The Circuit of Excess: Film Industry, Taboos and Online Conversations

I have just come back from a pretty intense full immersion session in taboos, censorship and cinema hosted at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Yes, in the Czech Republic, right where Fifty Shades of Grey‘s sex symbol Jamie Dornan was presenting his latest film, Anthropoid. At this time of the year this city has a quite interesting multifaceted vibe: elderly people convene there for the thermal baths, but you can also easily party all night long or go for a stroll in the nice venues and meet iconic stars the like of Harvey Keitel and Udo Kier.

The 4th TorinoFilmLab Alumni Meeting at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

I had a very refreshing experience there, as always with the TorinoFilmLab Alumni Meetings. The topic for this year’s edition was “Provocative cinema – Addressing taboos, dealing with censors, generating debate and acting for change.” Having spent the past few months teaching a module on “Transgressive Culture” at Middlesex University, which is run by Dr Theresa Cronin at the School of Media and Performing Arts, the focus of the Meeting seemed an appropriate coincidence. So I felt I had to propose a case study focused on transgression and cinema.

Getting ready for "The Circuit of Excess: Film Industry, Taboos and Online Conversations" at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

I teamed up again with my friend and former Audience Design participant Juan Morali. This time we also had an amazing technological partner on board in the agency Sentisis, which works with big data and specialises in sentiment analysis and monitoring of online conversations in Spanish-speaking countries.

We focused on a topic that has proved a very popular theme across decades and film genres: cannibalism. We specifically analysed the buzz surrounding Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno and introduced the provisional findings of a study which considers viewers’ media habits, primary discussed assets in online conversations, preferred devices, as well as geo-localised insights on fans of the horror genre.

Final poster for Eli Roth's film "The Green Inferno".

I framed our analysis within transgression as a promotional tool involving the wider film industry: festivals, niche distributors, academic approaches and fan communities. The aim of my talk “The Circuit of Excess: Film Industry, Taboos and Online Conversations” was to address transgression as a commodity and consider censorship and taboos within cinema mainly drawing on Mikita Brottman‘s analysis of the impact and legacy of “offensive films” such as Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death, Snuff and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Mikita Brottman's "Offensive Films" book cover.While on 9 July I discussed Roth’s mainstream horror paying homage to the cult Italian cannibal cycle, that same day TFL Alumnus Edwin presented his personal experience with Indonesian cinema and censorship. On the 10th Azize Tan, the director of the Istanbul Film Festival, explained why last April Turkish filmmakers pulled out their films over a censorship row. Finally, documentarist Peter Kerekes introduced us to his cinematic international exploration of censors as “manual workers”. Oh, of course we had plenty of nice food and drinks too, because TFL takes great care of its Alumni.

Smart Thinking for Smart Audiences: Introducing Audience Design for Your Film Strategy

Let’s be frank: ideas need to circulate as much as possible, and new terms as well. So I thought I’d spread the word a bit again, given that “Audience Design” is a fairly recent concept introduced just a few years ago by the TorinoFilmLab to raise awareness of the need for a strategic approach to promoting independent and art-house films at an early stage of development.

The title of this post matches the master class that I ran last Friday in Belgium. It was a different format from the workshop Juan Morali and I conceived last November in Germany on behalf of TFL, as this time we were both invited to provide an overview on audience engagement strategies to filmmakers, producers, students and representatives of the Flanders Film Fund.

Adding memes to our presentation: a new version of Batman & Robin.

So we joined the TorinoFilmLab team at the end of the first residential workshop of the 2015 Audience Design Programme, which this year took place in Ghent. On Friday 20 March we delivered our master class at KASK Cinema, providing a wide range of case studies that spanned recent blockbusters as well as small and obscure gems; international projects with very consistent budgets and labours of love made for free; linear and interactive narratives; documentaries and fictional films.

Checking the presentation for the master class.

We provided an overview of some basic concepts of audience engagement, such as the difference between core and market niches, the creation of “personas”, and online vs digital communities. And of course we went through the difference between Audience Design and marketing, “the necessary evil”. The core of the master class was arranged around a set of key words that we believe are crucial when thinking of audience engagement: “Intensity and Scale”, “Interaction and Co-Creation”, “Tone and Pace”, “Immersion and Gamification”, as well as “Pertinence and Consistency”.

At KASK Cinema, about to start the master class in Audience Design.

We also addressed some “failures” and tried to understand what we can learn for example from an apparently successful transmedia project that is forced to close down because it is not economically sustainable in the long run.

One of the closing slides provocatively asked: “Where do we go from here?” It was meant to open the debate on how quickly the film industry needs to adapt to new need of audiences and react to alternative forms of consumption. On a more personal level, Juan and I are going to take part to the next TFL Alumni Meeting that will take place in Karlovy Vary this coming July. As we have many more stories to tell and exciting projects to discover together, expect a follow-up to this post from the Czech Republic.