Film Finance and Funding – An Unrequited Love

The Oxford English dictionary’s definition of unrequited reads as ‘(of love etc) not returned’. Simple, brutal and unforgiving – much like dressing room lights. And that is the association that many of us have with film finance and Funding.

As film makers our love-hate relationship with film finance and funding never ceases to exist, although in recent years the notion of film funding has more or less been thrown out of the window with just a few pockets remaining, containing their own twist and turns. Earlier this year, I teamed up with a producer to apply for a feature length documentary via a fund set to assist experienced women film makers. Of course neither of us looked at the small print until we both sat down with the documentary proposal in order to fill up the form for submission.  As we went along the criteria we were numbed by the conditions for application; you had to pay to apply and upon being accepted you had to go through a short period of training, I think it was six weeks after which you had to appear in front of a panel who would then decided if what you had written during your training was good enough to be short listed for the next stage. And this scheme was for experienced film makers who had a number of films under their belt. We decided to go to Pizza Hut instead.

If ever there was a pogrom of ending creativity and enthusiasm for making films in this country, I think we are living through it now. Avant-garde, original and maverick voices seem to be disappearing fast. These voices are very important and much needed to feed mediocrity so it can renew itself, taking what it needs. And I don’t mean in terms of technical achievements, these are of course astounding in what individual film makers and essential video artists and those working in advertising have achieved. I am talking about good old fashioned knowledge of the craft of film making per se and of course ideas. Mine isn’t a reaction against change or new technologies, but there are real and fundamental problems here. How do we achieve the understanding of producing a work like ‘Remains of The Day’, ‘the Last King of Scotland’ or ‘Blood Diamond’? Granted these are all big films but we need to know our craft, always aiming high. Where do we find the training ground inhabited by talent for us to learn from? How do we roll from one production to another in order to be rust free, polishing our talent?

If financiers and to a large extent the government want excellence and above average returns at the box office then perhaps they need to think about an intelligent approach to increase talent in this country rather than sit there and watch it die. Many countries use their cinema as a language of commerce and cultural exchange. Hollywood, China, Korea (North and South) and of course India have successfully penetrated the political and cultural arenas. Britain’s cultural exchange stops at football and cricket. Occasionally you get a blockbuster like James Bond and now Harry Potter. The British government should learn from these countries and apply the same principle. India and America have been extremely successful vis-à-vis spreading itself around the world and now they have capitalised on film finance in this country benefiting from tax reliefs and let’s face it, they’ve got the money to make money. How then can British cinema make a dent on the world market?

Many of us trying to make features in this country do so with great difficulty. We operate on the margins of the margins. Suggested budgets laid down by the government to qualify for tax relief are completely out of our reach. Many can’t even image a budget of 20 million or under. We can only think in terms of small money that will ensure that we can control the production and focus on making it happen. The knowledge of how to enter this arena is simply not there. And by the time there will be some sort of comprehension en masse – I fear that there would have been too many casualties.

It is no longer a question of building that bridge between training and film finance. We are at a stage where knowledge is being lost. The huge shift in much respected institutions such as the Short Course Unit in Beaconsfield being turned into a Short Course Factory is a case in point. Granted financial targets have to be met, but have there been any change in their monetary outlook since the change? Has the Short Course Factory enhanced itself intellectually to produce superior film makers and technicians to compete on the world stage and bed the elusive box office success that eludes so many British films? There is a saying in the ‘pub’ business – if it works don’t change it, build on it. But in Britain we have got into the habit of knocking things down and rebuilding from scratch not realising that the original materials were far more superior and could withstand an earthquake and the new material, well the less said the better.

In the complex milieu of film finance, funding and training, survival of the individual artist (filmmaker/producer/technician etc) is paramount. Classical film education is central to maintaining the link between training and finance; courage is required to be a singular entity, that is deciding on what you do in the business and sticking to that and know it inside out. Sorry, I’m using too many ‘sayings’ to illustrate my points but there is a saying in Panjabi (baal ki khaal) taking the skin of the hair; that is to get to the level of devotion and study required to comprehend. And that is what is needed to bring British cinema to compete on the world stage. If we can create those in-roads, then I think that perhaps we can confidently seek out budgets to match, penetrate and capture the world market as well as the market of film finance.

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