Some Disruptive Thoughts on the DCMS Film Policy Review
Having read just a few short pages of the report before needing to start typing furiously (the typing, not the mood) this will only cover one principle of the report as I feared that if I waited until the end I may have no spirit left. I want to talk about this idea of the audience for British film.
I will state this up front and outright – THERE IS NO AUDIENCE FOR BRITISH FILM.
Why do I say this? Because ‘British’ or otherwise, the British film industry operates in the English language market. That market is very well stocked with films from all across the world (by which I mean America) and Britishness becomes as relevant as Australianess. It is relegated to a sub-genre. The report states research that says that people when surveyed overwhelmingly declared their support for British film. But was that only because they asked? And, being asked, who’s going to say “NO, I think the British film industry is a pointless waste of time”.
Without taking into account the fact that no English language British film operate in a market of its own there will never be a successful British film industry, because in order to survive it must compete. Not with itself but with every other English language film available. And that means Hollywood. And to do that, you have to compete with them on their terms too, with big box office grosses over there. That means (and I doubt you will hear it said in the halls of the BFI) the British film industry needs to make American films. In America.
There are people doing it. “Paul”, the 2011 film starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is not the most British Film in the world, but it certainly has more than a red, white and blue streak was made for $40million and grossed just under that in the US but with a worldwide gross of $90 odd million. “Shaun of the Dead” a very British success grossed $13million in the States. See, even their slightly worse films deal in bigger numbers.
Here is a conversation that NEVER happens:
Boy “Hey, do you want to go see a film?”
Girl “Yes, let’s. What would you like to see?”
Boy “A British film”
Now, it may be the case that the boy may say ‘THAT British Film‘ but I would be willing to bet that it would be based on something other than its Britishness. Most likely that they heard it was a good film. So here is solution number one to growing the film industry – ONLY MAKE GOOD FILMS.
Well, if we knew which they were going to be we’d be doing that. So here comes solution number two – MAKE SO MANY FILMS THAT STATISTICALLY ENOUGH OF THEM WILL BE GOOD/SUCCESSFUL THAT THE BAD ONES CAN BE IGNORED BECAUSE THEIR COST WAS COVERED BY THE HUGE BOX OFFICE OF THE ONE THAT SUCCEEDS.
That’s how Hollywood does it and, guess what, it works. It costs more money that the British Film Industry has to spend and requires that UK production companies taking the benefit of US box office successes so that that money can go into making more terrible films in the hope of a gem or two.
But until the UK film bods stop talking about the British film industry and start talking about the English language market we will always remain a cottage industry. If the BFI want a truly British film industry then they should invest in the production of Welsh language and Gaelic or Cornish language films and develop a foreign language British Film industry*, because with the report reading like they are treating the UK as a distinct market, we are going to do as well with a Welsh film in the English language market as a French or Italian film would. Subtitles are subtitles after all. And these films would be uniquely British.
If they want a successful industry then they need to support business looking to compete, and that means productions signing big stars and filming people talking in American accents and doing American things and letting the money come back. Because nobody cares that Braveheart was an Australian guy if he’s talking in English.
Pah! I’ve run out of steam now but would love some comments and further discussion on the subject. I can;t wait for the inevitable chunk on piracy.
* I would personally love to see these industries developed more actively than they are and see the regional funds for these films as a way to marginalise them out from the British Film Industry. We should have a Foreign language Oscar contender annually.