EDITORIAL December 12-12.2001
BRIT FILM - FADE IN OR FADE OUT?
It's a curious
thing but you could think from a distance that British filmmaking is not
a thriving industry. You'd probably think that especially if you had wasted
money on seeing The 51st State recently with Samuel L. Jackson
and Robert Carlyle. You'd probably make a special note in your mind never
to see anything that has Rhys Ifans and Sean Pertwee in it as well, or
anything written by Stel Pavlou or Directed by Ronny Yu. Yes the film
is awful, terrible and shouldn't be out there but you can see the finance
guys at Alliance around 18 months ago getting really excited when Samuel
L. Jackson came on board. Yes, we are going to make a British Pulp
Fiction. Of course what they have made is just British Pulp and the
sooner it is the better basically.
But is all British film hopeless? Obviously not. We have brilliant film
makers here, but why exactly can't we make good 'popular' films. Yes yes,
Harry Potter looks British, but it isn't, nor is Indiana Jones or Star
Wars, I am not even sure Bond is either, almost certain the profits go
back to America somehow. But there is our problem. For some unfathomable
reason, our financiers do not either have deep enough pockets or the courage
to bid for projects that scream large profits and when they do...they
end up making The Avengers.
There is another type of British film out there. Well several. The deeply
unpleasant troubled sexual film. usually gay related but not always. This
month saw Rocket Film finally release Women Talking Dirty Directed
by Coky Giedroyc. Although it stars Helna Bonham Carter and is set in
Edinburgh it is about women who have disappointing sexual adventures.
It will do no business and will disappoint the people who eventually rent
it on video expecting ranchy sex and inuendo. Other writer/directors struggle
and eventually come up with the money to make a film they feel passionately
about. Peter Capaldi gave us 'Strictly Sinatra' in October with
Ian Hart, but it sank without trace. Sank with a reason becasue who really
cares about a two bit working men's club curly haired singer who can imitate
Sinatra and lets his ambition suck him into the Liverpool gangster world.
Been done before and better by Stephen Frears with Albert Finney around
thrity years ago. It isn't the audiences fault OK. Films need to be larger
than life and with luck funny or scary or whatever, but something more
than you can get by watching Inpector Frost or the unbelievably dull Cold
Feet on TV. For the record DNA financed 'Strictly Sinatra' for around
£3.5 million and if it takes ten percent of that it will do well.
did see an adventurous and often extremely funny film 'Very Annie
Mary' but aside from it's London showing, it went nowhere and if
you look at the top 25 top earners of films for the last 12 rolling
months. although there are several British location films in there Harry
Potter, The Mummy Returns, and TombRaider, that's
it. Absolutely no British films. Or Scots or Irish for that matter.
In fact there is just one European film in the current charts, the universally
adored Amelie. Looking across Screen International's charts for successful
Britsh films the world over Bridget Jones is the only one with
any legs, as it were.
probably think this is a negative article, knocking Brit film. But no.
In the last three months I have been attending seminars about upcoming
British made films at places like the Script Factory or New Producers
Alliance and one can see there is resilience and vitality there. Americans
like to film here. Fred Schepsi for one (Russia House) has just completed
Last Orders based on the Booker prize winner Graham Swift's novel
and it stars Michael Caine, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins. Of course I
am not entirely sure who'd want to go and see this extended version
of Last of the Summer Wine -certainly not the multiplex crowd, but it
will be well made with love and affection. A bigger chance for success
with the Butterworth brothers film Birthday Girl starring Ben
Chaplin, Nicole Kidman , Mathew Kassovitch and Vincent Cassells. A brilliant
cast a funny script by Jez Butterworth by the guys who brought us Mojo
and they are young, confident, witty. It has a real chance of success.
But guess where the money came from - now guess where the profits will
go. But that is reality. Film Four come on board in the UK but so do
Miramax in the USA. At least with Miramax on board they have savvy when
it comes to marketing and audience and it much more liekly to find an
Attending Script Factory workshops you meet people who state that British
film makers need to think about about Passion, Audience, Clarity and
have Tenacity. I'd like to add that a decent script might well be a
good place to start. Only yesterday I heard that ' I have a budget of
£4 million, I'm cobbling a script together now. Well cobblers
repair shoes. Cobblers is what you'll probably get.
I teach screenwriting and I know just how much work my writers have
to put into the script. We start from scratch, building characters,
building that story, making it work. The very idea that someone has
a tap into so much money without a script means that everyone involved
with that project has got it utterly wrong. The best films start with
a script. OK sometimes they may have to be written in haste, but in
general, and I know with my own material, there's never usually a page
that cannot be improved somehow. It is just never worth shooting it
until it is ready, right down to consideration for what they will wear,
what music they will listen to, what food or drink they will need. Yet
that is what is happening. Kieslowski used to work with the composer
before he even wrote the script, so important is music to his films.
Yet even now a British film will often add a soundtrack afterwards,
almost radomly, whatever is cheap and available.
titles. I met a producer the other day who was complaining that their
budget for £1500 for the titles to their movie had gone over.
In Hollywood, the titles are so good sometimes they win Oscars. The
Bond movies understand this. but if you are snippy with titles and snippy
with music, you'll just get a snippy audience who will show you the
same attitude and go and see Oceans' Eleven instead where they
care about EVERTHYTHING. With the software we have now titles should
be fantastic for a reasonable sum.
we have been living with a make-do attitude for a long time now. 'It
got us through the war'. people say. Well, maybe it did. But right now
I'm off to see a real film maker's film. Mulholland Drive. Sure
it will be creepy and odd, everything David Lynch does is odd, but it
will be crafted and polished and every quirky thought over fifty times
and I'm listening to the Wild at Heart soundtrack right now,
at least ten years later. That must mean something.
the NPA meetings there is no doubt that there is enthusiasm. Many writers
chasing producers, many directors chasing money, and lawyers creaming
off the fat...hell I am one of those writers looking for the right person
who will 'share the vision' but perhaps, in all the chasing and merry
go rounds if we thought harder about quality rather than quantity and
we employed real actors instead of Sean Pertwee we might find that elusive
audience for our films.
want to join me next year for screenwriting development classes I'll
be at the Salignac
Foundation in France in March and May. It will be fun and there's
two types of programmes, beginners and professionals. Be good to see
A Salignac Diary
Sam North - Managing Editor
Author of 'Diamonds'
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