It’s hard not to get angry but in this instance it’s best to try.
A quiet sarcastic snort is uncontrollable. The Prime Minister’s call for us to make more “commercially successful pictures” is a fatuous remark from a fatuous man. It reminds me of the Crystal Maze when those players not taking part in a challenge would shout redundant advice like “TRY REALLY HARD!” or “JUST GET THE CRYSTAL!!” But then a lot of my life working in this industry reminds me of the Crystal Maze.
His choice of movies is a hostage to fortune and telling of how badly briefed he is on the subject. Viewed with hindsight it is easy to demand more films like the multi-oscar winning international box office smash hits “The Kings Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire”. However you don’t have to be much of an industry insider to know that both are relatively low budget films that struggled to get made and depended largely on the grim determination of a few just-influential-enough people to make it to the screen. Indeed even after it was made Slumdog was heading for a straight-to-DVD release in the States until Warner’s feet got so cold they sold the rights to Fox Searchlight. If we are to base all future movie production on this example then what exactly is the model? Rush into cinemas everything that was about to go straight to disc?
So I understand why today’s posturing has created a ringing of hands and a gnashing of teeth. Our Prime Minister sounds like a well meaning Aunt or idiot Grandfather. I’m sure if you see the full text of his speech he’ll have added “And I hear a good way into films is to make a hit TV show like that Fab Abs programme they have now, have you thought of writing to the BBC about directing that?” or “What we really need is another Carey Grant he was nice wasn’t he. Came from Bristol didn’t he. But you wouldn’t know from his voice would you? That’s acting, he didn’t make movies with mucky language like they have these days.”
It is annoying to be given advice on success by the man who failed to win the last election even though his opponent toured the country insulting old women. However the appropriate response is not to turn ourselves into the militant idiots many of his supporters would wish us to be.
The term “mainstream” seems only to have been used by that child’s drawing of buttocks, Julian Fellowes, a man who takes a lot of credit for winning a screenwriting Oscar whilst working with a director famous for preferring his cast to improvise. All Cameron has said today is that he wants us to make more “commercially successful pictures”. To oppose the glib stupidity of making this statement in public it is not necessary to start pretending that there is something inherently great about commercially unsuccessful pictures.
I completely agree with Ken Loach that we want a diverse industry producing a wide range of films. Loach is one of our foremost directing talents and according to Box Office Mojo “Looking For Eric” grossed $11m world wide whilst “The Wind That Shakes The Barely” brought in just under $23m. I can’t easily find reliable figures for production budgets but I would be very surprised if these films haven’t reached something like profitability. In short, though I’d hate to taint a master with such a tawdry concept, Ken Loach makes commercially successful films.
Of course not all of Loach’s films have made money, Danny Boyle has had flops aplenty and Tom Hooper’s are sadly sure to come. Only an idiot in a tie would imagine it could work any other way. However as we gather ourselves in advance of Monday’s report by Lord Smith we would do well not to sound too unworldly, as it is a pose that does us no favours. By hearing calls for commercial good sense as those for dumbed down lowest common denominator dross we not only make ourselves a sitting target but we also insult the intelligence of our audience.
There is a market in this country for independent film, for the intelligent, the unexpected, the delightful and the original. What we need is a better system that enables filmmakers to reach that audience. What we need is less interference from bumbling toffs who clearly don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.