Category Archives: Film

Home Media Insights: The Changing Landscape of Filmed Entertainment

The 17th January 2018, saw the launch event for two books providing a critical perspective on the recent history of home media distribution:  Cult Media: Re-Packaged, Re-Released and Restored and DVD, Blu-Ray & Beyond: Navigating Formats and Platforms Within Media Consumption, both edited by Jonathan Wroot, Lecturer here at the University of Greenwich, and Andy Willis.

Meanwhile guest speaker Robert Price, Managing Director for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Chairman of the British Association for Screen Entertainment (BASE) was there to give an insight into what the future might hold for the home entertainment market.

Here are three key points that stood out from his talk:

The popularity of the movies is not in decline.

 One of Robert’s main points was that content is driven by customer demand, and the large number of content available proves that there has been a growth in cultural significance for movies. In the UK, “£4.1 billion is spent on watching films every year”, over “£77 per person”, and within this, the home entertainment market was worth “£2.7 billion in 2017” an increase of “7.5% from 2016”. It’s said that the average buyer spends £99 on home entertainment a year.

The growing importance of the foreign market was highlighted throughout the talk. “Fox now distributes to over 130 countries Worldwide”, and the global theatrical box office took in an insane, “£39.9bn”, up “3%” from 2016. Franchises are being propelled by the global market, with the Transformers films being “kept alive by the high numbers in the Chinese box-office”; it’s estimated that between 2016-2021, the Chinese movie market is expected to grow by “68.5%”.

Above all, the way we interact with movies on a social level is the driving force for commercial success. Robert stated that a past 21st Century Fox release, Deadpool (2016), was partly made due to the highly positive response that leaked test footage received online, spurring it into production. Along the same lines, he added that “movies create a constant stream of conversation and consumption”, with the recent release of the Avengers Infinity War trailer prompting “1.45 million conversations on social media” for a film that does not release until April.

It’s clear that digital has changed the way we consume content

The relationship between digital and film does not just end at the social level, but has also remodelled the way we consume entertainment. The power of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services has continued to rise in recent years, partly due to the fact that they operate via distribution methods that differ to the studio strategy of old. They don’t have to follow the standard 5-year release window, as all their content is made available on the service, giving them an edge on distribution. Having new content available instantly and constantly is a major incentive for customers. The combined number of paying subscribers (Netflix, Amazon and Now TV) for October 2017 is “10.8 million”, up from “9.5million” in October 2016.

Netflix’s original content is increasing more and more, but while this has led to “quality exclusives”, the overall library of third party content is considered by many to be “poor”, leading to the “number one reason people cancel Netflix” being that “they ran out of things they wanted to watch”. Studios, like Fox are pulling content from third-party streaming platforms (see link for more info: so, since for the customers “content is still king”, Netflix have upped the number of their own productions.

It’s estimated that the annual video content budget for Netflix is “£4.4 billion”, with Amazon operating in a similar fashion with a “£3.3 billion” budget. These are not the only contenders, as Apple have begun to dip their toe in original content production, with it being said their current budget is “£0.7 billion – a figure that will surely rise. Netflix has changed from a streaming platform to a full-blown competitor for the major studios, and Robert added that he feels that “It’s almost inevitable that Netflix will soon be in every home.”


Home Entertainment has “powered the Hollywood economic model”, but this way of work is “under attack” from the rise of digital.  2017 marked the first time that digital sales overtook physical in the UK home entertainment market. We can attribute this shift to the fact that “there is new content everywhere“, with an “explosion” of devices creating “access ubiquity”. Movies are now watched on “36% of televisions”, but “89% of computers, 42% of games consoles and 58% of iPads”. The digital streaming market will only continue to rise ; in 2013, “digital subscriptions made up 7% of home entertainment sales.” In 2017, this figure is up to “32%”.

So Hollywood will have to change…

While change has been hard to receive, it is not proving detrimental to the market as a whole. Fox reported that digital has grown from “10%” of home entertainment revenue to “60%”, but the overall market has yet to suffer, with the UK’s filmed entertainment “£4.8billion” value in 2016, showing an increase from 2014’s figure of £3.8 billion”. The big studios aren’t retreating from increasingly powerful streaming services, but instead are welcoming the challenge.

With the Fox/Disney deal still fresh in the news, a lot of the discussion centered around the potential danger this could bring to the film industry, Robert was positive about the deal, and stated how it was “driven by scalability”. There is a need for “more content and more outlets of revenue”, and with that being said, the smaller avenues like “Fox Searchlight” should not be facing consequences as a result of the deal, and could perhaps even increase their output, as it provides Disney with a new audience.

