What was the vision behind FilmFour Lab when it was launched?
We set it up as a focus point in the company primarily on filmmakers about to embark on their first feature or those still doing shorts but who we wanted to keep an eye on for the future. So primarily its a new talent focus for the production division but from a FilmFour point of view its a great place to build lasting relationships with filmmakers. At the end of the day, talent is the motor of the industry; no talent, no films.
Thats the key motivation but obviously there are other parts to it. One of them being Channel 4s statutory remit to work with new talent, work with people outside London and to be a multicultural outlet. In film terms thats easier to do, within a lower budget, new talent form.
The other part is that FilmFour is a part of the film industry and for the industry to progress you have to have a bigger talent base.
Whats your personal view of the state of the industry?
I think the encouraging part is the development of bigger budget, more commercial films. Film is quite a slow turnaround as a business and if you look at FilmFours slate for next year theres a record number of their films at Sundance, theyve got Charlotte Gray, which is being distributed by Warners and includes an Oscar campaign for Cate Blanchett. Thats not just one film either, theres a record number of their FilmFour films being picked up by American distributors. So that side is good.
Whats of concern is that part of the industry that has always been driven by a patronage and really a very creative, uncommercial agenda. Thats part of the area Im working in with talented young filmmakers but it extends to the established filmmakers like Mike Leigh, Terrence Davies and Ken Loach that are landmarks in cinema, let alone the UK. You wonder where some of those directors will be in a few years time.
Ken Loachs latest film wasnt deemed viable as a theatrical release in this country. Then theres Terrence Davies was a very long time in finding finance for House of Mirth. Whats going to happen to people whose ambitions arent necessarily commercial.
So there is, to a degree, a platform for those sorts of directors to emerge through organisations like FilmFour Lab and the Film Councils New Cinema Fund. Its what happens to those talents after theyve emerged is the issue.
Take Andrew Kötting with This Filthy Earth or Dom Rotheroe with My Brother Tom. Now, both of them are hugely talented and, if they wanted to, they could develop and make commercial films but it isnt what they are driven to do.
What happens next for filmmakers like that? Theres almost a gulf opening up where nobody wants to be in the def zone of £2.5m to £3m films. Thats the area of concern because its difficult to predict whats going to happen.
How did, for example, Joel Hopkins with Jump Tomorrow come to your attention?
That was a first draft, quite a polished one, but I think the fact that hed done Jorge from it having won awards, there were clearly people who were tracking his progress.
Theres something with quite strong commercial appeal but which youve had trouble getting onto the big screen.
We found it very difficult to market. Thats the problem with that end of the industry; theres this huge difficulty with distributing a low budget film, invariably with an unknown cast and an unknown director. Its very difficult distributing them, getting them into the cinemas.
Did you only do one print?
Yeah, and then we are doing a package of that, This Filthy Earth and My Brother Tom as a tour, starting at the Bristol Watershed with some promotional material. Thats the way we are trying to maximise the promotion of all three, if they went out individually theyd probably get lost.
It must be very frustrating for the director to have a seemingly commercially viable project that doesnt see anything like the return it should. How do you go about convincing them to stay with you, after such a real experience of distribution and marketing Hell?
You can do all sorts of contractual things but the bottom line is, if the relationship doesnt work, it doesnt work and no amount of contracts will change that. I hope they can feel that FilmFour has given them a platform, not that they should feel they owe us in any way, but once development has begun both sides need to trust each other.