Hot topics included cinematic TV, Britain and Hollywood, and the importance of co-productions.
A lineup of the UK industry’s leading lights gathered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Friday to address issues including the rise of cinematic TV, the UK’s relationship with Hollywood and the importance of European co-productions at a Screen International-backed conference titled What is the State of the British Film Nation?
The conference, hosted in partnership with Screen International, opened with a key note speech from BFI director Amanda Nevill, who described the “palpable forward looking spirit” at the BFI which took over from the UKFC in April, adding that “the next focus has got to be about the films and film-makers, not organisational change.”
Speaking on the subject of the increasingly blurred lines between films and television were producers Paul Trijbits (Ruby Films) and Stephen Garrett (Kudos Pictures), who make product for both mediums for their respective production companies.
Trijbits, who joined Ruby in 2007 widening its remit to television, admitted that “if we had stayed just in films I’m not sure we would have survived.” He went on to cite examples of Ruby projects which were originally intended for the big screen but which ended up becoming television productions when the features proved too hard to get off the ground, including upcoming production The Young Stalin which is being made into a six part series for the BBC with Stephen Frears directing, and Toast which aired on the BBC in the UK last year but which has been sold internationally as a theatrical feature.
Garrett, who has worked on theatrical features Eastern Promises and Brighton Rock as well as successful TV series including Spooks and Hustle, admitted that as primarily a television producer he had “experienced snobbery from tranches of the film industry.”
“But the truth is that television is a fantastic university for talent and it’s a great place to form relationships with those who may well end up being the next Tom Hooper, who was a TV director and is now one of the world’s hottest movie directors.”
He added that film-makers are increasingly choosing to work in television “because they can tell more interesting stories, as has been trailblazed by HBO.”
“When you are able to tell a story in parts, inevitably you have got more space to make them more complex and build up understanding and television has also started to move into subjects that used to be the preserve of the movies, which then sets the bar very high for cinema.”
Other topics up for discussion included the relationship between the UK and the US, with Lucas Webb, who is heading up the new Ingenious/Fox Seachlight venture, pointing to the fact that “British films which touch a nerve in the US skew older and tend to be more sophisticated dramas like The King’s Speech or Calendar Girls.”
Referring to Richard Ayoade’s Submarine as an example of a recent UK film which failed to set the US box office alight, Webb added that “it’s very hard if you are trying to make a teen movie out of the UK for American teen audiences because they have them in spades.” Another suggestion, made by audience member Lizzie Francke of the BFI, was that Submarine didn’t fit into the US version of “old world Britishness”.
Meanwhile Oscar-winning producer Iain Canning (See Saw Films) [pictured] joked that when it came to making The King’s Speech, “people thought that we sat with this cauldron and said we need to put in Colin Firth, a pinch of Geoffrey Rush, a disability, the royals and that if we put all that in we would win. But no, we just wanted to get the film made.”
On the subject of whether UK producers are successfully targeting their audiences, head of distribution and exhibition at the BFI Pete Buckingham admitted that although 15-24 year olds are the biggest demographic of cinema goers in the UK, “this important section of the market place is not particularly well catered for by British film producers.”
In contrast, Hamish Moseley, head of sales at Momentum Pictures, the UK distributor behind The King’s Speech pointed to recent films such as Chalet Girl and Attack The Block and companies such as Vertigo and Revolver as examples of where the UK industry is “setting out to be commercially ambitious.”
One area of constant frustration for distributors, according to producer/distribution consultant Mia Bays, is that there is a “huge focus on making the film and not on what happens next. There needs to be a more honest dialogue about commerciality of films, it is not a dirty word,” added Bays, who observed that despite the fact that dramas are the least successful genre at the UK box office, it is also the genre that most often gets made by UK producers.
The panel urged fiction film-makers to follow the example of the documentary world and become more innovative in their attitude to distribution, whether it be releasing on iTunes or encouraging specific groups to put on their own local screenings, a strategy employed by Andy Whittaker of Dogwoof for war documentary Restrepo. “But often it’s the film-makers who dig their feet in when it comes to having a theatrical release,” added Whittaker.
Meanwhile guest speaker Jamie King, who runs free to share online distribution platform VODO offered another alternative to the traditional distribution model. “You can make a film that is quite marginal, but if you make it available around the world for free, it is able to engage very large audiences that compare with any successful distribution,” said King.
The day closed with a panel on the UK’s relationship with Europe. Simon Perry, who has just completed a five year tenure as head of the Irish Film Board, laid out how the UK government abandoned both membership of Eurimages and the European Co-Production Fund in the 1990s and argued why the UK independent production community would benefit from a closer relationship with Europe.