This section reprinted ferom EXPLORING THE MEDIA – TEXT, INDUSTRY, AUDIENCE Ed Barbara Connell
When you study any film, you will be concentrating on genre, narrative and representation, the major textual features of any media product. But you will also be asking questions about what those films reveal about audiences how they are targeted at, and how different audiences respond to films, and about the industry which produces and distributes them.
The section should provide you with a good starting point for exploring film and beginning to ask questions about the relationship between ‘texts’, their audiences and the industry which underlies them.
Genre – balance between industry and audience needs?
There are two important areas to explore’ when studying genre:
• How does the film industry use genre?
• What does genre offer audiences?
The film industry generally uses genre fairly simply – as a means of minimising the risk of failure. Genre allows the film industry to produce the kinds of film it thinks audiences will like, predicting future success based on what has already been commercially successful. Genre follows the principle of repeating and varying conventions – the elements which audiences like and therefore want to see again, This tendency to repeat based on previous commercial success often results in the emergence of a trend for a particular genre, For example, the considerable popular and crilical success of Ridley Scott’s classical epic, Gladiator spawned a succession of similar ‘sword and sandal’ movies, such as Troy and Alexander. Film franchises work in a similar way. If a character is popular with audiences, the film industry will often produce sequels, TV spin-offs and merchandise, extending the brand and maximising the money they will generate from fans. The Bourne films reflects this trend as the franchise already includes a video game, The Bourne Conspiracy and a further, fourth film is now planned to capitalise on the success of the original trilogy, As Greengrass himself said of the unresolved ending of The Bourne Ultimatum: ‘I want [Bourne] to survive; you never know when you might need him’.
Genre can also be used creatively by screenwriters and directors who can extend and vary genre conventions as well as subvert or even parody them, as Wes Craven’s Scream series did with the horror genre. But even this technique, new and fun when it first emerged, can become formulaic as the Scary Movie 1and 2 and IlSnow What You Did Last Summer and spin-off series of films have shown. The way the film industry uses genres could suggest that audiences are exploited and turned into passive consumers. However it can be equally argued that audiences actively choose the films they watch and that whilst many genres offer audiences something that is familiar, they gain pleasure from having their expectations fulfilled. What audiences seem to like most, however, is the familiar with slight variations. If a genre becomes formulaic, audiences tend to lose interest; they constantly want to be reassured by the expected and yet challenged by the unexpected. Whereas each individual car made according to the specifications of any one model should, ideally, be identical to all the others, each individual film belonging to a particular genre has to be different.
You could say, therefore, that genre is a balance between the Industry’s financial need for profit and audiences’ needs for entertainment and pleasure. Audience responses to genre can often appear contradictory. They like the familiar and the reassurance that genre conventions provide and yet they also become easily bored and are constantly demanding a degree of variety and innovation. Therefore, Hollywood has to extend, develop or even break genre conventions rather than rigidly adhering to an established formula. Genres are paradoxically placed as simultaneously conservative and innovative in so far as they respond to the expectations that are industry – and audience -based: Hollywood often raids other national cinemas in order to find that significant and fresh approach to a genre. You might think of the way the horror genre is refreshed by re-making Japanese films with The Ring and Dark Water. Film-makers also increasingly merge genres, creating hybrids. This mixing of conventions from different genres can help create films that are familiar but less formulaic. For example Brick sets Film Noir narrative in the world of Teen movies creating something new for fans of both genres.
This process of/subverting and mixing conventions has led to a new view of genre as a whole.
Rather than seeing genre as simple fixed categories that texts can be divided up into, genre is now seen as a fluid, evolving set of relationships. David Buckingham argues that ‘genre is not.., simply “given” by culture: rather, it is in a constant process of negotiation and change’
The use of genre conventions in the marketing of films similarly reflects the need for both repetition and difference. Posters frequently use a film’s genre to attract audiences – the images which are used, the choice of stars, the producer, director, taglines, typefaces and even colours can help indicate the genre of a film to a potential audience. However, marketing campaigns also aim to ensure that each film stands out from the competition. Unique selling points, such as stars, can be used to make films seem different and appealing but many posters will also showcase how the film deviates from the established formula of a genre, aiming to both maintain the interest of established fans and to develop a following from new fans.