Take more risks in British TV drama, says Charles Dance

Charles Dance
Dance in ITV’s dramatisation of the 1666 Great Fire of London, The Great Fire. Photograph: Patrick Redmond/Ecosse Films/ITV

It is fair to call Charles Dance a veteran of UK television. His four decades of screen credits include some of the most critically acclaimed dramas, from Jewel in the Crown and Rebecca to Bleak House and Game of Thrones. Yet having worked through what he calls “the golden age” of British TV in the 80s, he is firm in one belief – that the current state of television in this country is shamefully bleak.

“We need to look to our laurels a bit with television in this country”, he said. “ I don’t think enough risks are being taken in drama television in the UK and I think a lot of programme makers are underestimating the intelligence of the viewing public, basing it all on ratings. Just because 12 million people watch a pile of reality TV shit about something or other, that doesn’t mean that’s the only type of programme you make.

“There’s great swathes of people now who don’t watch any British television, because there’s nothing there worth watching.”

Such a damning condemnation of the current state of British television comes just as Dance’s latest television project, ITV’s dramatisation of the 1666 Great Fire of London, makes its television debut this Thursday. The four-part drama was written by ITV’s political correspondent, Tom Bradby, with Dance playing the fictional villain, the King’s ruthless intelligence officer Lord Denton.

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones
After four years playing Tywin Lannister in the hugely successful American production Game of Thrones, Dance is vocal about what British television needs. Photograph: Damien Elliott/Game of Thrones

Yet, after four years playing the vicious Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy show that has been one of the biggest success stories in television in recent years, the opulent American production has made the 67-year-old lament the days when British television led the creative agenda.

“We used to have this reputation in Britain of having the finest television in the world and it was, for a long time,” said Dance. “America, for a long time, would look at what was going on on this side of the Atlantic, at quality television like Brideshead Revisited and the Jewel in the Crown – well now it’s the other way around.”

The problem, he says, lies in the unwillingness to financially invest in drama and says recent attempts by British television to emulate American hits have come across as nothing more than “an am-dram performance”.

“We are not amateurs so that’s not good enough,” Dance continued, getting increasingly more irate. “And certainly the BBC seem to be more interested in real estate than new drama.”

Indeed, the actor is adamant that if the original plans for Game of Thrones, a show filmed in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, to be a co-production with the BBC had gone ahead, “they would have pulled the plug after two seasons.”

“You know what would have happened, they wouldn’t have spent enough money,” he added. “What I see happening a lot of the time in this country is we spend 100 and try and make it look like a thousand. And a lot of the time, we don’t pull it off. American networks like HBO spend money and they spend it in the right way.”

Dance’s solution is simple. “We have to take risks in British television” he said. “It has to stop playing to the lowest common denominator and patronising people. And I’m certainly not the only actor who thinks British television needs a bit of a kick up the arse.”

The Great Fire
Dance praised the ambition of The Great Fire where parts of the set were burnt to the ground. Photograph: Patrick Redmond/Ecosse Films/ITV

Nonetheless, he saluted the “ambition” of The Great Fire, which saw ITV spend more than £1m on a purpose built set of restoration-era London, only to burn it to to the ground in the filming of the four-part drama.

Despite admitting the prospect of playing yet another villain was “quite tedious”, it was a personal interest in the period of Charles II’s return to the throne and the conspiracy theories that abounded around the events of 1666 that eventually convinced Dance to put aside his dislike for “those dreadful periwigs” and accept the role, alongside Broadchurch star Andrew Buchan and Danny Mays, who plays famous diarist Samuel Pepys. He revelled in the interesting parallels between the state of politics then and now.

Dance said: “I think it’s a great era in history. There had been this sterile period after Charles I’s decapitation, the Cromwellian rather severe and puritanical era whcih was very dull for a lot of people. Then the monarchy was restored and there was this great feeling of optimism. But Charles II just turned out to be this louche party animal who was completely out of touch. It was a bit like, in my mind anyway, the day that Tony Blair swept into power and the piece of grey flannel that had been flying from the national flagpole was pulled down and this big smily, ‘everything’s going to be alright figure took charge’.” Trailing off with a deep laugh, he added: “Little did we know…”

However, his recent years working on Game of Thrones, a show rife with sexually explicit scenes, clearly had an impact on the actor who bemoaned the absence of the illustrious libertine, the Earl of Rochester, from the new drama.

“It’s quite a tame portrayal of Charles II’s court, which was actually quite sordid,” said Dance. “ I’m surprised Rochester doesn’t appear somewhere in there, swanning around, behaving appallingly and quoting vulgar poems. I would have liked it to have been a lot raunchier.”

The Guardian,

$2 million-plus pledged for Oz docs

In a single, extraordinary day more than $2 million in donations was pledged to seven Australian feature-length documentaries on Wednesday. The scale of the financial support stunned the organisers of the first Good Pitch Australia event, which aids social impact documentaries.

Equally surprised were the recipients. “I am speechless,” said producer Marguerite Grey, who is collaborating with director Belinda Mason on Constance on the Edge,which looks at the struggles of a Sudanese refugee, Constance Okot, and her six children in Wagga Wagga. The docu was the biggest single recipient with pledges of more than $500,000 for the production and an initial outreach strategy which includes hosted regional film screenings and education and training resources.

Screen Australia provided $15,000 for research and development in March and in September Screen NSW gave $10,000 for filming a trailer for Good Pitch and for broadcasters to help secure project finance. However the ABC and SBS rejected the producer’s initial requests for investment, stating the project did not suit their programming priorities.

Grey was overwhelmed by the responses to their Good Pitch presentation from the philanthropic foundations, private philanthropists and corporate foundations who were among the audience of 300 at the Opera House.

“Following our seven-minute pitch, Susan Mackinnon from Documentary Australia Foundation, who is executive producer of Constance on the Edge, kicked off the table discussion by announcing philanthropic support of $100,000 had already been pledged. A foundation on our table generously added $25,000 and then someone at a microphone said they represented two donors who had pledged $50,000 – all within a few minutes.

“Then a man stepped up and pledged $200,000 to audible gasps from many in the room including Constance, and it kept going from there. It was as though Susan had struck a match and our funding took off like a grass fire. Many people including other filmmakers made very personal pledges for a range of amounts, $1,000, $20,000, $5,000, with some saying it was because they understood the difficulties of being an Australian with a refugee background. Suddenly our struggle to stay in production had ended and we knew we could make our film.”

Good Pitch is the international documentary forum devised by BRITDOC and Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Good Pitch Australia is an initiative of Shark Island Institute and Documentary Australia Foundation.

