Friday, 16 November 2012

Slasher franchise research/presentation task

This task is designed to get you to explore aspects of MIGRAINe... 
GENRE is one of the key concept areas for Media, whether thats the coursework or exam. Learning on this, and the codes + conventions (which I tend to write up as 'Cs+Cs') of each genre, also usefully leads us into aspects of the other main key concept areas:
Media Language (the shot types/editing/sound/mise-en-scene often used in slasher films)
Audience (typical audiences targeted by horror producers, and how they do this [marketing + distribution], plus to what success [budgets compared to box office])
Narrative (recurrent plotlines, moral codes, locations, character types etc; the book Blood Money is very useful on this)
Representations (eg how gender is represented, plus age, region, nationality, sexuality etc - all factors you have to discuss for your Evaluation, as well as in your R+P)
Taken together these form MANGeR, 5 concept areas you'll work on for part of your A2 exam, but we can also add one or more I's to create a MIGRAINe:
Institutions (what sort of film companies produce and distribute slasher films: Indie/subsidiary/'big 6'? How do slasher budgets compare to other genres, and what factors go into this? One of your Evaluation Qs is 'what sort of company would distribute your film, and why?')
Ideology/Values (most usefully considered with representations; we look more at this in A2)

So, while the schedule you have highlights one of these key concepts for each week, they actually overlap: look to apply learning from one key concept to each subsequent one as we work through each, and reflect your learning on your blogs.

Details follow on this. You will each sign up to one slasher film franchise to research (listed in order of the original film's release); this can be paired or trio work, but if so your are jointly responsible (ie, no matter what excuse/explanation either one comes up with, failure to complete satisfactorily will trigger an automatic detention for each in a group), so consider this before saying you'll work in a group.
IDEALLY, PRESENT YOUR WORK AS A VODCAST, but you can if you wish present it as a Ppt, with any relevant video clips embedded into a blog post ready to play. You could do a combination, gathering together key images + video clips into a vodcast, rather than looking to play short clips from a number of embedded videos. Any time spent producing a vodcast will benefit you not just for the R+P mark but also in reducing your workload later on, when we come to the Evaluation. The key, as always, is plentiful specific screenshots and/or short clips/trailers etc, though this is a research-led task requiring you to use various websites (and which would benefit from a brief browse of the indexes of some of the many horror books in the classroom or Library).
Here's a couple of examples from a similar exercise in 2011(you can find more in the 2012 AS playlist) - note the use of frequent screenshots, tho' actual video clips + further onscreen titles would make these significantly better.

Here's another that does successfully utilise relevant screenshots.

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978: Compass International, $320k: $60m [world; $47m USA], 7.9) 18
Friday the 13th (Sean S. Cunningham, 1980: Paramount, $550k: $40m, 6.3) 18 
Nightmare on Elm Street, A (Wes Craven, 1984: New Line Cinema, $1.8m: $25.5m, 7.4) 18
Leprechaun (Mark Jones, 1993: Trimark Pictures, $900k: $8.6m, 4.3) 15
Scream (Wes Craven, 1996: Dimension Films, $22m [IMDB: $15m]: $161m [world, USA $103m], 7.2) 18 -
(Saw + Scary Movie are an option only if the others are all taken; SM1 is a very useful tutorial on the conventions, but the sequels aren't, while Saw has influenced the genre's shift towards 'torture porn' + provides some useful possible ideas + visual reference points/examples)

Scary Movie (Keenan Ivory Wayans, 2000: Dimension Films, $19m: $278m [world, USA $157m], 6.0) 18 -

Saw (James Wan, 2004: Evolution Entertainment, $1.2m: $103m [world, USA $55m], 7.7) 18 -

The convention when citing a film (and you should follow this in your blog + exam) is when you first mention a film you add the director + year of release in brackets. You'd only do this once in a post or an essay.
The additional info I've added, mainly using
Film title (director, year: main production company, budget: US box office, IMDB users' rating /10) BBFC cert
There are many other slasher franchises we could also have looked at, eg Sleepaway Camp, Prom Night, Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Child's Play ... it is a long, long list, reflecting how extremely successful this genre has been for more than three decades. The teens of the 80s, 90s, noughties and now 2010s have all eagerly bought tickets/DVDs for slasher films, a major reason as to why it is this genre we look at for coursework.
Many of these films are very, very cheaply made, with the lack of big name stars a key factor (though some franchises, especially Scream, made their cast into big stars and also used already famous TV actors such as Courtney Cox)
The BBFC cert is shown with the film title on an IMDB page.

You will each be undertaking research into one of these franchises, and presenting your main findings to the class. From these presentations we can build up a wide knowledge of some of the key films and directors from the genre, as well as significant companies (New Line, Dimension + Lionsgate are the main players, although the UK company Optimum Releasing is also notable), and an initial understanding of how budgets differ and the factors behind these. Presentations will include trailers/clips you've each selected, so we get a good overview of the genre.
Remember, 40% of your coursework mark goes on Research + Planning plus an Evaluation, in which your grasp of real-life conventions and industry practice is central, while one half of your exam is on British Cinema.
These are obviously US examples, which reflects the US dominance of UK and global cinema. We will also consider some UK examples in class.
Whilst you're researching the franchise as a whole, in terms of any viewing/s the focus should be on the original and any more recent remake/'reimagining'. When we examine films for the exam, we typically watch small fragments of these, and you could usefully do the same with these - looking out for final girl and scream queen types for instance.

