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Paul Trijbits: Red Road and Ken Loach Cannes double is dream swansong

paul trijbits To win one major Cannes award is fortunate. To win two, is just plain careless. The suprise double win for Ken Loach's The Wind that Blows the Barley and Andrea Arnold's Red Road at Cannes on Sunday night, is a stunning endorsement of Paul Trijbits' reign at the New Cinema Fund as the UK Film Council advertise for his replacement.

"for a first time film maker to win the Prix du Jury is an amazing achievement"

"To have two British Lottery funded films in Competition in Cannes was in itself a tremendous achievement, but now to have one film win the Palme d’Or and the other win the Prix du Jury is an outstanding testament to the talent, creativity and vision of Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold."
"It is fantastic that Ken Loach has won the most important accolade in the film world, the Palme d’Or, with The Wind That Shakes the Barley.  Ken continues on his quest of raising difficult political issues and has made one of his most powerful films in a most uncompromising way.”
"For Andrea Arnold to have her film screened in competition alongside internationally recognised directors such as Pedro Almodóvar and Ken Loach was recognition in itself.  And now for a first time film maker to win the Prix du Jury is an amazing achievement.  With Red Road, Andrea has created a stunningly visual film which reaches to the very heart of society through uncompromising observations using CCTV. This shows that she is one of the most exciting, new filmmakers in the world."

paul trijbits This interview was originally conducted in April 2005 and  appeared in an edited form in Netribution's UK Film Finance Handbook, How To Fund Your Film

Can you give a quick outline of what’s on the slate at the moment?
Starting with what’s being released we’ve got Bullet Boy which is Saul Dibbs’ directorial debut, staring Ashley Walters from So Solid Crew. It’s the fourth film out of the joint BBC Films, BBC2 and New Cinema Fund slate of low budget films that in the past delivered Tomorrow La Scala, Francesca Joseph’s film; Sarah Gavron’s film, This Little Life and this the next one. It’s a story as it happens about black youths, two black brothers, and gun violence and bad things that happen on a particular stretch of a Hackney estate. But it’s quite interesting because it’s the first time a film of this nature has been released in the UK and on 75 prints.

That’s the first one, the ones that are completed and ready to find a way out are Michael Caton Jones film Shooting Dogs, which is a story set in Rwanda which is completed and (launched) in Cannes. There is a documentary called Diameter of the Bomb which is a reconstruction of a bomb blast that took place on a bus in Israel. And we have the most recent offering from the uncompromising British filmmakers, the Brothers Quay, with their film The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Those are the ones that are all completed, are actually finished. In post at the moment is the new film from Richard Jobson called A Woman in Winter. Those are the five that are currently in play.

Has the Exhibition Fund helped with the Bullet Boy prints?
Yes they have.

How common is it that a film goes on from production finance to distribution or exhibition finance support at the Film Council?
Well they’re not linked. All the funds are run separately, and pretty much at arms length and the fund that Peter Buckingham is responsible for will judge each application on its merits. And I think not every film that we’ve been involved in or that Robert Jones, the department head of the Premiere Fund, been involved in has had support, but some have – Young Adam got P&A support, Vera Drake got P&A support.

How many films do you finance a year?
Feature films – between 7 and 10. It varies a little bit. As you are aware we fund and make happen about 130 short films every year into two different programmes, the digital shorts film program which delivers about 100 films, and then we run a programme called Cinema Extreme, and a number of other short film programmes

Can you run through those?
We run a completion fund which makes about 8-10 films a year, that’s films that have already been made and are looking for completion funding, and in the past we’ve run a comedy shorts programme, a viral short programme, each year or other year we do different things.

Often we do those things as a one off. We look at where together with partners we think there is an opportunity or need to provide support in a particular area. Which is really very much a part of the shorts funding programme, which is very sizeable - about 20% of our annual budget - goes on the support of short films and short film making and that kind of R&D. And it is very much seen by us as R&D. To renew the areas where you may do research and development

And you’ve also been investing in a BBC initiative to put shorts on the BBC website?
It’s one of the things that’s in the Film Council’s remit - to engage the broadcasters at a higher and better level with filmmaking and film per se. We’ve been working very closely together with different parts of the BBC and this is the one of the first pilot projects and it is only a pilot where we have made available a number of the digital shorts for people to view them on the BBC Interactive site.

