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Sir Ian Bowler, MP, explains the ins and outs of the new system.

Everyone wants to save the Film Council. Mike Leigh wants to save the Film Council; Hannibal from The A-Team wants to save the Film Council; 42,000 people on Facebook want to save the Film Council. Everyone wants to save the Film Council. Even Clint Eastwood, who eats financiers for breakfast and cleans his teeth with the sharpened bones of distributors, wants to save the Film Council.

Say what?

When a self-proclaimed libertarian like Clint Eastwood is arguing that you should keep a government body to subsidise a product that competes with the one he is producing, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what’s actually going on. And that’s when you discover that not everyone wants to save the Film Council.

There is a small group of film-makers – mostly independent, mostly young – who don’t want to save the Film Council. Not at all. In fact, you get the feeling they’d quite happily burn the Film Council to the ground, and dance in the ashes.

They’re making quite a compelling case that the UK Film Council was simply a way of subsidising the production and distribution of Hollywood films in Britain. Which is exactly the same point Clint Eastwood made.

Chris Atkins, director of Taking Liberties, is one of the more visible members of this relatively-small ‘movement‘ (the ‘Get Rid of the Film Council’ group on Facebook has 123 members), but other prominent supporters of the UKFC’s closure are Alex Cox and Jonathan Gems (screenwriter of Mars Attacks and 1984).

These filmmakers point to the £200,000 given to Warner Bros to help with print and poster campaigns for their movies, as well as the £140,000 given to Disney in 2006. They point to the £144,000 given to distribute U2-3D and the £154,000 to She’s All Right, and wonder why the taxpayer is subsidising what are essentially extended marketing campaigns for millionaire rock stars.

They point to the Digital Screens Network, which, when it was announced in 2004, was meant to spend £14 million in putting digital projectors in 200 cinemas in Britain, so that smaller films could be distributed cheaply on hard drives, rather than having to get celluloid prints produced. However, rather than ensuring an open system, the UKFC caved to the ‘anti-piracy’ lobby, who insisted that these hard drives be encoded in a unique way. A unique way that is only done by one company in Britain, and which costs £5,000.

The cinemas also took this opportunity to put the digital projectors on their main screens, rather than their smaller screens. So, now the digital screens are used to cheaply distribute CGI animations on big screens, and are utterly inaccessible to independent film-makers, who still have to shell out for prints to be distributed to cinemas.

For EXAM, Stuart Hazeldine was offered 25 screens if he could afford prints for all of them (he tells the story in the comments section of this post). He couldn’t and the UKFC didn’t help. The film ended up opening on 8 screens. As he says: “I got a BAFTA nom for a film nobody saw.”

In some ways this seems to stem from an objection to one of the UKFC’s roles, what it liked to call ‘inward investment’. This was ensuring that Hollywood production money was spent in Britain’s studios, edit suites, and quaint villages. If you see this as the UKFC’s primary function, then it has arguably been a huge success (although the current financial troubles of Pinewood-Shepperton, and it’s failure to get planning permission for its large expansion suggest that the UKFC could have done more here, too).

Some, however, see using Britain as a ‘production house’ for Hollywood films, where all of the returns go back to studios in the US (like the Harry Potter or James Bond franchises) actually stifles any chance of having a British film industry. Jonathan Gems is quite persuasive in arguing that what the UKFC understood as British films weren’t, in a lot of cases, British in any meaningful sense (although his unfortunate choice of last line moves firmly into Little Englander, Blimp-esque territory).

Myself, I instinctively felt the old, hot ball of rage swell within me when the closure of the Film Council was announced. Like any right-thinking, left-leaning arts practitioner, it was quite heartening to feel the Dragon of Horror At Things The Tories Do stir within the cave where he’s slept since 1997. His replacement, the Impotent, Hoarse Donkey of New Labour Betrayal was never quite the same…

However, I’ve long argued that we should stop subsidising production, and, instead, spend that money subsidising distribution. I believe that the problem with attracting private investors is mainly because it’s so difficult to get a film into cinemas. If it were cheap and easy for a film to be shown on digital screens, and distributed on hard drives, and there were a financial incentive for a cinema to show local films, then it would be much easier to raise the funds for productions. The way to kickstart the industry is to give private investors a (high-risk) way of making a serious return on their investment, rather than ensuring that they will have to sell their film to a US- or French-owned studio in order to get it into cinemas.

So I am sympathetic to those who see the demise of the UKFC as an opportunity for a real and basic change in the way the British ‘film industry’ works. However, I don’t share their optimism.

The government is not attempting a major rethink of its strategy with regard to the way in which films are produced and distributed in this country. It became quite clear in the day following the announcement that they hadn’t even thought very hard about what was to replace the Film Council. It probably made Jeremy Hunt look quite good in Cabinet the next morning. Maybe he got to carry David Cameron’s books for him. It was a piece of macho posturing from a deeply unimpressive man; as if someone had cast Charles Hawtrey in The Expendables (although that’s about the only thing that could induce me to go and see it).

So, whilst I have sympathy with those who say that the Film Council was exclusive and a force that stifled the industry; whilst I agree that the slate of films produced since 1999 is, apart from those of Andrea Arnold, staggeringly mediocre (compared to the exuberance of the 1990s); whilst I agree that the enormous sums spent on salaries and offices don’t seem like the best use of limited resources, and that way in which the Digital Screen Network was implemented was a scandal, I’m not whooping with delight to see the back of the Film Council. It was an ideological move, the implications of which have not been thought through, and that could potentially be devastating for inward investment if that work is not maintained.

