A Giant Achievement

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The Selfish Giant and 12 Years A Slave won top honours at the recent Critics Circle Film Awards in London. Who says the British film industry is in trouble?

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Made in Britain

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by alec

    on 8 Feb 2014 07:21

    Critics in London unanimously agree that Britain produces the best films. Well everything's alright then!

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Arch Stanton

    on 7 Feb 2014 16:24

    Somewhat off topic but…..

    for lovers of classic, quality cinema, news just in that the BFI have remastered Werner Herzog films coming to blu ray in May this year. I can't wait to get my hands on Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and the beautifully stylish, emotionally haunting Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). Christmas has come early this year!

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Danny Dyers Oscar Speech

    on 7 Feb 2014 12:47

    @15 I know what a producer does, just as I know it can also be an arbitrary title as in "associate" or "co-". But as an executive producer, Harvey Weinstein is still a producer who invests TWC's money (or the bank's, however you wish to look at it [how many businesses aren't in debt to the banks?]) into independent projects he believes in, through the quality of the screenplay over any scientific number-crunching formula (taking the belief that awards can boost box office better than double-decker bus advertising can). And however you downgrade TWC's status in the industry, they do invest (naturally some duds as well as hits) and they do make money back - around $150m profit from The King's Speech alone. Of course, they bring in co-investors, hence my comment on their strict $20m ceiling, but at least they invest their own money and it's now paying off in droves, and this makes them a success in my eye, for which I wish we had an alternative here in the UK.

    In fact, your second paragraph says all that's wrong with the industry. Too many people paying too much attention to box office receipts rather than on the quality of the project that can bring in those receipts. There's no point planning a beautiful home with a beautiful interior if you don't know how to lay bricks.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by jayfurneaux

    on 6 Feb 2014 22:07

    robert Paulson#12

    Mansell’s Lux Aeterna from Requiem for a Dream is very fine piece of music indeed. I also liked his score from The Fountain. Have to say I found his scores for the Wrestler (I liked the film a lot) & Black Swan much less memorable.

    Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood was also very fine.

    We could add John Powell, David Holmes, Dave Arnold, Harry Gregson-Williams, Rachel Portman and Craig Armstrong amongst others.

    It’s probably just me, but compared with say John Barry (an impossibly hard act to follow I’ll be the first to admit) today’s British composers aren’t producing classic score after classic score in the way Barry (and for a while at least Malcolm Arnold, Ron Goodwin, Ron Grainer, George Fenton, Roy Budd or John Harris) did.

    Possibly it’s a lack of opportunity, possibly studios like to play safe – ‘call Hans Zimmer’ (he’s vastly, vastly over-rated IMO)!

    I’ll concede the point; Britain does have composers capable of competing with Hollywood’s finest.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by David

    on 6 Feb 2014 20:53

    @13: I do appreciate your point, but I think perhaps we are at cross-purposes here: a movie producer is normally the project-manager spending someone else's money - unlike a traditional theatrical producer, who does indeed write the cheques and carries the risk. Speaking for myself, my personal risk is limited to the modest fee which I pay for the exclusive and time-limited right to an original book or screenplay, which I will then try to package up so that I can sell the project (and run it) to the guys with the money.

    In this country we just don't have professional movie investors capable of competing effectively and consistently across the global market. Professional movie money comes from the USA, India, China and a mixed bag of consortia predominantly based in Continental Europe. They do not invest on the basis of bravery, or courage. They hire teams of number-crunchers employing theoretical 10-year projection models; who will recommend a project based on risk attrition. Their confidence in a project - call it "balls", if you like - has everything to do with the curvature of the projection graph, and virtually nothing to do with a cracking screenplay. Certainly the writer's name is considered relevant to the risk assessment, because past success might mean future profits - but otherwise most of us have found that the number-crunchers couldn't spot a good original spec screenplay if it wore a tuxedo and had an invitation.

    Their predicted annual spend is fixed by reference to an actuarial profile of anticipated loss balanced by the chance of "striking it rich"; a profile spread across a basket of productions in which it is accepted that three-quarters of them may well bomb. TWC is not really a movie investor, so much as an Executive Production company which can offer an extra positive element for the investor's risk assessment because the Weinsteins are prepared to put up some of their own (borrowed) money. Big investors currently love to subcontract investment decisions to project-managers with "skin in the game" - whether money or talent. Hence the clout of TWC, as well as Playtone (Tom Hanks in a release deal with Sony and HBO), Plan B Entertainment (Brad Pitt in bed with Paramount, Warner and 20th Century Fox) and Bad Robot (JJ Abrams in bed with Disney - but don't ask me who is shagging who in that deal).

    And certainly, Harvey Weinstein CBE is a big personality and he loves his movies - but even he does not have a crystal ball. Apparently TWC came close to collapse in 2011 (no-one ever knows how close a Hollywood company comes until the Chapter 11 application gets filed in court) - allegedly having to restructure all of its library and borrowings in order to keep going. All this because the typical operating profile requires that, for every money spinning Oscar-winner [e.g. "The Artist"], you have to be prepared to pump out six or seven flat duds ["Hoodwinked Too"; "Scary Movie 5", and the lead-lined bomb that was "Butter"].

