Thursday 3 September, Jon attends Film London’s Vanity event: “Microbudget Film: Where’s the beef, where’s the audience?” at the Cornerhouse, Manchester.

What a silly title to the event: Where’s the beef? On the butcher’s counter in Tesco, Doh! Where’s the audience? In the multiplex watching something American on a screen probably subsidised by the Film council. Doh!

 Nothing much to say about this vanity event really. Film London a while ago started playing the game of ‘Fantasy Executive Producer’ with a plan to fund a few £100,000 micro-budget features over the next few years with lottery and tax-payers money. And Maggie Ellis, Film London’s ‘Head of Production’ is enjoying what’s probably the twilight of her career  touring her microbudget roadshow around provincial venues, such as the Cornerhouse, with her panel of lottery and tax-payers beneficiaries in tow, and all paid for by the lottery and the tax-payer. Not only is the event free, there’s a networking opportunity afterwards with FREE DRINKS (just one each).

 The panel included Kolton  Lee, director of Film London’s forth-coming feature ‘Freestyle’ – a basket ball themed teen film – yep, a copy of any $15million US teen movie on 0.5% of the budget; Laurence Gough who made horror-genre ‘Salvage’ with North West Vision money which looks quite good and has got into the major festivals; Independent producer-businessman Colin Pons, who produced horror-genre ‘Hush’  on around a £1million budget with a third of that from the Film council and who freely confesses that ‘he’s made a living from gambling with other people’s money; and Andrew Woodyat, head of marketing at distributor ‘Revolver’ who’ve agreed to handle Film London productions on a no-advance basis.

 Maggie Ellis explains how they’d only come up with about 60% of the budget but they’d accept it if the filmmakers came up with the other 40% ‘in kind’. ‘And we’ve been able to get so many great deals on equipment and facilities’, she says, suddenly remembering that this might be because “we’re in London”. 

 It gets worse. “Hands up all those in the audience who want to be a producer”, she says, followed by “And hands up who wants to be a writer?”  Oh God, can this get worse?

 Film London’s best known effort to date is ‘Shifty’. It got excellent reviews and the Film Council gave Revolver a £150,000 marketing grant. It opened on 50 screens and audiences big enough to, if it had got general release, maybe put it in the top five for that week. Audiences figures as expected dipped sharply, but then they started to rise on the back of good word of mouth to levels which bettered most American films which had been out for a similar number of weeks. Did this success mean that more screens in other parts of the country started to book the film? Of course not, and it closed seven weeks later grossing less money than the Film Council’s grant.

 Was Maggie Ellis concerned about this whole problem of American films monopolising British cinema screens? Err, no. In fact she thought opening the film on 50 screens had been a big mistake and it would have been much better if it had only been a few. “What are we going to do with all these 35mm prints?” she lamented.

 From the floor I pointed out that, on its own figures, 19 out every 20  Film Council funded films lose money. Colin Pons’ production, ‘Hush’ was made with a Film Council award, and so I asked him how much of their £300,000 the Film Council was likely to lose on it? “Brutal”, whispered Salford Film Festival programmer, Steve Balshaw, who was sitting next to me in his customary pork-pie hat. But I wasn’t being, and Colin – with whom I’m slightly acquainted’ didn’t take it that way and explained that he’d made deals with cast and crew whereby some of their contribution to the film counted as an investment, so they all started getting a share of whatever it made from the start, instead of  (because 19 out of 20 lose money) getting none of the promised ‘backend royalties’ at all. So good for you Colin. BTW this is the way that Pleased Sheep works – every contributor is an investor; it’s just that, being ‘up North’ the Film council will never give us any money which does have an upside to it – we don’t have to devote most of our time dealing with twats.

 For a moment a bit of reality had crept into the evening, but Maggie Ellis soon put a stop to it; “We didn’t start the scheme thinking about money. Money isn’t important to us.” See, it’s a game – Fantasy Executive Producer.

 The good thing was that most of us North West indie filmmaker people were there and, after two hours of largely being patronised, we’d been goaded enough to all agree that we needed to stage an event which was actually real. So watch this space…

 BTW I am going to add a PS here. A long time ago Michael and I had an idea for a film based on Fred and Rosemary West. It went like this – the West’s had shot amateur videos of their crimes which someone has got hold of and is trying to find a film production company venal enough to buy them and make them into a film. So it was a film about just how low people were prepared to go. Only some totally cynical scumbag with a criminal record, we thought, would be low enough to take such an idea on. But we’d counted without Film London who financed the Fred and Rosemary West inspired torture porn black comedy ‘Mum and Dad’. How could anyone in their right mind be inspired by the Wests? And think such a story had some comic potential? “Horror, that’s a good genre to do”, says a grinning Maggie Ellis, tipping the wink to the audience in an aside to the audience whilst singing its praises. Who’d have thought it? Makes your flesh crawl, doesn’t it? It does mine…

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