The Pilgrim Fathers’ Flicks

We are good at exporting our culture, but Hollywood is better.

David Cameron has urged British film makers to shift their focus from art house cinema to more mainstream movies in a bid to bolster the country’s £4 billion film industry. The political spin here is that this is a material and underexploited commercial opportunity and it has taken a politician to recognise it.

He makes it all sound rather straightforward. If only the wealth of film-related talent that undoubtedly exists in the UK would just concentrate on making blockbuster films, which make more money, our economy might not be quite so glum.

With a few notable exceptions, big money films require the following: big money to make them; big names to act in them; proven technicians and artists to shape them; and proven demand on a sufficient scale to make it all make sense.

With any business, demand is the thing you really need to understand. It is often the biggest area of risk. And the biggest demand for English-language films is in the US. QED really, as Hollywood is much better placed to make a product that will guarantee a payback. There, they are much more in tune with local demand. Why do we think we can compete with such a well-oiled and successful money-making machine? David, we can’t, and not just because they are frankly brilliant at it; but because it isn’t just about selling cinema tickets.

Hollywood is also largely responsible for the US cultural colonialism that has shaped, for better and for worse, aspirations and prejudices around the world for many decades now. While we have the BBC, the US has Hollywood and they aren’t going to let us muscle in on their very successful PR machine. Although these days people may well be doubting the message, the “machine” is very good at delivering it.

For many reasons – economic, political and business included – it is misleading to suggest we can compete with Hollywood on a level playing field. Our authentic costume-drama cinema works because we were there! To paraphrase Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, we should probably stick to our knitting. I’m sure we can improve our output of more successful films, a short term target I believe, but let’s not suggest that we are in the blockbuster business. Our colonial period is over, but the US is still, for now at least, trying to shape others in its own likeness.

I wonder what the Pilgrim Fathers, who started all this, would have thought of Hollywood?

Mark

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