Mark Versus

Blurring the line between self improvement and self punishment

Tag: film

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.

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Beyond Crowdsourced Funding

Movie CameraLooking at the statistics for this site over the last year or so it appears that there is a lot of interest in the subject of crowdsourced funding, and in particular crowdsourced funding of film. The most popular post on this blog is by some margin [The crowdsourcing post link]. I can only agree with the figures given that it is the subject that caused me to write the most. Obviously it holds interest for me. Due to this popularity and following a number of conversations I have been having on the subject I think that it is time to weigh back in.

I feel obliged to state from the outset that these are opinions based on zero practical experience of raising finance for a film. Some might think that should invalidate what follows. I say that if there is anything to add to a debate then let’s hear it irrespective of the source. I can choose to disregard it after the fact. There may, however be something worth hearing. I hope so here.

I would also add that the basis for my lack of experience in financing a film in this manner is, in part, that until something new is added to the formula, the process simply does not work well enough to be a viable course of action. This statement is meant as no disrespect to those people who have worked or are attempting to work in this manner. On the contrary, I would wish to see them held up as the pioneers of whatever comes out of the flux that independent film finance is currently (but seems always to be) in. It would nonetheless be foolish of me to wait in a queue behind them to pick at the same fruitless tree. Instead I have the luxury of watching how their experiments play out and learning fro their successes ad failures. What exists as fact at the moment is that the crowdfunding model for film finance does not work. It is not refined enough, it is not efficient enough and it is not effective enough. If it was, everyone would be doing it. The truth is that the act of building and maintaining a community is itself a challenging enough prospect (particularly in the company of scammers and social media ‘consultants’ and ‘experts’). The labour of doing such a thing is Herculean and does not suit being placed alongside the similarly epic task of developing a film. When both tasks are undertaken by the same person it is no surprise that the process takes so long or loses its momentum before it has really begun.

That is not to say that you cannot make a film that has been crowd funded. I could not claim that. But the question needs to be asked (as it should be always) “Is there a better way?”. Rather that an old world attitude of “If it ‘aint broke dont fix it” those looking to make films should be asking “If it never worked to begin with why not accept that it is probably broken?”.

Crowdfunding is, in the most part, a means to an end. The end is a film of whatever description you care for. I would doubt that there are many, of any, filmmakers who attempted to crowdfund a film purely to see if it could be done. Instead, they are looking for a workable way to meet the costs of producing a script. To these people it doesn’t matter how the money is raised, just that it is raised. I would add that these people are, intentionally or otherwise, looking to operate outside of the standard systems of film finance and that any alternative to the crowdfunding model needs to meet this accessibility criteria. The rise in crowdsourcing generally is a byproduct of (as good as) free access to an audience and it is this or other benefits of the information age from which we are likely to find what we are looking for.

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It’s Alive!

Today I assembled the Recesky Twin Lens Reflex Camera that will act as my weapon of choice for the Mark Versus DIY Camera Contest.  It was a fairly straight forward process which I had intended on documenting fully. However, never seeing the point if duplicating effort, instead I shall link to this page and recommend you have it open should you attempt the build.  I would say the build took a couple of hours all-in.

There were a couple of moments that took some head scratching so, should it be of assistance, I shall list them here. I am aware that this may demonstrate a lack of skill on my part rather than any engineering errors on the part of whoever makes these kits.

  1. You will need a tiny screwdriver. The whole unit requires tightening up at the end (you need to keep the body loose in order to fit pieces in right up until the last minute) and access gets a little difficult once everything is in place.
  2. The Shutter: This was the most complex part of the process (as expected) and requires a bit of time spent tweaking and loosening and tightening and then re-loosening screws in order to get it working smoothly.  I found during this process that in order to keep the central part of the shutter mechanism in place I needed to fashion a small washer which I placed under it which did the job. For my washer I stripped a cable tie from some recent electronic gadget purchase and bent the wire into shape/width.
  3. The Viewfinder: attaching the viewfinder to the body felt like the point at which I was going to break some plastic and it would all end in tears.  Given that this is pretty far into the process it would have been a massive shame and I would be in a stinking mood for the rest of the day if I had muffed it up. So be careful.

Other that those bits, even the unintelligible Chinese instructions seemed to make sense. They are very well illustrated.

I have now loaded a roll of 35mm film I have had knocking around the flat and am about to head out for a test flight.  The film is nowhere near the recommended speed (ISO800 instead of the recommended 200) so I hold out little hope of any successful shots, but I will post anything that comes out OK.

As I imagined, holding the camera and looking down the viewfinder great fun. Focusing is a bit hit and miss (I blame my eyes as much as the camera) and it is a bit light, but I am really looking forward to mucking about with it.

And then, after August, perhaps I should try and mod it to be digital?

Weeknotes for 17/01/2011

I wanted to get something up here for last week, even if shorter and less detailed than usual, knowing that with this week as a shoot week I am not going to have a lot of time to think and type at the same time.

