The Curtain Call for British Independent Film?

It has taken me a while to form a response to David Cameron’s recent demand for more mainstream filmmaking. Initially it confirmed my hostile and ineloquent opinion that he’s a complete douchebag. However having recently attended a talk for students interested in careers in the media industry, Cameron’s statement has had not only greater resonance for me, but also wider implications for student everywhere.

Although this is nothing new, it appears that government interests are increasingly at odds with the interests of the people. It’s all very well wanting to aim higher, target overseas markets and “make commercially successful products that rival the quality of international productions”, but Cameron is essentially showing himself to be bureaucratic, verging on the autocratic, by interfering with the film industry and demanding what type of films should be made. He’s suggesting that the commercial, the mainstream and the capitalistic is more necessary and more valid than independent, lower budget films. It is dangerous territory to enter, especially considering the commercial and critical success of independently funded films such as the Harry Potter franchise, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. It is a narrow-minded and financially driven perspective. Of course we mustn’t forget that the film industry is a business and the boss of every creative, aspiring filmmaking is a producer with pound signs in his eyes. Nevertheless to embrace the mainstream with such fervour is to limit the range and variety of films that the British film industry is capable of making. So goodbye to intense, gritty dramas such as ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ and hello to big-budget action films that serve only to benefit the box office and the corporate studios as opposed to accentuating the talent and originality that British filmmakers have to offer.

At its most fundamental level, independent filmmaking is a more accessible way for student filmmakers, screenwriters and actors to get their foot in the door. Whilst you may have posters of every Spielberg films on your wall, it’s unrealistic and quite frankly disillusioned of Cameron to believe that this is standard of success that filmmakers should aim for. Students don’t have that kind of budget or equipment; our way to get noticed and get our work out there is to start small and work our way up, but without the support of independent companies such as the UK Film Council the likelihood of this happening only looks to decrease. By focusing on the mainstream, Cameron is crippling student aspirations of entering the market. He is closing the door before we even have a chance to get a foot in.

Good intentions may be at the centre of these demands; it will boost the UK economy and what not. Nevertheless, the very unpredictability of the film market is what makes the industry exciting. There are of course trends and target audiences that producers base their decisions of what films to make and what films not to make on, but no-one can really guarantee whether a film will be commercially successful or not. Take a look at ‘Monsters’ for instance, a low-budget film produced and distributed by a British independent film company Vertigo Films that proved a huge success. Although unable to rival the likes ‘Avatar’, a producer or studio executive with years in business would have been unlikely to predict the success of such films, let alone an ignorant meddler such as Cameron.

Balance is the solution. By channelling government funding in a certain direction, Cameron is disadvantaging an entire sector of the British film industry and encouraging a certain genre or formula of films to be made. Not only is this unexciting and restrictive, creatively cocooning the minds behind the films, but it tips the scale wholly in favour of corporations and multiplexes, rather than art-house or independent cinemas. No harmony will ever be achieved by favouring one child over the other. Instead we should celebrate the commercial alongside the innovative, unconventional and independent and perhaps for once be trendsetters, rather than following in Hollywood’s footsteps.

So Long Celluloid?!?!

As we enter the digital age of instantaneousness and innovation, it appears it’s time to bid farewell to celluloid. Like an animal on the brink of extinction, celluloid is fast being replaced by the simplicity and swiftness proffered by digital camera revolution, with an estimated 40,000 digital screens popping up worldwide in 2010, an increase with a growth rate of over 100% since the previous year. The changing landscape of cinema is clear to see. But with a history dating back almost 200 years, does our generation not have the desire, or the failing that, the obligation to preserve celluloid?

Over the last year or so, those of you who still reluctantly shell out £7 or £8 to see cinema’s latest releases may have noticed the word ‘digital’ appearing on the tickets. For those as technologically ignorant as I, what this basically means is that the film is stored and therefore projected using a computer rather than old school reel style. The advantages of digital filmmaking are clear to see, especially for a budding filmmaker. Whereas celluloid film requires time, patience, lots of people and a big budget and thus prides itself on spectacle and exclusivity, digital technology is accessible, user-friendly, affordable and enables distribution to a wider audience; so you don’t have to be a Spielberg or a Scorsese to get your film seen. However I can see nothing sexy about the distribution and exhibition of films via hard drive. The excitement and corporeality of handing over a film stock is lost to the cold, heartlessness of transportation via the click of a mouse. There is something tangible and thus magical about celluloid film; like buying a vinyl record or flicking through the pages of a book that quite simply can’t be matched by the technological transparency of digital film.

Celluloid film effervesces’ with nostalgia and cool and with recent releases such as Midnight in Paris and Super 8 celebrating and indulging in a forgotten time, if anything its should remind us that the past should be treasured and preserved, rather than discarded. Of course in an industry driven by money, it’s easy to see why production companies are switching to digital. With an estimated saving of over £30,000, more if you record directly to hard drive, production companies must be having a field day. Though celluloid can actually be archived longer, with digital forms facing the perils of crashing hardrives and quality degradation and is thus a godsend for anyone wishing to watch a film the same age as your grandma, consumerism has always been about convenience rather than quality.

And yet it appears that a utopian co-existence is not completely out of the question. There’s no reason why cinemas should endure a monogamous relationship with film stock, when they can flirt with digital technology or why students should stifle their creative talent because celluloid is the only way. It’s not. The cliché espoused by many a teacher or parent actually comes to fruition in this case: compromise is key. The next generation of filmmaking is indeed an exciting concept to behold with all kinds of baffling technologies gaining popularity, but celluloid film reflects the hard-work, skill and experience that has facilitated the transition from grainy, silent movies, to the blockbusters we know and love today. And whilst I won’t say this often, in this particular case J-Lo speaks the truth; no matter where you go, you should know where you came from. Which is why celluloid ought to stay.