Inside view: British independent films vs the Hollywood blockbusters

In the first instalment in a new column, British filmmaker Dan Turner writes about fighting to be heard over Hollywood imports in local multiplexes...

This summer my new feature film The Man Inside is released, starring Peter Mullan, David Harewood, Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas and Michelle Ryan. Like any filmmaker, I’m hoping for success, but it’s definitely not guaranteed.

The reality is that it’s a British Independent film competing in a marketplace full of Hollywood blockbusters, and ultimately, no film has a right to be successful. The subject matter has to connect with people and there has to be a healthy dollop of luck too.

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It makes for sobering reading to see out how many British films have come out over the last 12 months, and how many of those have been successful. The bigger budget UK films with bigger stars films such as The Woman In Black and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have blazed a bright path for UK cinema, but for smaller, independent films, it’s far tougher.

A case in point is the Dexter Fletcher film Wild Bill. It opened in 108 cinemas and made £60,400 (source: Charles Gant, The Guardian).

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Wild Bill was met with overwhelmingly enthusiastic reviews, and a great marketing push, but for some reason it failed to reach an audience. Some discussion has taken place about it possibly being mis-sold as “another Mockney gangster film”, which is a shame if that’s the case, because films like Wild Bill deserve to be seen by a wide audience. With luck, Wild Bill will enjoy great success on DVD.

It’s a very telling illustration of how UK films have to fight to be heard in an arena of Hollywood blockbusters playing on multiple screens at multiplexes. These days, even films with big cast names can often be consigned straight to DVD. The fight to get onto cinema screens has never been so hard, and then the fight to be seen by an audience for a small window of time during its release is even harder.

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When everything aligns – marketing, audience appetite and a quality film on a wide release – the results can be spectacular. But it’s all too infrequent.

Of course, not all films should be judged by box office success. Paddy Considine’s harrowing but electrifying Tyrannosaur was never going to be a box office smash, nor should it be. Instead, a film like that will hopefully be seen by as many people as possible, covering enough of its costs for the distributor to have the faith to release more films like this.

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British cinema has always provided audiences with important pieces of work that are culturally important. Thankfully, these films are being seen through a growing renaissance of Arthouse cinemas like the Everyman Group and wonderful niche cinemas like The Phoenix Cinema in Finchley, with more hopefully spreading across the country.

It’s a common complaint amongst British filmmakers to bemoan a lack of funding, but there is enough talent and enthusiasm in our country to make really good films of all genres. I feel its a mistake to expect the public to go see a British film simply to support our industry.

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We, as filmmakers, have a responsibility to fight even harder to make great films that challenge the Hollywood imports and carve ourselves out a place at the cinemas.

The Man Inside is released later this year. The trailer is here. You can find Dan on Twitter, here.

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