More than 150 grants were made by philanthropic foundations and individual donors on the day. Among those who committed their support are NAB, The Fledgling Fund, Australian Women Donor’s Network, GetUp, YMCA, The Funding Network, The Caledonia Foundation, White Ribbon, The Westpac Group, The George Institute for Global Health, Diabetes Australia, Inside Film, Dumbo Feather, Lock The Gate, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, AIME, the Sydney Film Festival, Chicken & Egg Pictures, Chicago Media Project, Impact Partners, Philanthropy Australia, Pro Bono Australia, Documentary Australia Foundation and the Shark Island Institute.

By Don Groves INSIDEFILM [Fri 10/10/2014]

More Here;

http://if.com.au

Move over, Morse: female TV detectives are on the case now

From DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect to The Killing’s Sarah Lund and Gillian
Anderson in The Fall, female sleuths have transformed crime drama, creating a richer brand of whodunit

Tough and tender: Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, a show British television changed in 1991, when DCI Jane Tennison (steadying herself outside the door, taking a deep breath, fixing a cool expression on to her face) walked into an incident room filled with a sneering, jeering, sniggering, lewd, matey, loyal band of detectives who were almost all male: a rugby team of lads, incredulous that someone in a skirt was to take charge of a murder investigation, humiliated by having a woman boss. The drama of who killed and mutilated the female victims ran alongside the drama of a woman battling in a man’s world: how could Tennison withstand the hostility and outright bullying of her colleagues and bosses, and at the same time manage her private life? She had to be tougher than the men at work and still soft and tender at home, placating her lover, apologising to him, cooking for him, compartmentalising her world, though of course the boundaries kept crumbling and collapsing. In the lonely spaces in between, she stood in corridors, visibly collecting herself for the next fight; she smoked ravenously. She was her own battleground.

Produced by a woman (Sally Head), written by a woman (Lynda La Plante) and starring a woman (Helen Mirren), Prime Suspect turned the familiar detective show inside out, dismantling the world that had become so familiar on TV, where maverick male detectives were the experts and women usually the victims – the abandoned body, the mutilated object on the floor, legs splayed and throat cut and dead eyes staring up at us, the clue that needed solving. It was an exhilarating spectacle of female assertiveness and protest, and of its bitter personal cost.

Twenty-three years later, the lonely figure of Jane Tennison has been joined by a thickening crowd of other women; an exception has become a trend. Female detective dramas have almost become their own genre. Move over Poirot, Wexford, that helped to redefine TV crime drama.

Morse, Frost, Bergerac et al – for many of whom time barely seems to pass, and whom experience does not scar – to make way for Gillian Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson (The Fall, which is returning next month), Olivia Colman’s DS Ellie Miller, (Broadchurch, the second series of which is scheduled for 2015), Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones’s DCs Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey (Scott & Bailey, the fourth series of which started last month), Vicky McClure’s DC Kate Fleming (Line of Duty), Sarah Lancashire’s Sgt Catherine Cawood (Happy Valley),Brenda Blethyn’s DCI Vera Stanhope (Vera). And let’s not forget Sofie Gråbøl’s Sarah Lund (The Killing) and Sofia Helin’s Saga Norén (The Bridge). Women are solving crimes now; women are exploring our terrors, doubts and anxieties for us. And very terrific and odd women they are.

Brilliance: The Bridge’s Saga Norén, played by Sofia Helin, is among the new wave of For this female cast often bring their own psychodramas into the traditional whodunnit, making it rich and bleak and murkily complicated. They are themselves mysteries; they resist easy solutions and the dynamic momentum of plot, which drives forward in spite of the repeated tugs of red herrings, and gets tangled up in the downward pull of character, in the labyrinths of memory, sadness, anger and guilt.

Fictional detectives are often loners, but being women makes them doubly alone.

Many thrillers are about good and evil, but these thrillers are about being human, flawed and in trouble. They make us care not only about the outcome – the satisfying narrative click is still there, if sometimes a bit muffled – but also about the characters. We identify with them, fear for them, want them to be happy, know they won’t be, want to own their shirts, or jumpers, or coats. For a while they are more real than our reality.

The Killing, which was in the front line of the new female-led detective series, had a plot that was addictive and yet creaked with inconsistencies. It was assembled from hefty building blocks of misdirection. But flowing around these, washing through every crack in the investigation, was the intimate stuff of ordinary life: the slow and terrifying unfolding of grief, the aftermath of horror, the grubby and impressionistic portrait of a city, streets half-seen through car windows, where the rain falls and light doesn’t come and the fog shrouds buildings in strangeness. And at the heart of this was Lund, little and pale and stern, and most wonderfully grumpy. Wearing that genre-redefining female TV detectives

jumper that spawned a thousand copies, chewing that gum, not speaking when expected, making mistakes and never apologising, letting down her boyfriend, letting down her son, behaving terribly, not smiling, not explaining, not agreeing, not listening, not being womanly. Not a good girl at all, but an intractable, unstoppable force.

Gender changes meaning. If Sarah Lund had been Sean Lund, her behaviour wouldn’t be particularly remarkable or taboo-breaking. Not being there for her son, arriving at family occasions late or not at all, being curt: that’s what men with important jobs do all the time. It is easier for them to break the rules, since they made them in the first place; indeed, the rule-breaking, the violence and the hard drinking seem part of what makes them effective detectives. Women’s behaviour, by contrast, is judged against the norm of their male colleagues: it can never be invisible, never taken for granted. And for a woman to behave as a man often does sets up a conflict in the viewer as well – we want her to be like this, but we also don’t because she’s swinging a wrecking ball through her life. Some of the most nerve-racking moments of the series involved not the tracking of the murderer but the moments when Lund’s jaw clenched and we knew she was about to do something that she might not regret but that we partly would. Her demented pluckiness radicalised the plot.

Demented pluckiness … Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah Lund in The Killing.

If The Bridge’s Norén had been played by a man, everything would have changed: the moment when she walks up to a stranger in a bar, for instance, asking if he wants sex, would not give us the same frisson of discomfort and delight. A male would not have set us alight as Norén did with her social blindness, her brilliance, her role as truth-teller and, in the end, as the conscience of a drama that investigates the murky world of crime and exposes fault lines in society and in the self.

Happy Valley’s Sergeant Cawood is doubly an outsider, because Cawood is not just a female police officer but a grandmother – not so young any more, or glamorous, but bashed about by life and now on a journey that will take her back into her own past.

