Case Study: Gwen, a Made in Wales release

With support from Film Hub Wales’ Made in Wales scheme and wider Welsh partners, Bulldog Film Distribution brought William McGregor’s Gwen, an atmospheric folk tale set in the hills of Snowdonia during the industrial revolution, to 21 venues across Wales with select Q&As.

  • #MadeInWales

Film Hubs

Impact Areas

Focus Areas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSntj-yfdBU

Summary

Bulldog Film Distribution released Gwen in select cinemas across the UK in July 2019, including 21 sites in Wales, bilingual assets and a series of Q&As with cast and crew.

In the lead up to the film’s release, Film Hub Wales worked with Bulldog to promote Gwen to the network of exhibitors in Wales. With multiple Welsh connections, from the film’s producer Hilary Bevan Jones, to Film Cymru Wales investment, the filming location in Snowdonia and the storyline itself, the film was an ideal selection for FHW’s Made in Wales scheme. The scheme celebrates films with Welsh connections, aiming to boost awareness of the release with both exhibitors and audiences.

Working with Bulldog, the Hub also:

• Distributed programme notes to participating venues, working with Welsh writer Ben Gwalchmai, who prepared a response to the film.
• Promoted the film as part of the Welsh Government’s Year of Discovery, connecting to the themes of both Welsh landscape and culture,
• Supported select venues with additional marketing bursaries,
• Worked with Into Film Cymru to generate YP reviews.

With its distinct sense of Welshness, Gwen presented an important opportunity to celebrate a powerful Welsh story with a UK audience. With reviews and interviews mounting, from The Guardian to Mark Kermode, it soon gathered interest and generated anticipation with programmers. As an independent British release with potential to engage wide audiences, it was an ideal title to benefit from Hub promotion.

Not only is the story driven by female characters but it has an established Welsh, female, producer behind it (Hilary Bevan Jones). Hilary took part in a special Q&A with Director William McGregor at Pontio, Bangor.

William also visited Aberystwyth Arts Centre, enabling Welsh talent to engage with audiences in North and West Wales. Actors Eleanor Worthington Cox and Richard Harrington also attended a Q&A in Chapter, Cardiff.

Project aims

  • Bulldog felt that Gwen was a strong piece of filmmaking with fantastic performances and as a film set and filmed in Wales utilising Welsh cast, crew and locations, they aimed to maximise the Welsh audience across the run, including both independent and multiplex venues/audiences,
  • They aimed to take cast and crew to three Welsh geographically distinct locations,
  • Film Hub Wales aimed to support bookings of the film in Wales, enabling more venues to book the film and increasing awareness of a new Welsh release,
  • FHW aimed to trial specially prepared programme notes as added value for venues.

Headlines

  • Indie venues really got behind the film, using Bulldog’s assets and their own channels to push the film,
  • Bulldog offered regionally targeted online media spend, generating support from the Welsh media and wider organisations which had an impact on the release,
  • They were really pleased to see high audience attendance in North Wales, where the film was set and made. In Pwllheli they compared their audience size to that of a larger commercial release (without any special events),
  • It was exciting to see one-offs/limited runs at venues like Theatr Mwldan, Theatre Colwyn, Clwyd Theatr and Taliesin Arts Centre, bring in strong crowds despite screening several weeks or months after the initial release date.

Films

Gwen

Key partnerships

• Film Hub Wales
• Visit Ireland.
• BAFTA Cymru
• Into Film Cymru

Budget in brief

£500 Hub bursary

What worked

  • Support from independent venues,
  • Regional and local audiences engaged,
  • Strong press for the film across the board and in Wales specifically, including TV, radio, print and online pieces with talent,
  • Strong results from social media advertising which was mostly targeted regionally around specific screening venues,
  • The assets created for cinemas and other partners to use were well used and had an impact. This included physical materials like standees and leaflets in venues to social assets like short videos and listings graphics, including a Welsh language version which were used by cinemas, partners and audiences.

What has been difficult

  • As an independent feature film, with emerging talent Gwen presented challenges for the distributor in terms of audience familiarity,
  • The dark subject matter required creative marketing as it wasn’t targeted towards a natural horror crowd,
  • It was more challenging to attract audiences to multiplexes against the competition of large studio releases.

What you would do differently if you did it again

  • Bulldog would work in the same way with the independent sites but would give thought to the approach with multiplexes, either focusing on indies, or investing in larger marketing spend.

