The Independent Film Maker
I‘ve spoken with Russell quite a few times recently about film and all things related. The first time I met him he was also very much enthusing about a new practically self funded film project he was joining, in Sheffield with a friend David Frederickson, called The Wizard and The Werewolf. This was back in Ohhhh October November time last year, and as I remember, he was very keen to get started and extra-keen to make the whole thing happen.
This project, as with all films of this type are beset from the start with production costs; not least finding locations that are accessible (and appropriate) without having to stump up or hire (a super money-spinning technique that I think many councils have acquired of late!) - maybe in the hopeful event of bigger production enterprises stumbling upon super-fantastic locations with their no doubt massive expense budgets aka Hollywood-style (I am being a bit facetious here).
But I believe, for example if you wanted to film on the London Underground your hire-a-carriage/station-rate would be practically the same whether from Hollywood or Borhamwood. If you could afford it, you would more than likely hire for a cost-minimising five minutes and do in one take; not 35 re-takes!.
(Ok, obviously some people are happy to get involved and to have their location/business or whatever *on screen*, so it’s not all pay-pay).
And, although I think I caught Russell in moment of, well, shock really (or concern) for want of better words; as this post has a back drop of the Film Council Cut. His reflections could not help but be dominated by this even though his positive-drive is so very much on the get-on-with-it, get-it-done tip.
The point being, Russell’s enthusiasm for what he does is very indicative of film making and the people who become involved in general. The get up and go, the make it happen. Something all creative’s feel; the passion and energy to create.
And so, when the goal posts were altered quite considerably a couple of weeks ago by the proposed Film Council Cut. He and many others in film (and arts in general) were aware of this being more than a game changer, and a precedent for all other areas, whether arts related or not.
I’ll take the time to mention here as it is so much of a lynch-pin issue. Even though no doubt many are divided about its worthiness and workableness.
But the intended axing of the Film Council is not just a blow in itself but I also believe a below the belt blow for arts decision making generally.
Arts Councils, can be very ummm well full of artists which can render them biased towards certain issues and topics – so the argument that I heard on R4 news about them (the Film Council) being *a total waste of space*, including their massive salaries and apparently ego’s to boot, as they are too into box ticking and too into their *own agendas* and so leaving out perfectly worthy films.
Hmmmm ...Improve the base of decision makers and their decisions perhaps? not rid entirely? is fairly obvious no? that however *biased* the decisions for funding - I know who I would prefer, over a bunch of government ministers (of any political bias) taking them instead, even with their carefully chosen industry advisers.
It is, in my view very dodgy ground, Arts Councils have been a much needed buffer zone between the policy makers and creative’s.
One question; Do we really need politicians to be one tick box away from yey-or-nay-saying certain film projects?.
I’m not going to get overly Stalinesque here but it doesn’t sound good. If only from the point that ministers are not usually creative types, let alone have in depth knowledge of different arts practices.
So I totally got what Russell was saying when he wanted to tell me about his route through the past couple of years and the sudden impact, of the cut.
He pointed out that it wasn’t the fact that the money was needed for other, rightfully, more urgent areas such as the NHS.
But (and I think I understood this right) the fact that dis-enabling of small film fund projects (like the FC enables) regardless of the vagaries promised to the British Film Institute of elastoplast *powers*, would create creative black holes. Being filled by those only able to convince that they would make (extra) good return on private investment backing. Usually the bums on seats method which, however popular, does little to encourage the new:
Russell described how he saw his own work and the creative side of film making in the current climate;
“I guess one of the reasons I find this so difficult to articulate is because I don't see myself as an artist. At least not an artist who is solely responsible for his work. The making of a film is a collaborative process and though it might be a single person’s vision and script, it takes the time of a large creative collective to make the film you see on the screen.
And therein lies the problem...
It is easy to become disillusioned when trying to create your little piece of cinema:
Because unfortunately all 'films' come hand in hand with the 'film industry' and this is one of the most difficult industries to navigate and become known in. In fact so many people with stronger ideas than myself have fallen by the wayside, it is often a surprise to me that we make cinema in this country at all.
