My name is Colin Warhurst, and I am an independent film-maker from the North West, and the purpose of this open email is to stress the word independent. I apologise for its length, but this is a big issue that requires all of the facts. Today, affordable digital technology allows individuals or organisations to in affect, become virtually fully functional film studios. A camera, a computer and an idea are all that is needed to start making films. The realistic possibility of normal people, without funding or backing from agencies, of achieving this micro-studio setup and making their own feature films was virtually non-existent even up to 10 years ago due to technology.
What this means is that the film landscape going into the early 21st century is radically and fundamentally different to what has gone before. It is also important to note that this You Tube generation cannot be judged on the merits of virals, Internet celebrities and shaky spontaneous video often found on such video content sites. Yes, the quality varies massively, but the explosion in creativity on sites such as this should provide compelling evidence as to the potential talent and creativity out there, and of these millions of videos and ideas, a proportion of us go further, treating our work with an added level of ambition, professionalism, passion and commitment in order to go beyond simple viral film-making and into the creation of proper Film. To cut to the chase, I am one of these film-makers, and at great personal effort and expense, became one of the pioneers in what has been unofficially dubbed the North West New Wave. I Co-Directed and Produced an entirely independent feature film of our own creation entitled Mancattan. The film was made for under £600 of our own funds, and took two years to complete.
Now, as an independent artist, and as a business-person wishing to generate money within, or to bring into the UK, but with no further funds available as an independent film-maker, I ask one simple question.
How can I sell my film in the UK, legally?
The sword of Damocles in the shape of the horribly outdated Video Recordings Act 1984 and the massively high (for independents such as myself) charges for BBFC certification are effectively censoring, or killing dead, films and film-makers such as myself. I cannot, and will not, ever be able to afford the approximate cost of £1000 to have Mancattan rated. So how can I sell my film if I can’t afford the rating? I believe Lord McIntosh most recently summarised the act as follows; The Video Recordings Act was nasty; it was introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Lord Nugent of Guildford. In effect, it applied the rules of a public cinema or public display to people’s video recordings in their own homes. In other words, it created censorship in individuals’ homes where no censorship had existed before, and it made a difference between what you have on your video recording machine and what is on your bookshelves. Douglas Houghton, Hugh Jenkins, and I thought that that was deplorable and I still think that it is utterly deplorable.
Some MPs when asked this question have suggested that there are completion funds, competitions, bursaries and other sources of funding which must be fought or found in order to accomplish the raising of the capitol for this purpose. This is not realistic or of assistance to the New Wave of self-made digital British film-makers such as myself. Bodies such as the UK Film Council are not in existence to help independents; their funds and schemes are in no position, and never have been, to help a film-maker such as myself.
Any other art or creative medium does not have these rules of censorship in place. Imagine the Orwellian state we would live in if every painting, piece of poetry, song, music performance and text put to paper had to be certified. We would describe such a world as dystopian and unrealistic, yet that is the creative state a British film-maker lives in. On some level, despite the assertion of Lord Davies of Oldham who makes the opposite statement without evidence or backup, the censorship on film contravenes the European Convention On Human Rights.
So, even though we know the answer, I’ll re-phrase my question bearing all of this in mind.
Why can’t I sell my film legally in the UK directly to consenting adults only, directly to our (over 18) customers via credit card, therefore staying out of larger retail stores and the public domain outside of our own websites. The BBFC can still do it’s job, and UK film-makers can feel welcome, encouraged and free to create ideas, and business, at home. We would have a viable, profit making independent UK film scene, which develops and grows talent in the UK, allows film-makers to pay their crews, actors and contributors via profit shares, and leaves unthreatened the larger real film industry currently dominated by foreign films (American films do count as foreign films remember) in our UK screens which currently offer no protected ring-fencing for British films.
In other words, an Independent Film Scene in Britain would not pose a threat to the established British Film Industry and would instead create an internationally respected and culturally invaluable Industry Of British Films. Independent film-makers may not necessarily or realistically want an audience of millions, or even thousands, where a few hundred would suffice; if we sold even one hundred of our DVDs to our fans at £10 each, many of us could cover the budgets for our entire film. Ironically, that £1000 could then be spent on a BBFC rating. We need something to break this chicken-egg, carrot-stick deadlock. Could, or should, the BBFC offer low/no-budget film-makers a rate now, pay us back later scheme, perhaps at a higher rate. So the first one hundred DVD’s sold cover the BBFC granting a rating in lieu, any funds after that then go to the film-maker. The BBFC is not helping us in any way, and worryingly, have the monopoly on certification; where else can we go? Could an alternative to the BBFC and voluntarily ran body for independent film-makers be created, who have Government trust and backing, but who rate films at significantly lower costs for direct-sale only? There are many options, and we want to pursue any ideas until something works.
We know the VRA and BBFC are there to protect us, and younger people on the whole, from obscene content; and this where the crux of the change since 1984 occurs. Back then, the majority of indie film-makers may have been purveyors of dodgy horror, porn and other bad things. In 2010, you are tarnishing every potential film and film-maker with the same brush. The VRA assumes my content is of a dubious and obscene nature, and surely is overkill when the obscene publications act would protect the public and any bad film-makers taking advantage of the independent film scene and new rules that we would like to see come into place. I find it offensive that we are all presumed to be working and making films in the world of violence and pornography, and cast out of being able to express ourselves via the medium of film just in case.
Mancattan isn’t a horror film, or porn movie. It is a 90 minute rom-com, part of which was filmed in New York. I would love to sell you a copy to show you it is harmless, but I can’t. I could sell it in the United States.
Please, if any constructive, positive and genuinely empowering options for all the other Mancattans out there can be found, then please help us. I am not the first self-made UK feature film maker stuck in this position, and I won’t be the last. There are hundreds of good, safe-for-viewing and quality films sat on the shelf that have been made with blood sweat and tears. There are hundreds more following in their wake.
A film, today? A camera, a computer and an idea. A new Industry Of British Films? A few cameras, a few computers, and a few ideas… and some much needed help from YOU.
Many thanks for your time, I welcome your thoughts, replies and ideas. Sincerely
Colin Warhurst (A would-be British Film-maker)