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Distribution: Case Study: Bullet Boy by David Sin


image of Bullet Boy poster

British release poster for Bullet Boy (courtesy of Verve Pictures)

Bullet Boy is a low budget, independent feature helmed by first-time feature director Saul Dibb. The film stars UK rapper Ashley Walters as Ricky, a young man newly released from prison, but unable to extricate himself from the cycle of gang violence that has become an everyday feature in some parts of inner-city London. The film describes, with particular insight, the effects of Ricky's life on his mother and, especially, his younger brother.

Following festival screenings at the end of 2004, the film quickly gathered a reputation as the first film to tackle the difficult subject of contemporary gang and gun crime in Britain’s inner cities. In Hackney, where the film is set, local people saw the film contributing, in one way or another, to the ongoing debate. By the time the film was released, it had accumulated both word-of-mouth and press coverage in the news pages.

The release of Bullet Boy was handled by Verve Pictures. On the face of it, Bullet Boy is a specialised film - its naturalistic representation of characters, time and place, and the use of authentic locations and language have drawn comparisons with milestone British films including Ken Loach's Kes (1969) and Horace Ove's Pressure (1975). This take on contemporary urban life offered a unique selling point for the film, and gave the distributor some confidence that the film would receive exceptional reviews.

Verve Pictures however, saw the potential of the film in the wider market beyond the arthouse, especially with a young black audience drawn by the presence of Ashley Walters (of So Solid Crew, here making his big screen debut) to seek out the film in key urban multiplex sites. In order to broaden the theatrical release of the film, Verve applied successfully for funds from the UK Film Council's P and A Fund.

The film was released on 8th April 2005, opening on 75 prints UK wide, in a combination of established independent cinemas and multiplexes concentrated in greater London and other major urban centres.

The poster design aims to convey the look, subject and tone of the film, supported by key press quotes, while also foregrounding the major presence of Walters.

The ad campaign, too, aimed for diverse audiences, interested in film and music, urban black and white. The campaign included advertising in all of the national daily newspapers that allocate significant space to film reviews, plus two tabloids, newspapers with a black perspective, a selective London Underground campaign and extensive use of radio stations with a concentration on R 'n' B and Garage, the musical forms with which Walters is associated.

Towards the end of its first six months of theatrical release, the film had grossed an impressive £450,000 at the UK box office, most of this achieved in carefully selected urban multiplexes rather than specialised cinemas. It was anticipated that the substantial audiences and awareness generated for the theatrical release would ensure success for the DVD release of the film, six months after the theatrical opening.

Thanks to Verve Pictures for cooperation with this feature.

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