Feedback from film makers… WE are the industry…

Street Dance

Twenty four hours later and the fallout is still causing my inbox to fill up rapidly.

After Radio Four yesterday, I was quickly contacted by BBC Radio Northern Ireland, BBC Merseyside and the Gabby Logan Show on Radio Five Live. I spent the day bouncing between the BBC in Shepherds Bush and my landline where I was patched into chat shows to discuss the issues raised. Apparently in Merseyside last night, the debate raged on for many hours with listeners phoning in to add their voices.

This interaction with the public is essential and at the very heart of my position. I believe that ‘culture’ is defined by us all and not defined by a few – be that a critic, a commissioning editor or a government QUANGO. Movies, in particular, are accessible to everyone. They are either very cheap or nearly free to consume. This means audiences can select what they want. It’s democratic. I appreciate the argument that some movies are hard to find in theatres – ‘how does an audience know if they will like it or not if they can’t see it?’ is what I often hear.

I feel this is a false argument and usually comes from someone in love with a particular product that they feel has been poorly distributed. They may be right of course. But I do know this, audiences DO know what they like, and DO make considered and informed choices. And the market is saturated with product. An nowhere is it written that you, or I, or anyone else, is owed an audience. Like trust and respect, audiences need to be earned.

British Cinema can work. And we don’t need to go back to the good old days of Ealing Comedies to prove it. Street Dance 3D is a FANTASTIC example. 100% home-grown, using local talent and cutting edge innovation. Crucially, it knows EXACTLY who its audience is. The upshot? Street Dance 3D kept Hollywood blockbusters off the number 1 slot for three consecutive weeks. And it has, I am told, been a successful export too. Well done! REALLY WELL DONE! And for the record, the UKFC backed Street Dance 3D.

OK. So below are some thoughts and comments from other film makers. As well as a recording of the Gabby Logan show I did.

Download the MP3 file here for your iPod.

Feedback below…

Craig I was a production accountant on feature films for some years in the UK and anybody who doesn't understand that at the very least you have a valid point to make about the financial and funding dynamics of the UK film industry needs to stop, sit down and and have a real think.
Michael Craig, Via Facebook

Andy Robinson Just read your piece about 'The Industry' on your blog, and I have to say it is one of the most empowering things I have ever read in connection with filmmaking. I have always felt outside of 'the industry' that I have struggled to become part of, and endlessly wondered how I would find a 'way in'. But to turn that notion on its head, and to say that I am already in – already at the place where I need to be – is a revolutionary idea. And as we are in the midst of a revolution in filmmaking, as you say, those are exactly the kind of notions that are required.  Right now one of the most exciting filmmakers for me is Gareth Edwards, who in making his film 'Monsters', shows that ambition and a micro budget are not mutually exclusive – what is really required is ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination. Exciting times, Chris – thanks for getting me fired up once more.
Andy Robinson
Filmmaker, Exeter, Devon

Some people in film and TV never understand basic monetarism – the cost of a product, be it film or a house, is set entirely by the amount of credit advanced to fund it. Films should cost a fraction of what they now do...
Nicholas Jones, (via email)

Angelo Bell I am inspired by Chris' thoughts on "industry." I think the points he raised are significant to independent filmmaking on a global scale, particularly if indie filmmakers plant to "make a living" from making films.
Angelo Bell (via Facebook)

David Baker On the whole, not instilling new talent with the right attitude, has killled the industry. It's no co-incidence that top people like Chris Nolan, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Rami, Peter Jackson, and many others funded their own work to get a kick start. And industry has to be built on the right filmmakers too, and we have not done that here. The REAL filmmakers always find a way and rise from the ashes.
David Paul Baker, Film Maker (Via Facebook)

I just wanted to say well done with your contribution to the Guardian's article, plus your radio spot. Having worked on a lot of productions over the past 10 years, it never ceases to amaze me how much of the budget is fittered away on, in my view, the overly pampering of certain cast and crew, when it should actually be used, in my opinion, to show results on screen, create employment (as much as possible) at reasonable rates, and just provide oppor
tunity for all. In a recent case a local production had to lose crew a couple of weeks before wrap as they didn't have the budget anymore to sustain them – but at the same time gone overboard in providing expenses for one of the leading cast's family to do frequent visiting. I think all this has to stop!.