Awareness / Attitudes

Gwen raised awareness around multiple themes and issues:

  • Female oppression,
  • Poverty,
  • The challenges of rural farming,
  • Corruption,
  • Life during the industrial revolution,

The supplied programme notes also explored class, cultural change and agriculture with reflection on current political ideology.

With its distinct sense of Welshness, Gwen presented an important opportunity to celebrate a powerful Welsh story with a UK audience. With reviews and interviews mounting, from The Guardian to Mark Kermode, it soon gathered interest and generated anticipation with programmers. As an independent British release with potential to engage wide audiences, it was an ideal title to benefit from Hub promotion.

Not only is the story driven by female characters but it has an established Welsh, female, producer behind it (Hilary Bevan Jones). Hilary took part in a special Q&A with Director William McGregor at Pontio, Bangor. William also visited Aberystwyth Arts Centre, enabling Welsh talent to engage with audiences in North and West Wales. Actors Eleanor Worthington Cox and Richard Harrington also attended a Q&A in Chapter, Cardiff.

Diversity

Gwen put brave and curious Welsh, female, characters at the forefront of the storyline. It gave an opportunity for young women in rural wales to identify with a lead character and explored the dynamics between the more oppressive male leads.

Maxine Peake’s character Elen also experiences both physical (epilepsy) and mental health problems, leading to the need for her daughter Gwen, to become her carer.

Knowledge & Experience

As she becomes her Mother’s carer, Gwen is forced to venture out into the nearby town to find medicine and make money to feed the family. Gwen’s strength is inspiring, right to the film’s conclusion, where she takes her young sister’s hand and leads her into the mountains. Eleanor Worthington Cox attended Chapter’s Q&A in Cardiff, giving a chance for the audience to explore her character further and offer inspiration to future talent.

Social Cohesion

Much of Gwen’s plot revolves around social isolation and the breakdown of traditional community. It explores how Gwen and her family and excluded from society, as they refuse to sell their farm to the local mine owner and Elen deals with epilepsy and deteriorating mental health. As the industrial revolution impacts on the people and landscape, there is a strong sense of what it once meant to be a community and the grief of this loss. An important message for current audiences.

What audiences said

  • “Very bleak film. Well-acted and thoroughly enjoyed.”
  • “Great to see a Welsh film. Hope it travels.”
  • “Unexpectedly scary!”
  • “Q&A was excellent. Good to have so many of coast/production team.”
  • “Brilliantly atmospheric film.”
  • “Absolutely superb.”

What professionals, press and partners said

  • “It was an absolute pleasure working with the Bulldog team. They were approachable and proactive. They understood the aims of Made in Wales and prioritised Welsh sites and audiences, taking cast and crew out to multiple locations. We look forward to working together again.” – Hana Lewis, Film Hub Wales Manager
  • "This film made me proud to be Welsh no matter where the characters were, the setting looked truly beautiful. If you want to visit Wales then make sure you watch Gwen! Although, we’re not like the characters that are in the film (luckily enough!). I’ll be honest, this film was a very hard watch for me as it was dark and gruesome throughout. It is very terrifying, not in a jump scare kind of way so don’t worry. The slow scenes definitely make it feel like there might be some moments where you jump out of your seat but don’t be fooled. Gwen was not my cup of tea but of course, that’s only because of the very bloody scenes. I do appreciate the work that went into creating this film, the team were all incredible and created a great film." Ceri-Ellen Speddy, Into Film participant

Press coverage

  • “The wildness of Snowdonia is broodingly shot by McGregor (…) the elemental soundtrack of howling wind and whispering trees nicely contrasts with the sparse script. (…) it is a film with a strong sense of outrage. 4* - The Guardian
  • “It’s also a movie about social change and the possibility that what Gwen’s family is facing isn’t a disease or a demon but rather the inevitable end of agrarian life. The real monster here could be something scarier than ghosts — the Industrial Revolution, devouring all.” Noel Murray – LA Times
  • “(..) there’s much to admire (and duly shiver over) in its formidable, storm cloud-hued atmospherics, low-simmer storytelling and a particularly fine, unaffected breakout performance by teenage actress Eleanor Worthington-Cox in the testing title role. (…) Gwen is ultimately as plausible a calling card for kitchen-sink realism or revisionist costume drama as an outright spookfest.” Guy Lodge – Variety