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Made In Britain?

Friday 31 January 2014, 16:45

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

The British film industry is flourishing but home-grown films often fail at the box office. What exactly makes a movie British these days?

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    Comment number 1.

    I am slightly surprised that the Ealing Comedies and the Hammer House films weren't mentioned.

    I suspect that, for financial reasons, it is nigh on impossible to have a "solely" British film. So, by its very nature, it would have to have an international flavour to get funding etc. I am interested to see whether there are similar effects around the world for comparison purposes.

    Would there be sufficient interest (support?) for sole British production? Would there be enough to get something going? It would be nice, but...

    Maybe it's how things have evolved for film production.

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    Comment number 2.

    For me a film’s nationality is all to do with its cultural identity.

    Film is, and reflects, culture. So nationality is not measured by who paid for it, or even who directed, or starred in it, or where it’s set, but by what the film says and how it says it. It’s cultural context. Simple as that. I’d suggest that’s got more to do with the writing and why the film exists in the first place. It’s not an exact science, but I reckon that’s a pretty good definition.

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    Comment number 3.

    And then there's the music, with our orchestras being so good at sight-reading and delivering high quality performances at high speeds, that so much music comes from the UK.

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    Comment number 4.

    The banner headline that the British film industry is flourishing is clearly incorrect when the number of British films being made continues to fall. US studios accept tax breaks to use places such as Pinewood and, although they thankfully employ our excellent actors and technicians, the profits return to the States. To call a film British because it is shot here is stretching the point to near absurdity. Many filmmakers cannot raise the funds to make their films and the Government seems interested only in funding animation and so-called high brow television series. In the twenty years that I have worked in the industry I have never seen filmmakers so depressed and disillusioned. The BFI are the wrong people to control film funds and their recent comments re the diminishing number of films being made reveals that they have no solution when their own funds are being cut by a Government that has no understanding of the artistic, cultural and financial importance of film and cinema to this country.

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    Comment number 5.

    What is a British film?

    An interesting question. It can’t just be about the funding. Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem was funded by an Italian pasta company and has an international cast, yet I’d claim him as a distinctive British director.

    In terms of funding we still have C4, BBC Films, Working Title, Aardman Animations, Archer Street Films, Big Talk Productions, Hammer etc., even if they look to co-productions so as to spread risk and help distribution.
    http://www.televisual.com/blog-detail/The-UKs-top-40-film-production-companies_bid-356.html

    Does Eon (James Bond) count as British?

    Many British directors have found success in Hollywood, with Hollywood funding or elsewhere abroad, but there’s little to show any sense of a distinctive ‘British style’ of directing. Yet some directors: Danny Boyle, Paul Greengrass, Ridley Scott I do think of as being British.
    Others, say Tony Scott, I just don’t see in the same light; consumed by the studio machines.

    The Raid & Raid 2 is set in Indonesia with Indonesian cast – directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans.

    Crowd funding will only confuse matters more.

    Setting & source material possibly? Bridget Jones, Four Funerals, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes (with American Robert Downey Jr) all originated from British writers (and with British actors) and have a British setting, yet Hollywood funding no doubt.

    British actors? Brit’s turn up in many films, Hollywood loves Brits with stage presence and good diction. Woody Allen uses many Brit’s in his casts, but is a Woody Allen film British, American or just a Woody Allen one?

    Subject matter. A Field In England, Four Lions, Kes, Kidulthood, Train Spotting and quite a few other films – even straight to DVD fodder such as Football Factory and Essex Boys – have to be considered distinctively British, regardless of where the funding comes from.

    One thing I think we can take pride in is that for a small country we still punch above our weight in terms of quality of acting, production, technical, costume, set design, orchestras and – against all odds I’ll agree – still produce a substantial number of directors (as well as actors, cinematographers etc.) that gain international recognition.

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    Comment number 6.

    #5 You write a lot of sense. I take pride in the fact that many people in the UK industry are still plugging away trying to create quality work because they love film. I do see some patterns emerging though. I think the likes of Ken Russell were auteurs railing against the system. As #5 mentioned many directors work in a global system look at Duncan Jonas et al of the new generation getting their breaks abroad and this is being replicated most notably in the acting profession. Look how many UK actors work on US TV or movies.

    I also think 40 + years ago the UK industry was incredibly diverse. Think The Carry On franchise, The Dr Franchise, Kitchen Sink dramas, Ealing Comedies, the Swinging 60's scene Hammer studies and many others.

    We have an industry just not one that feels ours any more. People who want to tell tales in a different voice cannot get heard.

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    Comment number 7.

    “I am slightly surprised that the Ealing Comedies and the Hammer House films weren't mentioned.”

