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.

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