These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
During the debate Screen International reported that Paul Trijbits, who for several years was Head of the UKFC’s New Cinema Fund, cited a recent study by Oxford Economics which found that the total value of film to the UK economy was £4.5bn, but of that, independent British films only represent 1.3%.
There you have it. That’s just how bad things are for UK independent film-makers: 1.3%. That’s just how much of an American cultural colony we are. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if even French films have a bigger share than we do.
Oh yes – in France 10% of the turnover of every single broadcaster has to be spent on French film production and film acquisition.
Archive for the ‘film studies’ Category
These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
Recently ScreenDaily.com hosted a round-table discussion about the state of British independent film production. The participants were all leading producers whose credits ranged from “Made in Dagenham” to “Fish Tank” and “Adulthood”.
To save time, here’s a summary of the key points:
*The UK tax-credit is designed to help the industrialised film business – the studio system. On a budget of $100m, they can take $20m out of the UK. And Britain has been effectively cut-off from European filmmaking ever since the Tories took Britain out of Eurimages – the EU co-production funding system – in 1996.
(note: The UK joined Eurimages in April 1993. The number of films awarded Eurimages funding and involving UK co-production companies was 12 in 1993, 21 in 1994 and 22 in 1995, and the total amounts awarded were £2.66 million, £5.45 million and £6.138 respectively; this being about three times what the government had contributed to the fund.)
*Everyone is suffering. Today no one is promoting independent cinema on the world stage, as Miramax did, and so it’s very hard to make any deals with US producers.
*The English language could be a disadvantage. France, Italy, Spain and Japan are protected by their language (and quotas – JW) but our cinema is so dominated by industrialised product that we don’t even have a chance.
*Digital screens put in by the UK Film Council at large expense, have been of no benefit to British filmmakers.
*The handful of established production companies (and directors) will continue to stagger along; but it’s a handful of people who are getting older and older. No younger and more innovative people seem to be managing to break into the industry; and without major changes it’s hard to see how they can.
According to the Hollywood Reporter (29.12.09), “The Chinese government protects local films by limiting the number of film imports on a revenue-sharing basis to 20 per year, a quota that effectively limits Hollywood blockbusters to 20 slots annually.”
What arrogance! Just how many blockbusters does Hollywood make annually? And what about films from the rest of the world? The obviously don’t think that those count at all!
So what’s happened? The US government has complained to the World Trade Organisation that China was ‘obstructing trade by forcing foreign suppliers to distribute … through state-owned companies.’
“Warner Bros., Disney, Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox (complain that) the Chinese rules cost them tens of millions of dollars each year in lost business opportunities.”
It should come as no surprise that the WTO has come down on their side.
What hypocrisy! Foreign films have no access to the US market unless the rights have been acquired by the Hollywood majors – and on their terms as well. Theirs is a 100% obstruction of ‘foreign suppliers’.
What a bunch of government-backed bullying thugs.
Swedish films’ share of the box office went up from 19% to 32.4 over the past twelve months. Much of this was down to the success of the Millennium trilogy of crime thrillers based on Stieg Larsson’s best-sellers. Hollywood’s share fell to 54%. But, guess what, Hollywood has announced its intention to acquire the remake rights to these thrillers – yet another example of how the Americans see the rest of the world as a source of raw materials for them to exploit with the same logic as an oil giant or mining corporation.
The Swedish experience is far from unique with local productions seeing major rises at the box office pretty much across the world. Of course the one exception is the UK which continues to be 95% US dominated – to the shame of everything from the British government to the UKFC
Recently two completely different things have been being conflated in these bulletins: productions for which a market exists (e.g. advertising, corporate, training, factual for large niche interest groups, wedding, etc) and which should thus be realistically budgeted; and productions with no access to any markets (short and long narrative fiction, ‘art’) which, if left to their own devices, could, and would, only be made on a spare time ‘hobby’ basis by people with other sources of income (state benefits, bar work, part time teaching, pension).
Access is the key word in the above. Clearly there is a fair amount of interest here in short films, as instanced by the fact that ‘short film nights’ have become a regular feature in many towns and cities. But that isn’t a market because, in its present form, it generates effectively no income.
Now I know that many rather bristle at being referred to by words such as ‘amateur’, or ‘hobbyist’, but that’s what we are.
Right now there is only one market for short fiction: the UKFC – either directly or by proxy through the tiny amounts it gives to its RSAs, or to whatever are the currently fashionable minority groups – largely as a meaningless exercise in social engineering.
Short film schemes are part of the UKFC’s ‘talent spotting’ – a notion that someone somewhere might make something that Lenny Crookes (New Cinema Fund)thinks is worth watching, who can then be developed by the UKFC. This, of course, is seen as a joke; commissioned work is seriously under-funded and, on completion, put on a shelf to gather dust – they cannot be put anywhere else as they have no access to any markets.
