In his recent podcast based upon the business of film, Mark Kermode interviews both producers and directors who have experienced the film industry first hand. One person he interviews is Matthew Vaughn, producer of Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and director of recent mainstream hits such as Kick Ass and X-Men: First Class. It doesn’t take too long into the podcast before Matthew Vaughn shares his opinions of the British Industry, or as he puts it the “lack of a British Film Industry”.
If you have an interest in world cinema you quickly realise that Britain lacks a film industry. It could be considered naïve to immediately fall into agreement with Vaughn, however, it doesn’t require much experience of world cinema viewing to notice that other nations have succeeded in what Britain has failed in, maintaining a cinematic identity. Britain did have identity and could compete with what the rest of the world was achieving; however, our desire to become a stepping stone to Hollywood has inevitably diluted what was a prosperous film industry.
Anne Billson commented in her recent article (When British Films Go Bad) “the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, early Alfred Hitchcock, Ealing, Gainsborough, Hammer or Amicus, to cite just a few examples, to show that the British can be perfectly cinematic, when they want to be” , this is a response to Francois Truffaut who once said “There’s something about England that’s anti-cinematic”, I agree with Anne Billson, Britain has a rich history of film which if you look carefully has dripped down to some British filmmakers today, namely Steve McQueen, Ben Wheatley and Jonathan Glazer. I do also agree with Trauffaut, however I think this quote is all the more significant when considered in the context of what is considered the British Cinema of today.
There is something un-cinematic about what is getting funded, and I don’t mean “un-multiplex” as films such as Kings Speech succeeded at the multiplex and awards season yet lacks depth, longevity and more importantly identity. Will Kings Speech be looked back on in ten years time and considered to be a modern classic? Unlikely. Yet it’s this façade of success which funding bodies measure their processes and decision making. What are the objectives of British film? Commercial success? Critical acclaim? Winning awards by the dozen? All of the above? The answer to the last question is yes obviously, but there’s one aspect missing, identity. Films which lack artistry or depth can win awards, funds and commercial success but is this the sole reason for making film? It seems to be the case for British cinema in 2015.
Outward Film was created as a response to years of frustration. Years of filmmaking, years of funding body rejection, years of film festival exploitation, years of equipment getting stolen, years of tackling ego, years of working day jobs yet trying to grab the attention of those in charge of film in Britain. You reach a point when certain questions become apparent, the most significant question being “why am I trying to impress those I don’t have any respect for?” the people I was trying to impress are the people who are diluting British film, making cliché ridden rom-com, horror, gangster films. Why was I trying to impress them? One reason: to get money. To succeed you need money. You need a shed load of it. You need money to get attention. You need money to get people reading your script. You need money to get people to meet you. In this industry, if you don’t have the money then you are fighting an uphill battle. You’re not measured on the quality of script, you’re measured on budget. Outward Film is a response, an approach to filmmaking which goes against the objectives of the industry.
Like many people, I have no money. This according to those that run the film industry and (certain) film festivals should result in me not making film. This creates a two tiered problem.
Tier 1: British film is more concerned with multiplex success and transatlantic recognition.
Tier 2: Film can only be made if you have a vast sum of money.
This is what, as a filmmaker I’m competing with. By creating Outward it acts as a network that doesn’t fall into any specific agenda, it’s a network based upon a response to the frustrations highlighted above.
Response 1: To make films amongst a network of people that doesn’t measure success by celebrity and mass budget but by quality of script.
Response 2: To promote and embrace zero budget filmmaking.
To work outside of the studio system is to work independently; independent cinema is not low-budget filmmaking, we hear stories of certain independent films being “low-budget” and then you find they had a budget of a few million, how can this be considered low-budget? If we’re competing within independent cinema then you still require a budget of a few million to compete, films without this will not get film festival recognition and will be considered a “student” project. Well, what if you’re not a student. Where do you stand as a filmmaker? You consider yourself independent yet you still can’t compete. Only in film can you tell someone you’re working on a zero budget film and that can be interpreted as your working within a budget of around 10k. Zero budget means zero-budget. It can be embarrassing to admit you have no money as most people in film production have money. The other currency in film is celebrity; celebrity is an amazing idea all things considered. We’re drawn to them like moths to the flame, everything they do just seems better. Take for example the idea of film funding. If Joe Bloggs comes up with a script about salsa dancing, film funding would see no potential. However, if someone like…Nick Frost came up with the same idea it would be comedy gold. Celebrity is currency in film, you tackle multiple obstacles as a filmmaker and money and celebrity are the obstacles that remain throughout. It’s our belief that this offers no progression, no voice and no originality.
The second response isn’t about going out and making a film look cheap on purpose (which seems to be a genre in itself these days) but to accept and watch films made by those who aren’t able to spend a ton on filmmaking. It’s novel but even those without money have stories to tell!
We’re told that it’s now easier to make film than it’s ever been; this is relevant when you take out budget. Through good connections and enthusiasm films can be made without spending a weekly wage.
By writing zero budget scripts it creates a discipline, it makes you look closer to home with regards to what you can and can’t do. It forces the writer to focus on character and plot rather than generate some bloated, mass budgeted script which is thrown upon kickstarter. By applying discipline, writers can develop and focus more on originality and depth rather than repeating what has been done time and time again.
With Outward our objective is to provide some balance in British film by restoring the one aspect which it has been missing over the past few decades, identity.