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We need to pay up or suffer
THE Government report into the British film industry has just been published and contains a large number of proposals as to how they envisage assistance can be given to help the film business flourish.
I am glad to see they want stronger action on the piracy of movies, which has long been a concern and costs the industry a great deal of money in lost revenue, but it will not be an easy task.
They suggest helping to fund more rural communities to be able to screen films in local village halls and similar, which goes towards balancing the loss of so many cinemas over the past 50 years. It is obviously a put-off if the nearest screen is 15 or 30 miles away, even if you have a car.
It is suggested children are encouraged to study film in school and training programmes be implemented.
I am less certain about ideas like creating a British Film Week, which sounds like a recycled idea from something similar I remember from the Eighties, but why not?
The danger lies in this talk of a golden age of British films following on from the success of Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech, the latter made at Elstree.
In the early Thirties, another Borehamwood-made movie, The Private Life Of Henry VIII, proved a surprise hit in America and launched a flurry of investment into film production — which, within five years had collapsed.
Those of us of a certain age recall the Oscar and box office hit Chariots Of Fire, which was another new dawn for British films but, again, one that soon petered out.
Up until the Fifties, we had companies like the Rank Organisation which owned Pinewood, the Michael Balcon-controlled Ealing Studios and our own ABPC company at Elstree, which made films for the UK and the icing on the cake was overseas sales.
Few of these movies, including such classics as The Dam Busters, were big box office hits in America where the real money can be made.
However, in those days you could make an Ealing comedy or Carry On movies for peanuts, so they made a profit and thus the producers made more of them.
However, for the past 40 years we have basically become a service industry for Hollywood-financed production.
I remember Dickie Attenborough telling me he struggled for years to get the multi Oscar winning Ghandi off the ground and the same with Chaplin.
Both had a British subject matter, but neither had a penny of British money invested in them and that is the core problem.
The same applies to the James Bond films and Harry Potter, or the David Lean epics of the Sixties.
However, without that Hollywood use of our studios and personnel, I doubt if Elstree or any of the other major studios such as Pinewood, Shepperton or Leavesden would exist today.
Last week I went to see Steven Spielberg’s new epic, War Horse, and it is a marvellous film created in the mould of those old tinseltown sentimental stories once made by John Ford or David O Selznick.
It was about a British subject, was shot in the UK, used our actors and technicians but financed by Hollywood.
I remember when Steven was at Elstree filming the three Indiana Jones movies and he told me how great the studio was, but within a year of him finishing Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, we saw half of Elstree disappear under the bulldozers.
My concern is whether the report suggests how we can protect and help invest in the the bricks and mortar side of the industry.
When Elstree was threatened, the Government did nothing to assist and the UK industry is so fragmented that it was only saved by our local council.
We need to encourage the modern day equivalent of apprenticeships in the craft skills.
Where would the industry be without its unglamorous but essential carpenters, riggers, painters, plasterers?
We also need to be careful who makes the decisions as to which films get lottery funding or other help. It is not the job for civil service types or the Chelsea set.
At the end of the day, the average cinemagoer goes to see a film to be entertained and not because it is British. We differ from the French or others in that we share a common language, so watching a Hollywood movie is a natural experience.
But we also need producers and companies with the guts and resources to invest.
The then owners of Elstree Studios were offered the chance to invest in both Star Wars and Raiders of the lost Ark but declined, so writing a report is one thing and creating a vibrant sustainable industry is another.
As always, time will tell.
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