Last week involved getting back into a pre-production swing for these last few shoot days. As predicted last week it dropped me into a funk.  If there are things to take from this week just gone they will be to man the heck up! It rarely ever is, and proved not to be, as bad or as tough as I imagine it, and the negative vibes are generally the result of the last enduring memory of the previous period. That is – exhaustion. Notwithstanding my need to stop psyching myself out I want to point out that the hours are stupid in production and rarely feel like they offer adequate reward.

See, there it is again.

The other thing to take from the week is the reminder that time marches on. Not in a fatalist, closer to death sense, but rather to day that despite any hiccups along the way I have never been involved in a lost day on a film. Shit gets filmed whether you achieved your precise (and occasionally impossible) goals.  Let this not be an excuse to let things slide, but a psychological reminder that no failure is going to stop the world.

There is a tendency in pre-production to make everything feel crucially important. Everything. Experience (which I don’t have so much of) is the tool that allows you to sift through other people’s priorities and work out your own. If you are going to take the weight of a film on your shoulders it helps to have a good filing system.

Highlight of the week was a convergence with @taigmcnab and @manxmidge for a brief but appetite-whetting session of shooting-the-shit. This is shooting-the-shit of the best order, where fun seems productive. Like watching The West Wing – it may technically be recreation, but I feel the smarter for it.

Weeknotes for 10/01/2011

I am hoping that this weeknote will go further than to demonstrate the desire to maintain the process a little better, but will also mark a shift in the way the weeknotes posts are presented.  I am hoping that I can focus these summaries a little more on analysis than on purely listing activities. That kind of understanding of the run down of the week is useful but it is something that will happen anyway as part of the review. Something that offers a little more insight and hopefully prompts more comment.

This was the week that 3000 Miles Round (“3KMR”) went public.  It needed to go out a long time ago. The script is not ready to be filmed, but it needs to be seen, and judgement passed on it, and feedback given to move it along. I admit I have been doing the writer a disservice not having done it sooner.  The script has been seen by other people, and industry people at that, but always privately.  This should be a point of no return in the life of the film.  On a side note to that, I am disappointed that I am not in a position to make the details of the film as public as this post. I have thought as much about that last couple of films I have worked on but, as with those films, I have a responsibility to others (in this case the writer) to maintain a ‘traditional’ development model for 3KMR. I am continuing to feel that this manner of film-making is not the path I will be taking overall but this is not the project to enact my whims upon.  That will be another project and another time.  Ask me next week about ‘Freaky Mindbenders’. I have also decided to make public a hell of a lot more of the ideas that I am having on the site. I would like to see if eventually it becomes the default for my output.

The firing off of the script, and the re-jigging of markversus.co.uk are, of course, symptoms (or perhaps the treatment) of a general gloom this week about the course of things.  Further treatment involved making arrangements to catch up with people, ask about potential work and explain to people the possibility of moving to New York. Nothing has been mentioned on that on these pages about this yet but I am sure it will get a fair few words in the future.

The film that I was working on at the end of 2010 has started to gear up again. Despite not hating it for what it was I am afraid to say my appetite for it has disappeared.  I wish for it to be over and must remind myself to not allow this negativity to colour what is effectively only another couple of weeks.

I am genuinely looking for feedback on these weeknotes now so if you have any response please comment.

Weeknotes w/c 19 July 2010

This week was a frustrating one with the personnel that I needed support from not really available at any point.  Continued focus on delivery materials for the Film has left little time for anything else. This has felt like neglect.  In addition to delivery, the temporary production office will soon need vacating so preparations were made to store a number of the less critical archives from production.

Despite frustrations, being drawn into a conversation on Twitter on Tuesday led to an inspired outpouring of 2000 words on nineteentwelve.co.uk which garnered encouraging feedback.  The topic had some relevance to future endeavours. It felt good to be driven.  I also achieved Inbox Zero. That is not to say all work was done, but that all emails had been processed and listed.

At the end of the week, prior to a promotional trip for the Film there were some last minute emergency preparations and corrections that should have been avoided with better preparation on everyone’s part and greater expectation that nobody will have prepared on mine.  Took up too much time and energy and was ultimately pointless as the promotion trip was called off.

Other than that it has been a bit of a slog with brief distractions (mostly after hours).  BDO got a bit of a hacking and some good progress was made, and an old friend Ben was met for discussion of future plans.

Summary: The week maintained its momentum, but not its focus.  A lot of effort for little return.  Very happy with the personal output, though not all of it was well directed.

Goals: Again, to get a lot of the delivery list for the film sorted which remains priority 1.  Finish off BDO.

Weeknotes w/c 12 July 2010

It has been a hectic couple of weeks, exemplified by the lack of a Weeknote for last week.  It is not that nothing happened, but that I did not have an opportunity to log it.  Though I forgive anyone for thinking the former.
This week (and last weekend) I attempted to try and re-GTD my life, recreating the lists and processing some of the many inboxes.  It has helped that the move meant all of those inboxes were in boxes.  One of the downsides (though overall upsides in the scheme of things) is that the inevitable outpouring of ideas that follows processing is a hindrance and a distraction.  This has involved a comprehensive rejigging of my Re,eber the Milk usage with new lists galores.

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