This is a series written by a woman, Sally Wainwright, that – through one extraordinary ordinary woman – can examine decades of damage in a family and a community. While it has a dynamic story, it also bores down through the strata of guilt and love and grief and failure. Happy Valley is superbly made and beautifully acted, especially by Lancashire, whose face is etched with a life of sorrow and endurance, and whose character is so encumbered by baggage that the series almost resembles a high-quality misery memoir in uniform, or a female northern gothic (the music in the opening credits is very like the music from the southern gothic detective series Justified). Cawood is the sister of a heroin addict; her daughter was raped, had a child by the rapist, committed suicide, and this in turn broke up Cawood’s marriage. Her ex-husband has remarried but they still sleep together. And this is before episode one has even begun. She has so much on her mind, no wonder she forgets to call for backup when going down into a dark cellar alone. These female detective dramas are a very Protestant genre: people carry burdens they will never shake off; character is an accretion of memory and guilt.

When a male detective spits in the hair of DC Fleming in Line of Duty, it matters that a man is spitting at a woman. It makes it perverse as well as ugly. When DCI Gibson, in The Fall, examines the body of a sexually abused and murdered woman, it makes all the difference that a woman is looking at a woman – that a living woman is touching a dead woman’s body, staring at the wounds, imagining what took place. A woman is hunting a serial rapist of women, and there is an intimacy between the worlds of the living and the dead, a connection.

Fetishised: Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall is subject to The Fall explores notions of femaleness and sexual violence and it does so in a way that is powerfully unsettling and sometimes queasy-making. The camera lingers on its central character: her strongly beautiful profile and the full curve of her lips; her sleek hair, her gorgeous silk shirts (almost as iconic as Lund’s jumper), her shapely calves, the way she looks as she swims, as she undresses. She is itemised, fetishised, turned into a body, watched and assessed. It can feel that the way the serial killer watches his victims is eerily replicated by the way the camera watches Gibson. She complicates this by her own sexual behaviour; aloof, icy, sexually passionate without being warm, she uses men the way that men traditionally use women. She turns them into objects, the way that women are turned into objects by the male gaze or, at the other end of the spectrum, by the rapist.

Gibson, like Tennison or Lund, destabilises the traditional whodunnit. Fictional male detectives in the past have often been robust figures of competence, standing at the some lingering camera work. centre of the plot, from where they make sense of the incomprehensible, turn chaos into order, join up the clues to find the criminal, restore normality. But we no longer have such a belief in authority (the “Evening, all” of Dixon of Dock Green), in disinterested genius or in absolute answers. The world we live in now is more tentative, contingent and compromised; the doctor, the priest and the detective can’t solve everything. The lover won’t come like a knight on a charger to rescue the woman in distress (in fact, it’s better to beware the lover). We have only ourselves to depend on. We are our own redeemers because there is no God, though there is still Freud, and the notion of Manichean good and evil has been replaced by things that are murkier and less comforting. The Fall, or Broadchurch, or Happy Valley or Line of Duty are not neatly resolved; lives have been wrecked and grief cannot be assuaged. It uses the old tropes to make new meanings. There can’t be happy endings any more. Female detectives represent this new kind of reality because they often become implicated in the stories they are trying to make sense of. Women, however defended they are and strong, have a vulnerability about them simply because of their gender.

This porousness of boundaries is at the heart of Broadchurch. Colman’s heart-wrenchingly touching DS Miller seems at first a more traditional female character than her fictional colleagues. For a start, she isn’t in charge but subordinate to David Tennant’s Alec Hardy. Hardy is the brooding, silent, complicated one with the tragic backstory, while Miller seems to have a life of domestic stability, almost a stereotype were it not for the poignancy Colman brings to the role. Miller is happily married and has a son; her manner is practical and motherly. She puts warming mugs of tea into Hardy’s thin, cold hands, comforts people, responds with instinctive kindness to the sorrow of others. But (spoiler alert) it turns out that the horror they are trying to hunt down is inside her own home, her bed, her heart; she’s been lying night after night beside a paedophile and murderer.

Heart-wrenching … Olivia Colman brings poignancy to the role of DS Ellie Miller in For in this female world, the detective is also a victim. The walls between the professional and private worlds collapse and this allows the viewer to identify with the character, as we can never identify with the expert, the invulnerable or the flawless. Few of TV’s female detectives become enduring staples in the way of Morse, Broadchurch. Wexford and the rest – perhaps because the pressure of the women’s interior worlds must always explode outwards. They cannot be the stable centre of a drama lasting years or decades.

Perhaps Scott & Bailey will prove the exception to this rule of loneliness and instability: a complicated and intimate female friendship and working partnership lies at the heart of the show (which was created by women and written, again, by Wainwright) and this friendship is the foundation for its success and staying power.

There might be frictions and rivalries, but the two detectives share secrets and a wry humour, drink pints of beer and glasses of wine together, bring humanity and wit to a world of poverty and gruesome murder. The two of them and their female boss normalise female authority in a way that a woman alone cannot.

Detective novels recently have been full of unreliable narrators. Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep are two of the most interesting examples of the linear form of a whodunnit being derailed by the narrative voice; there have been thrillers told by characters suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, desperately trying to keep the pieces of their world in place and making a coherent picture out of fragments. The slipperiness of memory and the self-deceptions of the mind compromise the notion of an absolute truth. (I write psychological thrillers with my husband, Sean French, under the name of Nicci French: when we chose to have a female psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, as the protagonist of our series, it was because we felt a detective of the mind could more satisfyingly explore contemporary anxieties and because a woman is always in some sense an outsider, who does not and cannot belong to the old world order.) In the same way, many of the new female-detective dramas challenge the familiar realism of the genre – and of course realism is a style like any other, that lays a template over the mess of life and gives the fictional illusion of order and completion. Female detectives tend to bring instability into a story because they are always on the margins, having to negotiate in a man’s world and refreshing a complacent genre with a new self-awareness.

I bought The Fall as a box set (the phrase “binge-watching” has just been added to the Oxford Dictionary), having read reviews that were almost unanimous in their acclaim. But I couldn’t hurtle through it. Halfway into the first savage episode I started to cover my eyes, looking through my fingers and then not looking at all.

Finally, I had to turn it off and for many months couldn’t return to it, because I had been so unnerved and horrified by the level of cruelty towards women. The serial rapist and killer watches his chosen victim, follows her, toys with her, tortures and obliterates her; we do not see her as a subject in her own world, but as an object – the  object he has chosen. These slow, drawn-out scenes are intercut with scenes in which Gibson has sex. And just as the rapist toys with and tortures his victim, so the camera toys with the viewer, giving agonising moments of hope before the final extinction.

