S. star…

… and exploiting of English/American cultural differences that can be exaggerated and commented on a DVD edition.

Cultural distinctions heavily enter into the U.S. marketing campaign:
“The biggest issue was striking a balance between the romantic and comedic elements of the film. For most countries, the trailer and TV spots will emphasise comedy to make it appealing to men, as well as women. But for the U.S., where it takes a couple of minutes for Americans to adjust to foreign accents, even English ones, we´ve gone for romance.”

The “seasonality” of Love Actually (that is set in Christmas time) was essential for the release date and for the marketing campaign. (The cover of the film´s soundtrack).

The Notting Hill special edition DVD offers not only the opportunity to enter the story world or to meet the stars...

…but the imaginary travel to Notting Hill has its real world addresses with real goods to buy. The DVD as a travel book is only one instance of the relation between film marketing, cultural heritage, and tourist industry.

Such relation between film marketing and tourist industry does not exclusively characterize the Notting Hill DVD. The extras on the Lilo and Stitch DVD (above) do basically the same for the Hawaian islands what Notting Hill's DVD does for the famous part of London. It presents the place as something both intimately known and exotic at the same time. A general use of spatial, temporal and cultural distance is, however, essential for this way of presenting locale.

What´s the reason Hugh is reading Captain Corelli´s Mandolin while sitting on the bench? The novel's cinematic adaptation was one of the future projects of Working Title Films.

On the U.S. special edition of Notting Hill, movie sequences are used as music videos. Shania Twain and Elvis Costello, Polygram contractors, are of the interpreters.

DVD covers also undergo changes with international distribution. Both U.S. editions of Four Weddings highlight the stars – Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant. That older DVD edition has quite a strong English touch, presenting the actors in a two-shot against the background of a cityview with a river and a church.

The UK/international edition, in contrast to the U.S. ones, presents the ensemble in a row, with a strong presence of Atkinson and the British stage actor Simon Callow.

The second one U.S. DVD cover has more or less the same design as both UK/international, stressing, nevertheless, both stars, with the ensemble in the background (and Rowan Atkinson is missing).

In the case of another Working Title romantic comedy Love Actually, both the U.S. and the English DVD are designed in a similar way – as a “present” tied in a bow. Still there is a distinction in the accent. The British DVD cover shows ten small “boxes” with pictures of actors mostly well known for the British audience.

The U.S. cover, on the other hand, has only four boxes, each of them presenting not only faces, but situations, relations, emotional bonds: between father and son, young couples, or a couple getting old. That cover clearly suggest to potential viewers who could spend a satisfying time with this DVD.

 

DVD marketing in the U.S. of
Working Title
's British romantic comedies:

Framing reception and
strategies of cultural appropriation

by Pavel Skopal

London-based production company Working Title Films has been the most successful British company — measured not only by its unquestionable financial success, but also by the number of prestigious awards.[1] This company, established in 1983, has entered since 1991, led by its two co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, in a pragmatic alliance with powerful media conglomerates – PolyGram, the Dutch film and music company (since 1991) and Universal (since 1999). Following such low-budget, highly acclaimed films as My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and Sid and Nancy (1986), it made them launch projects with wider commercial appeal (Eric Fellner: “Both of us wanted to make bigger films with more worldwide access and PolyGram afforded that opportunity”).[2] 

Working Title still keeps its share in “prestige,” “auteurist” productions, such as Coen's brothers films (Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There), in addition to which it has launched WORKING TITLE2, a subsidiary for low budget films with an “independent” appeal (Billy Elliot /2000/ got three Oscar nominations as well as four British Independent Film Awards). However, commercially the most successful field are its romantic comedies. 

(“Working Title Films credits include the hugely successful romantic comedies, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary and Love Actually, all starring Hugh Grant and written by Richard Curtis. Curtis also made his directorial debut with Love Actually,” stated the Working Title official website, http://www.workingtitlefilms.com/nusite.php. This self-description also indicates what the company's “treasure” is – not only the actor-star Hugh Grant, but also the screenwriter-star Curtis, whose name features both in these films' marketing and the reviews.)

