Film Fanatic: The PM's Speech

David Cameron has got The Beek thinking about the best way to safeguard the UK film industry

Back in January, just prior to the release of a Government report by the Film Policy Review Panel, the Prime Minister decided to offer his thoughts on the current state of the British film industry.

His big idea? That the filmmakers and producers should concentrate on making more mainstream movies that are independently financed and not bankrolled by Hollywood.

A noble idea, to be sure. But what exactly makes for a ‘mainstream’ movie in the eyes of David Cameron? I imagine it would look an awful lot like The King’s Speech; a prestige picture that draws on Britain’s history and rich cultural heritage. But, at the end of the day, The King’s Speech was a period film about a posh bloke with a stutter, and nobody could have ever predicted it would go on to do the box office business it did in the UK and overseas (although, to be fair, any film about the British monarchy always seem to do well in the US). There’s just as much chance that it could have ended up trapped in an art house ghetto, leaving the filmmakers happy if it clawed back its production and distribution costs.

Instead, it’s better to just take a look at the UK box office chart, to get an idea of so-called ‘mainstream’ tastes. And, as you’d expect, around the time the PM made his remarks, it was mainly packed with the kind of mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters that our industry simply can’t finance in its current state. So what’s the solution?

History of horror
Our recent Hammer Films retrospective (click here) set me thinking about that legendary studio’s incredible success, particularly with the horror genre. While plenty of people look down their noses at horror movies, the truth is that the genre has a history of playing well to cinema audiences around the world (thanks in large part to the ease with which it transcends language barriers – a spooky noise is a spooky noise no matter what country you come from). On top of that, as shown by the likes of Halloween, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, it has also proved to be good at making extremely large returns from very modest investments.

What we clearly need, then, is a modern, entirely British-owned and -run successor to the Hammer of old. One that could operate in a manner similar to Roger Corman’s New World Pictures did in the ‘70s, and deliver a string of inexpensive genre films that have no trouble finding an appreciative audience. And considering that Corman’s operation served as a training ground for the likes of Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles and James Cameron, can you imagine the talent a similar setup could nurture here in the UK? That’s how you safeguard the future of the film industry.

The only sticking point that needs confronting then is the thorny subject of distribution (after all, there’s no shortage of films currently being made in the UK – the difficulty comes in trying to find and watch them). The most obvious solution would be to impose a directive or quota similar to those in France that limit the number of US films that can be shown in cinemas each year. Now I’m not talking about a massive cull, just some judicious pruning that would free up space for British films. After all, do we really need 3D-reissues of The Phantom Menace and Titanic hogging valuable cinema real estate, when some quality homegrown horror films could really do with the added exposure.

What do you think about the current state of British cinema?
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This column first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Home Cinema Choice