The Fall powerfully explores sexual violence and the way in which serial rapists and killers eroticise power and death, but there’s a very fine line between exploring violence and male misogyny and simply portraying, even enacting it. I couldn’t work out if it was feminist or almost pornographic in its visceral depictions of degradation and sexual horror. Perhaps it is both – and perhaps that’s why it is so powerfully disturbing. But I wonder if the series could have got away with its portrayal of the sexual torture of women if it hadn’t had a strong professional woman at its centre.

Did Anderson’s DCI Gibson legitimise the portrayal of sexual horror?

Alfred Hitchcock famously said that thrillers were about making women suffer. In a recent piece in the New Statesman, the actor Doon Mackichan passionately attacks mainstream TV drama and film for feeding the culture that sees violence against women as entertainment. She writes that she will no longer act in any drama with a storyline involving “violence against women”, unless it has a radical feminist agenda.

She is partly echoing what the thriller writer and reviewer Jessica Mann wrote in hernow famous diatribe against sadistic misogyny in contemporary crime fiction, in which “young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, strung up or tied down, raped, sliced, burned, blinded, beaten, eaten, starved, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive”. And she adds that female writers are as guilty as their male colleagues.

I’m writing as one of those women increasingly troubled by the violence in our genre.

It’s a fine line, a grey area, a slippery slope. In Happy Valley, we see a young woman kidnapped, brutalised, sexually assaulted and drugged in a series of extended sequences across six episodes. We are immersed in a world of suffering. Mackichan wants dramas that do not involve violence against women. But the world is full of misogynist violence and art will always be drawn to areas of darkness and trouble.

Look at fairytales: even little children need a safe way to explore horror and cruelty.

Women do suffer and women are raped, and while it’s a fine line to tread between what is justified and what is gratuitous, at least now there are a great many brilliant, strong, determined, heroic women detectives in fiction – if not yet in fact – who can help them.

Women saving women.

Women saving themselves.

Nicci Gerrard – The Observer, Sunday 5 October 2014

UK: Sherlock, Downton Abbey: what the US can learn from our TV exports

As Benedict Cumberbatch’s detective scoops seven Emmys, what is the secret of successful UK drama?

Last week, BBC1’s Sherlock took home no fewer than seven Emmys – a higher total than Game of Thrones or even Breaking Bad, which was hailed as the big winner on the night. So while British TV critics regularly – and often justifiably – lament that the best drama is made in America, UK series are now enjoying unprecedented success in the US.

Downton Abbey led the way, scooping 11 Emmys for its first three series on US public service broadcaster PBS, which also co-produces Sherlock and Call the Midwife.

Cable channel BBC America provides a more niche showcase for the best of British drama, airing shows including Doctor Who, Broadchurch and Luther. Other US cable channels (such as Sundance, which shares The Honourable Woman with BBC2) are looking more and more to UK drama for co-productions.

So do the Americans – after years of adulation the other way – now have something to learn from us? “Everybody’s saying it’s now the golden age of drama on television – but I also think it’s the global age of drama on television,” says Beth Hoppe, chief programming executive at PBS. “Borders don’t matter when it’s fantastic acting, writing and storytelling – that’s what’s resonating with Emmy voters. I was thrilled that the accents [in Sherlock] didn’t get in the way.”

Indeed for Hoppe, Britain’s multi-skilled actors – such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Sherlock’s two Emmy-winners in the acting categories – are one of our key selling points. “It’s common for British actors like Derek Jacobi, who’s in [ITV sitcom and PBS import] Vicious, to be on stage, or to be on screen, or to be on the small screen,” she says. “So there’s that great tradition of acting, rather than being a movie star.” Hoppe points to Matthew McConaughey, Emmy-nominated last week for HBO’s True Detective, who is among a growing number of US film actors now making the switch to TV.

Britain’s off-screen talent is increasingly recognised across the Atlantic too, with Steven Moffat the other big Emmy winner as co-creator of Sherlock. “There’s an individuality to the way that we do it,” says Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s head of drama commissioning. “If you look at all the shows really that have been successful in the US – whether it’s Julian Fellowes with Downton Abbey, or Heidi Thomas with Call the Midwife, or Steven and Mark Gatiss for Sherlock – they are all driven, in the main, by one writer.”

Though the US terrestrial networks still employ big writers’ rooms, to churn out annual runs of 22 episodes, award-winning cable shows now often rely on the creative vision of a single writer (such as Vince Gilligan for Breaking Bad, and Matt Weiner for Mad Men). Industrial-scale US network shows also don’t necessarily punch through in the way that a short-run British drama can. While Sherlock cleaned up, there was no Emmy love this year for CBS’s Elementary, which tells similar modern-day Holmes mysteries, and has already racked up 48 episodes. “Elementary is a good show, but it’s week-in-week-out, story-of-the-week – it’s there to do a job and it does it really, really well,” says Stephenson. “Sherlock is there to be a special event, it’s there to be like a big movie that comes out every so often, and is explosive when it does – they’re very different beasts.”

Online services, such as Netflix and Amazon, are also these days helping UK series – such as Ripper Street and The Fall – to find their niche across the Atlantic. “I think there’s something about the specificity of stories, and of place, that audiences across the world are really responding to,” says Stephenson. “So just as we in the UK are responding really well to Scandinavian stories, which we wouldn’t have done 10 years ago, even very parochial British stories are engaging American audiences. Happy Valley has just been sold to Netflix for a lot of money.”

The biggest British drama in the US is Downton Abbey, another PBS co-production. In the 2013-14 season, Downton was – with 13 million viewers plus – the 18th highest rated show in the US. For the past three years, it has been the first UK series ever to be shortlisted not in the Emmys’ miniseries category, but up against America’s big guns – including Breaking Bad – for outstanding drama series.

Gareth Neame, Downton’s executive producer, says that TV know-how now travels both ways across the Atlantic. “I think what they have learnt from us is that the old model – that you have to pilot everything, then you order 13 episodes, and another nine if it works, and everything being very prescribed – is not the answer,” says Neame. “But equally we have a lot to learn – the ambition in the writing, the mechanisation of television so that shows can be made quickly and efficiently, the way they can be monetised.”

There’s certainly plenty of money flowing: when PBS co-produces a series with the BBC or ITV, it typically provides between 10% and 40% of the budget (which can be well over £1m an hour). And the UK’s new high-end TV drama tax credit has attracted a lot of US producers to actually shoot here: BFI figures show that, in its first year of operation, the tax credit attracted £225m of inward investment.

