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Editorial - One Exterior Day
...the shortest pitch ever... 'It's like Buffy, only British and harder'.
March 2002

Everyone loves the movies - everyone thinks they can write one and in Los Angeles everyone has. The hard part is the selling and pitching. But what to actually write?

In England it is kind of hard to know where to start. In the 80's if you wanted funding all you had to do was write a gay story, that was the only genre in town - give or take the odd Mike Leigh movie about social misfits. The best example of this time and the one that travelled well was 'Mona Lisa'. In the 90's the gangster movie took a grip and no one would lend a penny to any production that wasn't about geezers with guns swanning around the East End. Now we have five a week coming out and all rapidly going down the pan. There is something fundamentally sad about our inability to produce a breadth of watchable films of a varied nature. No, it is no use pointing to the BAFTA winning 'Lord of the Rings' because it has a British cast, nor Harry Potter, nor Gosford Park, nor Iris, or In the Bedroom because all these award winning or Oscar nominated films are American funded. The writers and producers failing to find anyone in the UK who would finance them. All of Harry Potter's $650 has gone back to Hollywood, not Pinewood or wherever.

So what is the problem?
Well if this indicates anything - I was at a taping at Channel 4 the other day and Jeremy Bolt was there (a producer who has taken some risks and produced 'Shopping and 'Event Horizon'). Another producer was also there and he quickly thrust a script into Jeremy's hands with the shortest pitch ever 'It's like Buffy, only British and harder'.

Now I haven't read this script but I don't have to know what is going on here. Because, as William Goldman said, 'No one knows anything'. There is a strong belief that the easiest way to the moviegoing public's wallet is to copy success. If not a sequel, then just a rip-off will do. It's stand to reason then that Buffy in Manchester only harder with more blood and violence must be a winner. I hope not, but don't bet against it.

On Saturday 'Amelie' predictably won the French Best Film of the year award in France. With 204 films completed in 2001 France is on a roll and with high admission number's for French film, it's good to be appreciated in your own country and beat off the USA in your own backyard. Of course this doesn't happen very often and a lot of those films made will find it hard to get distribution, but they are cooking in France and long may it continue for the health of European film making in general.


Crimson Rivers

2001 was a watershed year for Gallic films ending with the very successful 'Amelie' being nominated for Oscars. There was also the strange but electric 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' the slick 'Crimson Rivers' and the clever, atypical Parisian love story 'Other people's taste'. This continues a trend where French film has been gaining in confidence. A few years back 'Diner au cons' proved that they had not lost any inventiveness in comedy and could still be wicked. This year 'Betty Fisher' will surprise you, '8 Women' is already a success in France in will travel well, being in plot similar to 'Gosford Park' but having a mostly all-female cast and one murder.

As France found confidence (aided and abetted by subsides from Canal + and others), we in the UK have sunk to new depths. Ignore 'Bond' and the other US financed films, we are talking British film here. Many people say we cannot make good films here because our TV is so good. Well that might have been true once, but TV is not what it was and it too is only concerned with sex and violence and the soaps even more so. Everyone is obsessed with living lives more grotesque than the next. This may also act as a constant feedback loop into our lives as violent crime gets completely out of hand in the UK (though I cannot prove any of that).

Everyone knows about (but have not seen) the really bad Brit films such as 'Janice Beard' funded by the lottery for £1.09 million and took nothing at the box office or the Martin Amis scripted 'Dead Babies' from his own novel which took just £3,274 total!. Yet the only way to finance a film in the UK now (aside from Merchant Ivory films) is with lottery money, usually around 20-30% of the budget, the rest coming from sale and leaseback arrangements. Even if you do make a Brit film (with a US star) such as the violent and ludricrous' 51st State' you will struggle to get distribution. '51st State' with Samuel Jackson in a kilt did find an audience and did make money in the UK, but will it travel? That remains to be seen.

We don't really have a British film industry, we have great actors, skilled technicians, some good writers, but because financing is so hard to do, precious few experienced producers and no tradition of polishing scripts. And I think there is the core of the problem. When we look at past great Ealing comedies, the scripts were great. They still are. But now, one sometimes gets the feeling that much gets made at the last minute and the script is the least developed part of of pre-production. Nevertheless for the last year, the film 'Sexy Beast' is a stand-out and finding audiences around the world. Sadly for every good film, there's ten unwatchable gangster films out there and yet more on the way.

In France where crime is not only on the rise, but the clear-up rate by the rather diffident police is lower than 20 percent at 'best', according to President Chirac at a recent hustings speech. So for respite the French flocked to see the feel good 'Amelie' as a tonic. More than once it seems. Although I prefered 'City of Lost Children' his prevous film, Amelie was a perfect gem of a movie and it's reasonable success in America and elsewhere is just in these confusing times.

Of course I am not advocating that we should dash out and make 'Amelie, only set in Newcastle but harder' but perhaps making something that genuinely inspires and makes us laugh would be good. ( I might add that the French also flocked to see 'Mulholland Drive' voted 'best Foreign movie' so they are not always a great guide to what is good filmmaking.) What constitues a British feel good movie? Well obvious candidates are 'Bridget Jones' or 'Wallace and Gromit '. Maybe you can think of more, or better yet, feel like writing one. Over to you I think
But this is the year we don't write gangster movies, right?

© Sam North 2002 - Editor

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