Monday Feb 22, The Storey Industries Centre, Lancaster.
Organised by Workshop Productions.
Workshop Productions pitched this event thus: “‘Reel Vision’ brings professionals and enthusiasts from across the region together online and face to face. Through ‘Reel Vision’ you will build links and partnerships, share information, skills and resources and become a real contributor towards the future shape of the North West Film Industry.”
The fact that this made no reference to what’s been going on for quite some time across the region didn’t bode that well – and the tone of the pitch didn’t either. But, of course, I welcome any initiative by anyone, no matter how ham-fisted their first attempt may be. Hopefully their next event will be better.
So here’s what was wrong with the first one.
They’d put together a panel chaired by someone with no real idea at all. On it was Tara Cook, Head of Production at North West Vision & Media. Why did the Regional Screen Agencies dream up titles like ‘Head of Production’ to describe people with an annual total of £120,000 to spend implementing the Film Council’s largely pointless short film and script development schemes. Still, at least Tara had the decency to tell the audience that they didn’t have any money, that NWV&M was about to lose 25% of it’s total budget, that a lot of people didn’t like them – at all, but they were trying to change (repeated several times during the evening), that they didn’t really have any pull so there wasn’t really any point to them even giving the ‘seal of approval’ to anything, and so on. She did say that they were planning to do some distribution workshops, but when I raised the point that distribution has to reach screens and the problem of exhibition had to be addressed first, it didn’t seem as if that was anything they could do anything about. Oh yes, she also lamented the fact that not very many people have been taking advantage of the ‘surgeries’ that she’s been running across the region – but as someone who did attend one confirmed to me that ‘she seemed to be a nice person who couldn’t do anything’. By the time she got to outlining her vision of the future for film in the region it had degenerated into empty rhetoric and platitudes – no reference to what’s going on and how it could develop.
So that was one chair wasted.
Also on the panel was Iain Bennett, Sector Leader for Digital and Creative Industries at the North West Regional Development Agency. Now these organisation are all part of a top down micro-managed example of New Labourism at it’s worst. Quango’s like the UK Film Council formulate policy in conjunction with civil servants and Junior Ministers at the DCMS, and these then get devolved to regional agencies (accompanied by the consuming of many buffets) – so they started off as being flawed and by the time they get here the world’ moved on. People like Iain Bennett then parrot the buzz phrases – “Our aim is to attract world class companies to the region” etc. When challenged over how the UK film industry is almost totally dominated by the Americans he replied with a phrase I now read several times before – “We don’t want any French solutions here”. France has a pretty successful film industry and this is not just the product of French policy, but of EU policies which are also bringing success to Spain, Germany, Denmark and so on. I want to see those policies implemented in the part of the EU. The Americans don’t, so the Film Council doesn’t, so the government doesn’t, and so they all unthinkingly bray about ‘we don’t want anything French…’ whilst accompanying their ‘cleverness’ with patronising laughter
He does have an explanation as to why things are as they are – British films are not good enough; and he’s backed up on this by Tara. Obviously this means that a film like ‘Precious’ is on general release because it is just so much better than anything by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Steven Frears, Shane Meadows, etc. By now I was starting to get just a little bit annoyed
So, two chairs wasted, what about the other two?
Mark Strange was there. For anyone who doesn’t know Mark, well the guy should be a local hero. He’s an expert martial artist, as an actor he’s been in eight films – and he produced three of them. He’s done a lot of work in Honk Kong, but he’s also closely associated with Intense Productions in Lancaster. I’ve known Mark for quite some time and I know how hard he and his associates have worked in getting to where they are. To begin with, as with all of us, they had no choice other than to do everything themselves. Since then they’ve struck several distribution deals, and been represented by both American and British sales agents.
But it needs someone like John Robb, or Stephen Murphy, in the chair in order to draw out the details. As it was Mark did his standard PR schtick, which would have been OK on Radio Lancashire, and that was it.
In the last chair was David Guest, Workshop Productions’ ‘General Manager’. They’re very pro-active, doing corporate and educational projects as well as launching a short film distribution arm. The trouble with that is, no one makes any money from shorts. Maybe David and co. have cracked the magic formula; only time and the sales figure will tell. He also delivered the bombshell that they’d raised something like £2million for a feature, and purely through the efforts of an accountant. Again, though, the thing with this is, they don’t seem to have the principal cast lined up, they’re looking for a director, there’s no big wadge of Film Council money providing a safety net, they don’t seem to have any pre-sales, or a distribution deal in place, and they’re talking about a budget that’s at the top end of what major US independent producers currently would consider spending – and that’s with all the advantages of both being known and the American market. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. But, then again, when I made the suggestion that, if the were to organise such an event again it would be better if the panel was made up of filmmakers, David replied that ‘The problem with filmmakers is that they do tend to go on a bit’. What? I thought, isn’t David supposed to be a filmmaker? Or has he been spending too much time in the company of ‘Business Advisors’ and turned into a suit?
Throughout the Chair had restricted participation to ‘questions’ from the floor; contributions were never called for, and so the (several) filmmakers there, along with representatives of the Campaign to Reform the Video Recordings Act, didn’t get the chance to say anything. But the ‘vision’ of the future presented by the panel had been so uninspiring and so out of touch that I intervened, saying that the foundations of the future were already being laid by the New Wave of filmmaking sweeping across the region, and by festivals such as Salford, Kino, the Pennine, and so on. This got me a round of applause as well as several drinks and plenty of good conversation with local filmmakers and actors at the bar afterwards. As for the panel, they formed a circle, rather like how wagon trains do for their own protection in westerns, in a defensible corner, presenting their backs to the rest of the room – that is except for Mark Strange – he’d gone home already.