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The Lady In The Van? Why are we still making stuff like this?

The Lady In The Van - BBC funded and I'm sure the BFI are involved somewhere. Why are these tiny films still getting made? It's so expensive to go to the cinema nowadays (£9 in city centres on weekends, with Tues or Weds for 1/3 off matinees) Why is it so hard to get more ambitious British films made? The target market for this will obviously wait until it hits BBC Two in a year anyway. It was like this with last year's Pride.

Maybe I'm mean spirited, but I'd like to see more ambitious British funded sci-fi, horror, action and fantasy films. It seems there's a big gap at the cinema between these whimsical Brit flicks one step above a TV movie and the massive 3D FX laden extravaganzas from Marvel and the big studios.

  • I have an office above an art house cinema. Just because a film isn't to your taste doesn't mean it isn't to everybody's taste! It'll do well within its demographic, plus remember international sales are valuable for a film like this, and it'll likely have some overseas money in it.

    I personally thought the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was poor, but it was hugely popular and profitable. You can't bemoan the state of the British film industry when it makes profitable movies ;-). If you want more British sci-fi, make some! Much international sci-fi gets made here, and we have the longest running TV sci-fi character in the world, which is again a huge financial export - we have the track record...

    3 years ago
  • It's not the film, it's the marketing.

    I liked Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it was a warm blanket movie (and if that isn't a term, I want credit for it from now on) on a day when that was what I fancied.

    As to the Lady in the Van etc, certain funders don't need a commercial return because "art" or "mandate", but that's not going to get much pure entertainment made. And I write as someone who, if I'm shelling out for a ticket, pure entertainment is exactly what I want.

    Love to see more British fun in the movies :-)

    3 years ago
  • Matthew, it's completely dependent on what you want to pay to see at the cinema. If you're equating big budgets with ambitious filmmaking, then perhaps Marvel is for you.

    It could be that The Lady In The Van is a more ambitious script in storytelling terms than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both films will be great for a specific demographic. The Lady In The Van obviously won't make as much money as the next Marvel juggernaut, but who's to say it's any less ambitious - in storytelling terms - than Captain America 3?

    3 years ago
  • I really liked the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (huge Bill Nighy fan).

    Fact is, if you're looking into the money side of it, Films like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are hugely profitable. Whereas those huge budget comic book films are mostly money losers. The studios count on one massive hit to make up for those losses.

    I've not heard of The Lady In The Van, but what the Brits do is pretty smart: they don't try to compete with Hollywood on lesser budgets. Plus their films tend to have an older demographic; and we old folk tend not to steal movies, so all the better for the bottom line. If you go up against Hollywood without the cash, you will fail. Hollywood can afford to blow it several times. The U.K. can only blow a huge budget once.

    Something else to think about: when Hollywood stopped funding midrange pictures (between 3 and 30 million), the devastation that caused in lost jobs was incredible. It takes as many crew people to make a 20 million dollar picture as a 200 million dollar picture. All of those jobs are just gone. 10-30 films from each studio each year simply vanished.

    3 years ago
  • I've just laughed my head off at this discussion - Has anyone not noticed that because of donwton abbey, Maggie Smith's stock has risen?? Put her in a film and it will sell - Not to teenagers, but, hey, they're not the main audience these days - Women over 25 are! YES that's right.... And, yup, I won't watch it either, I'm a thriller writer and maker, and love sci fi - but, to suggest 'lady in a van is arthouse is ridiculous. Get some training folks and learn to distinguish your genres. Lady in van is star led Drama with a touch of comedy, which does do well - not huge, but it slowly recoups very well thank you, and films of this nature need to be made more. One day we might actually have a film industry if we do and stop being so subective....

    3 years ago
  • Jane: "One day we might actually have a film industry"...

    This keeps coming up. Does the U.K. NOT have a thriving industry? Truly, I want to know. Because from my POV over here in Los Angeles, the U.K. industry seems to be very strong. Am I wrong?

    Help me out, Paddy.

