There is no shortage of resources for new and emerging filmmakers; there are courses, free and paid; apps, some excellent and some not-so-good; there are many, many books written about every aspect of the art from writing the script to where to stay in Cannes when you’re sending your new baby out into a world of adoring soon-to-be fans.
All of these, to a greater or lesser degree, have their uses; but, if like me, you are involved in the production of shorts and / or features in the UK, there is one resource that will make you angry, very angry. A book (and documentary film) that will make your blood boil and, if you’re anything like me, wonder why you decided to become involved in the obviously pointless world of UK film making in the first place.
If it doesn’t make you angry; if it doesn’t make you want to scream in rage; if it doesn’t make you say “This has ALL got to change” then you’d better go and do something else because, believe you me, you might think you love film and cinema, but you most certainly don’t!
The book “Who Killed British Cinema?” by Vinod Mahindru and Jonathan Gems, is an in-depth and comprehensive look at the British film industry – or rather, the lack of it – from its glory days when it was the second largest in the world to the present day where there is not one single British movie studio and 98% of the films in our cinemas are made by foreign entities.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not a xenophobic Brexiteer Little Englander who thinks everything ‘foreign’ is bad; far from it. I’m a Remainer who has spent many years of his creative life in Europe, who loves the cinema of Bergman, Fassbinder (Rainer Werner rather than Michael) and Truffaut but who also grew up with, and has deeply rooted in his soul, the magnificent films of Michael Powell, Emeric Presburger, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Chrichton and David Lean – not to mention Terence Davies, Derek Jarman and Peter Greenaway. Films that truly express our national identity, what it means to be British with all its peculiar sensibilities, films that show our individualities and uniqueness in a way that the current diet of pap served up at the multiplexes could never hope to achieve.
The book examines the way in which film funding has gone in this country, the role of such bodies as the BFI, BAFTA, the erstwhile Regional Screen Agencies, Creative England and, most interestingly the policy of successive governments, that have led to the demise of our most successful creative industry.
Read it. Watch the documentary. Listen to what ex-CEO’s of these august bodies say about spending 65% of their agency’s budget not on film production but on admin and salaries. Read about funding bodies who fund production companies owned by members of the funding bodies who granted the funds in the first place. Do this and don’t get mad, I dare you !
This is not a negative book, nor a negative film. It is rather a call to arms for every film maker in the UK to say “This is not right, this has to change”; I found it inspirational; I found that, though my blood boiled at the sheer injustice of it all, it has increased my determination to succeed ten-fold. As Buckminster Fuller is quoted at the end of the documentary film:
“ You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
If you buy one book about film making, let it be this one. It will change your life and – who knows? – maybe just help you to reinvent our beloved industry.
It’s a fantastic insider’s take of the insidious Hollywood bureaucracy and the creative force which, though often prevented, shines through and ultimately makes the industry progress. Gems references people he met as fountains of knowledge, but for me JG has that same star quality. The way that the conversation flowed illustrates that he was truly engaged with you and was eager to explain the ins and outs of film making.
I found it fascinating that he and Burton were able to take so many risks in this modern era of conglomerate films. His comments are a refreshing insight into a Hollywood which is in desperate need of being spruced up.
In the final interview, JG’s personality really comes out to play. I think as he got used to talking he began to loosen up and say things he wouldn’t have normally said in a bog-standard interview for GQ or the like. He becomes quite malleable as the interview goes on, with gentle prompts, and starts to connect dots between bad things that have happened to artists who have rocked the status quo and his own situation. This is very clear in the final interview when he chats about Legislative vs Liberal governments and the tragic circumstances of his disease.
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding who runs Hollywood and these interviews show that a shady underbelly censors what is broadcast to the world and thus controls the zeitgeist of its time. Whether that be Independence Day, or another patriotic war film which comes off the production line, it is clear that these institutions synthesise together into a ‘Military Industrial Complex, as Noam Chomsky would put it.
From an unbiased readers point of view I strongly believe this would be well received because it interlaces fun Hollywood gossip & stories with real world issues in a style not confrontational nor rigid. It flows nicely and I’m a quick reader so it took me probably a day or two to read fully and it’s the kind of book which is easy to dip into as each topic blends into the next.
Recently I’ve been reading Hunter S Thompson’s book ‘The Great Shark Hunt‘ (it’s a collection of articles he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine and other sports editorials). But basically what he says is that the hardest job as a journalist is to make your interview come across as natural as possible so as to not stifle or box in the person you’re interviewing. And I think this has been done that brilliantly as JG jumps from nostalgia to rant in the blink of an eye; a sign you’re not talking to a cardboard cut-out!
All in all, I think this is a really good read and one I’d read again, such was the quality of the conversation.