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netribution > features > interview with robin gutch > page one
After much deliberation, scores of emails and phone calls and cancelled appointments (on both sides) that stretched back to February, I finally got the chance to interview Robin Gutch. On the way to meet the Head of FilmFour Lab, at his 4th floor office on London's Charlotte St, my journey was beset by delays too munerous and obscure to mention. The closer I got I became more and more convinced that fellow pedestrians were actually stepping out in front of me, maybe I wouldn't be allowed to make my appointment. I felt fate had ordered that elderly fellow to tie his shoelace there, steered that pushchair across my path, and where did that World Peace volunteer appear from?! I made it of course, sweating and cursing, but I made it.
Regular Netribution viwers will know that Robin's three Lab films - Jump Tomorrow, This Filthy Earth and My Brother Tom - were all released recently. We talked about the usual; the Lab's vision, sourcing talent, high budgets and, crucially, about ideal applications, the commercial prospects of typical Lab films. Then we briefly discussed Spirit Dance, Forest Whitaker's black/asian independent film production company that's funded by FilmFour. Throughout our conversation, Robin kept referrring to the next Lab film, The Principles of Lust, which currently shooting in Sheffield. Now I might be lucky enough to get close to this movie and, from what Robin and many others have said, it looks a cracker. Keep an eye out

Ps - for those who give a damn, I made it home safely and without Destiny's petty intervention..

| by tom fogg |
| photos by tom fogg |
| in london |

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 it’s a new talent focus for the production division but from a FilmFour point of view it’s 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.

That’s the key motivation but obviously there are other parts to it. One of them being Channel 4’s statutory remit to work with new talent, work with people outside London and to be a multicultural outlet. In film terms that’s 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.

What’s 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 FilmFour’s slate for next year there’s a record number of their films at Sundance, they’ve got Charlotte Gray, which is being distributed by Warners and includes an Oscar campaign for Cate Blanchett. That’s not just one film either, there’s a record number of their FilmFour films being picked up by American distributors. So that side is good.

What’s of concern is that part of the industry that has always been driven by a patronage and really a very creative, uncommercial agenda. That’s part of the area I’m 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 Loach’s latest film wasn’t deemed viable as a theatrical release in this country. Then there’s Terrence Davies was a very long time in finding finance for House of Mirth. What’s going to happen to people whose ambitions aren’t 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 Council’s New Cinema Fund. It’s what happens to those talents after they’ve 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 isn’t what they are driven to do.

What happens next for filmmakers like that? There’s almost a gulf opening up where nobody wants to be in the def zone of 2.5m to 3m films. That’s the area of concern because it’s difficult to predict what’s 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 he’d done Jorge from it having won awards, there were clearly people who were tracking his progress.

There’s something with quite strong commercial appeal but which you’ve had trouble getting onto the big screen.

We found it very difficult to market. That’s the problem with that end of the industry; there’s this huge difficulty with distributing a low budget film, invariably with an unknown cast and an unknown director. It’s 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. That’s the way we are trying to maximise the promotion of all three, if they went out individually they’d probably get lost.

It must be very frustrating for the director to have a seemingly commercially viable project that doesn’t 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 doesn’t work, it doesn’t 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.

 
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