Its a 10-part list, so inevitably you'll have more detail + depth on some parts. Every part of this task has been designed to rapidly advance your knowledge + understanding of the genre you'll be working within for your own production.

Try to do as I did above, including budget, US box office, main company, year, director, IMDB rating. Add two hyperlinks for each film: Trailer (use a YouTube link) + Wiki. So, for the 1st Halloween this would appear as:
Wiki on the franchise

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978: Compass International, $320k: $60m [world; $47m USA], 7.9) Trailer; Wiki. IMDB. 18.
At the top of your list add a link to the wiki on the franchise itself: Wiki on the franchise. This will be useful as it often contains much of the info you'll need - you should find the rest on IMDB. Sometimes there will be no box office figure; that would suggest this particular film was 'straight-to-video', or 'straight-to-DVD' as it now is. The cost of marketing a film for a cinema release, and creating the film prints that a distributor hires out to cinemas, is generally as much as the production budget again, so many films never receive that level of investment and never get a cinema screening. If there is no figure, just put n/a.

Once you've given us all a chance to take this info in, you can pick out one or more trailers or clips from YouTube to screen which you think will help us to understand the style and nature of the franchise. 

It helps to get a quick sense of films we've never seen if we have a quote or two about the film. Copy/paste your info on each film onto a new PowerPoint slide. Try to find 1 or 2 brief quotes from reviews (you can use IMDB user reviews if you wish, or This site gathers together reviews from papers, mags, blogs etc - eg, the page on Halloween has links, with sample quotes, from 44 reviews). Add these snippets under each film listing. You can also use this post.

What lessons can you glean from looking at the figures, ie:
  • has the franchise remained low budget, or has this changed over time? (For the US, up to $20m is considered low budget; $20-50m 'mid-range', and over $50m as high budget [very rough figures!])
  • has the franchise consistently made profits at the cinema?
    • bear in mind that the box office figure does not include TV and video/DVD sales, never mind merchandise, which will often exceed the cinema total!
    • equally, though, the box office figure doesn't include marketing and distribution costs!
  • was there a long gap between films at any stage, and if so did the new films do well compared to the older films (especially consider any remakes here)
  • have any gimmicks, such as 3D, been used in this franchise? Perhaps different settings (space, 'the hood', a major city) have been used?
For your first step when doing this, look up BoxOfficeMojo, which has a list of the top all-time slasher movies by box office:
See if you can find any of your franchise's films here (use Ctrl+F on a PC or CMD/Apple+F on a Mac to open up the Find tool within a browser, and type in your franchise's key word/s only) + provide details of your findings.

Not all of these franchises have had remakes/reimaginings (though give it time...), but most have. Try googling 'compar* original Halloween to remake or reimagin*'
Use these results to summarise key differences between the original and remake; this could be useful to help see how the slasher audience and what they expect or want from a film has changed over time. Perhaps the recent films are more explicit in terms of sexual and violent content?
Use research findings as well as your own opinions (seeking to employ relevant media language when discussing this).
[The * is a 'wildcard'; it means you'll get results using every variation of compar/e/ed/ison etc. Have a look at Google's basic guide to search techniques:]
You should find this post useful for this!

See if you can briefly detail (this may be just one sentence!) what change or addition this franchise, especially the original film, brought to the genre (eg use of steadicam, blue filtered lighting, safe subarban setting, killer that doesn't die, focus on teens rather than adults, final girl, intertextual references; increased body count and forest setting; dreamworld setting; use of figures from fantasy genre/fairy tales, doll-like killer; postmodern irony, characters aware of horror films + conventions, centring each film on narrative enigma with different killer/s in each; postmodern parody of the genre; greatly increased level of explicit gore, following on from films by Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, growth of term 'torture porn', shifting the moral code away from punishing sex/drug-taking whilst retaining a clear moral focus, and developing apprentice killers idea after killing off original killer).
Use the wiki franchise pages to help.

With some images to illustrate, sum up key characteristics of the killer/s and their weapon/s of choice. Franchises such as Fri 13th have sparked much debate by using different actors to play the masked creature-killers; for many fans, the films where Kane Hodder plays Jason are better than the rest as he walks and kills in a more convincing fashion!
If you can, detail what made the killer become a killer: their motivation/psychological scars.
The psychoanalytic approach to film analysis, heavily influenced by Fruedian theory, would argue that the knife/blade of the usually male killer plunging into the usually female victim is a phallic object thus creating a symbolic rape. There's an obvious practical reason why guns, for example, don't feature heavily in slashers - the fight/chase scenes would be rather shorter if guns rather than blades were involved!

There are sites which list the number of victims in each film; you could find + list these (numbers only!) At minimum, find one example of a scream queen and detail how she died, and what moral code is being displayed (ie, is she being punished for having sex before marriage?). Tease out the characteristics of a 'scream queen' and perhaps explore the origins of the term.

Does this franchise have a final girl? Or different final girls across different films? No final girl?
What does a final girl look like, what makes her different from scream queens, and perhaps where does the idea come from? Can you see how scream queens and final girls help horror movies to appeal to both male and female audiences?!

If you wish, include some trivia. If you can, note examples of where this franchise has been referenced in TV/film and other aspects of popular culture. (Try the IMDB entry's Did You Know: movie connections link, or search - here's the Halloween results pages for IMDB and TVTropes.

What are the most useful things you've learned? What surprised you the most? Is there anything you've read or seen that you think might influence your own ideas for a slasher opening?

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