Oh blimey, he’s at it again.
When he’s not burbling on about his grand plans for Britain to reclaim the moral and ethical high ground by becoming a Big Society (a notion so vague that I’m not sure even he knows what it actually means), British prime minister David Cameron has designs on telling the UK’s film industry how to suck eggs.
In a story best outlined in Empire Online’s post today, Cameron’s upcoming visit to Pinewood studios (home of the Bond series and just about any big film made in Britain during the last thirty years or so) saw him giving words of advice to the film industry.
If you guessed that those words included ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘commercial’ and ‘mainstream’, give yourself a pat on the back and wonder for a second just why it is that Cameron seems to believe that he knows better than people who, you know, make movies for a living.
Whilst he’s welcome to his opinion (and that opinion, unusually, isn’t wholly devoid of worth), the fact of the matter is that the film industry can’t just up and decide to suddenly make successful mainstream movies with a 100% hit rate – if there was some magic process that writers, producers and directors could follow which miraculously won the hearts and minds of audiences with pitch-perfect precision, don’t you think that they would be using it and that the UK would have a studio system and intellectual property/franchise pipeline that would rival Hollywood?
“The King’s Speech”, lest we forget, is about the furthest thing from an obvious hit that I can imagine – a period piece about a member of the royal family with a speech impediment isn’t the sort of movie that most people would rush out to see on the basis of the premise alone, unless they were history nuts, royalists or just really wanted to get out of the house for a few hours.
Similarly, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that “The Inbetweeners Movie” would have given the final “Harry Potter” film a run for its money at the UK box office last year – a gross-out teen comedy based on a tv series isn’t a sure-fire prospect and yet it was a runaway hit over here in 2011.
The business of deciding what kind of project has potential commercial appeal is a fraught one and anybody who tells you that they have a certain formula for generating popular film or TV series probably has some magic beans which they’d quite like to sell you. If Hollywood can’t get us to go to movies like “The Green Lantern” – a supposed ‘sure thing’ comic book adaptation from last year which disappointed many, with a complement of big special effects, attractive lead actors and more explosions during it’s running time than Blake Lively’s had hot dinners – with all of the money, media and power that it wields, what chance does a nascent British film maker stand?
I’d quite like the UK film industry to be in rude enough health to be able to greenlight more genre films along with the smaller, more idiosyncratic fare which we’ve been so good at in the past but the fact remains that we don’t have the system currently operating which would allow that.
For every commercially savvy producer turned director like the helmer of “Kick Ass”, Matthew Vaughn, there’s a number of equally gifted film makers who have to head overseas to make their movies because that’s where the money is. We have actors, writers, producers, craftspeople, directors and facilities like Leavesden and Pinewood but we don’t have the studios and distribution network which can spend money to make and then push the final film into the market place – it’s been a problem since the 1980’s and it hasn’t gotten any better in the meantime.
Until David Cameron manages to sort out that slight wrinkle in his otherwise brilliant plan, his advice on how the UK film industry can improve its lot frankly carries no more weight than my musings do.