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Posts Tagged ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

I tend not to write about politics, lets be honest regardless of you political affiliation movies are more interesting than politics. But something this week has made me want veer towards politics, it wasn’t the Meryl Streep vehicle/Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady, it was our Prime Minister David Cameron.

Our role, and that of the BFI (British Film Institute), should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions” David Cameron.

To put things simply David Cameron has suggested British filmmakers should “aim higher”, unfortunately he isn’t suggesting they make better movies, he suggests they more commercial movies. The idea is that rather than unproven filmmakers receiving lottery funding, business should invest in movie with “mainstream potential”. I don’t think he gets it. How do you predict the success of a movie? The King’s Speech had a budget of around £8 million and would have be considered a financial success had it earned £25million, in fact it made £250 million. Slumdog Millionaire had a similar budget and box office return but at one time looked like it would skip cinemas and go direct to DVD. The problem, when the movies were conceived who could have predicted the box office or the awards? One is about a man fighting to overcome a speech impediment the other, a partly subtitled movie about child exploitation. The reason for their success was that they are great films not because they are commercially minded. But been great isn’t a recipe for success, just take a look at Citizen Kane or Blade Runner.

It works the other way. The Invasion is just one example of an unexpected flop. It had a talented director, Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall and The Experiment), it has a tried and trusted story (Jack Finney’s often filmed novel “The Body Snatchers”) and an A list cast including Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (fresh from Casino Royale and it half billion dollar box office), despite all this it took around $15million having cost around $80 million to make. And this isn’t a small British movie, this is a Hollywood studio production. An industry that knows a lot more about making (and losing) money than our little cottage industry!

What part do the governments have to play in the British film industry? As I see it, directors like Gareth Edwards who made Monsters (ranked 3 out of the 111 new movies I saw in 2010) have proved that truly independent movies can be made. The governments role should be to distribute them so they are seen in UK cinemas and are sold around the world turning them into commercially viable products.

My point is that British filmmakers could sacrifice artistic integrity to make more commercially minded movies only for them to lose tens of millions. This the impact of this could be catastrophic resulting in little or no British film industry. I am not saying that if they find the funding British film makers shouldn’t make mega budget movies to rival Spielberg, Cameron or Bay but they shouldn’t do it at the expense of what they are doing now. I have no idea how much money Mike Leigh and Ken Loach movies make or lose, and have no intention of finding out, all I know is the world is a better place for their art. And on that subject I would like to refer the Prime Minister back to one of his predecessors:

The story as I understand it dates back to the Second World War; as the cost of war was escalating and the government struggled to balance the nations books a minister suggested cutting funding for the arts to prop up the war effort. Winston Churchill response was to ask the question “Then what are we fighting for?

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