In terms of distribution and getting shorts seen have you any general advice for producers?
Shorts films for us and the amount of money that we invest in it is very much seen as R&D. And I am personally and the fund as a whole are of the opinion that short films aren’t particularly worth much money, if any. And that’s not probably the right reason for making them because the number of traditional outlets for them both at the cinema or on television has virtually dried up. So what we are doing is very much using it, and the amount of money that we investing, as R&D. The fact that they get seen and we’ve come up with, I think, with some interesting ideas as to how they can be seen is a bonus for us. And the way that we do it is we try to be more specific and more targeted. So it’s not a case of we put a bunch of our films from the Cinema Extreme programme on the front cover of Dazed and Confused. We recently created USB memory sticks that we used at the Talent Campus. So that another way of promoting the films as opposed to distributing them, promoting them to an audience that is likely to enjoy watching those kinds of films.

Is there a danger that the filmmakers who don’t get money for the shorts will complain that all the money is going to further enhance the careers of those lucky enough to get production finance?
Well, listen, we broadened the base of the number of people to make short films by a factor – I don’t know how much - of 20 or 30, it’s very substantial. We’ve increased the number of short films from very little to 130 a year so first of all that must be good, there is more opportunity for people. Secondly (there is) the completion fund and those films made outside the Film Council funding system that we help support by completing them. And lastly there are many other places, agencies, including broadcasters all over the country that have different opportunities for short filmmakers – not short filmmakers, sounds like they are challenged by height – but filmmakers that wish to experiment and show their skill in the making of a short film.

We cannot be and never would attempt or would like to be in a position where we are supposed to be the answer to everyone’s desires, wishes and demands.

How do you deal with the constant criticism and attacks from different quarters, because everybody obviously wants things done their way - and they want their money quick?
Well we’re not a cash point. It’s not like put in your script, punch in a code and out comes your money. The way that the board of the Film Council decided to setup the funds and appoint fund heads for a period of time - and by the way that’s a tradition in the UK that predates the Film Council - British Screen and even the Film Finance Corporation were run by individuals who made the choices as to what films with the limited resources that were available, what investments should be made. Also remember we never fully fund we’re only part of the funding of any particular fund whether it be New Cinema Fund or Premiere Fund.

With Sally Caplan coming into the Premiere fund do you envisage any cultural changes at the Film Council in general?
I’ve worked with her as a distributor, she’s very much liked. All these jobs are tough jobs because you’re going to say no 95% of the time to all the people that come and ask you for their films to be funded and supported. And because we are public money, people feel that they have more of a right - if a distributor decides not to take your film you just move on. That’s a generic sort of talking about how you deal with the criticism. You have to accept that it is one of the things that will come up when you run the New Cinema or Premiere fund for a while
(Sally) brings a number of skills that I think are key to running the Premiere Fund which is having done acquisitions and distribution . If you’re going to run a fund that’s more market driven and try to find films that will work for the broadest audience possible, that’s a pretty good set of skills to have had. I think in the case of the New Cinema fund where of course we’d like our films as much as is appropriate to have the widest audience as possible you are going to by choice have some films that won’t do that. But that’s in keeping with the general philosophy and the remit of the fund.

What is the New Cinema fund looking for?
Someone was criticising me and the fund bv saying it was impossible to gauge what kind of films we might go for. I know it wasn’t meant as a compliment but I have to say I have quietly and privately taken it as a complement as I see it as exactly the role of the New Cinema fund and the fund head to support and back as broad a range of films as you can humanely possible support, so whether on the one hand you do like digital creative film like This is Not a Love Song, to a more mainstream like Anita and Me or you do Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday or you a documentary like touching the void, or Alex Cox’s Revengers Tragedy. I could go on but it’s a very broad range of films. I think that’s what I see us wanting to continue to do. I think what will be interesting, is looking at films we’ve done - we’ve been involved in about 38 or 39 and to try to look at the ambition of the films and filmmakers and our hopes and ambitions for those films and see what’s happened to them.