    In the past – which you and I still remember – things were different.
    Cinema wasn’t so globalised, so British producers were mainly concerned with pleasing home audiences. Films could make their costs back in their home country. Prior to the 1960s there was no mass TV (for younger readers, the Internet didn’t become widely popular until the late 1990s) so cinema (and variety theatre) going really were true mass entertainment activities.
    Films, their studios and stars (Gracie Fields, George Formby, Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII etc.) aimed to appeal to their home audiences and could make a good profit.

    Hollywood and US TV became supreme in the 1950s/60s. They could just deliver a much more glamorous view of life, bigger spectacle – or greater shocks in the case of horror - and that meant the gradual death of British production houses (Ealing, Gainsborough, Hammer, Amicus included.) as films appealed to a more international audiences. Cinema certainly became more US centric.

    It wasn’t all bad. There was a time when watching a foreign film was considered so unusual you were considered weird, at best 'intellectual'; at worst akin to a pervert watching European sex movies: The tabloids made no distinction between Pasolini, Fasbinder, Goddard etc that featured mild nudity and Swedish porn.
    As Ingmar Bergman was Swedish and his uncompromising films deal with death, sex & violence some tabloids lumped him in with 'Swedish filth'. Nowadays you'd wonder what the fuss was about? His films are now regarded as classics, though many today refuse to watch them as they're in B/W!

    One thing Spaghetti Westerns in the 60's (and in the 70’s - Kung Fu movies) did was make watching foreign (even if badly dubbed) films mainstream.

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    Comment number 8.

    “People who want to tell tales in a different voice cannot get heard.” #6

    Be determined. There are now so many ways to capture video, on phones, cameras etc. It’s quite cheap. Many people shoot short films/docs and put them on YouTube (Even stop motion animations that take years to produce).

    See it as your introductory movies. Have a passion.

    I recently read an interview with photographer Don Mclean (famed for his 60’s Vietnam war photos) and his advice for young photographers wasn’t to go war zones (now already well covered, not least because of social media) but to photo the changes, social/political challenges of what’s happening around you. (We live in fast changing times.)

    Stop thinking about how many might see it.
    You want to make something - it’s important to you, so go do it. If it’s good it’ll find an audience afterwards.

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    Comment number 9.

    As you are probably aware, Ken's mum was probably referring derogatorially to the "quota-quickies" the low budget films churned out to satisfy the protectionist Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 which meant theatres had to show a quota of these films. Many of these were substandard and poor, but guaranteed distribution. However, this period also was a training ground for the likes of Michael Powell, Ronald Neame and David Lean.

    Perhaps we need a modern version of this to properly encourage and subsidize UK film production on "British" subjects. Oh, wait, that was the UK Film Council which was abolished by the present government in 2011. Crumbs!

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    Comment number 10.

    Here's one for you... The Deer Hunter.

    American director, American writer, American actors - but British crew in Thailand with British producers spending British money (EMI).

    American film or British film? After all these years, I still can't answer that myself. Though the creativity is clearly American, the financing and nuts-and-bolts production of it is clearly British. So does the creative arm of a film give it its national identity or should that be derived from the money men?

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    Comment number 11.

    For a couple of minutes I believed that was the actual Guardians of the Galaxy poster. With executive producer Tom Cobley,

    Talking of posters: have you seen the one for Jack Ryan? That's just awful.

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    Comment number 12.

    For me (and the man in the street) a British film has uniquely British themes and settings eg. Kes, Get Carter. For the BAFTAS they keep changing the rules as to what is British, hence Gravity this year. One day they'll change those rules so that having merely having a British actor in a film will make it ours. This is to cover up the fact there are so few films being made in this country that are genuinely British. We have the talent but not the money or the business savvy to compete with Hollywood. That has always been the case, but things are truly dire now. Even if they do get made there is virtually no chance of distribution.

    The real issue not nationality anyway. The question is, is it a good film or a bad film, regardless of who made it. It's hard for a British micro-budget film to compete with a $100m Hollywood blockbuster when the price of the ticket is the same. The playing field will be leveller if a new way of people seeing the films appears on the horizon, possibly VOD or something similar.

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    Comment number 13.

    I will always remember one of my film school tutors telling me that "We [Britain] don't have a film industry. Ours is theatre and television." This is more to do with cultural identity. Both the US and the France have it as part of their culture, so our film industry really comes down the pecking order. In fact most British films get funding from LA (so I've been told).

    I think another problem lies with the sort of films we make. We either make: social realism/kitchen sink dramas, period dramas or middle class comedies. All of these have become rather boring, to me at least (the latter two in-particular are really just made for US audiences).

    Now I would love a proper British film industry, made with British money featuring British talent and locations, but it ain't going to happen.

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    Comment number 14.

    So where is it going wrong then.

    Lack of imagination from the UK industry
    Problems with distribution
    The average cinema goer not engaging in UK movies
    Basic funding issues

    Out of all those 3 is the one I do not know if their is a straightforward answer to.

