In his London Film Festival industry keynote, the filmmaker also calls for reform of cinema exhibition.
Giving the London Film Festival Keynote Industry Address (staged in association with Skillset), filmmaker Ken Loach launched a fierce attack on the “lunacy” of current working and commissioning practices in the UK TV industry.
“I think we now can say that television has become the enemy of creativity,” Loach said. “Television kills creativity.”
This comes from the director who got his start with TV projects such as 1966’s Cathy Come Home.
Loach railed against the way “a pyramid of producers, executive-producers, commissioning editors, heads of department and assistant heads of department” sit on top of writers and directors “and stifle the life out of them.” He said that this was “no way to cherish originality, no way to find those special voices that we need and that are our creative energy.”
The veteran 74-year-old director, who noted that he first entered the industry 49 years ago, compared the current atmosphere in UK TV unfavourably with that which existed at the BBC when he was a young director working with celebrated producer Sydney Newman.
“Sydney, if he was still working after 4 o’clock, probably reckoned he wasn’t doing his job properly. He just had a few producers. They were good, they were complementary, with different tastes, covering different areas. He would sometimes come and see the play before it went out and sometimes not. He was very encouraging, always a joy to meet. He always made you smile and you went away feeling 10 feet tall, which is what you want - someone who gives you the confidence to be as good as you can be.”
By contrast, Loach suggested, in today’s TV climate, with “10 people sitting on your shoulder, you can’t be good, you can’t be creative.All you can be is a mess, trying to work out which note is more powerful or whose job you need to placate.”
Loach also fired a few broadsides in the direction of “time-servers” who had betrayed the hopes that TV could be “a National Theatre of the air” and had reduced the medium to “a grotesque reality game.”
A former colleague of producer James MacTaggart, Loach ridiculed the fact that Edinburgh Festival’s annual MacTaggart Lecture is now a platform for senior TV execs to spout forth.
“I knew Jimmy MacTaggart and I have to tell you Mr Senior Executive, Mr Junior Murdoch, Mr big head of whatever you are, you are no Jimmy MacTaggart. Jimmy was an iconoclast. Jimmy would have been horrified to think his name was taken to justify the overblown self-importance of these people.”
Loach showed no sympathy for top BBC executives who recently learned they are losing their jobs as part of cost-cutting measures. “I’m pleased to see - I guess we all are - that one or two top-ranking BBC people are going to lose their jobs. It takes a million quid to get them out of the door and a handshake. Nevertheless, they’re on the their way. Great. Good riddance. Maybe a few more will join them.”
The filmmaker also called for an overhaul of British cinema exhibition and distribution practices in order to give audiences greater choice.
“We could start to treat cinemas like we treat theatres. They could be owned like they are in many cases by the municipalities,” Loach said. “They could be owned by boroughs and towns. They could be programmed by people who care about films…not by people who care about fast food, which I guess is most of our cinema managers.”
Loach’s new film Route Irish receives its UK premiere this weekend during the LFF. Artificial Eye recently took UK distribution rights for the film, which had its world premiere in Cannes.