The future of the British Film Industry is in YOUR hands, and not in ‘THEIR’ hands…

Radio 4

Over the weekend, and as part of the London Screenwriters Festival, I was drawn into a newspaper article in The Observer about UK films being poor at economising. The basic gist being that I believe films need to be made more cost effectively if we are going to sustain any kind of infrastructure that can support a workforce. You can read the full article here.

It seems what I said has sparked off a whole debate. From the emails I have received, it’s clear that MANY other film makers feel the same as I do, and a handful of others feel that my comments and by extension, I myself, am quite ignorant. Of course no-one is right, this is a complex issue with no absolute right or wrong. Still my phone is ringing of the hook and my email in-box is overflowing with polarized opinions. And just for the record, I wrote about my thoughts and feelings around the UKFC closure plans on my blog some time back – you can read it here.

Frankly I was amazed to receive some fairly strongly worded correspondence from some people. Apparently, some film makers believe that it is not my place to ask difficult questions. To those people, please understand, I am not saying we should stop making films and ‘self implode’ (the drama is quite palpable in some communications), rather we should focus on making films viable thus creating a vibrant, self sustaining industry…

And this morning I ended up on BBC Radio 4 on the Today program as I have been dragged further into the debate. I must admit I was very nervous as I do listen to the show and the questioning is robust to say the least! You can listen to the short interview I did below…

Download the MP3 file here for your iPod.

Industry, industry and industry!
It’s a word that I keep saying and others keep saying back to me. Like there is an ‘industry’. Like it exists as an actual entity, you know somewhere over there.

And recently I had an epiphany about this. I believe that there is no ‘industry’. And to believe that there IS an ‘industry’ (to be clear, I mean an organized actual entity) only serves to make you feel that there is a party to which you are not invited. There are only groups of people self organizing and doing stuff.

Some of those groups are better connected, wealthier, more experienced etc., than others. For sure, that gives them an edge. But it’s NOT an organized body, it’s not a ‘them and us’ and it’s certainly no ‘conspiracy’. It’s just people doing what they think is best for themselves and their own, and sometimes for others too. Pretty much just like I do.

The problem for me about government funding is that it artificially skews the playing field. It gives some groups an edge that they wouldn’t have ‘in the wild’. This is always well intentioned help of course, but it’s a bit like Jane Austens’ ‘Emma’. Good intentions and all, but in the end, it’s best not to meddle in the affairs of others. On balance though, is it better to have Government funding or not? Yes and no. I suspect the grass is always greener on this issue.

All this ‘government help’ has also perpetuated the myth that there is AN ACTUAL ‘industry’. That there IS an organized pot of money. And crucially, that you and I and most people I know, are not in THAT industry. You know, the one with lots of money and access to powerful people…

That’s when I realized. I am the industry. You are the industry. If you or I are making films and attempting to make a business out of it, we are the industry, and DAMN IT, we have a voice that should be heard. I am tired of this ‘holier than holy’ attitude about funding, art, ‘the industry’…

Don’t get me wrong. Government support is needed. The UKFC bods have done their very best (as they see it), with good intentions, but it is time to re-imagine a new future for the lottery money.

And what better time than now as we are in the midst of the biggest evolution / revolution in cinema since sound and colour.

The future belongs to us all. It really does. The time has come to get entrepreneurial and build a whole new and sustainable industry that actually works. Not just for some, but for ALL who work hard, stay professional and embrace the contstant challenges and changes we all face.

Remember, there is no party that you should have been invited to. Just get on with YOUR stuff and make it matter!

(sketch by Emily Bowers @emjindividual)

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

9 Responses to The future of the British Film Industry is in YOUR hands, and not in ‘THEIR’ hands…

  1. Marian October 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    Yep. I think everyone should keep asking ‘difficult’ questions. And mine are about how to develop a new and sustainable ‘industry’ where stories by and about women are as present as stories by and about men. Where we have a cinema that’s as diverse as human beings are.

    I’d love to hear from anyone who has ideas about how this might happen.

  2. Alex May October 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Totally agree. There’s a feeling of ‘industry’ due to film studios and cinemas being permanent fixtures of our landscape. But there really is no film factory turning out good produce on a regular basis. Just a whole load of loosely connected people joining up and disbanding who create the illusion of an industry.

    Always makes me laugh when people say ‘You’ll never work in this industry again’.

  3. zahra October 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Why is it a “sin” for UK filmmakers to consider audience and also why is it a “sin” to question whether or not films can be made cheaper? If we aren’t allowed to question orthodoxy then we might as well call ourselves a cult not an industry or sector.

    I agree, we have to stop being hung up on whether we are being true to our art and start contemplating what our audience might want to see. As you said on the radio today, Chris, a ticket costs the same to see a big Hollywood blockbuster as it does to an esoteric arthouse British film with no stars… this is why audiences vote with their tenners and go elsewhere.

    To insinuate that the public needs to develop an appreciation of British cinema is an insulting and patronising attitude that too many filmmakers have. It’s almost as stupid as “build it and they will come” – we ALL need that single-minded belief in our films to get them made – but expecting everyone else to “see” what we see in our films is like expecting everyone to like your kid or shoes, or to worship your deity. Which again smacks of cultishness – when is the spaceship to Heaven arriving again, Lord Chris?

  4. Angelo Bell October 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    I am inspired by your thoughts on “industry.” I think the points you raised are significant/important to independent filmmaking on a global scale, particularly if indie filmmakers plan to “make a living” from making films. Viability means marketability, and in a challenging economy it’s important to avoid pricing your self out of the market with a film that too expensive (in the indie world) to be distributed at a profit

  5. Simon Cox October 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Very inspiring comments Chris, and a view I have also believed for a long time.

