An unlikely point of reference: A contribution to Creative Scotland’s Film Sector Review

Like every other Film-Maker in Scotland is doing (or should be doing!) at the moment, I’ve spent far too much (unpaid) time thinking and writing a contribution to the Creative Scotland Film Sector Review.And the question I’m left asking myself as I dispatch my e-mail into a digital void in nano-seconds is why I’ve even bothered in the first place, especially when no effort has been made on the part of the consultants employed or Creative Scotland to invite me or many others I know into the dialogue? The answer is that like many of my ignored and talented Peers who make a living from doing what they do and who still find ways of making their films and getting them seen, is that I care about what I do and want to live in an inclusive – rather than an exclusive – moving image sector.Yes money is important – it pays the rent and buys lager – but above all else when I wake up in the morning, I’m a film-maker. And I’m not going to go away, know my place or get a proper job making skinny lattes and pannini’s for Creative Scotland Officers or TV Executives.

 

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An unlikely point of reference?

Before tackling your questions I should point out that I am concerned about the manner in which this ‘open review’ has been conducted. A dialogue is a 2-way exchange at the least and at best (as I’ve been reminded) can be a round table process. You’ve failed to have that dialogue with us and many, many others, which is why my gut-reaction tells me that I’m probably pitching this contribution into a void, but here goes anyhow.

Times (as you need reminding) are tough for the independent production sector and for any creative freelancer in Scotland who doesn’t happen to have public subsidies/rich parents/second homes and/or academic salaries to underwrite their creativity. As a result of the current situation that exists in Scotland, my former producer (and partner) Marie Olesen and I after struggling to get projects off the ground on a minimum wage for far too long, finally decided that enough-was-enough and set about moving our careers as well as lives on elsewhere (Marie is now Commissioning Editor at New Danish Screen, while I’m freelancing and developing new projects out of both Denmark as well as Scotland) Despite receiving more BAFTA nominations in recent years than some of the broadcasters that Creative Scotland has so generously supported, our production company Autonomi, along with the outreach film scheme we were running Diversity Films, had it would seem, gone as far as we were going to be allowed to go in our adopted homeland (She’s Danish, I’m Estuary English – well kind of) It’s a tough call when you finally wake-up and realize that strong projects, hard work, a proven track record, continued self-investment and a positive outlook aren’t what it takes to get on professionally or even occasionally get listened to. But tough times need tough people who will always just get on with making films anyway – as well as speak out and bite the hand that occasionally feeds them.

In your view what would a thriving film sector in Scotland look like in ten years time?

There won’t be a ‘film sector’ in 3 years let alone 10 years time, because the technology, means of production and distribution, along with film-makers themselves are changing so rapidly that they’re leaving many ‘old school’ producers, funders and broadcasters behind in their wake and in risk of extinction. The old model ‘film sector’ you refer to has failed in Scotland. It’s broken and probably never really worked in the first place, while the basic economic survival of companies in the independent ‘sector’ has been undermined and under-cut by opportunist academics and risk-averse broadcasters, who want things made as cheaply as possible – preferably by ‘trusted talent’, i.e. brass-plated English companies with a ‘ghost’ office who still deliver and produce out of London, without having to dive into and explore the local talent pool – who they mostly reject any how for their lack of experience. So – whatever comes along in the next 3 minutes, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years needs to embrace a model that places artists, film-makers and producers of genuine vision and with new ideas of how to make and distribute their films at the epicentre of things.

 How do we get there?

To be blunt – you can’t continue running a Film sector like an exclusive curling club! Create a more even playing field by addressing the uneven development that has always plagued Scotland economically and culturally. To achieve this more funding is needed to support a coherent vision which challenges the current status-quo (which seems set on simply reinventing the wheel!) Politicians need to be lobbied and inspired to allocate significantly more cash then they are currently contributing towards creative output, while Scottish broadcasters should be made to contribute to the cash pot to help generate original productions, rather than just continue to use public subsidy to underwrite films that they sparingly and cynically support as commercial entities. In short there’s a BIG difference between a ‘Poor Cinema’ culture and Piss Poor TV! As a possible model, I would refer you to the talent development scheme New Danish Screen as a positive if imperfect example of how this can work, wherein broadcasters are legally required to contribute half the annual budget (an estimated 4m euros  – with no over-all editorial control).

Stop marginalizing and dismissing off-hand film-makers for simply going out with a camera and making films happen. For the record: Isn’t that how most independent documentaries attract funding now? Isn’t it exactly what the French New Wave did with their Camera-stylo philosophy? How Martin Scorsese made ‘Mean Streets’ and, closer to our home and hearts, exactly how Bill Forsyth/Paddy Higson made ‘That Sinking Feeling’?

Screen Education Not Film and TV Training. Encourage our film schools and academics to get on with doing what they should be doing: Acting as the intellectual champions of heretical ideas and champions of film history/theory and creative risk-taking – rather than simply being the trainers of young people for non-existent jobs in Film and TV, and/or running subsidized production companies as a lucrative side-line, that further their own careers as film-makers often at the expense of their students!

 What are our current strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths:

There seems to be a willingness to admit that you’ve got it wrong and are now conducting a dialogue (with some people if not all!). I’m intrigued to see, however, whether you have the strength to embrace change as a result of this consultation or simply reinvent the wheel as a I fear you will do if you just continue a private conversation with the usual suspects!? What’s wrong with a leap into the void if not a leap of faith, occasionally? After all isn’t the whole of the Scottish nation being asked to do as much next year?

