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The Great Gatsby. Feature Film Case Study

The Great Gatsby. Feature Film Case Study

One of the most awaited films of 2012 was The Great Gatsby, yet its release was subsequently postponed till May 2013, which was rather harshly accepted by the critics and viewers alike, though added some intrigue to the film, as well. It is never easy to screen literature masterpieces as the entire production crew bears huge responsibility for creating a worthy successor of one of the best-known American novels. The film was awarded mixed responses and despite its numerous nominations for prestigious awards failed to get Oscar for the best picture. Yet its use of 3-D technologies has been highly appraised by specialists and common viewers, thus contributing to an uncertain, yet definitely powerful and unforgettable impression the picture arouses. Director of The Great Gatsby stated that “It’s generally a quiet, internal story about very loud, colorful, intense things. I wanted to make a film that was a large party – that was extraordinarily intimate” (Giardina, 2014), which on the whole is the most concise and definite summary of current feature picture.

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Film’s Life Cycle

Pre-production

The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was turned into a screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce. The two men have been co-writers and best friends for many years, thus being perfectly tuned to each other. As Craig Pearce says, the final screenplay differs a bit from the original one, thanks to modifications initiated by actors in the process of production (Pearce, 2013). The screenplay took four years to be written as it was not an easy task, since “One of the things that makes Gatsby so potent is Fitzgerald’s gorgeous, poetic prose, and it’s very hard to recreate that cinematically” (Pearce, 2013). Besides, the first draft of the screen was written and read aloud by Leonardo DiCapio and Tobey Maguire in the Ace Hotel in Manhattan’s Flatiron district “because the view out the windows felt like 1920s New York” (McGrath, 2013). Copyright belongs to Bazmark Film III Pty, Ltd. and it was secretly bought by Baz Luhrmann in 2009 (IMDb, 2013). Financing was one of the biggest problems for the production of the film that was often referred to “as a risky endeavor”. Yet the director managed to convince Warners to provide him with funds to produce the picture (Kiang, 2013). Luhrmann himself admits to having “a rocky moment early on in the pre-production phase”, but he succeeded when he “sat with the team from Warners, and said ‘you know in your DNA there’s another film, about a man [longing for lost love] and it’s ‘Casablanca.’ It’s in your DNA. So I think the film found its right home”, which proved to be a financial success for the studio once the film was released (Kiang, 2013).

Production

On the whole, six companies participated in the production of the film, including “Warner Bros.”, “Village Roadshow Pictures”, “A&E Television Networks”, “Bazmark Films”, “Red Wagon Entertainment” and “Spectrum Films” with the latter remaining uncredited (IMDb, 2013). “Warner Bros. Entertainment” is one of the best-know and largest entertainment companies of the world founded on April 4, 1923. Nowadays this

fully integrated, broad-based company stands at the forefront of every aspect of the entertainment industry from feature film, television and home entertainment production and worldwide distribution to DVD and Blu-Ray, digital distribution, animation, comic books, product and brand licensing and broadcasting (WarnerBros.com, 2014).

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The company annually releases about 19-24 films and had a record-breaking success of $5.038 billion in 2013 global box office, which testifies to its solid positions in the movie-making industry (WarnerBros.com, 2014). “Village Roadshow Pictures” was founded in 1997 and positions itself as “a leading independent producer and financier of major Hollywood motion pictures” with the total score of 74 released films (Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, 2014). “A&E Television Networks” is a global entertainment media company founded in 1984 that today has six brands and worldwide audience reaching 330 million people (A&E Networks, 2014). The company is proud of its history and its way of doing business in line with the motto that says “A tradition of being anything but traditional” (A&E Networks, 2014). “Bazmark Films” is an Australian entertainment company founded by Baz Luhrmann and having ownership rights on the majority of his pictures. The company’s motto is “In fear is a life”, which implies its readiness to get involved in innovative and risky projects (Bazmark, 2014). “Red Wagon Entertainment” is a film production company headed by well-known Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher (Red Wagon Entertainment, 2014). Besides The Great Gatsby, some of the company’s best-known films include Divergent, Lawless, RV, Memoirs of a Geisha, Jarhead, Bewitched, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Gladiator, and Stuart Little (Red Wagon Entertainment, 2014). This year, “Spectrum Films” celebrates 50 years of being one of the leading entertainment companies of Australia that “has both kept pace with Australia’s film and television industry and indeed often set the pace for it – technically and creatively” (Spectrum Films, 2014).   

Due to the lack of filming support in the US, the film had to be shot in Australia at Fox Studios with all 12 major filming locations being in Sydney (IMDb, 2013). About 40% was filmed near the International College of Management Sydney in the suburb of Manly (Goundry, 2013). Locations were a real challenge for the production team as “Sydney obviously isn’t New York or The Hamptons so it was all about finding those locations that could be enhanced”, as well as requiring extensive modifications and builds to recreate the atmosphere of Fitzgerald’s New York (Goundry, 2013). Special attention was paid to driveways as cars play a pivotal role in the film. Locations management called for tight cooperation with the director and design department. Besides, a significant share of locations was modified, enhanced and even added with the help of modern computer technologies.

The estimated budget of The Great Gatsby is $127 million (Movie Insider, 2013). Elapsed production time lasted from February 2011 to April 2013 when it was announced as complete and subsequently released in May, though it had been in the development since December 2008 (Movie Insider, 2013). Pre-production stage started in February 2011, while production started in August 2011, being followed by post-production in May 2012 (Movie Insider, 2013).

