A Waste Of Time?

hollywontI spent a pleasant, calm Sunday finishing off Code Grey, the short Super 8 film I directed earlier in the year. Audio, titles and the all-important final shot that didn’t make the original cut are all in place, and there are DVDs in my bag, ready to go off to 8mm festivals in Cambridge and Hungary.

I’m well ahead of the curve according to some people. A survey quoted in the BECTU journal “Stage, Sound and Screen” from the UK Film Council has stated that well over half of the low-to-no budget films listed as being in production in this country never get completed, and of those that do, an even smaller percentage get any kind of distribution deal, let alone make any money back. With this in mind, the idea of working for deferred payment becomes something of a sick joke. If the film you’re working on is never likely to make any money, then neither are you.

The issue of health and safety also gets a mention. Or rather, the lack of it on set does. Low-to-no works because the film-makers use a stripped down crew, often comprised of enthusiastic amateurs or students, and shoot in a hurry. There will be no dedicated health and safety officer on set, and often no-one with any idea of what to do if there was an accident.

The conclusion reached by the BECTU scribes was that this kind of film-making is a dangerous and expensive waste of time, which exploits the crew and serves no decent artistic purpose.
Which is fair comment in a lot of cases. Sturgeon’s Law applies more accurately to films than anything else.

To relate this argument back to my own experience, there was a crew of nine on Code Grey, and no proper safety officer. But we were in a controlled area. I did a safety talk before we started, and I made damned sure my crew was working safely at all times. No-one got paid, but that was expressly set out at the start. Everyone was fed and watered, and the biggest chunk of the budget was parking for the DOPs estate car.

There is an absolutely valid point to be made about this part of the market having it’s risks, but then the film business was and remains a home to hustlers, crooks and idiots. If a kid that wants to make movies can gain experience through being on low-to-no sets, then that should be encouraged, even if the lesson learned from that experience is that you swear never work on a set like that again.

This sector of the market isn’t going away, and it’s frequently the first step on the ladder for a lot of talented film-makers. The desire to get out there and make something regardless of the technical limitations should me applauded. It’s how acclaimed directors like Shane Meadows and Robert Rodriguez got their start. If this one’s rubbish, so what. Try again. Next time, do better. Learn from your mistakes, but above all, learn.

Code Grey is my third film shot on super 8, and it’s infinitely better than my first. See, I’m taking my own advice.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

One thought on “A Waste Of Time?”

  1. I’ve not seen the Bectu piece but I’m inclined to side with you about the value of low budget film making going beyond simply seeing a return on investment.

    But on that subject, one of the things that struck me about the research was the finding that so many lower budget films fall within the ‘drama’ genre. Which is the same as saying they are not genre films. Given that ‘drama’ accounted for 23% of all releases at the UK box office but only 5% of box office, it’s little wonder so few low budget films get a theatrical release (irrespective of their quality). Low budget sells better if it has a genre hook.


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