The British Film industry may have taken a blow in George Osborne’s budget cuts recently, but with a Government Film Review planned and recent hits such as The King’s Speech scooping up four Oscars British filmmaking is far from becoming extinct.
The British Film industry may have taken a blow in George Osborne’s budget cuts recently, but with a Government Film Review planned and recent hits such as The King’s Speech scooping up four Oscars British filmmaking is far from becoming extinct. Our industry may not match Hollywood budgets, or even box office figures, but as a recent visit to the set of up-and-coming British film Twenty8K proved to us; it more than competes with its US counterpart in enthusiasm, passion, ingenuity and talent.
New thriller, Twenty8K, expected to be released early next year, will soon be ending its eight week shoot around East London. Directed by David Kew and Neil Thompson (Clubbed) and written by Jimmy Dowdall and Paul Abbott, Twenty8K, tells the story of British born but Paris based fashion executive Diva (Parminder Nagra – Bend it Like Beckham, ER) who returns to London after her brother has been arrested for a fatal gang shooting. Sporting an array of emerging British talent – Jonas Armstrong, Stephen Dillane, Michael Socha, Kierston Wareing – the film follows Diva as she sets out on a dangerous quest to find the truth. It’s early days for Twenty8K so there’s no telling how it will fare with audiences upon its release; although rushes we saw looked promising. Nevertheless, we were certainly inspired by the cast and crew’s ambitions and ardour for the filmmaking process, we decided to look at what key elements makes a British film successful at home and on a global stage.
Matching the quality of a blockbuster
Ok, so when making a low-budget British film there isn’t a pitfall of money, meaning achieving HD quality and expensive shots is harder. However, Twenty8K producer Martin Carr of Formosa films, says: “The public pay the same amount of money for a blockbuster movie as they do for one with a million pound budget – so you need to keep it looking like it has high production values in order to compete.” A good point. Carr adds: “We tried to keep it looking cinematic with helicopter’s panning over London and Paris. This is extremely expensive but vital to keep the production values looking high.” Films such as Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which cleaned up at the 2009 Oscars, incorporated high-quality sweeping shots of Indian slums and fast paced shots interlacing through India’s alleyways and shanty towns. Made on a – albeit more generous than some British films – $15 million budget, it still managed to beat the $150 million budgeted The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for the Best Picture award. Boyles’ previous film 28 Days Later, also a success after sweeping a gross revenue of $82,719,885, was made on a budget of $8 million but still managed to incorporate helicopter camera shots of a deserted London and disturbing zombies.
It’s all about the talent, baby!
Unless you’re Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese getting a film made without some established, or at the very least, up-and-coming talent attached to it is nigh on impossible. And, not only do names attract financers, they also attract audiences. Would The King’s Speech have been such a big success without well known actors Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush? On a smaller scale cult director Shane Meadow’s (This is England, Twentyfourseven) films have also been helped by not only his own name but by – known and unknown – quality British actors, including Paddy Constantine and Stephen Graeme. The same goes for Twenty8K which was written by Shameless and State of Play scriptwriter Paul Abbott . His name helped pin Nagra down for the film: “He just writes good dialogue like normal people speak. Even in this heightened situations he manages to make it truthful,” she says. And, Nagra – a well known face from ER and Bend It Like Beckham – was equally as important to the film, so much so they waited until she was contractually cleared by her commitments to JJ Abraham’s new FOX TV series, Alcatraz, from which she is to star. There is no doubt Nagra and Abbott’s name will be utilised when it comes to marketing the film.
Make the most of what you’ve got
As well an abundance of acting talent on our doorstep (which is regularly being poached by Hollywood) we also have some of the best natural backdrops – Greenwich features in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie – and cities that can, and are, often featured in British films and American films. Would Gary Oldman’s critically acclaimed portrayal of the underbelly of London, Nil By Mouth, be the same without its London backdrop? Or Fish Tank without the generic Essex council estate? Often British films can be almost entirely shot in specific locations – Attack the Block was filmed in Stockwell and Elephant and Castle where director Joe Cornish grew up – becoming a character in the film and helping to keep costs down. This is something directors David Kew and Neil Thompson have done with Twenty8K by almost entirely shooting in East London. Carr says: “London is a character in the film and we’re trying to make it look like HD with the Olympic village behind us.”And, indeed the day we visit the set they are filming in an old Town Hall a short distance from East Ham station.
Avoid the stereo-type or turn it on its head
People have become tired of the British cockney gangster movie normally associated with London based British films – just look at how stars such as gangster caper regular Danny Dyer have fallen out of favour and films such as Bonded By Blood have bombed at the box office. That said, any typically British film revamped seems to have done well in recent years. For example The King’s Speech explores a different – more vulnerable and identifiable – side of a head of state, than is usually portrayed and more recently, Attack the Block explores gang violence against an alien invasion instead of the obvious route of two rival gangs seeking a ‘turf’ war. In Twenty8K, director Neil Thomspon – whose original conception the film is based on – describes it as a “sort of Bourne Identity meets Erin Brockovich” Despite this he made the unusual choice of creating a female lead for his fast paced British thriller. Carr concedes: “We chose not to have a male lead because it is less obvious, she has to be much more clever rather than aggressive.” Ending this point most eloquently and speaking more broadly on what makes British film great, even on a meagre budget, is Bend It Like Beckham director, Gurinder Chadha. Writing for The Guardian he says: “Our films have the ability to tell global audiences who we are, and this is something the government should feel compelled to protect – and that is more than slang spouting dapperly dressed crime lords.”
Here, here. Let’s hope we see the early success of the British film industry this year repeated time and time again.