(See link for more information on Disney’s plan for their streaming service:

In fact Robert highlighted the potential danger of the “tent pole” release strategy, that tends to put too much focus on the blockbuster films, an example being that “The Last Jedi”( 2017), while successful made less money than previous release, “The Force Awakens” (2015). The point Robert kept returning to was the importance of delivering content that people want. Failure won’t come from piracy or streaming but from a lack of engagement with the consensus of the audience.


Should the Film Industry implement the ‘Rooney Rule’?

The Creative industry continues to have a problem when it comes to hiring minorities and women  for top tier positions. “Now is the time for action” [i] is the rallying cry from a lead author of the report, “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair?” [ii] What this action should be, however, is harder to define. Perhaps the best solution could come from a different industry, namely the NFL’s ‘Rooney Rule’.

The National Football League’s ‘Rooney Rule’, named after former chairman of the league’s diversity committee, Dan Rooney, is the policy that requires league teams to interview minority candidates for heading coaching roles. It was implemented in 2003, after the controversial firing of two black coaches. The policy was used to make sure minority coaches, who may not have been considered before, were given a chance in a high coaching role. Many have cited its success, pointing to the fact that between 1992 to 2002, less than 10% of coaches were minorities, but in its first decade this figure has risen to about 20%” [iii]. Since then, other companies have begun to implement the rule as a means of combating diversity issues. The Football Association confirmed “that it will enforce the ‘Rooney Rule’ when selecting future coaching roles within the England set-up” [iv] Outside sport, companies like Facebook, Patreon and Pinterest have highlighted the ‘Rooney Rule’ as influencing their hiring policy. “It’s been very well received, and there are strong lead indicators of its effectiveness” [v], Maxine Williams, Facebook’s global head of diversity said, adding that the rule has slowed down the hiring rate, but that “it builds the habit of looking longer, looking harder”.

Perhaps the film industry could benefit from implementing the policy when hiring directors and writers? The ‘Rooney Rule’ was originally created for a job role that only hires men, but the idea could be changed to implement women into the policy. Aaron Mendelsohn, secretary-treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West has suggested just that “It should be mandatory that at least one female writer and one writer of colour be interviewed for open writing assignments….. In sports it’s called the ‘Rooney Rule.’ In screenwriting it’s called ‘smart hiring” [vi].  Figures show that in “1989, 25% of the writers on television series were women”, yet in 2016 it was “29%, rising just four points”.[vi] Diversity needs to be more than just ‘filling a quota’, as Francesca Butler, WGAW board candidate added We need to do away with the idea that diversity is hiring one woman or non-white writer and calling it a day”.The Great Diversity Experiment” [vii] , which uses practical social experiments in an effort to prove that diversity leads to better results, highlighted the ‘Rooney Rule’ as one of five steps the creative industries can take to change the industry.

“Look harder, further and accept that often a round peg in a square hole is a good thing.. – the ‘Rooney Rule.'” [viii]  The ‘Rooney Rule’ can make it so that writing rooms are open to hiring more than one woman or minority. Rather than fulfilling a quota and moving on, the ‘Rooney Rule’ means that diverse candidates are being looked at constantly and hiring rates will improve.

There have been multiple cases of now big-name women and minority film directors who have struggled for years to gain funding and jobs. In 2017, Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman (2017), which released to worldwide acclaim and broke the record for the “highest-grossing film directed by a woman” [ix]. Her last film before this was also her debut, Monster (2003). Despite Monster earning $60 million from a $8 million budget, winning Academy Awards, and being hailed as the ‘best film of the year’ by various critics, Patty Jenkins struggled to make another picture. Jenkins “met with Warner Brothers right after making Monster wanting to make Wonder Woman”, but instead spent the decade “working on films that never came to fruition” [x], before moving on to TV. Some directors are never able to get going again, such as Julie Dash after her 1991 independent film, Daughters of the Dust (1991). The film was critically acclaimed across the board, but Dash was unable to get another film financed. “I pitched to every existing studio out there and every mini-major from A to Z,” [xi], recalled Dash. She was even unable to get an agent following the film’s release. The ‘Rooney Rule’ could go some way towards solving the problem of talented filmmakers feeling left behind. Sometimes a successful film isn’t enough, you need connections, and the policy could serve as a bridge between studios and minority and female directors.

