Vanity Executive Producing – Part Two

When we were working on Diary of a Bad Lad, Michael and I kicked around the idea of doing a trilogy of genre-bending moc-docs – with a the possibilities of each release revitalising sales of the others, of bringing out the ‘three volume box set’, the ‘connoisseurs edition’ and so on. And the ideas weren’t bad either.

   Second in the series was “Serial Cannibal”, a film set in a near future in which small documentary crews could get the chance of interviewing a convicted serial killer, held in a special ‘secure house’, and awaiting deportation to France in exchange for a batch of asylum seekers; with their efforts being recorded, ‘Big Brother’ style, by hidden cameras. A sort of modern day version of throwing Christians to the lions, only with desperate filmmakers.

   But the last was to be the sickest of all, the ‘were we really going too far this time’ moment. And we started telling people that the basic idea was: Fred and Rose West’s home videos.

   But there was much more to it than that. It involved a return to our Bad Lad creation, ‘Tommy Morghen’. Tommy had become an executive producer, credited not only with Bad Lad, but also Serial Cannibal. Tommy gets a surprise visit from one of the children (a son) of a couple modelled on the Wests, but obviously with different names, who is offering the tapes for sale; and he reckons Tommy Morghen may just be unprincipled enough to buy them. But what the son fails to reckon with is Tommy’s decision to make a documentary about all the issues this raises and which will, amongst other things, cost him his soul.

   And then what did we find out? Only that Film London had green-lit under their ‘Microwave’ scheme an openly ‘Wests-inspired’ (how could the Wests inspire anything?) film called ‘Mom and Dad’, which was a piece of pure exploitation; and that Film London had even fewer principles than Tommy Morghen.

   But, unlike North West Vision, Film London had made a distribution deal with ‘Revolver’ who simultaneously released the film across all platforms on the Boxing Day 2008 weekend – the one weekend when no Box-office figures are collected because nobody goes to the cinema, which is pretty much the same as getting it all over and done with before anyone noticed; and before anyone started asking if this barrel-bottom-scraping was what Film London really should be doing in the first place.

   Still, at least they were trying to be commercial, and they did green-light ‘Shifty’, which was critically very well received – but which you wouldn’t be able to see in a thirty mile radius around a very large town with a premiership football team like Blackburn.

   ‘Shifty’, £100,000 production budget from Film London, and then an additional £156,000 of marketing money from the Film Council’s ‘Specialised Prints and Advertising Fund’ awarded to the film’s distributor, Metrodome, so that it could open on 50, instead of only 25, screens – which works out as a subsidy of £6240 per additional screen. And, as the Film Council usually operates a ‘match-funding’ policy, it’s fair to assume that Metrodome was spending the same amount, and so the film enjoyed a marketing spend of over £300,000, as well as a lot of very favourable free media publicity.

   But after only four weeks fifty screens had shrunk to five, with the film taking a site average of  £568  -which is still more than Fast and Furious (£386) or 17 Again (£545) – and a current gross of £137,264. So it looks as though Shifty will close without even grossing its Film Council marketing subsidy.

   I want to make it quite plain that I am not knocking ‘Shifty’.  It’s a film that opened with a site average which put it well in the top ten by this criteria. And for anyone who cares to look at the figures they’ll see that the multiplexes routinely have Hollywood product playing on hundreds of screens racking up multi-million takings from smaller site averages.

   This is what the problem is – without quotas most of us won’t be able to see British independent films with a profit making potential like Shifty in our local cinema. We have to challenge the likes of the Film Council, North west Vision and Film London who are using tax payer and lottery players’ money for what are ‘vanity executive producing projects’ whilst doing nothing that would actually make a difference.

  We deserve better than this.

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2 Responses to “Vanity Executive Producing – Part Two”

  1. Richard Says:

    Hi Jonathan – am curious where you got the Shifty b/o stats from?

    Many thanks.

    • Jonathan Williams Says:

      Hi Richard,

      The one thing that the UK Film Council is good for is its research department. Just go to their website and click on research/box office etc. Unlike other sources much of the research data is however very badly presented and can make you wonder what it is they are trying to hide. But the box office figures are straightforward. The awards data bases can be a little difficult to navigate and the annual statistics are like wading through mud – by way of a contrast look at the data from the Danish Film Institutute. If only this was what we had in the UK. Be in touch. Best wishes Jon

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