Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Go ukfc yourselves

Well, that’s the last avenue of completion funding from what used to be the UK Film Council now officially closed off.

Yup – today represented an end to the thanks-but-no-thanks formalities. Cue the waves of surprise and shock that failed to materialise in Charmed Central. It was always going to be thus, but we still felt an obligation to try. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? If you don’t buy a ticket you don’t get to spend the lottery.

Not that I’m going to let that stop me from going off on one, you understand.

*Inhales*

So anyway, when that David Cameron prattled on last month about how UK filmmakers need to “aim higher” and focus on "commercially successful pictures", a sense of mild irritation set in around the office. OK, we’re not making the King’s Speech II, but surely exploitation movies like Zombie Resurrection are by definition commercial ventures. It’s an ambitious genre piece – the audience is obviously going to be smaller, but it’s still substantial, and it’s spread across the entire planet. Everybody loves a zombie.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d happily take a rap across the knuckles from the organisations-formerly-known-as-the-Film Council if we were embroiled in making the notoriously un-marketable “drama” cinema that us Brits seem to specialise in, but I foresee us having considerably fewer problems come distribution time than if we were a couple of first-timers with a copy of Vera Drake tucked under our arms, for example.

So, the way it works is this: the stuff that the UKFC used to look after is now spread between two organisations: Creative England and the BFI. Opportunities for double dipping, it would seem. Lovely.

Well, not really, as it turns out.

Application 1 – Creative England. This is the supposed engine that will drive the national film industry going forward, champions of British filmmakers across the country. So it did appear rather strange when they got back to us saying that they don't actually have any schemes available for production / completion, and are only looking at funding the development of new scripts and projects.

Er… isn’t this essentially a veto on the movies that are going to get made in the UK, should you rather cheekily want any help at all from your national film industry?

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Application 2 – the BFI, which does support post-production funding. After half a day of filling in all the forms, it became pretty clear that this scheme may not actually be there to help first-time moviemakers; number of questions about the project: 2; number of questions about all the stuff we’d made before this: 6.

But in any case I think we found quite a compelling argument. I mean, who needs assistance making a film more than people that have never done it before? For what it’s worth, here is an excerpt from how we pitched the project; a salient lesson to other first-timers in the approach not to adopt:

Horror is really suited to low-budget filmmaking and working within tight financial constraints: it forces people to be creative and inventive; it demands novel solutions to problems that bigger budget productions don’t have; it demands that you craft a film through love and commitment. Horror is the only genre where there is a cachet to being low budget. It’s not an impediment; it’s a badge of honour. It is the only genre in which the international sales are de-coupled from the recognisability of the actors.

David Cameron recently announced his vision for the future of the UK film industry, urging filmmakers to think more commercially. In Zombie Resurrection, we have written and shot a hugely marketable movie using only private investment to get us through principal photography.

It is my assertion that for a country to have a successful and distinctive national film industry, it needs to allow genre and exploitation cinema to flourish. This is the genuine grassroots of feature production, where filmmakers, crew and actors all learn their craft. Feature production requires a massive step up in commitment and enterprise from that required to make short films – no amount of short films can prepare you for the horror and stress of a feature shoot.

However, at the end, the artists are left with a saleable property, rather than simply a calling card. While the traditional roots of British cinema lie in gritty and often hard-to-market drama pieces, it is evident that commercial genre and exploitation cinema can provide a more solid route into the industry.

The BFI remain, shockingly, unconvinced by this argument. It seems we aren’t ripe for a national exploitation film industry just yet; the next time you find yourself wondering why it’s wall-to-wall alcoholism and wife-beating at your nearest art-house cinema, go stick your lottery quid into a deserving IndieGoGo campaign instead.

And the siege mentality sets even deeper into Charmed Central.

It’s a timely fillip for Jake and me to work harder on securing that last piece of post-production cash. Back in February we wrote a lovely shiny new investor pack and sent it out into the wider world, fishing for three more executive producers to come in as investors. And it seems to be doing its job – two of the berths are now occupied, with only one space left to find.

It’s close, but no cigar just yet; back to the whoring board, boys. Puckered.

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