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Thanks For That Dave.

Posted January 11th, 2012 by Ben

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?

Some Happy Lottery Winners.

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.

  1. Jim

    Im utterly disgusted by this article. This is exactly the sort of reactionary, politicised tosh that I hoped would stay away from ShootingPeople.

    HE. DIDN’T. SAY. WHAT. YOU. THINK. HE. SAID.

    “Our role, and that of the BFI, 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.

    “Just as the British Film Commission has played a crucial role in attracting the biggest and best international studios to produce their films here, so we must incentivise UK producers to chase new markets both here and overseas.”

    This not “we should only make/fund mainstream films”. your confusing “success” with “mainstream”. Don’t we ALL want to make commercially successful films? i.e. Films that turn a profit? Isn’t that how economies work?

    He essentially said “We make great films, we should continue making more”. Its such an non issue I’m staggered by how you could have reacted. The real story, the actual content of the report, is what’s important.

    Whether one is left or right of the political line, twisting words to fit your own agenda is wrong.

  2. Ben Blaine

    Jim – I HAVE NOT SAID WHAT YOU THINK I SAID!

    I am quite clear in the blog that the “mainstream” comments, to which many have taken umbridge, did not come from Cameron but are Fellowes as quoted by the BBC.

    Like you I think that this whole fuss is a cloud of feathers thrown up to pave the way for the report. By acting as if he is attacking us when he is not we make ourselves ridiculous. The entire thrust of my blog is that we shouldn’t forget that we all actually agree with Mr.Cameron on this, even if that’s only because he is stating the obvious.

    Spare me your furious indignation Jim, it is misplaced.

  3. Jim

    Ben,
    I stand by my comments. in trying to make my point you’ve used your political bias to influence your response to this non story and I find it distasteful.

  4. Ben Blaine

    Jim, my anti-Tory stance is the one thing I share with the great many people who did leap to precisely the wrong conclusion you accuse me of. If you cannot see that I am revelling in that bias simply so as to demonstrate that, bias aside, Cameron said nothing controversial yesterday, then you’re either blinkered by a bias of your own or just plain stupid.

    I don’t for a moment think you are either of these things, but if you refuse to see that we’re agreeing on this issue then I hope the distaste you claim to feel lingers in your mouth for weeks.

    Oddly, you have my best wishes.

  5. Jim

    Ben. On reflection, I apologise. The issue I had was with the tone of your article, and not with the content. Which is somewhat ironic.

  6. Ben Blaine

    Jim, thank you. The internet is a great one for the random splurge of faceless anger so the fact that you’ve taken time to come back and admit that means a lot.

    Hope you find the tone of my latest blog less unpalatable.

    Best wishes
    Ben.

  7. Jim

    I’m a few things, but a hypocrite isn’t one of them. I admit my mistakes.

  8. The Golden Age of British Cinema? « Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

    [...] and shedding light on how the government might help British films. After Cameron so helpfully called last week for “more commercial films”, many people had feared that the report would herald a dramatic new [...]

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