I'm going to focus on three of these commercially the most successful productions of Working Title, that also belong to the most successful films in the history of the British cinema: Four Weddings, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary (in 2001, these ranked, respectively, the sixth, the third, and the second in the chart of all-time top 20 U.K. films at the U.K. box office, and Four Weddings was the first in the chart of all-time top 20 rental videos).[3]

However, the films themselves with their narrative, generic, or stylistic strategies will only serve as a background for the main topic of this text. My main concern are these issues: How are these films presented on DVDs to international audiences? What kinds of extras or “paratexts” are included to “frame” the movies and to translate, interpret, and tailor them to viewers? What segments of the audience are addressed and in what ways? Crucially, these films succeed due to the fact that they appeal to both “local” (English) and “global” (U.S., international) audiences[4], despite, or maybe thanks to, their “mixed” production, with their cultural, textual and extra-textual Anglo-American status.(Even though these films are produced in the U.K., a line is established between the U.S. market and other countries overseas, from the marketing point of view, than between the U.K. and the rest of the world.) They are produced by an English company, backed by the financial and distributional power of a Hollywood studio (or a Dutch media mogul, in case of Four Weddings, distributed mainly by Gramercy Pictures, a joint-venture company launched by PolyGram and Universal.

The films exploit English cultural “heritage” as well as (U.S.) pop culture with a more hip, modern touch. The narratives exploit English/U.S. cultural differences. And all these films use Hollywood stars (Andie McDowell, Julia Roberts, Renée Zellweger), though not only for the roles of Americans, but also to play the peculiarly English Bridget Jones. This latter aspect of casting Bridget Jones, in fact, raised passionate – and from the point of view of marketing also profitable – discussions and controversy. 

Luring to theatres, selling to homes

Theatrical release

Although DVD market already has its own favorite stars, genres and marketing rules, it still holds that a DVD's commercial success tends to be indicated by a particular film's success in theatres. In addition, DVD marketing strategies learn from the film's theatrical release. For that reason, to consider both the way a film is released in theatres and on DVD can say a lot about a film's targeted audiences and the intended appeal. The scheduling of Working Title films' theatrical releases reveals the producers' careful play on the sensitive relation between U.S. and U.K/international markets and their mutual influence. In contrast, DVD releases are more independent. They count more on timing to exploit tie-ins, theatrical promotion, or more general culturally-established schedules of consumer behavior (Christmas time or Valentine's Day, with DVD layouts of packaging and covers that make them seem like presents). 

Four Weddings and a Funeral was first released in the U.S. (19 March 1994)[5] through “platforming.” That means it opened only in 10 screens in two markets (New York and Los Angeles) and tried to build a word-of-mouth. 

“… the target audience for this film were people eighteen to forty years old, with the primary core being the twenty-one-to-forty age group, appealing slightly more to women. The marketing team expected that the eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds would see the film as 'a comical look at the perils of being single.' For the twenty-five-to-thirty-four-year-olds, the film would represent an English-humour romantic comedy, a high-concept expressed as Monty Python meets Sleepless in Seattle. The thirty-five-plus segment of the audience would consider it an adult date movie, ‘a non-Shakespearean Much Ado About Nothing.'”[6] 

For Notting Hill, the promotional strategy emphasized different values for its U.S. and international release, respectively. 

“The biggest issue was striking a balance between the romantic and comedic elements of the film. For most countries, the trailer and TV spots will emphasise comedy to make it appealing to men, as well as women. But for the U.S., where it takes a couple of minutes for Americans to adjust to foreign accents, even English ones, we've gone for romance.”[7]

As for the timing, Christmas time was absolutely essential for Working Title's Love Actually, e.g., because of its Christmas-related story.[8]

The producers also strategize to avoid competing with big-budget, highly awaited movies in theatres. Thus Working Title planned for Notting Hill, starting five weeks before Star Wars: Episode I to build its audience before “Star Wars swamps the multiplexes.”[9] For Working Title's film About a Boy, however, the producers chose a strategy of counter-programming. They released that film, relying on a female audience, just one day after Star Wars II[10] – obviously counting on the fact that non-pre/teen audiences would be able to find very few other alternatives in the cineplexes to provide shelter from the whistling of laser swords.

