Britain on Screen: Why the Coronavirus crisis is the perfect opportunity to fix our broken film and
Coronavirus has hit many industries hard. The work is going to be drastically different after this crisis. Never again will people share a bowl of peanuts in the pub or “forget” to wash their hands after going to the toilet (at least I bloody hope not). But one of the industry most harshly hit is the arts. Art, by and large, is about audience. Whether it’s the cinema or the theatre or a music venue, it’s about a group of people getting together and sharing a collective experience of art. That is something that has become next to impossible thanks to social distancing.
Furthermore, the actual production of art has become more difficult too. The requirements to maintain two meters apart from each other means that it’s almost impossible for film crews to assemble, for actors to take to the stage, and for musicians to play together in a group. And, to be clear, I’m not trying to paint an image here of the struggling artist, conveniently ignoring all of the other jobs and people who have come under pressure thanks to this crisis too, it’s just that the arts are where I happen to work, and where my interests sit, and so that’s what I’m talking about.
Now, I’ve written before about my disappointment with the state of the UK film industry. It’s not that we don’t have a film industry, it’s just that it’s not really one that represents our culture on screen. Sure, there are films out there that do this, but by and large our studios, our creatives, and our talent are used to help produced bigger budget American blockbusters. The Batman is about to begin production here, for example. Harry Potter might seem like it’s an British production, but all the money goes to Warner Bros. The Lord of the Rings was New Line, and Sony are currently the people behind Bond.
We used to have a thriving industry that saw the likes of Hammer Horror, Amicus, the Carry On films, Monty Python, Get Carter and so on and so on, but that was all drowned out in favour of propping up Hollywood productions. The Eady Levy (look it up) was a tax on box-office receipts in the UK that supported the Film Industry here once upon a time. It was scrapped in 1985, around the same time our industry was on the way out. France have a similar sort of film fund in place and their industry is thriving. As do many other countries that see their culture honestly represented on screen. In Britain, meanwhile, we’re left with Richard Curtis’ fictional interpretation of Little England, a place where everyone is a lovable goof from the middle class, and no one ever has much trouble beyond having to chase their one true love to the airport.
Meanwhile, the funds that we do have are so few and so insignificant that, if you’re lucky enough to actually get your hands on some money, it’s not going to be enough to make something that can really go up against a Blumhouse production, let alone a Star Wars or Marvel movie. And that’s before we even get to the bit where the money isn’t exactly shared about all that fairly or equally.
Here's the thing, you may be on of those people who sits there and thinks the Arts aren't a real profession. That they should be the first thing to be slashed when it comes to educational funding, and that anyone who decides to make a career within it is only asking for trouble. I mean, I've had my fair share of "not a proper job" lectures, so I know those views exist. But, can you really, honestly, say that you'd have been able to get through the crisis without them? Without music, literature, film, television, theatre, art, video games? All of those things come from that industry, and Film and Television are one of the most easily accessible and widely used of them, so why the hell don't we have a proper, thriving industry that represents our culture?
And now the Government have released their official COVID-19 guidelines for the UK Film and Television industry, and it conveniently leaves out the fact that Coronavirus related issues won’t be covered by insurance companies. If it was hard enough to make a film from outside the industry before, it’s about to become next to impossible. And that means something is wrong here.
If we want to see our culture represented on screen, from the viewpoints of those least heard and currently without a voice, then the system as it stands now is no good. Unless you’re already inside that bubble, you’re not getting in. It’s just not happening. And now it’s been made even more difficult, thanks to an unprecedented global crisis, and the worst handling of it by any Government across the world. And I don’t mean for this to turn into Tory bashing but give me a break!
If we’re looking for positives amongst all the fear and hate out there at the moment, surely it is the fact that we’ve all been given an opportunity to start these things over. We’ve seen that there are inequalities built into the very fabric our society, and now is a chance to end them. And, as far as the Film and Television industry goes, how about instead of simply returning to our place as Hollywood’s little helper, we actually start to rectify the problem and fund our own industry so that we can see the real Britain represented on the big screen?