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

Film funding in a Crazy World

Tax Payer Film FundA little while ago, the Sunday Times ran an article called “Life’s a Breeze as movies exceed EU state-aid limit”. It informed us that two films galloped past the EU imposed state-aid limit, despite EU laws limiting state-aid for films costing more than €750,000 to a maximum of 50% of budget. Those films were “Garage”, a drama centred around a rural road side garage starring Pat Shortt and had a budget of €2M and “Life’s a Breeze” also starring Pat Shortt which is in post production. “Garage” received state-aid to the tune of 86% of total budget while “Life’s a Breeze” was financed by the tax payer to the tune of 70% of budget.  This is taken from the article:

A spokeswoman for the BAI said neither film was in breach of European state-aid rules, because the 50% limit could be breached where the productions are deemed “difficult” to make. In both cases, it said the films met the criteria by having a “lack of commercial potential” and a “lack of significant audience appeal.”  The BAI said it would have been aware of who the other funders for both projects were at the application and contract award stages.

I don’t know about you, but this feels like the world flipped on it’s head. Now I know how Alice felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. So I began to wonder just how that conversation might go between applicant (producer/production company whatever) and the “state agency”. Well, I’m a script writer I thought, so let’s have a bash at it.

State Agency

So what’s your film about?

Producer

Well, it’s about a blind man who buys a dog.

State Agency

O.K. so ……what happens.

Producer

Well, the blind man falls in love with the dog.

State Agency

You mean, he grows very fond of it.

Producer

No, I mean he falls in love with it.

State Agency

I see….. and how does this… love manifest itself.

Producer

The way all love manifests itself. We’re about breaking new ground…. we embrace taboos.

State Agency

So what else happens?

Producer

The dog dies. So our man decides he wants to have the dog stuffed. But he finds he can’t afford to have it stuffed.

State Agency

OK a dilemma, that’s good. Now what does he do?

Producer

He goes to night class to learn taxidermy?

State Agency

But he’s blind, wouldn’t that present a problem?

Producer

Only to those who believe that the sight challenged are limited by their disability.

State Agency

Well, being a state agency, we certainly don’t support that view. So anyway, he goes to night class to learn taxidermy, where he meets…?

Producer

No, he doesn’t meet anyone.

State Agency

OK so what happens next.

Producer

He stuffs the dog.

Silence and awkward glances abound.

State Agency

I must point out to you that the funding you want from us would exceed the  EU limits of 50% of production finance by €300,000.

Producer

Isn’t there any way around that?

Knowing glances cross the table.

State Agency

Well, we would have to be convinced that the film is lacking in commercial potential and significant audience appeal.

Producer

You hardly think this is going to have them queuing around the block.

State Agency

Stranger things have happened.

Another awkward silence.

Producer

We’re going to shoot this film in a very challenging and unique way, never been done before, too challenging for a conventional audience.

State Agency

OK, that’s good, tell me more.

Producer

We’re leaving the lens cap on.

State Agency

You can’t do that, that’s a radio play. We don’t fund radio plays.

Producer

If you believe that, then you must also believe that blind people have no place in a cinema. Yet it’s known that blind people enjoy cinema as much as anyone.

State Agency

Of course not, as a state agency, we support inclusivity and all aspects of our diverse society. But wouldn’t it be cheaper to record it as a radio play.

Producer

I don’t have a radio play. I have a film script. We plan to carry out production just like any film, cameras, lighting, costumes, set design, the works. The big difference is, we leave the lens cap on. This is an artistic statement to the blind that we respect their disability to the extent that we will render the entire audience blind.

State Agency

So there’s absolutely nothing to be seen on the screen?

Producer

Nada. Not even credits ….well apart from producer and our company logo of course.

State Agency

Of course. We would have to insist on our people’s names and logo also appearing.

Producer

Of course.

State Agency

So quite literally, no one will see this film.

Producer

No one.

State Agency

Ok, well that definitely allows for the 50% breach. Your application will be processed, expect to hear from us in 4 weeks. Oh, what are you calling this film?

Producer

Stuff the Taxpayer ……I mean Dog, Stuff the Dog.

State Agency

Great …..lunch?

No response.

State Agency

On us?

Producer

Sure. (a quite aside to camera) Always wait for that last part. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I think I’ll shoot that and stick it on Youtube, should be worth a few clicks. But seriously, if anyone approaches a state funding body for production finance saying “not many people will want to see this film”, shouldn’t they be told to go back to the drawing board instead of lavishing more non-recourse funding on them. God forbid they would have to condescend to “entertain” the audience. I’ve mentioned it before, elsewhere in this blog, but when Mike Leigh was in Dublin a few years ago, he did an interview and took questions from filmmakers. This question came up and it must be said, asked with a knowing smirk. “What responsibility, if any, does a filmmaker have to entertain the audience”. A little aghast at the question and God knows Mr. Leigh does not suffer fools, he responded. “That is your first responsibility, if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be making films.” You ask an audience to sit through 90 or 120 minutes of your film and you don’t bother to entertain. You won’t have an audience, therefore you’re not a filmmaker. I’m paraphrasing, but that is certainly the gist of his reply to what he clearly viewed as a ridiculous question. I wonder what Mike would think of giving more money to those same films that can’t be bothered to engage their audience, because that sort of thing is beneath their intellect. The icing on the cake here of course is that your film can never fail. Actually, it can, if it becomes a film people want to see, you might just damage your chances of making the same argument in the future. If this makes sense to you then maybe I have fallen down the rabbit hole. Post a comment below.