October 22, 2006

rock & roll is about freedom


A rather sad article in The Guardian about the British film director, Terence Davies, who in spite of receiving all this critical acclaim over the years, finds himself in late middle age, mostly penniless and out of work. His painful rants about unsuccessfully trying to receive funding from various illustrious British film organizations, is worth the read alone.

"There's a man there called Robert Jones [former head of the Film Council's Premiere Fund] who made us jump through all sorts of hoops, and we actually did everything he wanted, and he turned round after four months and said, 'It won't travel'." He pauses for effect. "And that was somebody who had just put money into Sex Lives of the Potato Men! The way in which we were treated was absolutely shocking. If I can misquote Shaw, 'Those who can, do, and those who can't become Robert Jones.' " His voice is deep, theatrical, camp, hints of Liverpudlian with a touch of Noël Coward.
One of the reasons I like the “cartoons on the back of business cards” format is that it’s cheap and easy. This allows me to do what I want. If I were beholden to more expensive media, like film, I’d need other people and their money on board. Which means only means one thing: Other people telling me what to do. No thanks.

I remember a great quote from Henry Rollins: “Rock & Roll is about Freedom”.

Exactly. As soon as you lose the freedom, it ceases to be Rock & Roll.

But it's a hard lesson to learn, especially when one has hitched one's cart to the insanely seductive, competitive and expensive world of film. And based on what I know about British public art bodies, if you’re still putting all your faith in those losers, you're just asking for the kiss of death. Let Mr. Davies' example be a lesson to all of us, poor man.

Posted by hugh macleod at October 22, 2006 9:10 AM | TrackBack

Reminds me of Mr Casaubon, from Middlemarch (George Elliot).


P.S. One of the all time great books, by the way.

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger at October 22, 2006 11:30 AM

I do paintings and prefer and love to sell them privately. As soon as a gallery "represents" me, I lose almost all my power and freedom and become totally dependent upon their wishes and expectations. Then they take a cut for holding me by the balls. thus spoke churchpundit!

Posted by: churchpundit at October 22, 2006 12:01 PM

Well there's always cheapo prosumer digicams...

Posted by: Lemi4 at October 22, 2006 4:12 PM

When is an actor not an actor? When they're a waiter.

Posted by: John Dodds at October 22, 2006 5:17 PM

I'm not familiar with the workings on European public arts, but independent film in the U.S. is full of tales about kids who collected money from relatives, or ran up credit card debt to make their movies. They didn't wait for permission, and if they had, they would probably have shared the fate of Terence Davies. They just did it. Brick would be one recent example that was self financed at the production stage, and turned out well for the filmmakers.

Posted by: Joe Valdez at October 22, 2006 7:49 PM

Making a good film is bloody hard work. What people also forget, is that making a crappy film is bloody hard work too. And you're only as good as your last film. It's an expensive hobby :-/

Posted by: Mike Peter Reed at October 22, 2006 8:15 PM

Joe, it's not just the kids... John Cassavetes made his films that way, too.

British and Europeans filmmakers find Casavetes' approach much harder, especially when they get older, for whatever reason.

"It's an expensive hobby." Love it!

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 22, 2006 9:18 PM

It is a hard life in film. But its getting easier thanks to new distribution ideas and new marketing ideas. The challenge today is for film makers to be as creative in their funding as in their story telling. I'm off to Sony tomorrow to ask for £600k! We'll see. But I find that easier than going to the Film Council.

Posted by: Tim Clague at October 22, 2006 10:35 PM

I agree it's getting easier in some ways, Tim.... just not easier in the "British Establishment Critical-Acclaim-Arthouse-Cinema" way....

Posted by: hugh macleod at October 22, 2006 10:49 PM

It's good that tax dollars don't go to people without the old get up and go. I create sculptures, there are lots of grants, but I will never take one, because I believe if you create quality, it will sell. Film is more expensive, but there are always private investors if your work is great. If not, good riddens to you. The film "swingers" was made by a bunch of friends. They used a bit of music from "jaws" when the guy is prowling in a bar, they asked Spielberg for permission. He loved what they had done and the rest is history. I'm an American, by the way. It's all about GUMPTION!!

Posted by: shawn at October 23, 2006 1:34 PM

I agree Shawn. There is room for funding. It should be for truly experimental works that push the art form along. It shouldn't be for 'standard' work or we get lazy and rely on it.

But that goes for Hollywood as well where they get A LOT of tax breaks and get away with some pretty dodgy accounting.

Posted by: Tim Clague at October 23, 2006 8:06 PM

Actually, film can be free too.

Our "production company", basically just a small group of friends some of whom are actually employed in the real film industry, but most are not, has put together two short films this year, one for the 48Hr Film Competition (do the whole thing, script, filming, post production all in 48hrs!), one for another national competition, in which we placed, and we're just starting our third film for the year for no other reason than because we can!


Posted by: mundens at October 24, 2006 1:32 AM

Film UK at Edinburgh International Festival did a catalogue of all the UK features made in the last year. Due to digital production it was enormous - I think about 500 ! However.... a goodly number were shite.

You can make films cheaply but even if you can persuade large numbers of people to work for free you STILL have to pay for something. Even the catering bill for that amount of people mounts up. And even if you do make a goodly number of shorts for example on good will and favours they do run out. Even if you do make a living at something else a filmmaker has to finance the time off work.

Scratch many an 'independent' film maker in the UK and you will find family money proping them up.

Posted by: m at October 25, 2006 4:47 PM

Creativity need not be restricted to cards.How do u define freedom.. u r not being told wat to do by some financers but what about the need to cater to ur set of audience?Ur article is like one of those Aesop fables .."Don't try to cross ur limits(business cards) or u might fail".Film-making is a bigger platform ..the stakes are bigger...but it all comes down to ur confidence in ur product & how u r able to sell it.

Posted by: Anand at October 27, 2006 11:49 AM