Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cameron Vs Loach

Yesterday all hell broke loose as David Cameron made some remarks on the state and future of the film industry, remarking that support for more 'commercial' projects was needed. Ken Loach came on to the BBC to fly the flag for smaller, more niche films. This oversimplification played straight into the hands of the news media, who don't understand the film business, as the terrible Newsnight piece (which featured a smart statement by my boss Lyn Goleby) demonstrated.

The reality is neither Cameron nor Ed Vaizey (or Jeremy Hunt) have a clue what to do with the UK film industry. Labour didn't either but at least they threw some money at it, which, although mostly a failure, did help. The reality is that we have an industry completely controlled by US studios, and the language issue binds us tighter to Hollywood than our European counterparts. As early as the 1920s the UK government was struggling with this problem and established levies on ticket prices to support Pinewood. But the approach has always been production-centered, as if making a lot of movies would magically solve the problem.

The key to success are audiences, not filmmakers, and in that respect, Cameron's remarks are not far off. We obviously have a huge pool of incredible talent. What we're missing are audiences for anything that isn't a 'property' like Bond or Potter. How do you build audiences, you ask? Well, you'll be surprised to hear, as an exhibitor, it all starts with cinemas. No matter how brilliant you think THE KING'S SPEECH is, you need a cinema close to your customers in order to truly maximise its market share. Like any service industry, you need to be on the high street in order to deliver your product. Just ask Tesco, or Starbucks. If you build it, they WILL come. I am talking about interesting looking cinemas, in good looking buildings, staffed by knowledgable film lovers, with cafes and restaurants, not conveyor belts for teenagers. In other words, I am talking about Picturehouses. Why not fund a network of regional film theatres dedicated to interesting and challenging programming?

The French have been smart about this, not just with quotas, but also by having vertically integrated film companies that make, distribute and exhibit films - this has ring fenced their industry, creating a wide and diverse range of films, from big homegrown blockbusters to small arthouse films, with an audience at home and abroad.

I know it grinds British people but we do have so much to learn from the French in this respect. And we need to start re-opening and building new cinemas!

Image stolen from the GQ website.

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