The ‘Rooney Rule’ has, however, come under wide criticism, with the success of the rule being heavily debated. After the English Football Association’s introduction of the rule, there were complaints from black coaches, saying they “didn’t want to be interviewed to fill a quota” [xii]. There was also a case in 2003, when the Detroit Lions “hired a white coach without fulfilling the ‘Rooney Rule’” [xiii] , but they fought this, saying that they only interviewed, and wanted one man in the first place. If implemented into the film industry, there are sure to be similar problems. Adam Moore, Associate Affirmative Action and Diversity Director for the Screen Actors Guild was sceptical of the rule being introduced into the film industry. When asked whether the ‘Rooney Rule’ being used at an executive level could encourage the major studios to hire more women and people of colour, he replied, “I don’t know how much stock I put into the familiarity leading to actual jobs argument,”, adding that the ‘Rooney Rule’ applies to high-ranking NFL jobs, not to the players themselves[xiv].

The idea does seem however to have some merit to it and could potentially go some way to solving diversity issues, especially for writers, directors and executives. Perhaps it would serve best as a guideline, or a recommendation, rather than a binding rule that studios have to legally follow. There may be only be one director the studio may want to hire, like Disney with JJ Abrams and The Force Awakens (2015), so they should not have to interview just to fulfil a rule. But if Disney are planning a new film without any director or writer attached, the ‘Rooney Rule’ could be implemented, and may even introduce them to a talented minority or female director. It makes the studios realise that the talent is there, and even if they do not hire them straight away, it puts the under represented filmmakers into a conversation they previously weren’t a part of. The ‘Rooney Rule’ isn’t meant to create replacements for existing options, but instead to show that there are other ones available. It may make the process of hiring more demanding, but the results can be beneficial for the industry at all levels.

[i] Jagannathan M. The pool of Hollywood film directors is still alarmingly white and male [Internet].. 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[ii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[iii] Zarya V. Why is the “Rooney Rule” suddenly tech’s answer to hiring more women? [Internet]. Fortune. [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[iv] Staff S. What is the Rooney Rule and how will it affect English football? [Internet]. The Independent. 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[v] Feloni R. Facebook is using the same approach the NFL took to increase diversity in the league [Internet]. Business Insider. 2016 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[vi] Robb D. WGA West Election: “Rooney Rule” Proposed As Diversity Takes Center Stage [Internet]. Deadline. 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[vii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[viii] [No title] [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jan 22]. Available from:

[ix] Stefansky E. Wonder Woman Is the Highest-Grossing Live-Action Female-Directed Film in the World [Internet]. HWD. Vanity Fair; 2017 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[x] Patty Jenkins as T to RF. “Wonder Woman” Director Patty Jenkins: How to Make a Female Heroine “Vulnerable,” But Not “Lesser in Any Way” [Internet]. The Hollywood Reporter. 2016 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xi] Buckley C. Julie Dash Made a Movie. Then Hollywood Shut Her Out. NY Times [Internet]. 2016 Nov 18 [cited 2018 Jan 19]; Available from:

[xii] Edwards L. Ipswich Town coaches Kieron Dyer and Titus Bramble slam “Rooney Rule” [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xiii] Sichel J. NFL Investigates Oakland Raiders: May Have Hired White Head Coach Before Interviewing Black One [Internet]. Daily Wire. The Daily Wire; 2018 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

[xiv] Rosenberg BA. How Hollywood stays white and male [Internet]. Washington Post. The Washington Post; 2015 [cited 2018 Jan 19]. Available from:

Screentest Festival: Freelance Panel

March 10th & 11th 2017 saw the UK’s national student film festival; Screentest host a weekend of film screenings, panels and workshops at the University of Greenwich Stockwell Street building. For students wanting to get into the film festival circuit Screentest is a valuable event.

During the weekend, Screentest hosted a Freelance panel which involved four young freelancers from various aspects of filmmaking discussing their personal experiences as freelancers in today’s film industry.

Taz Fairbanks (@tazfairbanks) Freelance Location Sound Recordist and Boom Operator
Zak Harney (@zakharney) Freelance Director and Assistant Director
Ciaran Obrien (@ciaranobrien) Freelance Director of Photography
Zoe Alker (@zoealker) Freelance Director and Writer

Top Tips for Being Freelance:
Although the following tips revolve around freelancing in the film and television industries, the advice can be applied to other professions in the creative industries.