Weaknesses:

You’re too close to politicians. Our art/culture just like the NHS and education systems, need to be fire-walled from all interfering politicians, unless of course they are capable of driving forward inspired new policies that strengthen the sector.

You’re too close to the managers and executives of failed corporate and financial institutions and not close enough to Scotland’s diverse culture. Perhaps it’s time to drop the flawed neo-liberal model that you’ve been following? Like the founders of Zentropa (Lars Von Trier and Peter Aalbek) did try reading Chairman Mao when you create a new film sector model.

Lack of Respect  =  A climate of mistrust. Just like the heads of our TV stations – some of you have been in your jobs for far too long or even worse don’t have the track-record or credibility to justify the respect you should instantly get from experienced producers and mavericks in the sector alike. When we meet with you it would be good to have a creative dialogue and a meeting of minds. Give us artistic rather than subjective feedback and stop thinking about the market incessantly. You’re a cultural agency not a bank – and certainly not an advertising agency come to think of it.

You’re not here to underwrite cash-rich broadcasters help them meet their shortfalls and be apologists for their calculated, risk averse behaviour. Nor are you here to fund cookery shows and for the record: Many of us didn’t become film-makers to simply make the films channel controllers want made on their behalf. As stated elsewhere, if broadcasters take from the pot, then surely these organizations (funded by the public already in some cases) should be obliged to put cash back in with no strings or projects attached, to help drive forward the art of film-making and hence ways of seeing and understanding ourselves.

 How do we address those?

Stop talking about ‘Film’ in the limited sense that you are doing with the elite you are talking to in private or over dinner. Some of the best film-makers now tend to be trained as visual artists and, just like many Scottish film producers, have never been near the stuff that is traditionally called film i.e. celluloid. Go out and speak to them.

Embrace Creative diversity fully not selectively:Act on the 2010 Diversity Act and support the visions of individuals from a more diverse range of backgrounds than is currently the (privileged) case. A film culture/sector can only thrive if it genuinely represents all of society. It takes more than funding however to achieve this but also engagement and out-reach. A few more film-makers from working class backgrounds and housing schemes wouldn’t go amiss either – irrespective of their gender!

Creative Scotland officers should be given fixed 2 year contracts with an option of a further 2 years maximum before they have to move on. Equally ex-officers should not be allowed to apply directly for funds for a year after they leave their posts. For far too long Scottish Screen’s ‘game keepers’ have left and immediately gone on to become the heavily subsidized ‘poachers’ of the independent sector.

Stop underwriting broadcasters’ shortfalls and tackle their mean spiritedness (both economically and intellectually).Make them pay their way and contribute by far the largest percentage of cash into the projects they bring to the table for support without relying on deferrals and ‘in-kind’ contributions from well meaning and in some cases naive producers to make equations work. It is a rip-off that favours those with money already that don’t want to spend it, rather than those that are more culturally deserving of support. Remember the money allocated for the film pot doesn’t get handed down to you with a list of names already attached to it  –  or does it?!

Introduce a compulsory levy and a ‘Film Law’ on Broadcasters in the Scottish Parliament which is updated every 4 years (as is the case in Denmark, Sweden and Norway) – somehow though, I don’t think the political will, let alone the passion or baws are there to do this!?

Please be clear about who you consider to be ‘talent’– At least so people don’t waste time and precious lives pissing in the wind on projects you have no intention of supporting. Also tell us just who makes these decisions in the first place and who assess our creative submissions. Giving our projects for instance to our rivals in the sector for assessment is not ‘consultation’ it’s a way of undermining what we do through unfair competition practises (ref level playing field).

What single action would make the biggest difference to film in Scotland?

Certainly not just a film-studio! The whole idea (Hollywood on the Clyde again 25 years on?) is a symptom of where the real problem lies:  Uneven development. Start to believe in ALL Scottish Talent and creativity and embrace cultural diversity in an inclusive, rather than as is the case at the moment an increasingly ‘exclusive’ manner. Finally, make sure Scottish productions are exhibited and distributed in Scotland at least and are also showcased rather than marginalized or rejected by often ‘reactionary’ film festivals, which seem proud to otherwise keep-up the cultural hegemony that will go on unchallenged if no one starts thinking and acting differently.

 For the record : For 20 years I’ve been involved in running and making ground-breaking productions for 2 award winning production companies based in Scotland (Pictorial Heroes and Autonomi) I’ve received critical acclaim as a pioneering digital film-maker at film festivals worldwide and before that was internationally recognized as a video artist.In the past I was involved among other things in setting up Transmission Gallery and also sat on the Scottish Arts Council’s Visual Arts panel in the early 1990’s where I was instrumental in making a conservative arts establishment accept moving image as a bona-fide art-form. More recently along with keeping Autonomi alive, I’ve been involved as a project mentor with Diversity Films, a film-making out-reach project that had a policy of cultural inclusion rather than of exclusion. Sadly and despite the fact that the former Chief Executive of Creative Scotland mentioned it at countless events as a ‘model’ organization, Diversity Films ended up the victim of an internal botch (or hatchet?) job at Creative Scotland – probably because we didn’t make zombie movies!  

I’m currently working out of Glasgow and Copenhagen and developing new projects for TV, Cinema and Art galleries.

 Please Note: I am hard of hearing so I prefer to either meet face-to-face or to be contacted via my website www.dougaubrey.eu or me@dougaubrey.eu should you require any further information.