The Business of Film
BBC Radio 4
“We don’t have a British film industry and I’m bored of everyone saying we do have one. I think it’s crazy to subsidise British movies with tax breaks because when we do get any of that back, we’re just subsiding Hollywood!” The producer Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: the Secret Service) was speaking to Mark Kermode in the critic’s clued-up, three-part series covering all aspects of the economics of movies (Sundays, 1.30pm): the funding, the tricks and dodges, the changing modes of distribution. Whither cinema? It’s an interesting subject and always has been. It’s not surprising that Kermode, after a lifetime in the saddle looking at films for a living, has become increasingly curious about how movies are individual from the business of movies.
He’s not the only one. See the popularity of Charles Gant’s UK box-office analysis column in the Guardian, or the website awardswatch.com: for moviegoers, this stuff is mesmeric. The question “Why is this film like this?” always eventually leads down the rabbit hole to the business, the numbers, the studio – and the corporation.
In the end, you’re simply not answering the question honestly until you get all the way to, say, the HQ of Sony. “Movies are a very odd way to make a living,” chuckles the screenwriter William Goldman in one episode. “Nobody really knows anything. But if you have a shitty script, even if you’re Bergman or Fellini, it’s not going to make a good movie…”
Among the most fascinating things about the Sony hacking last November were the notes on the new Bond script – compiled by the kind of middle-ranking, thumb-twiddling studio executives whom industry-watchers like to malign. The leaks showed that they were far from agonisingly stupid. They knew that they had big problems with the story and could articulate precisely where and of what order they were. Still, they didn’t know how to fix it – and yet the movie was already in zillion-dollar production. Ah, it was ever thus. The history of cinema can feel so terribly long and various. Each story of certain financial (or, indeed, artistic) success or failure always has such a hilariously gobsmacking counter-example that a series such as Kermode’s could simply run and run, then run some more.