    3 years ago
  • I'm glad this debate has really kicked off! I don't think Lady In The Van is art house but it's a "TV movie shot on 35mm". And The Best Marigolds Hotel 1 & 2 were mostly financed and distributed by Fox, an American/Australian company (?). What I'm trying to point out is that nothing exciting is filmed in London unless US money is behind it. Who else paid for the race through Oxford Circus in Fast & Furious 6? And the action in the finale of Spectre and Skyfall? What terrifies me is that if you take away the tax breaks from the UK, a large chunk of Hollywood productions would just not film here... There's always Prague and South Africa...

    3 years ago
  • 'Nothing exciting...', guess it depends on your definition of 'exiting'! If you like big set piece action movies, the kind the Americans do well, then you'll find those films exciting. I won't even bother with most of those films even if I'm in a crappy plane with literally nothing else to watch. They don't excite me! And Hollywood investment had become increasingly 'safe' - part SEVEN of a franchise getting distributed? ANOTHER superhero movie with a ton of CGI?

    The industry is international, so as I said before, the colour of the money that comes in is increasingly moot. And in the English-speaking world, USA has a larger pot of film investors. If you're doing an expensive film, you look wide for money! But the bigger the risk, the higher the mitigation, so the safer the film. That said, there are plenty of high-budget lemons that will take years to recoup, if ever.

    I'm not sure I get your point about tax credits. Yes, take them away and production will move elsewhere. Game of Thrones production pretty much provides a Map of tax credit benefits. The industry would indeed be a lot smaller without them. On the one hand you are concerned that American money is bringing productions to the UK, on the other, about the had credits that attract them. I'm not sure I see you point!

    Is it a 'somebody should do something!' type of post? Well, the national broadcasters are. They put money into films and TV. Is the complaint that they don't put as much money in as a far larger, richer country? I'm pretty sure you'll see the maths of that one. Should they co-pro with other countries more? They already do! Sherlock is expensive to make, but is widely sold. The production costs are shared with one of the US networks, and it subsidises the licence fee. Should the BBC be making F&F films? Imagine the uproar, and rightly so. In that case, who should? ITV is close to bust, all the advertising revenue goes overseas now. Who is left? Go out, write a big money franchise, find backers in London, and fire things up by all means!

    We have a very vibrant industry compared with pretty much any similar-sized country. How many German films did you watch last year? How about Australian? Czech? Canadian? The Americans dominate the big, homogenous franchise space, so what? They dominate the IT space too, and yet again we provide some great backup and support industries. I suppose we dominate motor racing - but F1 is like the film industry and heavily cross-financed.

    3 years ago
    • What I meant about tax credits is that if you take them away, production will move. Here, each state will have some form of production tax credits. In Louisiana, for example, the loss of tax credits shut down a studio. All of their sound stages sit empty now. Literally overnight, they are looking to sell their stages and other property. The films that were going to Louisiana are now going to Georgia. When CA lowered its tax credit cap, a ton of production, including television, moved to New Mexico. The thing is, the infrastructure (crafts people, stages, etc), can't move as easily. Maybe the U.K. has national tax credits, and doesn't have to worry about that. But it does have to worry about a production moving to Croatia, for example.

      3 years ago
  • Big franchise films are not ambitious. They brilliantly executed money making schemes. Most of the money made is in tat that you can sell on the back of the movie and not the cinema tickets. The movies release tends to be a very, very expensive marketing exercise for said tat. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people seem to enjoy tent pole after tent pole.

    Lady in a van is a film that lives or dies on the films success.

    It stars Maggie Smith, Dominc Cooper and James Corden. All for various TV reasons have good cache in the states.

    It's written by Alan Bennett - a British institution.

    Nicholas Huytner has a strong track record in drama. A couple of stage adaptations in his filmography.

    Producers all have strong records in drama

    This is exactly the type of film they should be making.

    Speaking English and brilliant skills attracts as much USA investment as the tax breaks.

    Your opinion is subjective and the ambitious films you mention are only ambitious in terms of spend - yet they're really conservative too. It's a risk averse business.