    There should be the equivalent of "Fantasy British Movie Project" (how about that as a blog series, Mr Kermode?), where we concoct our ideal combination for that perfect big-budget all-British tent-pole summer blockbuster. Trouble is, I'm betting a majority of the cinema-goers of this island nation couldn't agree on the identity of the "opening name", let alone what kind of movie would be so good that it would kill worldwide.

    And isn't that just a wonderful thing?

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by WSV

    on 6 Feb 2014 20:06

    I too am very pleased indeed that The Selfish Giant is getting the recognition that it truly deserves. I paid a tenner to Curzon Cinema On-Demand last year and got a streaming rental of the movie for seven days - and watched it seven times! It's that good. 12 Years a Slave isn't bad either.

    On the sadder note, it was put to me years ago that, unless they're unlucky, people, no matter who they are, tend to die as they live - so be careful how you tread! Unfortunately, Philip Seymour Hoffman seems to have proved that point this week. For me Hoffman had a subtly to his work that American actors do not generally possess which made him stand apart from the crowd. He, and his talent, will be missed.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Danny Dyers Oscar Speech

    on 6 Feb 2014 11:16

    @10 You've contradicted yourself in your final paragraph. Movie financing has everything to do with courage, because, as you yourself say (with William Goldman's line of "nobody knows anything"), there is no trusted formula to a movie's success.

    The Weinsteins are independent producers, they don't invest above $20m on any project and, yes, TWC has had its debt problems, but look at them now - second only in box office revenue to Universal, ahead of all the other big guns. Why? Because as Harvey Weinstein said on Kermie's show last year, 'it's all about great writing, if you've got that, you're onto something'. Harvey knows. He knows! And he has the balls to put his money where his mouth is.

    Movie producers must be brave, and it won't be an easy ride, but you must gamble or you'll never win.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by robert paulson

    on 6 Feb 2014 02:46

    @jayfurneaux -world class British film composers? Clint Mansell, Jonny Greenwood are two that spring to mind immediately.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by LBScarlet

    on 5 Feb 2014 12:46

    The Selfish Giant was my favourite film of last year. Absolutely adored it. Even though it is a very bleak subject I thought the film was beautifully filmed and beautiful to look at. The two boys did really well in the acting roles. These types of films are always my favourites, I loved Fishtank when that came out and this is a similar type of film. I shall be buying the DVD.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by David

    on 5 Feb 2014 12:02

    Mark - as ever, pithy and engaging blog. In response to some of the above comments...

    As a wannabe-screenwriter and (very) small independent producer, I am delighted to see the enthusiasm with which folk express the view that there would be bigger profits available for Brit investors, if only more home-based money was put into the British movie industry. Unfortunately life just isn't like that - in particular for the Movie Industry, which has its own rather peculiar accounting system, and where adherence to Golden Rule One ("Never reveal the actual P&L figures") leads to Golden Rule Two ("Any box-office figures revealed by the competition are not to be trusted").

    Since it is a simple fact that no-one in the industry - NO-ONE - really knows what movie will sell, the decision to invest in a movie - any movie - carries one of the highest adverse investment risks of any industry in the world. 75% of all new movies carry a loss, or produce zero return, after one year. You'd have better luck opening a restaurant (25% failure). And the brutal truth is that it isn't the cost of making the "tent-pole" spec movie which is the essential problem: it's the cost of marketing followed by the gouging margins of the typical distribution deal. You could spend a healthy but still relatively modest £3m and end up with a stunning movie - but no-one will see it, not unless (a) you spend at least half again pushing it to potential distributors, and then for an International release (b) you must spend at least another £3-5m on ads and marketing, all knowing that (c) the majority of box-office takings go into the pockets of those providing the screen, the seats and the popcorn. So if people don't arrive in droves for the opening weekend, as a general rule your movie is dead.

    There are no more old-style movie-making studios: they were all killed off by economic collapse, whether fast or slow. Majority stakeholders of the main companies in the business are primarily engaged with the industry for the sake of the useful "hop-skip-jump" available within movie accounts [got a loss here? stick it into that column over there...]. And if the movie actually does make a profit, everyone is grateful but no-one knows how or why.

    For instance, Disney is primarily an investment vehicle listing holiday resorts and brand-name goods as its primary activities: the making of movies is sub-contracted out in return for sole rights in the only aspect of the business with a stable fiscal return - themed toys, games and accessories. Disney didn't buy "Star Wars" from George Lucas in order to make a string of great movies....

    In short, then, it's nothing to do with the lack of "cojones" amongst British investors - because any sane or relatively risk-averse investor ought to run screaming. So if you want a "tent-pole" spec made in this country, either it must carry good prospects of franchise after-sales (in which case the biggest of the Big Money will always come from abroad); or the very idea of the movie has provoked a huge, slightly insane and perhaps wholly unrealistic passion deep within the heart of whatever wild-haired and wonderful investor you have managed to find in that well-to-do private care home or hospital. And I wish you very well indeed.

    I love the very idea of making movies - but I wouldn't want to risk my own money doing it.

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