It will come as little surprise to those that know me, at Take One and further afield, that I have taken some umbrage at David Cameron’s assertion that the lottery funding of UK film should be pitched at those films with the greatest chance of box-office success – that it be focused on “helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions”.
No it shouldn’t. It comes as a relief that the full report makes several recommendations I can get behind – increased investment from TV broadcasters, greater emphasis on film education and so forth – even if there is still a worrying undercurrent of preoccupation with box office figures.
The admirable, if misguided, goal behind Cameron’s comments is to make the companies behind them a financial success and contribute to the UK’s economic growth – currently akin to a fat man wheezing his way up to the back row of the multiplex with his nachos. However, much of the thinking behind this is off-kilter and erroneous. Since the axing of the UK Film Council and the transferral of duties to the (now surely overburdened) BFI, the coalition runs the risk of being viewed as cinephobic clods with this latest strand of thinking (this comes in the same week a senior cabinet member called for a new royal yacht).
Some of the most commercially successful productions to come out of Britain in recent history were such successes precisely because no one could have predicted that they would be so lucrative, or at the very least that their appeal would endure. Some examples include THE KING’S SPEECH, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and THE FULL MONTY. Each of these films was a phenomenal financial success, which nobody had predicted. Many a wild triumph has spent years in production hell, as no one would take the perceived risk.
Some of the most commercially successful productions to come out of Britain in recent history were such successes precisely because no one could have predicted they would be so…
In addition, many of the best independent productions to come out of the UK recently would not have had a hope of being funded under Cameron’s funding manifesto. The issue really depends on what he means by “the quality and impact of the best international productions”. Many a film with high production ‘quality’ has made an impact on me – but not in a good way. There is no doubt that there have been some terrible British films, but in a typically self-deprecating manner, we often seem to place more emphasis on these – the ruckus about the infamously publicly funded SEX LIVES OF THE POTATO MEN is not easily forgotten.
The notion that public funding of UK film should chase a quick buck would be the death knell for good cinema coming out of this country. Cinema exists as an art form/business duality; it isn’t fully one thing or the other. An attempt to impose free-market economics on the making of independent UK film fails to acknowledge its cultural or artistic merits. It is unlikely that the same thinking would be applied to numerous other branches of the arts within the UK, or that there would be a more audible outcry across the arts spectrum at the notion. At a time when many film festivals across the UK are struggling for finance (The Cambridge Film Festival had its own issues last year, and Birds Eye View is on hiatus), this renewed emphasis on profit and numbers is disappointing for the UK film scene.
The sector of the film industry which brings outward investment to the UK through huge productions is, whilst unavoidably linked, an entirely different beast to the one which produces lower-budget artistic fare populating arthouse cinemas and film festivals here and further afield. I would argue, perhaps to the annoyance of many a Daily Mail writer, that this sector shouldn’t have financial targets imposed upon it. Who would carry the can for the (inevitable) unexpected failures? Those who financially greenlit the film? The director? The producer? There are too many variables to consider. If film makers struggled to get future funding for interesting projects on the basis that a previous effort didn’t make enough money, that would be a great shame.
An attempt to impose free-market economics on the making of independent UK film fails to acknowledge its cultural or artistic merits.
It is surprising that a Prime Minister who clearly values Britain as a cultural entity and often seeks to preserve tradition and ‘values’ would seek to emulate the cinematic values of Hollywood. Britain has long prided itself on being a nation with a rich cultural heritage, and it would be a shame if we lost sight of, in Cameron’s own words, the “incalculable contribution to our culture” in attempting to follow the goals of private Hollywood productions – which is simply bums on seats.