PBS’s Hoppe believes that the transatlantic momentum will continue – she’s already  looking forward to next year’s Emmys. “I’ve been very frustrated that Call the Midwife hasn’t received Emmy nominations – I think it’s because it appeals so female. I’m not sure if the guys who are Emmy voters are watching.” Then she chuckles: “I’m going to personally put a DVD under the door of every man in Hollywood, and try to get some votes for that baby.” Watch out, HBO: as if Sherlock Holmes and the Earl of Grantham weren’t enough, now the midwives of Poplar are coming to get you.

Neil Midgley – Monday 1 September 2014 – The Guardian

Box-Office Crash: What Caused Hollywood’s Miserable Summer?

It’s official: North American summer revenue barely cracks $4 billion, an eight-
year low and down 15 percent from 2013

To understand the upside-down summer at the box office, consider that Sony’s 22 Jump Street, made for about $50 million, ended up grossing nearly as much in North America as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the studio’s $200 million-plus tentpole that represents the type of movie on which Hollywood long has relied to drive summer slates. 22 Jump Street earned $193.3 million domestically, versus $202.8 million for the Spider-Man sequel (Neighbors, another R-rated comedy, also prospered).

All the usual rules were tossed out as comedies, female-fueled films and Guardians of the Galaxy, the season’s top-grossing title despite being released in the dog days of August, were left to make up for underperforming franchise pics. “Ultimately, it comes down to content, and the content just wasn’t as good as it has been in previous years,” says entertainment analyst Eric Handler of MKM Partners. Adds one studio executive, “many of the tentpoles that underperformed were more of the same and way too long. People ate up Guardians because it was a departure from the norm.”

Domestic revenue from May 2 through Labor Day came in at an estimated $4.05 billion, an eight-year low and, when accounting for inflation, a 17-year low.

Moreover, revenue was down 15 percent from last summer’s record $4.75 billion, while attendance tumbled more than 5 percent. Not one film has crossed $300 million domestically for the first time since 2001, though Guardians of the Galaxy will ultimately reach that mark (its domestic cume is just north of $280 million).

If there’s any solace, it’s that the international marketplace remains strong, although the World Cup hurt box office returns in key soccer markets. Nor were there major debacles akin to summer 2013 disasters The Lone Ranger and After Earth. Still, Sony appears to have put its Amazing Spider-Man franchise on ice after ASM2 topped out at $708.3 million, which included only $202.9 million domestic.

Paramount’s Transformers: Age of Extinction also hit a franchise low in the U.S., but it has amassed north of $1.07 billion globally after becoming the top film of all time in China with $331 million. “There is no question the movie business is cyclical,” says Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. Age of Extinction’s lengthy running time of 165 minutes no doubt hurt it in the U.S. (the previous installments were shorter).

Warner Bros., usually the dominant summer player, saw its revenue drop a massive 39.5 percent from 2013 as of Aug. 1. Godzilla, the studio’s top earner, grossed $507.9 million globally, while Tom Cruise’s big-budget Edge of Tomorrow finished with $364 million. Disappointments included Adam Sandler’s Blended and Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys. “Our summer did not live up to our expectations,” says Warners distribution chief Dan Fellman, “though Tammy will be profitable. We’ll also have a very strong fourth quarter.”

Disney, without a summer animated film for the first time in a decade, did great with Maleficent and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Fox, on a winning streak, will win the market-share honor thanks to X-Men: Days of Future Past ($745.4 million), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($611.5 million) and The Fault in Our Stars ($286.5 million), among other titles. “All of our movies were fresh and well-received. That’s ultimately what matters,” said Fox domestic distribution chief Chris Aronson. “Give the people more of what they want.”

Females powered both Fault and Maleficent as well as Universal’s Lucy, suggesting an underserved demo. Maleficent, a boon for star Angelina Jolie, grossed $748.7 million worldwide, the No. 2 title of the summer after Age of Extinction.

If there’s a common refrain on Wall Street and in Hollywood as the season ends, it’s that next summer will restore balance with Avengers: Age of Ultron, Fast & Furious 7, Pixar’s Inside Out and Universal’s Jurassic World. But with so many entertainment options now vying for eyeballs, the fear is that summer 2014 is the start of a new reality. “You have to answer two critical questions: Do I have to see it now? And do I have to see it on the big screen?” says Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. “If the answer is ‘no’ to either, you are in trouble.”

01/09/2014 by Pamela McClintock – THR

TV writers lift the lid on the art of funny business

JUSTIN Kennedy takes it as a compliment that most viewers don’t realise The Project has a team of writers. Actors and presenters are the face of the machine, deservedly taking credit for their performance. But who put the words in their mouths? Who dreamt up the storyline, wove the intricate characters and moulded the rapid-fire succession of jokes that keep us in stitches?

In Australia, there are jobbing writers, who bounce from project to project, content creators, team players and solo sailors. We spoke to some of the smarties behind the scenes who bring our favourite shows to life.

At The Project, Channel 10’s nightly news and chat show, former stand-up Kennedy and his colleagues script witty one-liners and clever segues to prompt the panellists.

“It’s giving them options, pre-loaded,” Kennedy says. “It’s basically just a fallback.

“We kind of juggle different elements in the show. The first one is we choose the news chats, the headlines that will turn into a funny chat. Something lighthearted generally. We’ll have a couple of serious bits, then the news item that breaks off into a 30-second conversation.

Kennedy and three other writers bounce ideas off each other, which is a luxury he didn’t have in a previous, and much less glamorous, job.

“I worked on (ABC program) Letters and Numbers as a writer, as the only writer,” he says. “That’s another show where people go, ‘There’s a writer for that?’

“Basically all I had to do was write a lot of letter and number metaphor intros. It was a bit lonely, sitting in this little room in Elsternwick going slowly at writing out 300 or more wordplay-based intros each week.”

Josh Thomas says he’s had input from script producer Liz Doran and co-star Thomas Comedian Josh Thomas’ brief stint with Rove was distinctly unrewarding. “I did like, a week of interning on Rove,” he says. “There was this segment, ‘What I’ve Learned this Week’, where they’d all say a joke. You’d have to write like 20 of those. Then I worked on Rove’s monologue. You get sent the topics, and write some jokes, and then he turns them into his monologue. I never got in. Or, I got, like, one joke in that, and another in the end segment in about six weeks.”

But far from finding it demoralising, Thomas counts his time with Rove as a valuable experience. “I got a few weeks in and realised it’s just not what I do. I had a go. They didn’t renew my contract. I probably wouldn’t have renewed my contract either. Sometimes that’s a good lesson.”

