It could be the model that revolutionises British film: shoot it in the open air, wrap inside 12 days and get it launched on television.
The cult director Ben Wheatley has struck a deal with Film4 for his latest feature, A Field in England, to be shown on television on the day of its cinema release. The film will be released on DVD the same day in a ground-breaking multi-platform distribution strategy.
Wheatley, best-known for the critically-approved films Sightseers and Kill List, persuaded Film4 to screen his quirky movie about English Civil War combatants getting high on magic mushrooms after making it on a budget of just £300,000 – a fraction of the normal cost of a television period drama.
“The model is using technology to make stuff that doesn’t cost loads of money, which means you can explore niches you could never have got to before,” he said. “This film has already been successful. They have got an hour and a half on the channel for £300 grand and drama costs £650 grand an hour. Anything else is all gravy on top of that.”
He compared the multi-platform release on Friday 5 July to Radiohead’s free release of the In Rainbows album and said the television broadcast was a unique marketing opportunity. “If 1 million people see it on Friday on telly that’s as good word of mouth as you are ever going to get,” he said. “People say you are putting it out for free but we will have a general audience of people who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it at all.”
Wheatley said only Hollywood films could enjoy a release that ensured a movie was available at local cinemas. By the time most niche films have enjoyed the marketing boost of being shown on television, they are several years old and the price of the DVD has fallen. “The spike in sales comes when the DVD is only three quid but you want it at the beginning when everyone is excited about it.”
The growth in popularity of movie providers such as Netflix and Love Film, has forced broadcasters and cinema groups to reassess their models. “That whole culture of watching a film on BBC or ITV is over, because of Netflix and when everybody started buying DVDs,” said Wheatley.
Sue Bruce Smith, Film4’s head of commercial and brand strategy, said that younger film fans were less inclined to go to cinemas. “With the younger generation, they still appreciate the beauty of [independent] films but want to see them on their own [media] devices. We have to let them choose how they want to see films – otherwise the result is piracy.”
A Field in England was shot in countryside outside Guildford last September and stars Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) and Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentleman).
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The director said the 12-day shoot had been popular with the cast. “Actors love that stuff. Normally they spend loads of time in trailers waiting to be called,” he said. “Costume drama sounds expensive but the reality is that people didn’t change their clothes and it was outside so you don’t light it. Suddenly things become easier – that’s why so many cowboy movies were made in the Fifties and Sixties, because they were filmed in landscapes outside.”
Wheatley became interested in Civil War history after making a documentary on the Sealed Knot re-enactment society. His research led him to seventeenth century use of hallucinogens. “People were grinding mushrooms into dust and blowing it into people’s faces and then doing magic tricks,” he said.
Gabriel Swartland, of the cinema Picturehouse cinema chain, a partner in the launch, said the multi-platform release would demonstrate the unique appeal of the big screen. “The key aim for the cinema aspect of the release is to demonstrate that the theatrical experience stands up on its own, even when presented concurrently with alternative - and potentially cheaper - platforms.”
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