I feel that I should mention the closure of the UK Film Council at this point; it is people like myself who will suffer most from this. Their investment in short films and first time features will be sorely missed by many new film makers. It has become increasingly difficult to raise funds for any film that won’t make its money back and this decision will not make it any easier. I hope this is giving an idea of the uphill struggle we all face...
So I guess the question is why do it at all?
The answer, for me at least, is easy. The chance to create the essence and character of human life and place it in a world of pure imagination and pit it against impossible odds. And then to sit amongst an audience who experiences their hardships and joys along with them, that's a thing that very few people can say they've done.
If only it were that easy...”
I guess expression will always find a way, though the possibility of an unbiased and experienced organisation aiding a body of work like a film with its very real coordination and collaborative production costs (whether a short or full length) and the difference of being able to enter into a burgeoning (UK) industry on the back of that film, a cv if you like, is palpable in the absence of anything coherently replacing it.
Film as a creative practice is not encouraged as much as say art and design or even music in basic education – yet it is the bread and butter of all visual media and deeply ingrained in storytelling culture:
A beginning, a middle and an end, all things in between – get your audience’s attention within the first few moments/minutes etc., and chances are you’ve got them for the duration.
Technology has also gone some way to bring down the expense of materials with software and technique-know-how and the possibility of *editing in the bedroom* and or *on the hoof*, and yes! still the expensive DVD cameras and lighting. But it’s not in the realms of fantasy finance as was.
Outside of BA & MA’s, basic education in film has been largely left to people with Film Council funding, and organisations like the Broadway Cinema, Leicester’s Phoenix and Sheffield’s Showroom, for example, typically connected with locally funded film education centres. My guess here is that the shock waves are going to go much deeper. And this as a medium will be prone toward an exclusive who-can-afford-it creative style.
The film industry is tough, script and screenwriting is tough (in conception and then convincing people). Any funding available is also tough to reach. The film establishment – much like the art market- with its gatekeepers of critics, collectors and buyers – is tough.
To get your project from the writers hand into DVD and on screen takes a monumental effort in collaboration, requiring negotiation of all of the above.
You can see why the writers’ strike a couple of years ago worked in principle; without the (creative) writers in the first place you have nothing; the whole industry in would-be collapse.
This industry is well used to dealing, right from the get-go with the *sharks* and *cigar toting* big-wigs. I believe also that the people involved in the industry in the wider sense will find ways of keeping the newness coming; from a purely practical stance, as an industry it surely has to.
Just because the Council is disbanded does not mean the people involved and those down the line are too, it just makes their jobs or rather passions more difficult. But as Russell said; “The chance to create an essence and character of human life and place it in a world of pure imagination and pit it against impossible odds. And then to sit amongst an audience who experiences their hardships and joys along with them, that's a thing that very few people can say they've done.”
This is why it will happen
And currently Russell is doubly or is this triple-y? Involved with another project Tyrannosaur;
“This is a film that I'm working on at the moment for a company called Warp, but I'm a Production Assistant doing it for the money.”
(Russell’s bar work helps give the continuity)
But, and I think he would agree here; Russell is still involved within the industry itself, even if doing for the money. The day job of Production Assistant, as with a lot of creative’s trying to enable or facilitate their less-saleable works, is definitely one way of keeping in touch while working on newer ideas.
And I’d hazard a guess that Russell is never one to be easily compromised cos, enthusiasm brimming, he totally caught that creative will-do-buzz talking about his future plans;
“I'm hoping to have The Wizard and the Werewolf finished by October and will be holding a screening locally as well as entering it into various film fests. I'm also hoping to make my first short available online."
So watch this space!
Yes indeed! And so much more creative power to you and your crew!
I will be pre-posting the film short aswell as the screening news and venues for The Wizard and The Werewolf.
And I will also be returning to this area, to see how small start film projects and the people who are passionate and help facilitate are resolving (or not) issues brought about by the sudden change.
More on this later!
And! back with more once-a-week look at Lives of Artists on Thursday 2nd September with Jennifer Dalton who gives some very interesting insights into being an artist who lives and works in New York.