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How to Save the British Film Industry

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So, we finally have a road map to saving the British film industry. The culture minister Ed Vaizey commissioned it, Lord Chris Smith chaired the panel that produced it and I shall now pooh-pooh it. That's my involvement. Just doing my bit.

You're probably a busy person who might not have the time or inclination to read all 110 pages of the report, so here's a brief summary for you - There are lots of words. Some are just normal looking, really, others are in bold and the words next to pictures tend to be italicised. The pictures are pictures from films - predominantly British films, but sometimes just other films.

The poster to the film Paul is in there. I guess Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are British. I'm not sure if the film is. It might be. I saw it. I'd kind of rather the Americans claimed it, to be honest. Alongside the words and the pictures there were some charts, some graphs, that kind of thing. Some bullet points. Um, what else... there was, uh, some little section divider title page kind of things, they were okay. Foot notes. Um. Some of the words were in different colours - that made it look quite vibrant. Yeah. Really just 110 pages of words and pictures and graphs and bullet points.

I'll be honest, it lost me in the first paragraph in which it proclaimed 2011 exceptional, even in the company of other 'golden' years, whilst holding the film Johnny English Reborn up as a constituent part of that success.

The whole thing is entitled 'A Future For British Film' which is odd. I don't like it when people talk about building, making or securing a future for something so ethereal. Everything automatically has a future. For most of us, that future is, well, a few more years farting about and then an eternity as dust. When people ask "Does British film have a future?" the answer can only be yes. It will have a future, whatever happens. I guess I'd just rather it wasn't shaped by this government and Julian Fellowes (or as I call him 'The Ghost of British Film Past')

When you get to page 91, they sum the report up for you - 56 bullet recommendations for the future of British film. Some of them are fine. Nothing contentious, nothing radical, blah, blah, blah. All that time and money and just some recommendations.

The thing is that, to me, this report is the PDF embodiment of irony because the problem with the British film industry is the allocation of funding and energy into projects like this sodding report. When the UK Film Council was scrapped last year, I practically sang Ding Dong The Witch is Dead (you can read my response to that here but I'd read it after you've finished this one, it'll just spoil the ending) because, as a film-maker, film tutor and film fan, I'm sick of seeing this bureaucratic gravy train rattling roughshod over the chance of real talent emerging. We have to stop putting the money allocated for British film into overpaid executives, endless 'development' schemes and reports. The report is full of the words 'develop' and 'network' which translates, really, as 'pay people to have meetings.'

Stop trying to develop filmmakers. Either let them develop or help them develop by supporting them. Leave them alone. Let them trust their instincts. The irony of all this talk of 'development' is that one thing that left film funding over a decade ago was the greatest concept - 'development money', a sum of money which meant the filmmaker could take a couple of months off work and focus all of their efforts on getting their film sorted. That same money now goes into the pockets of the 'execperts' to come in and begrudgingly develop the filmmakers for them.

So. Here are my bullet points. Here's how I'd save the British film industry...
  • Create grants to get people with promising showreels into film school.
  • Invest in film schools and hold them to a high educational standard
  • Only ever employ actual film-makers to make any funding decisions
  • Have those film-makers watch the graduation films of every student and choose the most promising ones.
  • Give each of those promising graduates a small sum of money, or practical support to make a feature film.
  • Offer tax breaks to film industry companies and professionals who help these films get made.
  • Offer tax breaks to cinemas who will screen these films.
  • Make it conditional that the graduates who got to make these films will have to contribute back to the system in the future (by making another film to generate money if they become successful or by mentoring the next wave of film-makers)

Obviously it's not that simple, but a straightforward scheme which offers a clear route into the industry, an emphasis on education, quantifiable support, minimal bureaucracy, industry participation and rewards hard work and practical contribution is just logical. This way, every year, we'd get a wave of new British film-makers and films, out of which some would sparkle and go on to success and others would find roles in the film industry and be a real part of it. Good films are commercial films. Once a film-maker is commercial, they should cease to be a drain on public money.

Wouldn't it be better to waste this money on giving film-makers a chance to show the world what they've got rather than endless meetings, reports, lunches and salaries for people who just simply aren't making films?

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