    The reason you haven't seen other films from European countries is because they can afford to make native language films that can make money within their own borders because their cinemas aren't owned and dominated by USA studios like here.

    I've recorded lots of podcasts for Britflicks with over 100 film makers and distribution is the hardest thing these days. That's why 'ambitious' Brit movies are not made because they'd be competition to the USA studio system ... We have to offer something they don't to differentiate

    3 years ago
  • I don’t know why you’re picking on this film, it’s based on a hit West End play by one of most beloved playwrights, with a pretty good cast. I personally think it sounds like an interesting and enjoyable film, pertinent to our times, as we’re living through a housing crisis that seems to get worse every day. I am glad our film industry doesn't make derivative crap based on comic books or old action tropes… perhaps it’s just because they don’t have the money too, but that’s a good thing in my opinion.

    3 years ago
  • You have a pretty strange idea of what's successful Matthew. Lady in the Van is an Alan Bennett script, directed by Hytner and starring Maggie Smith - that ticks pretty much all the boxes for a homemade success AS WELL as a hugely successful export. I know people in Canada and Brazil who can't wait to see that movie. Our film finance system is hugely predictable and depressing, yes, but Fast & Furious is utter shit of the kind that our limited budgets shouldn't be touching with a bargepole.

    3 years ago
  • Matthew ... did you go and see Slow West earlier this year?

    3 years ago
  • I'm laughing with Jane here. It's ripe now with Maggie Smith and her amazing wit in Downton Abbey (so OK she just says what's in the script, but it's the way she says it.) but we also remember her from Tea with Mussolini where her voice cut through and made us laugh. Low budget British films also sell extremely well in the US as will Dusty and Me when released, which has been described as the next Kes.

    3 years ago
    • And you have no idea of the success of the British series and films in France. All my French friends love Downton Abbey and they are very disappointed I haven't seen it yet.

      3 years ago
  • I saw an interview with someone from the BFI a few months ago lamenting the lack of good British horror scripts coming through the door - it may have been just after the success of The Babbadook. But a genre we traditionally did well.

    From my POV up here in the relative Scottish film wilderness one problem seems to be a shortage of good genre scripts and, of course, production money, not any particular lack of ambition from producers to make them. Under the Skin was made after all, a hugely ambitious Sci Fi, Hollywood star, very British in voice, and Glazer should arguably have been nominated for an academy award. Expensive, relatively. But Moon showed that a crackingly good sci fi can be done in the UK sub £5 mill.

    I do agree in one respect though, I would dearly like to see a greater diversity in genre film making in this country. Moe clever sci fi's and horrors especially, but that's down to us folk to make them.

    Bring in the US money is what I say as long as that doesn't homogenise the output. The UK govt are doing sweet FA to develop the arts outside of London. If it's being spent on UK crew, developing the UK industry, telling stories with unique voices I don't care where the cash comes from.

    3 years ago
  • I think they don't make enough films like this! In France there are hundreds comedies or 'little' films every year coming out and, out of the quantity, you have a few gems popping out. It gives plenty of opportunities to people to make a film or participate to a film.
    Perhaps, if more films like this was made, more people would go to the cinema.
    Most of your cinemas are clogged with American 'rubbish', why don't you produce your own 'rubbish'? Of course the other point is that going to the cinema is not "the-thing-to-do" like in France. On Saturday nights, the French cinemas (at least in my hometown, Nice and Paris) are full, you can the queues outside.

    Why do we need films with always even more spectacular special effects. The next one is a Star War! Great, but is there anything else?
    What I like with the French comedies it is that they can be hilarious and yet make you think. No special effects. Perhaps Matthew, you don't like 'thinking'. I find 'thinking' also entertaining.
    I recommend, if you get a chance, the latest comedy full of fun, emotion, sadness, laughter: La Famille Belier. And it is very original.

    3 years ago
    • I apologise for a couple of spelling mistakes!And forgot the word 'see' in "You can see the queue.."