These days, Thomas is in the enviable position of creating his own material from scratch. After years spent pitching the concept for ABC2’s Please Like Me, he wrote the show almost single-handedly. Having nursed the show from conception to realisation, it was an extremely personal project.

Thomas admits that writing the first season of six episodes was exhausting, and the second time around, he has had to accept more help from his closest creative confidants, script producer Liz Doran and friend and co-star Thomas Ward. “So we sort of plot the show together and then I go off and write it,” he says. “We’re being so quick this time, it’s like three weeks an episode (to write). If I don’t get it done, Liz and Tom and I divide it up.

When Thomas writes for female characters, he draws on advice from Doran, but women are still significantly under-represented as writers.

Robyn Butler, who has dabbled on Micallef Tonight and the Eric Bana Sketch Show, says the situation is slowly changing. “But when I started out, I’ve often been the only woman in the room and had to tell the others that I’m not the one who makes the tea,” she says. “It’s just a more male pursuit, comedy.

“Interestingly, Kath and Kim and The Librarians have women front and centre. They’re written by women who put women in the frame. It’s not that men are being mean. It’s just not their reality, it’s not their world.”

Butler mainly works with one bloke, her husband and writing partner Wayne Hope.

Most recently they’ve enjoyed success with Upper Middle Bogan on the ABC. “We started out writing everything together,” she says. “Less so in the last two years, as our slate has been so full. The story is the hardest part for me. I call the dialogue the dessert. That’s the easy part for me personally. The story is the part where I feel a bit sick.

“If I don’t know what happens next, I’ll go to Wayne and we’ll go for a walk around the block. Our poor dogs, they hate it when we’re writing, they get walked so much.”

Butler reckons Hope is the “ideas man”, which he says is “lovely, but not true”.

“I like the broad strokes, I like kicking that around. Conceptual stuff, underlying motivations for storylines and people,” he says. “Then I quite like moving that into story arcs and story beats. But that’s where Robyn’s skill comes into it. Her ability to shape scenes, so that every scene has its merits, every scene is charged, is her absolute skill. And then she sprinkles it with brilliant dialogue.”

“It’s like, ‘Guess what? My job is to make stuff up’. I’m a writer. It’s the difference between someone sitting down and painting a landscape they can see, and painting a Jackson Pollock out of their head.”

Anna Brain – Herald Sun – August 08, 2014

More Here:

www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/television

Piracy crackdown misses the real crime

Hollywood demands government help so it can keep ripping us off.

Advice from Google and others that piracy is primarily a “pricing and availability” problem has fallen on deaf ears, the government would rather listen to the likes of The leaked Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper, obtained last Friday by news website Crikey, is pretty much what we expected from Australia’s federal government. The opening statement pays lip service to ensuring that “content is accessed easily and at a reasonable price”. The rest is dedicated to outlining harsher penalties and technical countermeasures which are doomed to fail.

It would be great to see Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull jump to the defence of Australian consumers – whom they supposedly represent – as quickly as they jump to the defence of the powerful copyright lobby group. Advice from Google and others that piracy is primarily a “pricing and availability” issue has fallen on deaf ears, the government would rather listen to the likes of Village Roadshow.

The Online Copyright Infringement discussion paper feels like the work of a government which wants to be seen to be acting, rather than a government which actually wants to address the underlying problem. Where’s the discussion paper considering the impact of this year’s Foxtel Game of Thrones deal on consumer choice, or what might happen if Murdoch gains control over both HBO and Foxtel?

While we’re at it, where’s the discussion paper considering the role of parallel import laws in the digital age and the impact of geoblocking on consumer price gouging when it comes to entertainment? Last year’s IT pricing enquiry had a lot to say about Microsoft and Adobe but very little to say about Hollywood.

Just like region-coding on discs, geoblocking exists so movie studios can get away with offering Australians less and charging us more simply because we’re Australian. Village Roadshow.

Rather than addressing this issue, it seems the government is happy to support a ban on circumventing “technological measures” – which might include geoblocking – as part of the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

It’s been explained time and again how easy it is to bypass any technological countermeasures put forward to thwart piracy and geo-dodging. You don’t need to be a geek to master the use of proxies and Virtual Private Networks in order to side-step the internet service provider-level site blocking proposed in the discussion paper.

There are even browser plugins which let you beat site filtering with a single click.

Most people are prepared to do the right thing given the chance, unless they feel like they’re being ripped off. Content providers have been screwing Australians for years.

Now that consumers have finally found a way to fight back, the industry is demanding government help so it can continue to screw us.

Rather than put up laughably ineffective roadblocks to appease its powerful friends, the government would better serve the people by addressing the reasons why we break the law. Until it does, people won’t respect rules which are designed to ensure that Australians are treated as second-class citizens.

Adam Turner – SMH – July 28, 2014 – 10:37AM

TV’s Revolution in Story

Called “the best script doctor in the movie industry,” John Truby serves as a story consultant for major studios and production companies worldwide, and has been a script doctor on more than 1,800 movies, sitcoms and television dramas for the likes of Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures, FOX, HBO, Alliance Atlantis, Paramount, BBC, MTV and more.

When I travel the world teaching story classes, writers and producers don’t ask me how to write a Hollywood superhero movie. They want to know how to write shows that come close to the incredible quality of the drama they see on American television in shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

Indeed, a revolution in story has been unfolding in American TV drama for the past ten years. It is as significant as the rise of the novel in the mid-1700s, the shift in theater to psychological realism in the late1800s, the development of film in the early 1900s and the emergence of the video game as a story medium in the 1980s and ‘90s.

What do the best-written shows on television have in common? Well, the first thing you notice is that every one is a serial. And that makes all the difference. Every revolutionary move in character and plot stems from the emergence of the serial form.

In the old days, TV consisted almost entirely of stand-alone episodes. Writers told a complete dramatic story in forty-four minutes. For example, the criminal committed a murder in the first scene, and the cops caught him in the last. The following week, they told the same story with slightly different circumstances. This guaranteed that the medium as a whole could be nothing more than a factory of generic story product.

With the introduction of the remote and cable, the serial form was born on television.

Now shows had multiple main characters, with their own weaknesses and desires, and they didn’t solve their problems at the end of one episode, or even fifteen. In story terms, this meant, above all, interweaving multiple story lines over many episodes. No longer confined to a forty-four-minute straightjacket, a writer could get to a deeper truth by using film’s unique crosscutting ability to compare and contrast characters and storylines.

This had a huge structural effect on the TV story, because it meant that the unit of measure of the TV show was no longer the episode — it was the season. The canvas on which the writer worked became ten times as long as a feature film, and ten times as complex.

