Wednesday, 26 March 2014

What is a feature film?

Its an odd time to be a filmmaker.

I've made three feature films to date and am shooting my next one shortly.
Inevitably, there are questions that arise...

How much do you talk about it?
Who should you tell?
How should you tell them?
Does anyone give a shit?

(that last one usually crops up on a Monday)

When I started, if you said "I'm making a feature", people would almost drop to one knee and bow their heads in deference.
There was a genuine awe about the process and it felt very special.
The truth is, nowadays, anyone can make a feature film.
Take a domestic HD camera and shoot something thats 90 mins long.  Bingo!   Feature film.
Crowdfunding has empowered people to fund their own films, and online distribution platforms means you can reach an audience, albeit on a severely reduced level.

I'm not judging this trend, just acknowledging it and wondering what impact its having on the nature and perception of the feature film.

To be honest, parts of it make me feel uncomfortable.
When I started I had to fight REALLY hard to justify why I was making my first film and had to work very very hard to get investment and then distribution.
So, the fact that anyone can go out there and make any film without any quality control is a problematic one.
But you could also argue that it means that true artists can now make their work without restriction.
I mean, what do those suit-wearing investors know anyway, right?

For me, a feature film is precious.  From its inception to release. It has to be protected and nurtured and then released to the world carefully and in just the right way.
For low budget filmmakers they have to be so careful.  If you have an online presence you could be seen to be begging. For funding, for support, for an audience... and the film then starts to feel like it's not good enough for someone to pay to see.
There's no greater turn-off for a movie audience than the word "please".  Not when you're up against the studio movies with their "The GREATEST movie of our time" quotes on their posters.
If you're a paying punter you want some assurance your £10-£20 of hard earned money is going to be rewarded with a good cinematic experience.

I'm curious to see where all this leads.

The production and distribution model in the UK is on the brink of collapse.
That's no exaggeration.  Look at the box office for the UK films released in the last 2-3 years.
At the time of writing, Starred Up, a heavily promoted, well reviewed, and widely distributed film, has under performed.  It's just one of a line of films that has UK distributors scratching their heads.
With the physical media market drying up as well, and margins from online distribution a fraction of physical media, its getting harder to justify budgets for films.

Movies in the UK are now dropping under the £100k production budget level, because, frankly, they don't recoup their investment.
Sales agents and distributors are now dictating the kinds of films being made.  So called "made for market" films.  A daft policy, given the 1-2 year turnaround of the average feature, rendering any market-led concept out of date.

As a cinema goer, why would I pay £10 to go see a "made for market" sub-£100k movie, when I can see a slick big budget Hollywood movie, or a decently funded and artistically driven European film?

Something has to give.

As more feature films are made, the onus is on the filmmakers to come up with movies that rise out of this over-populated sea of content.

In a world where even Terry Gilliam is turning to Crowd-funding and Crowd-led distribution, we have to really question where we are headed as filmmakers.

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