How do you shoot a film in five days? According to Shane Meadows (and his producer, Mark something-or-other), you get a few mates together (particularly if you’re mates with Paddy Considine), call in a few favours with the Arctic Monkeys, and trust to luck that you get enough usable footage. According to Roger Corman, it’s all about planning ahead.
Meadows and his producer have made one film like this; Corman, as director and later as producer to others, has made hundreds.
Meadows and Mark Herbert (I googled him) gave an entertaining double interview at the EIFF, a mixture of anecdotes about their past experiences in the film industry, and why this prompted them to change track and return to lo-to-no budget filmmaking. The resultant film was Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee, screening at the festival, although I’ve not caught up with it. Their experiences are salutory, warning against the perils of the filmmaking by committee that accompanies bigger budgets. It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Roger Corman, whose few involvements with big studio productions encouraged him to return to the low budget filmmaking that allowed him the control he wanted.
Meadows and Herbert also highlighted the strange snobbery in the British film industry, which doesn’t like to think of itself as an industry, and is very snooty about the kind of independent financing that keeps American indies afloat. Meadows was roundly condemned for taking Eurostar’s money to make Somers Town – he was only slightly defensive here, and said that he had an airtight contract that let him get away with murder, instead of being at the whim of producers and conventional film financiers. This attitude is tied into the way government funding continues to dominate the film industry, whether the Film Council or Scottish Screen, despite being as insular as the traditional nepotism of film studios.
Particularly interesting was the pair’s admission that they don’t quite know how to go on from here: having produced a film in this way, and brought it to the festival to some acclaim, they don’t want to just sell it on to a traditional distributor, and are trying to think of new ways to get the film to an audience. They threw a few ideas out (like setting up village fetes – real lo-fi word of mouth), and admitted that they’re still working on what to do. It would have been interesting to go into it more (they had an understandable apprehension about the possibilities and problems of the Internet: how do you monetise it?), but it didn’t really go further than that.
The kind of low budget independent filmmaking and distribution that Roger Corman thrived on is no longer possible – there are no grindhouses and drive-ins left, and even allegedly independent cinemas like the Filmhouse and the GFT are tied into distribution deals. I admit, I don’t know how it works, but the Filmhouse has Michael Mann’s Public Enemies on the cover of next month’s programme, and that isn’t independent, struggling-to-find-an-audience cinema by any criteria, and I’d be willing to bet that the GFT is also screening it. I’m also willing to bet that, however loyal their audience, they’re loosing a lot of people like me, who have Cineworld Unlimited cards (or other deals) won’t go to other cinemas unless the films aren’t showing at the multiplex. (I’m digressing – it pisses me off that the GFT isn’t smarter about its programming, even though I know I’m lazy about chasing up films that aren’t on at the Cineworld)
The Roger Corman interview (conducted by geek hero Kim Newman) was a whirlwind tour of Corman’s prolific career, with some nice anecdotes and so forth. It was good to hear his opinion that low budget filmmaking is all about planning, after hearing about Meadows somewhat haphazard approach – I feel that independent filmmakers need to strike a balance.
The Meadows interview raises more questions about the film industry in Britain. One gets the impression that for Meadows, it was a cathartic experience, sweeping out his experiences of working within the bigger budgets, and as much about the process as the end result, but it may be that it lights a fire under people’s asses, which is no bad thing.