      3 years ago
  • Just watched Babbets Feast again. This Danish French film is masterpiece of demonstrating how less is often more. I agree with Claudets observation about the joys of intellectual stimulation. The crash bang wallop of the action zombie genre does tend to be trite. In terms of bang for bucks things like Babbets Feast are great value and reinforce Europe's latent supremacy. Too much money, too much unbridled capitalism and standards that reflect the lowest common denominator result in the 'fall of Rome'; if one gets my meaning.

    3 years ago
  • Oh I don't know, don't get me wrong, I love feeding my cerebral cortex with high cinema and as much as the next film junkie, but I think for every trite blockbuster there's a misguided piece of art. Just because it's intellectual it doesn't necessarily follow that it's good.

    I think there are some absolutely wonderful blockbusters out there, some amazing genre films and also plenty of fantastic European and British films, and it's crucial that we have a national identity in cinema and don't just try to emulate Hollywood.

    But art and entertainment aren't mutually exclusive. I agree with Jamie, our sure-fire British will bring in overseas money from films like Lady in a Van, that's out bread and butter and it should be nurtured. But I also think the industry here needs to foster a more varied diet of genre without trying to copy the Americans.

    3 years ago
  • “Haters gonna hate!” That’s what this conversation brings to mind!

    Those who can, do – those who can’t, whine! Who really cares where the money comes from? You’ll take it from wherever it comes from, if you’re adept enough to find it.

    It would ordinarily depress the crap out of me to continue to listen to such stories if I didn’t know any better.

    Go make a movie…

    3 years ago
  • I think it sounds brilliant, it was an entertaining Alan Bennett anectdote that became a successful stage play, people love Bennett and it will make money. I'd love to have it on my cv.

    3 years ago
  • And let's face it, in the UK you can't move for shitty films about gangsters/hooligans/horror/zombies.... why are we still making THAT crap? Because it can make money.

    3 years ago
  • And MARVEL? Yawn, already past its best

    3 years ago
  • To Chris Bogle who says: "But art and entertainment aren't mutually exclusive"
    Precisely, one aspect of the French cinema is to marry art to entertainment. We even marry porn to philosophy.

    3 years ago
  • My office is above an art house cinema - Lady in the Van is a huge hit with the older crowd, plenty of sell out houses!

    3 years ago
  • Film making on any real level is simply about making money and that and or politics is the reason it got made. There is a market for it and that really is that; the fact you personally are not part of that market is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things. For the money equation on this film the budget simply needed to be kept low and so there is a profit! Had the budget been greater then I'm sure it would have been more ambitious, but it may not have made a profit.If you want to make something meaningful and beautiful that isn't about money great and genuinely more power to your elbow, but chances are other than festivals it won't be shown. I sell my films without too much difficulty yet they rarely get included in festivals simply because they were made to appeal to the masses which means they will make money from what ever demographic that might be. Artistic content for those films to be honest is not great, appeal to the masses is huge. One day soon I'll make a really ambitious and beautiful film that has everything, I even have a name for it Tears of Glass set in 1938 with the story written and ready to go. But right now I'm busy getting the experience and earning the money to make that happen.

    3 years ago
    • "earning the money to make that happen"
      Are you planning to finance that film yourself?

      3 years ago
  • Well it aint called the movie business for nothing! According to, 'lady in the van' has made 10 million pounds and counting. Every senior crew member on the production, will go on to work on a film again. They took not insignificant sums of money from the BBC and others and turned a profit. Like 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' and the excellent '45 Years', they've tapped into the grey pound. Whether its to your taste or not, its a realistic approach to a long term career in the UK feature film industry.

    3 years ago

    It was a 4 million pound budget and should turn some profit however box office is $10 million dollars to date. With distribution cut and marketing there is not much to be made but it was privately funded so fair enough.

    Worth following Stephen Follow who does a number of very good reports on the industry in the UK, profits etc.


    3 years ago
    • The box office isn't where money is made (£4M budget is $6M, distributor will take 50% of theatrical, so even without P&A it's not recouped), but it means it'll sell in the secondary and tertiary markets, and frankly it'll have a long tail.

      3 years ago