So, it’s no coincidence that the revolution in story occurred hand in hand with TV coming into its own as an art form. But how precisely did the serial form revolutionize the TV story in both character and plot? Let’s begin with the main character of the show, since the first principle of great storytelling is that plot comes from character.

Much has been made of the fact that serials sparked a fundamental shift from hero to anti-hero. Anti-hero, as it is commonly used, is a bit of a misnomer, and it obscures the revolutionary nature of these characters. Technically, an anti-hero is simply the opposite of the classic hero in some way. He, or she, may be a bumbler, a holy fool or a rebel.

But the way most critics define the term when talking about the leads in the great TV shows since The Sopranos is that anti-heroes are bad guys. Not evil, but bad, and therefore unlikable in some way. He may be a killer like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), a liar and philanderer like Don Draper (Mad Men), a meth dealer and a killer like Walter White (Breaking Bad) or a Machiavellian schemer and killer like Frank Underwood (House of Cards).

But these characters are not just bad — that’s simplistic and could not produce great stories for long. They are complex, which produces far better stories.

Now, the word complex is often thrown around in writing circles, and no one bothers to define it structurally. Most people think it refers to psychological contradictions, which all these characters certainly possess. But what it really means is that these characters have moral contradictions. So they all have a highly compartmentalized moral code that constantly tests them to the depths of their being.

Still, these complex lead characters, though crucial to the revolution in story, could not produce shows of such high quality over so many episodes and seasons. That comes from the character web of the story, probably the single-most important factor in creating a great show. Simply stated, the character web has to do with how all the characters in a story weave together as a single fabric, both connecting and contrasting. A show with a unique character web — in which each character is set in proper structural opposition to the others — is the only way writers can create great stories for several years.

When serials replaced stand-alone shows as the standard of television drama, they didn’t just deepen the main character. They radically increased the number of characters who could drive storylines, in effect showing the audience a mini-society.

Emmy-nominated shows like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey can track upwards of thirty or more important characters. This places a tremendous burden on the show’s creators and calls up another critical point: the audience will become completely lost unless the character web is highly organized.

The necessity of organizing the characters increases the quality of serials because it means that each mini-society is determined by some kind of system that controls people under the surface and even enslaves them. In The Sopranos it was the Mafia. In Mad Men it’s a consumer culture that glorifies a false American Dream. In Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey it’s a rigid patriarchal class structure.

In many of the best serials, writers use another critical technique in designing the character web: they highlight and explore the moral element in life, both within and among characters. Starting with the central moral problem of the hero, they make all other characters some variation of that problem. They construct a field of fire where all the characters must traverse morally dangerous ground.

This gives a show two additional strengths. First, even the minor characters have complexity, so each is individually compelling, while collectively they produce knockout power. Second, each episode is packed with plot: the writers tease the audience with a moral challenge in the opening and then relentlessly turn the screws until the final scene.

Shows like Breaking Bad, Homeland and CBS’s The Good Wife (nominated in 2011 and 2012 for Outstanding Drama Series and, in my view, the best-written show on broadcast television) have put a unique twist on the moral character web, one that has consistently generated great stories, episode after episode, season after season.

The story world is, in some form, a Darwinian state of nature in which the characters are forced to make nearly impossible moral decisions. The fundamental question each week is: Can these characters remain human, and decent, while they struggle to survive?

Shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards flip this technique. They are not about how to live a good life in a morally challenging world. They are about winning the game. In fact, the most revolutionary aspect of Game of Thrones has been its willingness to kill off its heroes — most notably in the shocking “Rains of Castamere” episode — largely because, in acting morally, they were also being stupid.

The move to the serial also expanded and deepened the plot of the TV story. Many observers have commented that this is a case of back to the future, to the serials of Charles Dickens and the tremendous plot density of the nineteenth-century French novel.

But the serials of TV drama have a fundamental difference from their predecessors: they are long-form narratives married to single event drama. The viewer enjoys both dense and surprising plot over the season as well as heart-stopping dramatic punch in each individual episode. The power of this combination to seduce and stimulate the viewer cannot be overestimated.

With the rise of the serial, the single biggest plot challenge for showrunners and their writing staffs became exponentially more difficult — and more compelling. It was no longer: How do you construct a tight and surprising episode? It was: How do you segment the plot and sequence the episodes over an entire season?

Again, the moral construct of the character web has often shown the way. The main technique top TV dramas like Breaking Bad and The Good Wife use to structure their episodes and seasons is to sequence the difficult moral challenges their heroes face. Breaking Bad’s creator–executive producer Vince Gilligan and writers like George Mastras and Thomas Schnauz are geniuses at this technique. By introducing Walt (Bryan Cranston) as a moral everyman, they were able to sequence the plot not just on the increased opposition he faced, but on his heightened moral challenges.

Each episode tracked both an escalation of trouble for Walt and a moral decision that was more complicated than the one that came before.

As this revolution in story plays out in television — and television takes over from film as the most influential and far-reaching entertainment medium in the world — we may see the revolution affect film as well. For years, Hollywood has made superhero movies for eleven months of the year, while releasing a handful of Oscar-worthy dramas in December. But no one is fooled anymore. Ten years of TV dramas telling the best stories in the world has the top acting, writing and directing talent clamoring to join the party.

Now it just so happens that in television, writers control the medium, and they are acknowledged to be the authors of their shows. So the astounding quality of writer-driven serials has quietly been exposing the absurdity of the auteur theory, which maintains that the director, not the writer, is the author of a film.

The best TV series — both within an episode and throughout a season — are all about story. The more a film or TV show is based on a well told story, as opposed to visual spectacle and detail, the more its authorship is based on the writer, not the director.

In the days of stand-alone TV, it was easy to distinguish the boring visuals of the small screen from the grandiose spectacle of film epics and thus depreciate television.

But again, things have changed. Television serials, in just one season, are far more epic than any movie, and they are filmed with just as much visual flair. With such great storytelling, no one would dream of claiming that the director is the author of a top TV drama. We can only hope that one day movies will see the light.

If you love story as much as I do, living through this revolution in TV drama has been an incredible ride. The lone drawback, of course, is finding time to watch all those great shows.

http://truby.com – July Newsletter

Leaked Paper Reveals Aussie Anti-Piracy Crackdown Musings

A leaked discussion paper has revealed Australian government musings surrounding a potential online piracy crackdown. Among them, changing the law to undermine a landmark 2012 court ruling which protected ISP iiNet from the infringements of its users, and new legislation to allow for ISP-level blocking of ‘pirate’ sites.