DVD production and release

Obviously, the marketing campaign for a theatrical release is as diversified as possible, in order to attract different segments of viewers. The same holds true for the DVD release, even as DVD marketing campaign exploits the power of theatrical release. In this light, regarding the changing proportion between the profits from the theatrical and the DVD commercial windows, the theatrical window is described as a launching campaign for the DVD.[11] In the case when a sequel is released theatrically, a DVD special edition of the first movie can be released at the same moment to make use of the sequel's theatrical marketing campaign, as it was the case with the Bridget Jones's Diary DVD.[12] And even though DVDs also have to fight for shelf space, the shelves are not so overcrowded, and slightly different rules can apply to scheduling. Thus, not only is Christmas a hot time –Valentine's Day, for instance, is among the best dates for new release, re-promotion or re-pricing of romantic comedies.[13]

However, another factor plays a key role in marketing DVDs. The extras on the disc create new intertextual relations with the film, and they also work as a marketing tool in and of themselves. This is doubly true of special editions. Released a long time after the theatrical release of a particular film, these special editions cannot employ the same kind of marketing used for the theatrical window. Instead, they are based on a “nostalgic” rather than hip mood, which helps to give the film the status of a “classic.” And for Hollywood movies on DVDs that are released by the big studios or the studios' distribution subsidiaries to be distributed overseas, the extras are usually the same or partially reduced by the distributor. The question is what strategies (if any) are used by U.S. distributors to culturally appropriate the films, backed financially by a Hollywood studio, in order to emphasize certain signs of cultural difference that are strongly part of their appeal.

To illustrate this kind of DVD international marketing strategy, I will here focus on DVDs of two Working Titles romantic comedies – the special editions of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's diary, as they were released for the U.S. market (making as well reference to Four Weddings and a Funeral's English special edition for comparison's sake). DVD editions tend to be prepared by a different company from that which produced the film. In our case, the Notting Hill DVD was created by Miramax; the Four Weddings DVD by MGM (Sony/Columbia); and the Bridget Jones's Diary “collector's edition” DVD, the only one provided by Universal. This fact of the DVD having a different producer directly and obviously influences the content, but in varying ways. For example, the DVD of Notting Hill starts with a clip with short trailers of DVDs produced by Miramax and announcing the company's 10th anniversary. 

Still, more generally, a DVD's content must be composed to address various demographic segments and to mimic the marketing strategy used for a successful theatrical release. To design different DVDs for various markets is not a DVD producer's main strategy. According to Angela Tammaro, the DVD content director of Universal's English subsidiary, working on all content material for Working Title Films: 

“In general with U.K. produced titles, the bonus is not created for the U.K. audience specifically. In fact we try to make the bonus materials accessible to all international markets. Given that Working Title Films are generally U.K. based productions, the content will have an element of U.K. centric sentiment. This has more to do with the subject matter rather than the audience. Our key objective for any bonus content is to add value for the consumer and to create interesting content that is an extension to the original viewing experience of the film. We try to create content which is universal to a particular target demographic, and we don't create content specific to a market; that is, we do not create a U.K., US and European version of the same disc. We do however, ensure that all content is localised so that it can be understood in other countries.”[14] 

But regardless of her statement, I have found clear market-specific distinctions in the Working Title Films DVDs' content, though the new extras are mixed with the extras taken over from the international editions. And, significantly I have found a fuzzy line between the U.S. and "overseas market." It is also useful here to consider differences between the initial (U.S.) and international (U.K., among others) web sites of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Culturally-specific ways of
addressing the U.S. market on DVDs  

Not new products, still a new context of reception:
tie-ins, covers, critical discourse