  • As a freelancer you need to be a person who isn’t satisfied with a nine-to-five job. The hours will be long and you won’t get typical holidays or a specific amount of working hours a week. You will be flexible, able to work early mornings, late nights and weekends.
  • Don’t be afraid to try your luck when it comes to making contacts and working on a particular project. Make sure you call [a production company etc.] and talk to the person you want to work with. It is better than letting your email get stuck in an unread inbox.
  • It takes sacrifice and determination to be a freelancer but there is a potential to have a very rewarding career.
  • Don’t be afraid to sell yourself as a service. Make sure to tell people what is great about you and specifically say what you can provide if you work for them.
  • Figure out your day rate and stick to it. When you are studying, it is a great time to get work experience and learn technical skills. However once you have graduated and possibly have begun to invest in your own kit, it is time to figure out how much you are worth so you don’t get exploited! If you are using your own kit for a shoot, make sure you are charging for the use of your kit on top of charging for your working hours you will be putting in. Remember that kit would cost a certain amount from a kit hire facility so look into their rates and bare this in mind when working out your day rate.
  • Face to face interaction is very important as busy working professionals don’t get time to look at their emails all of the time, so ensure you make an impression on people when you can. A way to do this could be by supporting fellow filmmakers at industry events or getting involved with local events and projects. If you go out of your way to support people, it won’t go unnoticed. Supporting projects, events and people is a great way of networking too. You are more likely to be remembered if you meet and talk to people rather than emailing or calling.
  • Value your own work. Enjoy what you do and take pride in your work.
  • Don’t let people expect you to work for free. Working for passion projects may be an exception but consider how much time you can allow to give up for free before making commitments.
  • Don’t underestimate yourself. Respect your own technical skills and talent. Use your instinct when making business decisions.

Notes on ‘A Dialogue with Billy Williams OBE, BSC and Vanessa Whyte’

Study Life … Study Portraiture … Study Light … Study Human Behaviour …

On Wednesday 22nd February Creative Conversations hosted A Dialogue with Billy Williams OBE, BSC and Vanessa Whyte as part of the Film and Television Production programmes at the University of Greenwich.

Billy Williams OBE, BSC is an award winning cinematographer with a distinguished career in film. Best known for Women in Love (1969), On Golden Pond (1981) and the Oscar award winning Gandhi (1982). Vanessa Whyte has had her drama projects screened worldwide, winning awards at various film festivals. She is part of the new UK female cinematography collective illuminatrix and has featured on Women’s Hour and Broadcast Magazine discussing female cinematographers.

Vanessa Whyte opened up the conversation by asking Billy Williams OBE, BSC to discuss his beginnings in the film industry. As an audience member, it was immediately clear to me that he worked extremely hard in order to get all the opportunities to travel the world and shoot the films that he did. The four years working alongside his father as a teenager gave him a certain discipline. The camera had to be cared for attentively because a damaged camera would have meant no more work.

As Vanessa continued to ask Billy insightful questions about his career and the way he worked, there was a great understanding that students and practitioners could use Billy’s wisdom to encourage new learning, to make new practical and creative considerations in their own works. Here are some of the most interesting insights from the evening:

“Shooting in black and white film is a discipline that teaches an artist to study light.”
Light and shade is incredibly important consideration when shooting a film in order to achieve the desired aesthetic. In a mostly digital practice, where colour is almost always used, it can be easy to forget that monitoring the tonal values (light and dark/highlight and shadow) will help a cinematographer shoot the best possible image. It is not necessary to shoot on black and white film to pick up this skill. It is about being able to observe the amount of light vs. the amount of shadow. Billy pointed out that the majority of master painters, such as Rembrandt, predominantly painted in colour but would have focused on strategically placing highlights and shadow in their paintings in order to add depth and drama. The same can be done by cinematographers.

“Study portraiture.”
One of Billy’s top tips for students who attended the talk was to study portraiture. Portraiture in cinematography means being able to tell the audience something about the character, it’s much more than simply recording facial expressions. A cinematographer must be able to put across a character’s identity in a way that will also enhance the storytelling in the film. It is worth noting that more often than not, portraiture is flattering. In order to flatter a subject, it is necessary to relate back to the study of light. Knowing how light and shadow will fall on the contours of a face is crucial. If a shoot is going to take place at an exterior location, it is the cinematographer’s responsibility to think about what time of day the shoot is going to be and again consider how this will affect the contours on the actors’ faces. From there it will be possible to know what lighting decisions will need to made regarding equipment and set up etc. The role of the cinematographer (especially in Hollywood and commercials) has traditionally been to ensure that the subjects on camera always look good, whether that be beautiful and/or strong.