Have you any numbers on how those films have performed. Have any, many of them made their money back?
There’s a couple of films. Of course when you do Touching the Void or Magedelene Sisters for very little money they do extremely well, there’s at least two films that are in net profit, which is pretty healthy. It’s quite hard because - with money on films it’s either very successful and it works. Some films take a very long time and it trickles and trickles and trickles and you have to project income over 5, 6,7 ,8 years  and possibly even longer than that before you might know what it does. Some films are more perennial to take some garden analogy - the crocuses in the spring season.

And it is a very distinct feature of the New Cinema Fund that the prime measure is not money or recoupment because that would stop films getting made. It’s about are they going to say something other films haven’t said. Are they going to represent Britain at major film festivals and show a different part of British culture. That is as important if not more important as the recoupment on a single film.You’ve got to remember that it’s got tougher. The market for independent films is a volatile and an ever-changing world. At the moment, for instance, the studios, through all their specialty divisions, are competing very aggressively in making independent films with budgets of 15, 18, 20 million dollars. And that’s competing for the same audience as some of our much smaller budget independent films. So it’s tough out there at the moment.

The word packaging and the New Cinema fund I don’t think particular go well together.

What advice you would give to someone applying to the New Cinema fund on how to present themselves or package their product?
The word packaging and the New Cinema fund I don’t think particular go well together. The very first thing that we’re interested in is the material, in the script, and in the vision of the filmmaker. That is what we make our first assessment on. I really do say that everything else will come later. Of course if you have other financing partners or you have talent attached then that can be very helpful. But the New Cinema fund has become the first port of call for filmmaker and producers to come to and we tend to come in first rather than last.I think what is helpful for producers - look at the kind of films we’ve done, look at the range of films we’ve done, look at the range of budgets and the sums of money that we’ve invested.

I do sometimes worry that people don’t do quite enough homework and look at the things we’ve done and at the things that are realistic. And I think other than what the fund remit is itself is, for instance, The Relph Report, which is a very important tool about why might a film cost what it cost. What could it cost, what should it cost. It’s something that I think British producers have not been particularly good in trying to cast their budget to the market and the market in this case is not purely the commercial market, part of the support mechanism such as the Film Council and the BBC and FilmFour.

Many many films have been made for too much money that will never work. Either commercially or semi-commercially. And that is something I think people should pay more attention to.

What sort of projects are you looking for?
We’ve had a long discussion with a couple of agents in this office. For a little while we did some monitoring on the different types of films that exist. We’ve been monitoring the different types of films that exist. It is interesting and sometimes worrying tat 90% of the material we receive is drama. And I mean serious drama. If you go and speak to a distributor they will say, no, not another unrelenting drama. I think it’s fair to say that Britain is itself in Cinema in  Drama, but looking at the number  of applications we get there isn’t an appetite for only doing that. Now I’m not suggesting we only make science fiction films or horror films, because probably that will take years to develop the skill or ingenuity to pull that off. But maybe drama with a twist, or drama with an infusion of comedy instead of very very tough drama which is what the majority of what we receive.

With Film London planning to launch a microbudget fund do you see NC moving into that area where you might 100% finance a film for $100,000 or $200,000?
(long pause) Well, we are in the process at the moment with Film Four to see if we can stimulate a particular kind of low budget filmmaking. Maybe, not dissimilar to a scheme we run with the BBC, but more holistically organised and funded through a low budget film scheme. And we’re hoping we are able, and we’re in the process of trying to ascertain whether there is the appetite of other funders and appropriate companies  to manage such a programme, and the idea is that we would be able to create an opportunity for maybe 8,10 films over a period of time to be fully funded and to be made in a more protected environment if you like. I don’t think those budgets will be as low as what Film London is proposing but they will be between I think half a million and a million pounds.

And do you see the DV playing a big part in bringing budgets down?
Digital is an interesting thing – we were talking about that too. Digital is often confused with a Dogme style of filmmaker, and Dogme has had its day if you ask me, I’m not sure, but that’s what I think. And digital is either just a production technology and a means to an end. It may not or may not influence the language of film. Most of the time it doesn’t. I think it’s interesting when it does. Most of the time people just think it’s cheap because it’s digital.