It’s February already and we haven’t yet graced you all with a 2017 blog, shame on us. But today it is raining, and London is generally pretty bleak, so we’ve set ourselves up in the lodge, with hot tea (how terribly British), for an interview (aka chat) regarding British film and independent filmmaking. I’ve adopted the role of interviewer and Marcus interviewee.
Marcus, what are your creative hopes and aspirations for 2017?
We’re going to be making a short film really soon; it’s a project that has come together quite quickly. It’s effectively a teaser for a feature. It’s already been written and we’re aiming to cast ASAP. We’re also working on a budget and schedule. Alongside this we’re waiting to hear back about casting for Crazy Blue. A big challenge for indie filmmakers is attracting the right cast to raise the profile of your film. It’s a very challenging time for independent film because filmmakers have even less opportunity to attract high profile talent, many of them are tied up with long term TV dramas, and generally the whole industry emphasis is on TV drama right now. The feedback I get is that the actors are only available for 5 week windows. On the plus side a lot of these actors still burn for, and yearn to do, high quality independent features; they want to do something they can be proud of. If you present high quality actors, with a story they can emotionally engage with then they often want to make the film.
Why do you think film is a special medium?
Film as a form is incredibly important and I don’t think its comparable to a long running TV drama series because what’s key about the feature film, the most powerful element, is the resolution at the end. It happens in theatre too, that the end scene delivers a statement about how the world is, or should be. With TV box sets the resolution is continuously delayed because they want the series to keep going. And this is why otherwise high-quality TV shows are often disappointing, their ending can’t match the rest of the series. But whether you are talking about a 10-minute short, or a 90-minute feature, or a box set there really should be a strong ending, because for me this is what gives audience satisfaction. The power of the feature film is that it can make a statement about the state of the world. Great endings are remembered, for example Annie Hall, or Casablanca. Casablanca’s ending contains loss and hope, and this to me reflects life, we have to let go but also remain hopeful – I love this ending. This is where films still have power and it’s why we celebrate film at events like the Oscars.
What has been your personal favourite film this awards season and why?
My favourite was La La Land and I think a lot of the negative reception it received was because it was so over hyped before it was released in the UK. I saw it at the London Film Festival and my jaw hit the floor from the opening scene, the film took me to another world. Yes, the film was a homage to the heyday of Hollywood but it was effectively asking audiences not to give up on film.
As a filmmaker, what is your favourite part of the filmmaking process?
I love the moment the set goes quiet and action is called, it’s a magical moment because until that point so much work has gone into getting you that far: script development, casting, hair and make-up, camera, art department, locations etc.
Is it really satisfying when a film is finished?
I don’t think you ever feel like a film is finished, even after a film is released. Audiences change, and films can be re-evaluated and newly appreciated. Papadopoulos and Sons was at an indie film festival recently and the audience was the warmest yet and I think that’s because we are going through such challenging times that this film has become even more hopeful. A film can become more or less relevant.
Should film tackle social or political issues?
I think a film can do anything. Yes, there are filmmakers (like Ken Loach) who have a very important part to play as a filmmaker. Ken challenges the UK system, especially questioning how we treat our vulnerable people. Yet I also like Rom Coms – we need as much diversity in the types of film we make, as we have in life.
What do you as a filmmaker want to achieve with you films?
I want to touch the heart and whether I do that with a movie that discusses politics, or with a Rom Com that makes people feel better, I just want to touch people’s hearts. It’s the greatest thing any artist can do.
I asked Marcus whether he felt that the UK had a problem with sentimental films.
Can the UK do heart-warming, emotion-led feature films?
Yes. British film critics, and audiences, will champion sentimental films such as Pride and Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire, The Kings Speech etc. If you give them quality feel-good they will support it.
I argued that films like Pride didn’t do very well at the box office, despite excellent reviews, and that other great UK produced films, such as Trash, disappeared without a trace. I wanted to find out why he thinks this is.
Is the UK film industry too focused on and too reliant on the American market?
Our Cineplex system is an extension of the American system, so yes, but the bigger question is where are our independent cinemas to support and show our independent films? In Germany these cinemas are everywhere, and they are packed with diverse audiences – we don’t have the tradition of supporting our own films. You can see British theatre because there is a tradition of theatre going. We do not have a system in place to support British indie film, which is a shame because there are huge audiences (normally older audiences) who want drama and not Transformers and Fast and Furious.
We acknowledged that the cinema model is very youth focused and that independent cinemas are only really successful in big cities (London, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield). But Marcus pointed out that cinema clubs sometimes fill the gap.
Is there a solution?
We have a tax break for indie filmmakers (whose films have provable British cultural content) but there should also be an incentive for the distributors and exhibitors to show these films. It does not make sense to help fund these films but then not help them get seen. There should be tax incentive for exhibitors and distributors to show British independent films. Then we might start being able to build up an audience. I also think that Britain needs a moral boost. Brexit has damaged our sense of self and film can help re-build the positive elements of British cultural identity (tolerance, intelligence, self-sacrifice).
It is a difficult time to be an independent filmmaker, and a difficult time to be British, but film does have the power to both lift our spirits and educate and enlighten us about the human experience, and this is why it will always be our favourite artistic medium.