In common with all countries heavily involved with the distribution of U.S.-sourced entertainment products, Australia us under continuous pressure to do something about the online piracy phenomenon. Much of the negotiations have Attorney-General George Brandis at their core, with the Senator regularly being accused of lacking transparency. This week Aussie news outlet Crikey obtained (subscription) a leaked copy of a discussion paper in which Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull seek industry feedback on new anti-piracy proposals.

The discussion paper

Dated July 2014, the paper begins by outlining the Government’s perception of the piracy threat, noting that all players – from content creators to ISPs and consumers – have a role to play in reducing the illegal consumption of content.

It continues with details of schemes operating in the United States (Six-Strikes), UK (VCAP) and New Zealand which aim to develop consumer attitudes through education and mitigation. Inevitably, however, the paper turns to legislation, specifically what can be tweaked in order to give movie studios and record labels the tools they need to reduce infringement

ISP liability

The 2012 High Court ruling in the iiNet case signaled the end of movie and TV studio litigation against service providers. With their dream of holding ISPs responsible for the actions of their pirating users in tatters, copyright holders would need new tools to pursue their aims. It’s clear that Brandis now wants to provide those via a change in the law.

“The Government believes that even when an ISP does not have a direct power to prevent a person from doing a particular infringing act, there still may be reasonable steps that can be taken by the ISP to discourage or reduce online copyright infringement,” the paper reads. “Extending authorization liability is essential to ensuring the existence of an effective legal framework that encourages industry cooperation and functions as originally intended, and is consistent with Australia’s international obligations.”

PROPOSAL 1 – EXTENDING LIABILITY

“The Government is looking to industry to reach agreement on appropriate industry schemes or commercial arrangements on what would constitute ‘reasonable steps’ to be taken by ISPs,” the paper notes.

Website blocking

Given several signals on the topic earlier this year, it comes as no surprise that website blocking is under serious consideration. The paper outlines blocking mechanisms in Europe, particularly the UK and Ireland, which allow for court injunctions to be issued against ISPs.

PROPOSAL 2 – WEBSITE BLOCKING

The Irish model, which has already blocked sites including The Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents, is of special interest to the Australian Government, since proving that an ISP had knowledge of infringing conduct is not required to obtain an injunction. “A similar provision in Australian law could enable rights holders to take action to block access to a website offering infringing material, without the need to establish that a particular ISP authorized an infringement,” the paper notes, adding that such provisions would only apply to websites outside Aussie jurisdiction.

It’s likely that most copyright holders will be largely in favor of the Government’s proposals on the points detailed above, but whether ISPs will share their enthusiasm remains to be seen.

Stakeholders are expected to return their submissions by Monday 25th August.

By Andy – TorrentFreak – July 25, 2014

Box-Office Slump: Hollywood Facing Worst Summer in Eight Years

Less than six weeks before Labor Day, hopes for recovery at the North American summer box office have evaporated. The season is expected to finish down 15 to 20 percent compared with 2013, the worst year-over-year decline in three decades, and revenue will struggle to crack $4 billion, which hasn’t happened in eight years. As a result, analysts predict that the full year is facing a deficit of 4 to 5 percent.

Comparisons in North America are tough, considering revenue hit a record $4.75 billion in summer 2013. It didn’t help that Fast & Furious 7 was pushed from July to April 2015 following the death ofPaul Walker or that Captain America: The Winter Soldier opened in early April. But even bullish observers are grim. “Moviegoing begets moviegoing, and we have lost our momentum,” says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian. “People aren’t seeing trailers and marketing materials. They still want to go to the movies — they just want to go to really good movies.”

Although there have been no Lone Ranger-size debacles, for the first time since 2001 no summer pic will cross $300 million domestically (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Maleficent and Transformers: Age of Extinction hover near $230 million).

May kicked off with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 earning $200 million less domestically than 2013’s Iron Man 3; by July 20, the divide had swelled to nearly $690 million as revenue topped out at $2.71 billion, down 20 percent compared with the same period last year.

International returns remain strong, making up for some of the damage, but in certain cases they aren’t enough. Spider-Man 2 topped out at $706.2 million globally, notably behind the $757.9 million earned by The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. “I would have liked Amazing Spider-Man 2 to make a lot more money for us than it did, but it made a lot of money for us anyway,” Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

X-Men is the only tentpole that has earned more than its predecessor domestically (X-Men: First Class grossed $146.4 million in 2011), contributing to Fox’s best summer in years (it is No. 1 in market share). But Paramount’s Age of Extinction has grossed far less than previous Transformersmovies domestically, though it will be the first 2014 film to hit $1 billion worldwide thanks to $300 million in China.

“Young men haven’t been as enthusiastic as usual,” says analyst Phil Contrino.

“Maybe [studios] shouldn’t just go after this demo when building their summer tentpoles.” Female-fueled properties, including Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars, have produced some of the summer’s biggest success stories.

Also contributing to the malaise is a lack of family product (including no Pixar movie), the allure of TV and myriad ways consumers can view entertainment in their homes. (Laments one studio executive, “I wish I worked at Netflix.”)

Filmmaker Jon Favreau agrees that the popularity of television and new technologies are altering viewing habits. “I think times are changing. We have to acknowledge that and not try to chase what used to be,” says Favreau, who is currently prepping Jungle Book for Disney. At the same time, he said there will continue to be a worldwide appetite for big spectacle movies based on known brands.

But the Iron Man director is in theaters this summer not with a studio tentpole but with indie hit Chef, which has grossed north of $26 million to date, a coup for Favreau and independent distributor Open Road Films. With Chef, Favreau didn’t have to worry about making a film that needed to have the widest possible appeal. “It didn’t need to capture every person in every country,” he says.

Many medium-size studio movies have underperformed this summer, including Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West and Sony’s Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape, which opened July 18 to a meager $14.6 million.

For the summer to hit $4 billion and finish down only 15 percent, revenue needs to match last year’s through August. That puts pressure on Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules (July 25), Scarlett Johansson’sLucy (July 25), Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1) and Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Aug. 8). But it’s a tall order, considering last summer ended with a bang. “I don’t know if we have a major sleeper left this year, other than Guardians,” says Dergarabedian.

Still, many believe summer 2015 will restore order with a lineup that includes Avengers: Age of Ultron,Minions and Jurassic World. “I think it’s cyclical,” says X-Men producer Simon Kinberg. “Next summer will be the biggest box-office summer in history, and nobody will be worrying about the business.”

Pamela McClintock – The Hollywood Reporter – 23/7/2014