“The Death of the Middle”

newsnightI’m busy watching Newsnight Review and they’re doing a special on how the credit-crunch will affect the arts.

Now, in times of recession, you might think that government cutting arts spending is the shrewd thing to do – as one of tonight’s pundits put it: “a kidney machine always trumps the arts.”

It’s a valid point.

We’re already seeing the effects of the recession in the arts. Shows on  Broadway and the in West End are closing early as theatre attendance drops, and out-of-towners stay away in droves.  I’m suprised to hear that British cinema box-office takings are down, year on year – even if it’s only by one percent – as American box-office is up, just like it was back in the great recession of the 30’s.  It seems, when Americans tighten their belt, they still find the cash to go to the movies for their mass escapism.

The comment that caught my ear (and that inspired this article) came from Mike Newell, saying that the sub £6-million movies will get made, and the block-buster movies of £40-50-million-plus will get made, but those in between won’t get made.

Hmm. An interesting point that was picked-up by the Newsnight pundits, who called this “the death of the middle,” agreeing with Newell that “interesting” works will not be produced – assuming that “interesting” has a production value of, say, £10-30 million.

One pundit said that Brokeback Mountain “wouldn’t get made these days.”

What utter bollocks.

Production budget around the $14 million mark – so it’s right in that “middle” they’re talking of – with a worldwise gross of more than 10 times that.

You’re honestly telling me that any producer worth their salt isn’t going to greenlight a “cheap” movie like this, directed by a multi-award winning director, starring multi-award winning actors.

Really?

Get a clue!

I think what they really mean is, that sized budget movie won’t get shot in the UK. And there’s the rub…

Not really news, I’m afraid.  That size of movie rarely gets shot in this country – I’ve been hearing that from producers for years – ever since I worked on my very first micro-budget feature.

The reasons are simple:  You can whip-up enough private investment to make your own sub £6-million picture.  It’s not actually that difficult – honestly.  I’ve worked with a bunch of guys who’ve had little to no experience of working in movies, but they’ve had a script, a dream and the balls to get their film made.

But to make something that costs £40-million plus, you need a massive company with pockets deep enough to not make a penny of profit for the first three years.  Those big studios have weathered storms like this before – they’ll do it again.  Never fear – your summer blockbusters are safe for another season.

But, pity the poor British Film Industry…

Well, industry… really… cottage industry, perhaps.  It’s not a real business.  It lives hand-to-mouth, stumbling from shot to shot, picking up the occasional crumb from our American cousins.  We really don’t have a studio system like the USA, India, China.  Hell, even France has a stronger studio system than we do.  We haven’t had a studio system for at least 30 years.

And I’m sitting here, listening to the august tones of the esteemed pundits on Newsnight Review, as they gnash their teeth over the death of British cinema.

Have they all been going to the same movies as me?

Hell, are they all living in the same century as the rest of us?

Never fear – the credit crunch will have little lasting impact on the British Film Industry, because there is no British Film Industry.

Oh thank god – they’ve gone from my magic telly box and have been replaced by a Mark Kermode doco’ on Baz Luhrmann.  That’s more like it!

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~ by mchawk on 13 December, 2008.

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