Once in a blue moon someone in London does, as a result of courting nepotism, make it through to UKFC-financed feature film development (the UKFC has recently announced that, in future 25% will go to the regions, which is around about a 4-fold increase). The prospect of the resulting film breaking even is less than one in twenty, regardless of its quality or merit, as it will have no meaningful access to any markets. What’s more the highly-paid arts administrators see it as their duty to ‘train’ the producers of these films in the intricacies of film finance by making their awards dependent on ‘match-funding’. But no one is going to invest in any UK independent feature film by first or second time producers and directors who are Shooting People members. All it adds up to is ‘we’ll give you far less than your film would cost to make, but we’ll only actually give you half of that – the rest you’ll just have to get from deferrals and in kind’.
Does the UKFC do anything to create a sustainable market for British filmmaking?
Do they call for the establishing of theatrical exhibition quotas, which would simply bring the UK into line with most other countries?
Do they call for similar quotas to those regulating most other forms of terrestrial TV programming to be extended to films?
Do they call for broadcasters to restore whatever little support they once gave through regular UK short film seasons?
Do they call for the introduction of an “unrated 18″ certificate, again in line with many other countries?
Do they complain to the monopolies and mergers commission about the whole raft of restrictive practices which disadvantage UK filmmaking?
Do they actively promote a UK film festival culture in which a hugely multi-award winning short like Chris Jones ‘Gone Fishing’, would be screened at more than only two ‘British’ festivals?
But, more importantly, do you? Are you an active member of any organisations which campaigns on your behalf on any of these issues? Do you ever even write to your MP or the press?
Or are you nothing more than an ‘amateur’ or a ‘hobbyist’?
writer/producer Diary of a Bad Lad – http://www.bad-lad.com
The campaign to reform the VRA http://reformthevrauk.blogspot.com/
North-West New Wave – which is dedicated to raising the profile of new underground independent filmmaking, and which has already established itself as a major thread at both the Salford and Pennine Film FestivaLS.
Regular speaker/workshop leader for Manchester-based ‘Future Artists’ which is seriously dedicated to developing and communicating about new models for independent film production, distribution and exhibition.
And a 61 year old with ME and a heart condition…
Greetings brothers and sisters. Here’s the lesson…
Filmmakers, you can make your film, whatever the length, available as a download exclusively from your own site, and you will.
Curators, if you negotiate the permissions you can make compilations of short films, whatever the length, available as a download exclusively from your own site.
And the way to do it is through Amazon.com’s (not co.uk)back room. For really tiny fees you can upload your film/compilation to an Amazon server. You then put the appropriate link on your site and that’s it.
Do a ‘Radiohead’ – open a PayPal business account, create a ‘donate now’ button (which takes as long as it takes to read the very simple instructions) and then copy and paste the code to where you want it to be on the page you’re constructing. Give your visitors some suggestions – price of a coffee, ginsters pie, Tesco jeans, – use your imagination. They go to the donate page, make one, or not, and download your movie from a very reliable service.
Now you go out and start telling the world that they can download your movie exclusively from you and pay what they like.
Now it’s time for me to come round with the plate… No, there is no link to ‘download Diary of a Bad Lad now’ – why? because we haven’t finished setting up yet and the information was too important to keep to ourselves.
But ask yourself, “How much is this information potentially worth to me?” Is it worth the price of a totally extras laden just released exclusively from our sites Diary of a Bad Lad DVD for an introductory special offer price of just 9.95 including P&P?
Sure I could tell you how amazing the film is (“…shows just what UK independent filmmakers could and should be making../” Ben Blaine), you can google the reviews so far – just avoid the ‘blogcritics’ one, it’s by some rural American college teacher who says he couldn’t get into it and then proceeded to spit feathers and spoilers all over the page…
But if you are of little faith you can watch it for free on http://www.dailymotion.com/renderyardchannel all over this weekend. I’ll even go so far as to say if you then want to buy it and you post a review anywhere on the net, tell me and I’ll let you have two copies for the price of one and you’ve solved a Christmas present for someone.
BTW the trailer has had over 110,000 views now on dailymotion – and we’ll be getting some advertising revenue. You cannot do this on your own, this is all down to Mark Reid at renderyard.com
Mark is a total live wire and a total inspiration who might do the same for you with no strings attached (other than he thinks your film is worth it).
See, not just one piece of valuable information but a bonus bit too.