    In the 1980’s I was an assistant editor for children’s animation company called FilmFair. They were a super small company that made animated films in their back office. They worked for years as a small cottage industry making quality programmes, selling them and living off the proceeds. Eventually, they made a series called The Wombles which the BBC took on. This got them international fame and they made millions through merchandising, their next production, Paddington, also made them a fortune. I think there is a lot we can learn from a business model like this. Find your market and make films for it. We need to create a sustainable base so that we can build upwards.

    I also think it would be a good idea if the Government could provide some sort of tax break for smaller investors, so that if a Filmmaker wanted to make a film for, say, £100K, he could invite his family and friends (or his friends on Facebook) to invest smaller (and less risky) amounts and perhaps get a tax free return on their investment. But it needs to be something plain and simple that doesn’t require a Lawyer and Accountant to see every transaction through. Free up the Film-makers so they can make films. Food for thought maybe?

    Keep up the good work Chris, it’s interesting how you, once black marked by the “industry”, have now become the mouthpiece of the new industry – keep the cogs rolling mate, onwards and upwards!!

  6. Richy October 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    I tuned in this morning on a marathon drive and how I kept nodding my head. Particularly the example of Fish Tank, millions spent on a film that no one wants to see, but everyone in the “industry”, uggh there’s that word again, says people “should” want to go and see. I think Zahra said it best that this pompous attitude that a lot of filmmakers in this country have (and they seem to be the ones who are constantly on the receiving end of public funding) that the audience needs educating shows how completely out of touch they are. They are as bad as MP’s (is that too harsh?) they suckle on the funding teat and churn out bollocks that no “real” people want to see.

    I personally don’t know any “real” people who would like to fork out £10 to sit with a bag of popcorn and watch a “social realist drama” as opposed to a balls out action/horror movie, hell even a romantic comedy! Anything but shit films about the working class, made by the middle class who seriously haven’t got a clue.

    There are enough like minded people in this community at the moment to start churning out low budget, truly independent and above all ENTERTAINING films, we just need to stop talking about doing it and DO IT!

    I better stop now, I’m becoming apoplectic with rage.


  7. Christopher Hughes October 6, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    The real issue is not the cost of a movie but is there an audience for for it. Most low budget films never get released in the traditional sense and I would hazard a guess that reason is on one wants to see them and that is because they are not very good. It doesn’t matter if it cost £40 or £100 million. If its not good no one will get there money back.

    Having worked on several low budget films including only one of which I have ever seen released. On the most recent low budget film I worked on I was told there wasn’t enough petty cast to buy a print cartridge which I needed to print the call sheet because they had just spent the last on it with Krispy Kream doughnuts. Extreme I know but it’s not completely about the budget it’s what you spend it on that make the difference.

    A large amount of the below the line budget costs goes on labour and there is in my experience never really anyone that is not needed to make the the most of the time available. Production Managers are ruthless in keeping costs down, the good ones are, the bad ones get retired.

    Of course you can get people to work for less money but as most crew do not have emotion investment in a film why should they? A chippy, plasterer could easily go work in somewhere else. You get what you pay for, experience and skill. Crews have lives, mortgages and families, trying to force the costs too low to will resulting crews leaving the industry and finding something else to do to pay the bills.

    Equipment cost money and it is possible to get some great hire deals but there is a point where to would be uneconomic to run as a business. If you can blag a £70K camera great but someone has had to pay for it somewhere along the line.

    Now I know the alternative argument is new technology such as the Canon 5D MK2 I have one and play to use it to shoot a film next year but there is still lighting to hire in, the need for catering, the list goes on. Yes the camera is great but the camera has its limitations and the work around can be almost as expensive as hiring in a camera for a full shoot.

    Stuff costs. If you want to make cheaper films think of the budget when you sit at the keyboard. More importantly think of the audience and make it good because as a DOP said to me once “you can’t light thin air”.

    Back to work people.

  8. Kate October 6, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    I love that this is a world wide problem not just in the UK.

    Aussies are having this problem too but I think the attitude is changing at Screen Australia.
    I’d really hope that now they’d never turn down a film like Saw (as they did) in favour of a social realism drama.

    Not saying there’s not a place for those films, because there is, but that place shouldn’t take over the place of films that are ENTERTAINING because that’s why most people go to the cinema’s, not because they want to see their own lives but they want to escape from their own lives into a fantasy of the life they imagine living.

    The first step in making a film for any amount of money is making sure you have a GREAT STORY and an AUDIENCE. If you don’t have that then why even make it as a film – why not make it a novel?

    Is the medium the story is told in the best medium for the story? I mean even with novels now you could release an audio book and never actually print it on paper?!?!?!

  9. Alex May October 6, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    One thing I find fascinating and contradictory is that film schools don’t reward students who make commercial films – ie, reward with good grades, internships, recommendations, unpaid and paid jobs, etc. My year graduated last Saturday and the balance of commercial to ‘artistic’ films was pretty depressing.

    Students are allowed to indulge in any kind of film they wish and it really is a part of our culture (which is traditional and history based, not financially based) that guarantees that almost nobody goes for the money-making stories. At the graduation there was a glut of drama shorts, with the usual spread of good to bad, but just about no commercial concepts. Last year we had guest speaker Nik Powell, no less, recommend that we do comedies. The (only) one comedy script that has crossed my desk had its own mini bidding war and a council wanting to put several thousand towards it. Comedy scripts WANTED.

    So… how come film schools don’t give priority to applicants with proven commercial nouse? Chris, I hope you interview a few school directors on this issue.

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