The story of getting a film made ........again!

Short film or feature length?

Whether to make a short film or go for broke (hopefully not literally on maxed out credit cards) with a feature length film is a question filmmakers often wrestle with and like everything else, there are pros and cons for either route to building a career. Some consider short films to be an art form in themselves and I would agree and many filmmakers have kick started successful careers with a short. In addition, short films are the best way of learning the process and language of filmmaking, in my opinion far ahead of film school, courses and books. From the point of view of recouping costs, that unfortunately is a non-runner, so there’s no business model here. The downside of shorts is that there are so many of them, now that the tools are so cheap, there are people making very inventive and creative films on their phones and then there’s YouTube, Google Video, Vimeo etc, so getting your creation seen couldn’t be easier. Getting noticed however is something else and that means your short has to be nothing less than outstanding. A short can also demonstrate a voice different to the crowd and that in itself is a worthwhile exercise. Making a short is never a waste of time provided you make the best film you can.

One of the commonest reasons why filmmakers decide to make a feature length film is exactly that, to stand out from the crowd and I have admit that was true in my own case. It’s a legitimate reason, but so many other things have to be considered when taking this route. This post is the first of a series which will explore those questions and if it proves helpful to anyone taking this road then all the better.

Is Irish Film relevant and to who?

Among the many aspects of Irish film, surely one of the more pertinent is relevance – does it have any and to who? Irish audiences have shown their willingness to see Irish films if they can see something of themselves and their unique experience of the world in those films. Take for instance “The Commitments”, domestic audiences loved this film and why – because it reflected our view of ourselves that we are immensely talented, very witty in a self deprecating way and prone to demolish our own aspirations before anyone else gets a chance. In fact it is these very qualities that have been done to death by much lesser films since then, in the belief that a script like Roddy Doyle’s story is easy to write – not the case.

Another Irish film that demonstrated relevance of a different kind was Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”. Our history has always proven to be a draw at the home box office, however in addition to this, Loach also cited his desire to comment on America’s tendency to cast itself as the world’s police force, in particular their invasion of Iraq. In making his film, he wished to demonstrate the folly of the imperialistic view of the world saying look, this has happened before and it always ends in a civil war bloodbath. More recent examples of relevance are “Hunger” and “Fifty Dead Men Walking”, both admittedly dealing with the troubles – nothing wrong with that.

The only unique selling point that Irish films can offer a home audience is relevance. While some very good foreign and hollywood films come our way, they can only achieve relevance in a universal fashion. Nothing wrong with that either, but as filmmakers we need to be saying something that is rooted in our Irishness and in that sense, yes we should not simply imitate , but rather fashion our films in whatever genre fits the telling of our stories to comment on and reflect ourselves. Not in a long time has our country been so convulsed by a crisis afflicting tens of thousands of families. Do we not as filmmakers have some comment to make on that?

Irish audiences have told us, albeit in a silent, empty cinema seat kind of way that we are saying nothing they want to hear. Whenever criticism is raised of the tax euros spent to support our domestic industry, our attention is redirected to Europe where we are told that pretty much all EU states support their domestic industry as it would not survive the hollywood juggernaut without it. That is most likely very true, but let’s get back to the question of relevance.

The latest figures I can find for cinema market share of national or domestic films is for 2006 and here are a few examples.

France  – 45%.    Lithuania – 4.1%.     Czech Republic – 29.5%.    Germany – 25.8%.    Spain – 15.4%.    UK – 19%.    Italy – 26.2%    Sweden – 20%.    Ireland 2006 – 1.5%     Ireland 2009 – .3%

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Irish filmmakers are fast becoming irrelevant to the home audience. When not stated it is always a given that the most essential ingredient in any film, domestic, hollywood or foreign language is story, story and story.

State agency or film studio?

In this post I ponder the question is the Irish Film Board a state agency whose task it is to “enable Irish filmmakers to express their vision” or is it more like a film studio where a very legitimate dialogue can take place and you might hear something like “we don’t make those kind of films here”. It’s not so long ago when the outgoing CEO was quoted as saying “We occasionally try to ape genre film-making, I often say: You have to face up to the fact that we are making art films.'” I ask a simple question, who is “we”. If it refers to IFB, then does it not conflict with the following from IFB’s customer charter which can be found here, IFB Strategic Goals no.3 “To enable Irish filmmakers to express their vision in film and television productions. A laudable aspiration and when you think about it how could it be otherwise.

When German or French or Norwegian filmmakers make a thriller or crime drama or romantic comedy, are they aping genre film-making or respecting what has gone before yet attempting to serve up new offerings in a proven genre. Art film is a worthy and legitimate film genre which essentially throws out all the rules, thereby actually adhering to the central rule of anything but everything else. So the idea that there are no rules in art film is a fallacy. But as a film genre, it represents a very small sliver of the entire spectrum. Telling stories in the visual medium is indeed a new venture for Irish creatives and if we appear to “ape”, let’s not forget a child learns it’s life skill by this very process. To throw it out now, rather than inspiring new directions of creativity, will only serve to stunt our story telling development.

The problem can be that in order to chase funding, writers can find themselves attempting to please someone else’s requirements and when has that ever led to a good place for the creative or the work. This is not an arguement to fund everything that comes in the door, but rather to listen to the filmmaker and what he wants to say and then provide guidance, mentoring and funding to those who are obviously passionate, committed and talented, to ensure that the best film possible is made. Just a thought, what are yours?