Media Studies: Industry

To what extent are stars and/or celebrities important to the promotion of your three texts?

Stars are essential to the promotion of independent films while blockbuster films construct stars to promote their own brand. The advertising of mainstream movies moulds celebrities to reflect the ideals and values their product holds. They manipulate the real identity of stars in order to create a united brand. While independent movies such as Under the Skin (2013) and Beasts of No Nation (2015), must rely on a star to break into mainstream media, franchise movies such as 2012’s Skyfall exploit the actor, Daniel Craig, as a vessel for the brand’s values. Due to the blockbuster’s influence, Craig has become the Bond brand, not made it. The promotional power that blockbuster movies holds consequently bests the influence of independent movies in a modern market.

Stars are integral to independent film’s success because they launch the film into mass media market. Films such as Under the Skin (2013) and Beasts of No Nation (2015) rely on the draw of a popular celebrity: Idris Elba and Scarlett Johansson’s very presence in these independent movies promoted their own brand’s diversity in picking both franchise and niche movies (both have starred in Marvel hits Thor (2011) and Avengers Assemble (2012)) in order to create critical publicity. They also advertised the film to wider audiences to create mainstream appeal. For example, Elba and Johansson are activists, with the former speaking at the House of Commons on the film industry’s lack of diversity, and the latter speaking on contemporary feminist and environmental issues. They remain entertaining, however, as they embody Dyer’s star theory – the celebrity must be both ordinary, Elba is also a DJ, and extraordinary: Johannsson is the highest-grossing actress of all time in North America, with her films making over $3.6 billion. Both actors are seen as sex symbols for their audiences, spread through social networking and ever-growing internet fandoms. It is not only the actors that enhance promotion, but directors, composers and musicians too. They establish a brand that helps sell to an audience. Mica Levi’s Under the Skin film soundtrack featured themes so tightly woven into the movie that they give a symbiotic quality, in which the aural feels inseparable from the visual. The score was critically acclaimed for pushing the boundaries of music and sound design and Levi was nominated for multiple awards, including the 2015 BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. While this would not promote the film to mainstream viewers, it reached its niche target audience, and promoted the film with a bizarre, yet evidently effective, innovative quality: music became the star. The promotional appeal of artistic quality is also evidenced in directors: Under the Skin’s Jonathan Glazer took thirteen years to make the film using public money donated by the national lottery and BFI, and his delayed production style was heavily publicised by the BBC, raising questions about the intent of publicly funded films and his unusual yet intriguing style. Interestingly, Sam Mendes’ critically acclaimed, Oscar winning films (1999’s American Beauty and 2002’s Road to Perdition) introduced niche audiences to the mainstream franchise film, Skyfall, perhaps in spite of its conventional celebrity appeal. As a result, stars are essential to an independent film’s promotion as it relies on mainstream actors for commercial interest, but also innovative stars that evoke audience curiosity.

Niche movies don’t rely on the construction of a star to promote their product but remain true to their arthouse appeal. Johansson’s status as a sex symbol easily could’ve become the marketable point of the film’s campaign, especially as its thematic foundation lay in the sexual exploitation of men using the protagonist’s body. Despite this, her celebrity wasn’t essential to the film’s promotion as it wasn’t her stardom that was advertised. The Johansson constructed by the mass media wasn’t evident in a campaign that placed simple adverts on Craigslist sites, staying true to the film’s art house core. Johansson wasn’t promoted as a constructed character that typically relies on sexual marketable aspects to employ the Male Gaze (Laura Mulvey, 1975) in films such as Lucy (2014) and her role as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic universe. Under the Skin consequently chose critical gain over false financial promotion. Alternatively, Beasts of No Nation’s promotion didn’t rely on the construction of Elba’s celebrity because he wasn’t the star: Netflix was. Beasts of No Nation was the first film to be created by Netflix, demonstrating a change not just from the cinema-release of most films, but also that the first film to be released on the platform was a movie featuring all black characters dealing with controversial issues of genocide, sexual assault and child soldiers. It wasn’t centered in a Western location, but instead in an unspecified African country with the only on-screen white people acting as tourists, reinforcing careless perception of third world countries from the West. This, in itself, was remarkable promotion as it relied on something franchise movies don’t: difference and diversity. Marketing for the movie was simple but effective – the film was advertised on Netflix’s main homepage, witness to the site’s 69 million subscribers. As the site has grown more popular, raising to over 80 million in October 2016, the film remains successful and accessible to audiences who perhaps wouldn’t pay to see the film in the cinema and which would only have a small and limited release window. As a result, Netflix became the star, promoted instead of Idris Elba’s involvement, demonstrating that while independent films still need stars to promote their product, they can come in alternative, interesting new forms.

 

The promotion of blockbuster movies eclipse the fame of their stars and celebrities. Skyfall (2012) is the longest running and most financially successful English language film of all time, celebrating 50 years of its success across 23 films with Skyfall’s release. James Bond’s legacy, however, is not dependent on the fame and marketable abilities of its actor, evident through the character’s 9 on-screen transformations. Daniel Craig’s role as Bond was not different from his previous renovations, as he still fulfilled the archetype the Bond brand: a white, traditionally attractive, heterosexual male. Due to his relatively small fame before the release of Casino Royale in 2006, Craig has become the Bond brand, not made it. This is evidenced through the promotion of Skyfall. It’s marketing revolved around themes of national identity, through the joint campaign, ‘Visit Britain’, that explicitly stated through its slogan, “Bond is Great… Britain”. With the franchise’s worth tied to Britain and tradition, this worked effectively for Bond’s 50th century anniversary with connections to the royal family: 900 million people internationally watched Craig’s skit with the Queen for the 2012 Olympics, hosted in Britain, and Skyfall’s premiere at the Royal Albert Hall, with guests such as Prince Charles, enforced Bond’s royal connections. Typical to the franchise, stars and celebrities were used more as tools to advertise promotional products – £28 million was invested into Skyfall’s promotion by Heineken, but many other products were included in adverts and incorporated into the movie itself: Swiss watch brand Omega, Coke Zero, Swarovski jewellery, Tom Ford suits and cars such as Aston Martin and Land Rover. They became the ‘stars’, reflecting the commodities characters and actors become in blockbuster movies to sell a product. Consequently, Skyfall’s successful promotion surpassed the interest of star power but instead relied on what made the franchise so great, from its creation in 1962 with Dr No. Stars aren’t chosen because of their differences, but in spite of them, enforcing blockbuster movies’ promotion as greater than the promotional potential of celebrities.

Conclusively, a star in a blockbuster movie is only significant through their construction. While independent movies featuring celebrities often rely on the promotional appeal of their stars, they remain true to their art-house values to not undermine the film’s artistic integrity. Conversely, blockbuster franchise movies create a brand that outshines the promotional power of their celebrities. Stars may be imperative to other aspects of a film’s success, such as Scarlett Johansson’s fame that led to the heightened financing of Under the Skin. Ultimately, however, the promotion of a star in a mainstream movie is only significant through their construction, defeating the influence of independent movies in a modern market.

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