Name withheld at request

Andy Appreciate you might be taking a battering from a few people about your 'do more with less' comments from the weekend. Just wanted to say that it's important the debate is had – film in the UK shouldn't be a 'behind the Iron Curtain' business, controlled by some minority cabal in the Ivy.

Film is (should be) a joyous, thrilling, frightening, maddening medium. It should be cutting-edge, embracing new technology, both to make and distribute. It should be cost-controlled to embrace FAILURE. That's the problem we have today (not just in film) – the price of failure is too high. If your football team loses five matches in a row, you're fired; if your company dares to not make a profit and give the shareholders a dividend, you're fired; if you scrabble your way to the top of the mighty film ziggurat and actually get to make one… then you goddamn better make sure it makes a profit. Because, if it doesn't… you get the idea.

Art takes practice. The filmmakers we laud today have all made stinkers in their careers (most, but not all, near the start). We have to find a way to lower the price of failure, of LEARNING the craft. It's the only way we'll grow the pool of British film talent and go on to make films that challenge, inform and entertain the world.
Terence, Via Facebook

There are also many, many more insightful and thought provoking comments on the end of the original post here. Please read them and contribute too, share your thoughts. This is OUR industry. Be heard.

We will also be debating this LIVE on stage at the London Screenwriters Festival at the end of the month.

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

3 Responses to Feedback from film makers… WE are the industry…

  1. nicholas whitaker October 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    kudos Chris! This is an issue that we are facing here in the states too. Glad to see someone asking the tough questions for a change

  2. Mark Morris October 7, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

    I am not someone who spends a lot of time watching or studying films I’m lazy that way and leave it to hollywood mostly to reach me through advertising. I have watched amazing indie films. Would I watch them again? No because I prefer the popcorn style easy on your brain summer blockbusters. These films are guaranteed to have the budget to afford the best crews actors and best popcorn film writers and they get to be seen in the cinemas. Films in my world don’t often get a chance and when they do they have to reach into my needs and hit all the right spots. Then I’ll buy a ticket. Hollywood has a firm hold on the neccessary talents because they have the money. If you have the talent they will come calling but you have to prove you do and you are better or as good as the talent they already have.

    Yes we can make films But who watches them?? Festivals that take our money Some literally and others who try to help. But non the less using our money to make their operation sucessful. We’re not selling anything to anyone . Festivals are not paying customers and not a true reflection of popular public choice. So who else watches? Other film makers? Certainly I have watched films for this reason. Often I won’t because of the fear of investing my time to be dissapointed by a poor story or ideas that I don’t find entertaining.

    Are we ever likely to make a film that could appeal to the masses? Is it possible? Everything in a film nowadays has to be perfect so can we afford a highly trained crew? Actors Or a budget that will tell the story that is not a soap or set in one room. For example Eastwoods spaghetti westerns shout cheap and yet actually the production values and what it would cost today were quite high. You can win awards and you can get an audience of other film makers to be impressed but will the general public pay in enough numbers to break out into mainstream? I think the answer is unlikely although miracles do happen now and then. So the future of any British film industry lies in investment and that investment would come from incentives like tax breaks budget help and determined film makers who have onboard determined crews and actors who are prepared to do whatever it takes to gain footholds. So far Hollywood has found it relatively easy to clean up. They will use our crews and pay them well who wont work for little money therefore keeping our film mkaers out of the game. Could a UK Hollywood happen in this country? It all depends on how much we want it and how far we are willing to go if investors and government gave us an opportunity and they will only do this if we shout loud enough.

