Why David Cameron is wrong about the British Film Industry

Apparently the British film industry should make more commercially successful films. This is according to that great film expert … David Cameron.

As far as I know he has no experience of the film industry. He was speaking ahead of the publication of Lord Smith’s report into the British film industry but his comments betray a terrible lack of any understanding of film.

“Our role should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions,” -David Cameron quoted in the Daily Telegraph

How can you tell if a film will be commercially successful? Surely the only British films of recent times which had a predictable success were the Harry potter franchise. if Cameron can tell us he would be an even richer man than he is now.

Well Mr Cameron British film is successful. It generates a £4bn contribution to the British economy (BBC) every year. This is not insignificant. Between 2008 and 2010 £783 million was invested by public bodies (BFI p.165). This isn’t a bad return on investment.

The point of creativity is that sometimes the unexpected is a huge success (King’s Speech, Inbetweeners, Slumdog Millionaire …) the people behind these films all gained skills from working on less successful films. The only way to produce commercially successful films is to give people the chance to write, act, film and have a go at film making. Take risks and it will pay off. Try and only back the winning film and you will fail.

What Cameron seems to be suggesting is funding will only go to films which are guaranteed box office receipts. Is he suggesting that they will follow prescriptive guidelines? Will scripts have to be ok’d by the government. The only time this has happened in the British film industry is during the second world war when the Ministry of Information approved scripts and even suggested themes to be included in film:

1. What Britain is fighting for
2. How Britain fights
3. The need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won

Obviously these themes were very war specific. Once the war was over the Ministry of Information stepped away from interfering. As far as I know we aren’t in a wartime situation. The need for propaganda is not there and state controlled cinema strikes me as something that comes from dictatorships such as Stalinist Russia.

However the issue with the British film industry isn’t in the production, we produce great films. It is in the distribution and exhibition. British film accounted for 24% of the British box office in 2010 (BFI) – US films accounted for 71.8% of box office yet 37.9% of films released were American and 21.4% were British. Quite simply American films get exhibited in multiplexes and British film is less likely to get that level of distribution.

There need to be opportunities for audiences to watch film so they can be successful. Film doesn’t exist without an audience (now there is a whole debate there). How often have you wanted to watch a film only to discover nowhere local to you is showing it but all the cinemas are showing the same 6 films? Sometimes in 2D AND 3D. This is what stifles commercial success not the films being produced.There are amazing independent cinemas. In Sussex The Duke of York Picturehouse, Uckfield Picturehouse and Hailsham Pavilion all show a variety of films sometimes ahead of the local multiplexes. In Lewes the cinema evenings at the All Saints offer a good chance to see films without leaving the town and this model is replicated in towns and villages across the county. What people appreciate about independent cinemas is that they do offer variety. As Ken Loach said this morning “We need more cinemas which are run by people who love film”.

Bridget Jones - A successful British Film


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