OK, lesson over, details and links follow. Best, Jonxxx
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Chris Jones – he of the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook, some well-regarded low-budget features, and no slouch when it comes to promotion – has recently published some film fest data on his multi-award-winning named-cast 35mm short, “Gone Fishing”. Any film which has picked up thirty-six (yes, 36) awards to date and which came within a gnat’s kneecap of getting an Academy award nomination, is not something to be ignored; except when it comes to the UK. Out of all the many UK festivals Chris submitted to – and remember that he is someone with a bit of a reputation – the film was accepted by a grand total of …two.
So, if that’s what happens when you’re Chris Jones, what chance is there for the rest of us?
Don’t just be annoyed, do something…. And one thing you can do is to sing the praises of the Cornish Film Festival – a fantastic event with a near total focus on Cornish filmmaking; and of the Salford Film Festival which this year made the burgeoning North West New Wave of underground shorts and features one its main strands. What’s more this festival is now working with these filmmakers with the aim of taking the ‘best of the fest’ out across the region.
My good friend Jenny Inchbald, of Asha Media, Manchester, pointed out to me that the US multiplex monopoly means that the Arthouse circuit represents the only theatrtical opportunity for independent British films. Unfortunately the UK Film Council adopted the line that the British filmakings failure was due to the failure to make multiplex fare. The result has been an endless parade of derivative genre films made on a tenth of their US equivalents’ budgets which, despite often being no worse than the dross they aim to copy, fail to secure any form of widespread release.
But it has also resulted in the UK Film Council losing increasing amounts of money as this ‘dumbing down’ strategy backfires and blows up in their face.
What’s more by being mainstream they have no arthouse appeal, will never make it on to anyone’s ‘must see list’, and are not attractive to discerning European audiences who’d much rather watch anything by Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, or Shane Meadows. As a result these films have no backend either. So, strangely, making films we’re actually proud of is probably makes better commercial sense.
Today Screen Daily mentioned some devastating statistics – that 95% of the UK film market is dominated by only 10 distributors, leaving more than 80, yes 80, fighting for a share of the remaining 5% – that’s crumbs from the table which wouldn’t even feed one mouse!
What Screen Daily fails to point out though is how the top 9 are North American, with Pathe creeping in at number 10 with a meagre 2% – whereas the American majors occupy the top 5 and take some 70%. But this is hardly surprising when you consider that most Uk screens are American owned as well.
Many have claimed that this dominance is down to a mixture of better films and better and bigger marketing. It plainly isn’t. Besides the blockbusters most screens are stuffed with often very poor fare with little marketing besides the display of foyer posters which have been re-cycled from the film’s American run, re-cycled trailers, and printed details in ‘forthcoming attractions’ programmes. On top of that they’ve been able to re-cycle prints from the american run as well, rather than having to produce new dubbed versions for non-English speaking countries. These add up to minimal prints and advertising costs – the blockbuster advertising blitzes bring in the punters and the foyer adverts take it from there. It is impossible for any other distributors to compete against such advantages.
When it comes to other industries this is called ‘dumping’ and governments take steps to protect their own producers from it.
Recently the UK Film Council has been trumpeting the fact that Hollywood has recently outsourced several blockbuster, such as The Dark Knight and Warner’s ‘Harry Potter’ to UK production facilities as being somehow a triumph for British Cinema. And this trumpeting reached a farcical volume with its now ex-chairman, Stuart Till’s wild claims that British films had 15% of the box office. When there’s that much noise it makes you wonder what they’re trying to cover up with the racket.
And the bare facts are nothing short of appalling. The Film Council invests soft loans in British films, but it does have a target to make back around 30%. The trouble is it’s now nowhere near this target – which is hardly surprising given how for British filmmakers Film Council policies things made things go from bad to worse, with now maybe forty-nine out of fifty British films losing money.
Ah! But then they point to ‘Slumdog’. OK, so its UK revenues go to Pathe, and the rest of the world to Fox; but, as Screen International terms such films, it was made ‘outside of the US’. The ‘Slumdog’ effect was to boost independent film’s box-office returns by more than 6% in the first half of this year. But take Slumdog out of the equation and you discover that the indie box-office share has plummeted by over 25%.
There’s a recession going on, private investment has dried up, soft money’s being cut, and it’s Hollywood with the resources to clobber the rest of us with 3D blockbusters we simply can’t compete with. Already this year Hollywood’s global market share has jumped by a third to over 66%.
But has all this caused the Film Council to grapple with reality, campaign for similar quotas to France, Germany – and anywhere else that wants to preserve its own filmmaking, to call for a quota for British films on terrestrial TV, to advocate the introduction of an optional ‘un-rated 18′ as in America which would be of real benefit to no and micro-budget filmmakers and to UK distributors as well? No it hasn’t. Instead they chalk all this up as one great big bloody success.