“Make the actors feel welcome.”
An interesting subject that came forward during the dialogue was how to work with actors. With cinematography, the actors may not be the first element that is considered. Especially with lighting, camera angle, camera movements being at the foremost. However, as Billy advised, it is crucial for all crew to make the actors feel welcome on set. When the actors feel confident in what they have to do, their body language will be more natural and this in turn will influence more natural camera movements and framing. The rehearsals don’t need to be a long process, Billy suggests thirty minutes for a main scene, so that the cinematographer can focus on framing and positioning before the performers are in full hair and makeup. Rehearsals also give the cinematographer the opportunity to ‘study human behaviour’. Knowing what is a natural action, reaction and movement enables the cinematographer to develop better camera fluidity and overall a better understanding and connection between actor and camera. Billy stated he has never worked from a storyboard before. Storyboards are unable to allow for movement, the actors’ proportions or speed etc. and tend to be restricting in comparison to live rehearsals with actors.

“Be committed. Be prepared.”
The film making process is a collaboration and relies on making decisions and working seamlessly as a team. A cinematographer has many responsibilities but must be able to communicate with the rest of the crew. Billy spoke about how it is important to read the script and have discussions with the director, production designer, costume etc. All elements come together in a big way, with small considerations affect lighting and camera decisions in terms of practicality and also aesthetic. For a cinematographer on location, the smaller the light unit, the quicker and easier shooting is going to be. For Billy this was difficult because technology was limited. However, for Vanessa, she was able to work with Panalux to develop her own LED light unit, in order to adapt to the needs of a demanding remote location shoot. Being limited on weight and space, she needed the most flexible and reliable kit possible to enable her to capture the story in a limited situation.

“How to focus the audience’s attention is a skill vital to the cinematographer”
Ultimately all image making is for an audience. To successfully engage an audience, storytelling is key. Storytelling revolves around creating drama and to demonstrate this, the event audience were shown clips from Women in Love (1969) and Gandhi (1982).The scenes from Women in Love that were shown included; the cattle scene with Glenda Jackson, the evening lake scene and the wrestling by the fireplace scene. The use of lighting (in some cases lack of lighting) and camera movements all contribute to the deliberate focusing of the audience’s attention.

“Don’t over-cover as this takes time”
Interestingly, Billy mentioned that, when he shoots, he considers where the cuts in the edit may go. Making this consideration doesn’t restrict the editor’s options but instead presents more. Allowing enough time in the shooting schedule to get enough coverage is key, however over-covering takes away valuable time, so there needs to be a balance. Continuing with the topic of Post Production, the colour grade is a process which should have the input of the cinematographer. As a DoP you will have spent many hours, possibly even weeks or months, trying to shoot a certain aesthetic. If it is possible to be there for the colour grade then it is important to discuss what you want to be enhanced or taken away.

All of the above was demonstrated with clips from Women in Love (1969) and Gandhi (1982).

A Dialogue with Billy Williams OBE, Vanessa Whyte 22nd Feb

Cinematography: A dialogue with Billy Williams OBE, BSC
& Vanessa Whyte

22nd Feb 2017

Billy Williams OBE, BSC shooting The Manhattan Project

Billy Williams OBE, BSC is an award winning cinematographer with a distinguished career in film. At just 14 years of age he started out as an apprentice to his father, working on training films for the Ministry of Defence. From there he went on to become an assistant cameraman with British Transport Films, making documentaries and developing his skills until he was given the opportunity to become a cameraman. Billy was 38 when he got his first big break with the feature film Billion Dollar Brain (1967). Since then, he has worked his way to the top of the industry with film credits such as Women in Love (1969), On Golden Pond (1981) and Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). Notably Billy received an Academy Award for his cinematography on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). In 2015 BAFTA paid tribute to his outstanding contribution to cinema. As a major influence in British cinema, it will be an honour to host Billy as he shares his wealth of knowledge in cinematography and the processes of working on film.

In conversation with Billy; we will also be welcoming Vanessa Whyte.

Vanessa was the Director of Photography on the 2016 BAFTA award-winning short film Operator and her drama projects have been screened worldwide, winning awards at Raindance, Vancouver, Berlin, LA Film Festival, Mofilm, IMDB and London Film Festival. She recently appeared on Woman’s Hour discussing women, cinematography and the new UK female cinematography collective illuminatrix.

Both cinematographers will be able to answer questions following their conversation.

This event is organised through the Creative Conversations initiative at the Department of Creative Professions and Digital Arts at the University of Greenwich and features as part of the Film and TV Production UoG programmes.

This is definitely an opportunity not to be missed. Interested academics, practitioners and members of the Creative Conversations network are welcome to attend.

Time & Date: 22nd February 2017, 5:00PM.
A drinks reception will follow the talk.

Venue: Lecture Theatre 004, University of Greenwich, Stockwell Street Building, 10 Stockwell Street, Greenwich SE10 9BD

Tickets for this event are free and can be booked on our Eventbrite page here.