The UKFC was a flawed, in many ways unhelpful, organisation that it should not be difficult to replace with something better. Unfortunately, it looks like not much attention has been paid to replacing it at all.

And, besides, do you want to argue with Clint Eastwood?

Here are the latest emissions from the ever-fattening head of Sir Ian Bowler.

(I will write some prose words for you to read soon, promise, just not at the moment.)

It’s going to make one of the layers just under my skin itch every time I see him walk through the door of 10 Downing Street.

So, here’s a thing I made so that I got to vent. I hope you find it of some comfort in this, our hour of need…

For those of you who haven’t already seen it, a lot of this is based on the Boulton-Campbell altercation of yesterday:

(It gets good about four minutes in…)

Yesterday the Conservative Party, no doubt pissing itself with glee at its own new media prowess, put up a website called Cash Gordon*. It was a pun. Not only was it a pun, but it was a bleeding-edge piece of web campaigning that would reward supporters for various online activities including reading speeches and creating blog posts about ‘Cash Gordon’. It would also take any tweet with the hashtag #cashgordon in and prominently display it in a rolling box on the front page of their site.

That’s right. Any tweet containing that hashtag.

Within an hour of the site going live most of the things on the front page read ‘David Cameron is a cunt #cashgordon’ or ‘All Tories are hateful piss-weasels #cashgordon’. Some people even  made up things that weren’t true.

When the Internet discovered that whoever had written this site hadn’t stopped  people including images or Javascript in their tweets, things got a lot worse. For a while anyone who tried to get to the site was redirected to the Labour home page, later it went straight to hardcore porn**. Shortly after that, the geniuses behind the whole project pulled it from the Internet, claiming that they had meant to do that, and it was a really subtle way of getting their message across to lots of people (seriously).

I took the opportunity of using the hashtag to direct people to this video,That’s Why They Call Us The Blues, of a song I wrote and performed for The Treason Show a few years ago.

So, for a few moments yesterday, the front page of the Conservatives’ newest campaign website pointed you to a song in which I listed all the people Tories hate. It is a long song. (It actually grew two choruses longer after the version that is up there).

And this tiny, inconsequential non-victory actually felt quite good. Because I was sticking it to the Tories. Yeah. In your face, Tories. Except the ones I know and like. You should not put it in your face. Just look at it, and accept that your face is, theoretically, one of the places it could go.

One of the comments on the song I wrote above, reads: “Do a song about Bloody Gordon. Are you a sore loser in the making? You sound pretty Public school/ middle class to this working class Tory. Your f——-g class warfare crap lost you the Nantwich by-election. F—–g Fabian POSEUR,crawl back into yourSocialist hole and play with your mung beans!!!”

To which I smugly responded that “about eight seconds’ research” would have revealed that I had done something similar about Gordon Brown for Comedybox. This was untrue in two different ways.

First, although I did write and record ‘It’s Not Easy Being Brown’ it disappeared from the Internet some time last year, falling down the back of MySpace Comedy. He could have researched it all he wanted, he probably wouldn’t ever have found it.

(If anyone has a copy of this, I’d be most grateful if they could put it up somewhere. *cough* Bob Pipe! *cough*)

Second, I do mainly take the piss out of Tories. Making fun of Labour isn’t the same. Yes, it’s enjoyable; yes, it can be vicious, but it’s never as much fun as really, really laying into Tories. It has a special music that lightens the heart, and a fragrance that perfumes the drowsy night air and swells the balls with proper, old-school vitriol.

Looking back, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the things I do make fun of Tories, and I’m not exactly sure why.

It’s not like I don’t loathe the Labour Party with every fibre of my being. Just the word ‘Blears’ has been known to bring me out in septic hives. From Bernie Ecclestone and Lobbygate at the beginning of their government, through Blunkett’s buying shares for his kids, Harriet Harman’s husband ** UPDATE – It was, of course, Tessa Jowell’s husband I was thinking of. With overtones of Jacqui Smith’s husband… Apologies to Ms Harman **, Mandelson’s mortgages, up to the shower of bastards revealed last weekend, the Parliamentary Labour Party has shown itself to be the most venal, corrupt organisation most of us can bear to think about. And we remember what the Tories were like.

They abuse the public trust and public purse on a colossal scale, and are shameless in their pursuit of personal fortunes with which to feather their mediocre nests. They are sweaty little men and women who bend over and spread their cheeks, whilst peering over their shoulder at the rich and powerful, desperate to be tossed a tip. In other countries Messrs Byers and Hoon would be adorning lamp-posts rather than reporting themselves to the Commons Standards Committee.

So, it’s not like I particularly hate Conservative politicians. I have grown to hate all politicians equally.

But I do hate Tories. The idea that anyone could have lived through the 1990s and would consider voting Conservative is enough to mark them out a having suffered a terrible head-wound in infancy.

There is something profoundly, desperately wrong about someone who self-identifies as a Tory. A dead-eyed, hate-filled sac of poisonous gases, stewing in years of resentment and self-pity. An easy target, but one I can rarely pass up.

Roll on, the General Election…

*I wouldn’t bother clicking on it now, they had to redirect it to somewhere less offensive pretty sharpish. So it’s odd they chose the Conservatives’ main website…

** Either way, the visitor was treated to the site of brazen quims being whored out in exchange for tawdry amounts of money.

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