Even though, as expressed by Angela Tammaro, “we [Universal] try to create content which is universal to a particular target demographic and we don't create content specific to a market,” it is obvious that Universal has made some significant changes both in the promotional strategies and the content of Working Title Films DVDs addressing the U.S. market. Some changes are partly required by market-specific tie-ins. For example, in the special edition DVD of Bridget Jones's Diary, a flyer is enclosed, announcing the U.S. edition of “Extreme Makeover Fitness,” i.e. a fitness weight loss program. In the U.S., the collector's edition of Notting Hill includes two music videos missing in the British edition. Those are Shania Twain's You've Got a Way and Elvis Costello's She, and significantly both of these singers have contracts with PolyGram, a co-producer of the film. Other shifts result from the change of distributor. Instead of a logo of Universal or Working Title Films, a viewer of the Bridget Jones's Diary DVD will see first the Miramax logo and then a clip celebrating the company's 10th anniversary and announcing its new DVD releases. (Miramax distributed the film in U.S. thanks to a deal with Universal – on the base of that deal Captain Corelli's Mandolin was directed by John Madden and co-produced by Miramax.) Also, in the U.S. DVD market, hot DVDs are often released separately in widescreen and full-screen editions (charts show certain preferences for the widescreen version)[15] – this is the case with Bridget Jones's Diary.

DVD covers also undergo changes with international distribution. Both U.S. editions of Four Weddings highlight the stars – MacDowell and Hugh Grant. The first of these DVD editions came out in June 1997, when Grant was far more established as a star than he was at the moment of theatrical release. That older DVD edition has quite a strong English touch, presenting the actors in a two-shot against the background of a cityview with a river and a church. The second one U.S. DVD cover has more or less the same design as both U.K./international editions, stressing, nevertheless, both stars, with the ensemble in the background (and Rowan Atkinson is missing). The U.K. edition, in contrast, presents the ensemble in a row, with a strong presence of Atkinson and the British stage actor Simon Callow. 

Both the U.S. and the English editions of the Working Title romantic comedy, Love Actually, are designed in a similar way – as a “present” tied in a bow. Still there is a strong distinction in the accent. The British DVD cover shows ten small “boxes” with pictures of actors mostly well known for the British audience (Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, etc.). In a way, this cover reminds one of Justin Wyatt's example of the low-concept poster for Robert Altman's Nashville: it had a lot of faces without any obvious story, action, or mood present. The difference is, however, that the Bridget Jones's Diary DVD in the U.K. is backed by the high-concept power of the movie and its theatrical release. The cover could remind the potential viewer of a box of chocolates (in a way not far from the tagline for Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates ... you never know what you're gonna get”). It also evokes the weaving of a multiple-strand storyline.

The U.S. cover, on the other hand, has only four boxes, each of them presenting not only faces, but situations, relations, emotional bonds: between father and son, young couples, or a couple getting old. That cover clearly suggest to potential viewers who could spend a satisfying time with this DVD: a dating couple, a couple with a child “in between,” a “non-nuclear family” members, or even an older couple with grown children. These examples seem to imply that the U.S. covers rely more on stars where these are supposedly well-recognized by U.S. audiences, and on presenting emotions, situations, or mood, where they are not. 

As for Bridget Jones's Diary, the covers are very similar, with a more shining presence of Renée Zellweger in the U.S. one – but they use different celebrative quotes from critics: In the English case, quotes are from The Sun (“The biggest and funniest film of the year”), and, in far bigger letters, from Ebert and Roeper (“Two thumbs up!”) and Good Morning America (“Terrific Fun!”). The use of the most blatant praise is, no doubt, the core. References to locally known authorities also play a role here, however (whether they are from one of the most popular tabloids or one of the most recognized film critics). In the case of the U.S. DVD, Bridget Jones's Diary's special edition, some of the praising U.S. reviews are included on the disc (Chicago Sun Times, Rolling Stone, San Francisco Chronicle…) – both to prove the “acclaim” for the film and to contribute to its cultural framing.[16] 

A TV spot for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason clearly demonstrates to what extent U.S. marketing exploits U.S. media resonance, explaining “the top five reasons to see the new Bridget Jones” strictly through quotations of U.S. reviews:

  • “The second Bridget Jones is even better than the first!” – NBC-TV;
  • “This is the woman's film of the year…” – PBS “Flicks”;
  • “and men will like it too.” – PBS “Flicks”;
  • “The best romantic comedy of the year!” – NBC-TV;
  • “Bridget Jones is a role Renée Zellweger was born to play…” – "Hollywood Close-Ups." 

The clip obviously tries to address various groups of intended viewers; it does it, however, by a detour, pretending to give up the voice of the discourse in favor of that of the (U.S.) critics.

(Continued: New products, similar approach: irony and shame)


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