There are plenty of issues surrounding the production process, yet most of them are only rumored having no substantial proof. The hugest issue was the budget as it is reported that the film far exceeded the initial budget and it is even assumed that Mr. Luhrmann decided to sell his mansion to partially cover expenses (Buckmaster, 2013). Filming in Australia was a risky choice as action in the film takes place in New York, but it was a cost-saving move in addition to a reported lack of support in the US. Moreover, the shoot, completed on December 22, didn’t go smoothly: constant bad weather; a collapsed camera crane, which injured Luhrmann and sent him to hospital for four stitches; a set evacuation due to ‘potentially noxious fog’ (Buckmaster, 2013).

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Initially, the film had to be released in the end of 2012, yet “Warner Bros.” announced shift of a release date to 2013. Reasons behind such move remain actively speculated about with the official one that the company wanted the film to reach the widest audience possible. There were also some issues relating to producing the film in 3-D as the director demanded depth in all shots. However, despite all the troubles and difficulties, The Great Gatsby proved to be a successful picture with staggering actors’ play and masterful work of the entire production crew.

Distribution

The film was distributed all over the world with “Warner Bros.” being the major distributor with the smaller ones being represented by “Acme Film”, “Cinematografica Blancica”, “Columbia TriStar Warner Filmes de Portugal”, “Golden Village Pictures”, “InterCom”, “Interfilm Distribution”, “Manfer Films”, “SF Film Finland”, “Shooting Stars”, “Village Films” and “Argentina Video Home” (IMDb, 2013).

Marketing and advertising plans of The Great Gatsby were rather typical for a feature film of such scale. Interest to the film was constantly fed with various rumors and posts in different social media. The film cast and production team were first-class, thus promising viewers unforgettable impressions from the stars’ play. Besides, the film was positioned as the most recent and modern interpretation of the great literary work. In addition to that, use of modern music, which was overseen by Jay-Z, and 3-D technologies were supposed to promote the film, as well. Posters, trailers, OSTs and billboards were produced and released as a part of the marketing campaign. Thus, The Great Gatsby became a hit not to be missed. Costume designer appeared on various morning fashion shows and fashion editorials appeared in GQ and Vogue. It was also advertised on major TV networks. The merchandise included a wide range of products from sweaters to jewelry (Temple, 2013).

Exhibition

The Great Gatsby was premiered on May 1, 2013 in New York and on May 10, 2013 in the USA in general (IMDb, 2013). Initially, the film had to be released in autumn 2012, yet it was postponed several times. In most countries of the world, theatrical version of the film was released on May 15, May 16 and May 17 of 2013 (IMDb, 2013). Subsequently, it was also released as DVD and Blu-Ray. Total worldwide lifetime grosses of the film amount to $351,040,419 with $144,840,419 of domestic total gross and $206,200,000 of foreign total gross (Box Office Mojo). In the opening weekend, it earned more than $50 million in the USA (IMDb, 2013).

On the whole, the film won 37 awards and had 38 nominations with the most notable being the following: Oscar as Best Achievement in Costume Design (Catherine Martin) and Best Achievement in Production Design (Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn), BAFTA Film Award for Best Production Design (Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn) and Best Costume Design (Catherine Martin) and Art Directors Guild’s Excellence in Production Design Award, as well as many other essential awards (IMDb, 2013).

Assessment of Film

Although, at the first glance the film did rather good at the box office, such amount can hardly be considered staggering due to enormous expenses on the production, advertising and marketing campaigns. However, the film was positively received by the audience and its release as home video and online promise future revenues to its creators.

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Responses of critics and the audience varied, often reaching extremes. Thus, the film was praised for its masterful use of 3-D technologies, being called the most innovative, in this respect, film of 2013. As the critic says, “Hollywood might not have grasped that on first viewing, but Luhrmann’s successors are likely to study exactly how he did it” (Giardina, 2014). Critics certainly agreed with numerous awards granted for superb clothes and decorations, honoring Catherine Martin and her mixture of old and new fashion in an attempt to create an unrivaled atmosphere of the 1920s. Anyway, it became possible only thanks to her “obsessive analysis” and peculiar attention to details (Harris, 2013). Moreover, Mr. Luhrmann was also highly praised for his interpretation of the classic novel as “he sticks close to the details of the story”, but at the same time feeling free to interpret the story in his own unique way. His experiment resulted in “less a conventional movie adaption than a splashy, trashy opera, a wayward, lavishly theatrical celebration of the emotional and material extravagance that Fitzgerald surveyed with fascinated ambivalence” (Scott, 2013). Despite some harshly critical remarks, general reception of the film by critics and the public was positive and favorable, declaring the film to be new classics.

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The film was quite successful, yet the revenues were often called modest compared to the costs. Besides, the release date was postponed to bring the film into the limelight in the new season, which, however, boasted of several prominent pictures, hence diminishing its success. If the film had been released on some other date or as planned, it could have earned more revenues and won more Oscars. Distribution and production schemes seem to be the most appropriate as the producers managed to avoid additional costs where possible.

All things considered, The Great Gatsby is a dazzling and thought-provoking feature film proving to be a superb interpretation of the literary masterpiece of the 20th century. The film manages to convey the main idea of the book through the use of modern technologies and organic involvement of Jazz and Hip-Hop music. All details and aspects of the film are tightly interconnected, creating an impressive image of New York of the 1920s, which Fitzgerald found so fascinating.

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