    I don’t believe we are the industry I believe the industry is a collection of goal orientated forward thinkers trained to selflessly adapt learn listen and skilled first and foremost It’s about attitude and then highly skilled film making professionals who Propped up by investors who using incentives and can afford therefore to lose the money or take a controlled gamble on a known actor in a known and proveable workflow. It’s about what you know and who you know in the world of those who get things done in their film making area of expertise. In the end it isn’t about personalitites it’s about determination and many will still fall by the wayside with only a few making it.

  3. Richy October 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    For what it’s worth (and to some people that’s probably not much) I agree with Chris on this matter.

    Filmmakers are getting their knickers in a twist on this issue because it sounds to them like we’re saying “There is no place for Art Films” in the British film industry, when what is actually being said is “there is no place for reckless spending and ignoring what the audience wants”. They can’t seem to acknowledge that film production is a business first that can sometimes transcend itself to become art.

    There is a snobbishness about commercial filmmaking and an attitude that British filmmakers should try to be more like the Europeans. This is evidenced in the moves by the UKFC and Regional Funding Bodies to “educate” the audience as to what “good” filmmaking is.

    Well here’s my twopenneth.

    Good filmmaking is all about reaching the audience. It’s about entertainment and escapism. It’s about presenting a story that is so utterly different to the audiences real life, yet still identifiable on an emotional level, that they forget their troubles for 2 hours and are transported into the world of the story. This could be action, drama, horror, comedy, sci-fi, or whatever.

    The presentation of working class woes by middle or upper class filmmakers trying to romanticise the reality of life in council estates etc is both pompous and degrading. These filmmakers bang on about “showing the gritty reality” when they can happily close their middle class doors on it, and have done, every day of their lives. The working class audience can’t. When they leave the cinema they have to return to it. They live it every single day. The last thing they want to do is watch it as a form of entertainment.

    These are the people that have been supported by the ailing Film Council, these are the people who have dipped, time and again, into the lottery funds. The funds raised by the £1 tickets bought by the very people they want to romanticise. For every “commercial” film made under the UKFC banner (that usually tank, because they are utter drivel), there are half a dozen of these “worthy” films that are funded, shot and then promptly vanish after they’ve been around the festival circuit. They may appear on DVD, but you want see them to rent in your high street Blockbuster. They may receive critical acclaim, silver bears or diamond Dodo’s whatever the hell these backslapping peer reviewed awards are called. But they don’t make a profit, they don’t even make their money back, and so the industry coffers get smaller and smaller.

    The movie business is just that, a business, and when a business doesn’t make money it can’t grow. It dies, and when a business dies then all the employees end up on the dole. Or as is the case for a lot of these filmmakers, working for mummy and daddy. The general public, not the hoyty toyty Islington dwellers, are the consumers of film. They are the ones that pay the bills, buy the tickets and the popcorn, rent the DVD’s, buy the Blu-Ray discs. If you aren’t making your films for them, then it’s YOU who are killing the industry. Not the pirates, not the illegal downloaders. YOU the filmmakers who would rather ponce around a film festival getting your back slapped by your peers, then sitting in your local multiplex watching the reaction of Shaz and Kev to the latest horror, action, or comedy release. Because let me tell you, Shaz and Kev and all their ticket buying, popcorn munching mates aren’t at the local arthouse cinema watching you latest navel gazing opus. No, not even if it’s set on a council estate and one of the actresses gets her tits out.

    But I’m a filmmaker aren’t I? What right do I have to theorise and postulate on what the average working class audience want? Aren’t I just another hypocritical filmmaker who doesn’t understand real life? Well boo sucks to you. I do know real life. The past decade of my life has been spent living in a council house, being a single parent on benefits, getting jobs and losing jobs, worrying about being evicted for missing my rent and struggling to make ends meet day in and day out. Getting the bus because I can’t afford a car. It’s fucking hard. It makes you want to give up. So what is my choice (I can finally afford to have one, being self employed now) when I go to the cinema?

    Well I tell you, it isn’t fucking Fish Tank!

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