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    Comment number 15.

    Whenever I think of "British Films" I do think of drab period films or gangster films. Not really what I want to watch. Hammer is back of course which is a step forward. We just have not been ambitious enough to have a go at making "tent pole" films within our own islands. Probably because the box office here would only cover a fraction of the cost. We do well when Hollywood money comes in of course, with the Harry Potters and Bonds etc, which of course are British films in the wider context. The problem is that with every industry especially the creative and artistic ones, we look across the pond for help and have been doing it since the major decline in the 70s. We just are not ambitious enough to make something big and possibly a bit dumb, that would in turn fuel the more artistic side of the industry if it were a global hit. For the most part we are content to ride on hollywoods coat tails. Not in itself a bad thing, the damage was done decades ago, we should be glad they come here for our technical and acting expertise.

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    Comment number 16.

    One of the best films of 2013, Metro Manila, was shot in the Philippines and in the language of Tagalog but was a British film. A home grown production with a British director and was the UK submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Regardless of where the financing comes from or where it was shot, shouldn't we classify a British film as one that originates from these shores.

    Which brings us to the Bafta for Outstanding British Film, of the six films nominated this year The Selfish Giant is the only one without a major studio behind it banging the drum. The inclusion of Gravity, which i really liked, kinda says to world that what we Brits do best is make other people's films for them. If Bafta tightened the remit for qualification of constitutes a "British film" rather than including movies on the basis that the director once shook hands with Mark Kermode, they would have to throw the net wider and include films like Metro Manila, A Field in England, A Liar's Autobiography, The Angel's Share or Berberian Sound Studio.

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    Comment number 17.

    a British should to meet 3 or mare of the following :

    1: Filmed on location British
    2. SFX done in Britain
    3. Contains British Characters that are not serotypes
    4. Contains more than 1 British Character
    5.America does not save the day
    6. London does not blown up just because its the only city outside the USA that America American know
    7. has a British director and at least 1 British actor
    8. the British actor or Character is the lead
    9. Uses real London not the 'Hollywood London'
    10. Uses location, towns, cities outside of London
    11. Contains at least 1 union Jack

    The Kings Speech,, all Bond films and Gravity are covered in the above.

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    Comment number 18.

    I remember way back some foreign companies were making cars in the UK with the Union Jack on it as a sign of "quality". These days it's gone even further:

    Which Honda, Nissan and Toyota models are made in Britain?

    http://conversation.which.co.uk/transport-travel/top-cars-built-in-britain-uk/

    Notably however Honda and Toyota sell to the EU via being in the UK. With the EU in dire straights they've actually sacked a load of workers, whereas Jaguar and Landrover (owned by Tata, an Indian originally steel company) are selling more to asia and have hired British workers in their plants. Is it a British success story or not and for whom?

    I think break-down: Film Industry vs Story Theme

    For eg Star Wars had a British production crew but was an American driven movie Hollywood.

    Withnail and I is a very British film in Story theme, though others can enjoy it, (lots of drinking!) I think you might see more in that movie if you've lived a bit like those 2 and then equally if you lived during that era and finally if you understand some of the British sensibilities and nuances evoked.

    The Film Industry is quick to trumpet successes (at Oscars etc) but I think different measures of the health of the industry could be used to dig further (employed, revenue) as well as British funded films and critical success. Also British stories beyond period pieces or kitchen sink life is grim in rip-off-britain stories.

    The French industry would be good to compare to: Subsidized heavily, churns out tons and that leads to the odd really good movie out of all the drivel and of course very orientated towards the French culture (Ministery de Culture) to beat off the endless Hollywood soft power invasion!

    I suspect the Theatre scene and all the creativity that's hard to measure and how that feeds into film and tv is a good measure of the health? As a cultural orientated entertainment industry there's an important link to maintain from free market economics only.

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    Comment number 19.

    What is a British film?

    Well, only answer is of course: does it actually matter?

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    Comment number 20.

    I had intended to write a little about the British -yes British- classic, An American Werewolf In London….

    Instead, I'd just like to say how saddened I am to hear of Philip Seymour Hoffman's passing. I'm certain that all of the followers and contributors, here on Kermode Uncut, feel just as shocked and, ultimately, depressed by this untimely loss. A truly great actor recognised by many, including the Academy, for his portrayals of often complex, troubled characters living on the fringes of society, and always with complete and utter conviction. Whilst many may remember him for his award winning portrayal of Truman Capote, I will always remember him as the lonely, sensitive care nurse, Phil Parma, in P.T Anderson's wonderful, ensemble epic, Magnolia.

    A terrible loss for modern cinema. He will be missed. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

This twice-weekly video blog is the place where he airs his personal views on the things that most fire him up about cinema - and invites you to give your own opinions.

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