Andrew Bujalski on the art and business of film / Charles Lyons on going for broke / The Puffy Chair / Why Film Production Majors Should Be Replaced by Auto Mechanics / JuneBug, 2046, and Mutual Appreciation / David Chien on Caveh Zahedi's I am a Sex Addict / Donal Foreman on Independent Film / Donal Foreman on the Irish Television and Film Industry / Quotations about the artistic process/ Tarkovsky on film school and trying to please people / Donal Foreman on the State of the Art / Other films and filmmakers / Quiet City / Henry James, Art of Fiction 1 / Henry James, Art of Fiction 2 / Emerson, Circles, 1 / Emerson, Circles, 2 / Avedon on Alfredson / David Ball Interview

 

"The present state of Irish television and the Irish film industry from the view point of people with creative ideas who wish to exhibit or show their work and make some money from it."

in three parts:

1. THE CINEMA IS FINE

2. …BUT TV IS DOOMED

3. SO WHERE TO NOW?

Donal Foreman

Film & TV Year 2

THE CINEMA IS FINE

One

First, a confession. I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting the dire conditions of Irish cinema. In fact, I don’t really think it’s healthy to do so. I can listen to, sympathise with and in many cases agree with arguments detailing the inhospitability of the Irish financing sector, the ineffectual nature of government policy, or the counter-productive choices of the Irish Film Board. But I also can’t help feeling that, ultimately, none of these things really matter. That is to say, none of them explain or justify the fact that, as Tony Keily once wrote, “there is still no sign of anything we could call Irish Cinema.” (1)

As far as I’m concerned, the onus of this particular failure lies squarely on filmmakers themselves. This may sound harsh, but I’m not trying to give Irish filmmakers yet another cross to bear. By accepting the blame, one accepts the responsibility and empowers oneself to change things in the future. An emphasis on the hostility of external forces achieves the opposite: it makes filmmakers feel powerless— and comfortably so, because it’s not their fault.

There is no reason for filmmakers to feel such powerlessness. The advance of technology has made filmmaking more affordable than ever before. All the technology one needs to make a broadcast quality film can now be purchased within a 4 digit price range. (2) There is no excuse. I don’t mean to absolve the government or society at large from its responsibility to film—but these are of secondary importance to our own actions as filmmakers, and we disempower ourselves if we treat them as determining factors.

Nonetheless, secondary importance is still importance. Financial support, whether from the private sector or the state, might not be the be-all and end-all—but it certainly helps. It’s also a fact that while the means of production may be within most people’s reach, the means of distribution (and consequently any significant profit) are certainly not. (3)

So, with our priorities established, let’s take a look at these other factors.

Two

The private sector. In terms of private investment, the prospects in this country are slim. The reasons for this seem to be that, from an Irish perspective, film financing simply isn’t profitable enough. Ireland is too small a market in and of itself and the international market is too dominated by the US, which operates under an established system and economy of scale that is impossible to compete with.

The government has attempted to entice more investors towards film through the Section 481 tax incentive scheme—but, as Laura Slattery writes, the scheme tends to attract “middle managers rather than the high-net-worth.” According to Andrew Lowe, “Film finance is not for the super rich in Ireland, because the return isn't high enough.” The paltry scale of Irish film in economic terms, can be gauged by the fact that property-based tax incentives, such as those under Section 24 and Section 50, have been the preferred route for many investors. Why? The returns are higher. (4)

This situation seems to me largely unavoidable. You can’t expect private investors to throw their money into film when more profitable avenues are available. You can expect the government to do their best to persuade them—which is what the Section 481 initiative arguably represents. I say arguably because, personally, I’ve yet to become convinced one way or the other about the legitimacy of 481. On the one hand, the incentive’s insistence on pre-sales agreements to reduce the risk for investors, and its miniscule requirement that 10% of the film in question be produced in Ireland, seem to make the initiative more geared towards attracting large, and most likely foreign, productions—which may be good for the economy, but has very little to do with indigenous filmmaking. On the other hand, many Irish films have benefited from 481 funding (5), and one wonders whether an imperfect (possibly even corrupt) (6) scheme is better than none. I certainly don’t think my C in Leaving Cert Economics qualifies me to come up with any better ideas.

Three

Putting things in perspective. So is Irish cinema in dire conditions? Difficult might be a better word. The small size and population of the country, coupled with the America-centric nature of the international market, undoubtedly put us at a disadvantage. But it’s important to remember that film, as an art form, is inherently disadvantaged. The huge costs involved, even just in terms of distribution, puts pressure on filmmakers to adhere to business principles in order to (hopefully) ensure a return on the investment. In order to sustain itself economically, cinema forever risks negating itself artistically. The result was best summed up by US independent filmmaker Andrew Bujalski who wrote:

When anything with a semblance of creative spark and/or deviation from accepted commercial formulae makes it to a screen, the event is roughly equivalent to a prison inmate’s successfully making the dash for freedom without getting taken out by the sharpshooters or torn apart by the dogs. (7)

In other words, while Irish film may have to deal with a few distinctive economic obstacles, the odds are stacked against good films being made anywhere.

In a strange way, Ireland might even have a few advantages over other countries. Take, for example, the United States. It may sound surprising, but in fact, one of the primary victims of America’s huge and globally dominant movie industry is the country’s own indigenous filmmaking. While the country may have the biggest film industry in the world, it lacks any sort of financial support from the state or other institutions outside of the market-driven private sector. For a country of 280 million people, this is a truly dire situation. Big business’ monopolisation of both the distribution system and the media leave the prospects for independent filmmakers wishing “to exhibit or show their work and make some money from it” somewhere between slim and utterly hopeless. (8) Bujalski was perhaps only half joking when he said of American film, “There’s nothing wrong with the art form that the dismantlement of capitalism wouldn’t fix.”

Ireland, on the other hand, has the Irish Film Board, an active state funding body which, in its own words, “aims to ensure the continuity of production and availability of Irish films to home and international audiences.” (9) The films they choose to finance and the manner in which they do so may be questionable—but no-one can deny we’re lucky to have them at all.

Four

God bless the IFB. The key conflict the Film Board must deal with, and which most debate surrounding the organisation concerns, is their dual commitment both to culture and to commerce. The IFB finds itself in a strange position in which they have committed to support commercial entertainment as well as (at the risk of using a dirty word) art. They are, arguably, obligated to support the former for two reasons.

1. The absence of commercial film financiers in this country means that even a commercial film culture cannot exist here without state subsidy.

2. Commercially successful projects would both help sustain support of less profitable projects, and help justify the IFB’s budget to the exchequer and the taxpaying public.

The questionable aspect of such a policy is that a commitment to profitability may conflict with a commitment to nurturing indigenous film. For example, it may be more profitable to simply accommodate the influx of foreign productions.

Joe Comerford argued that these separate interests were just too different to be administered by the same organisation. “It is not a question of which is good and which is bad,” he said, “but a fundamental difference of purpose, which should be recognised.” (10) The side which was losing out, in Comerford’s view, was clearly art. The accomodation of commercial product might be defensible if less market-driven work was clearly being supported too—but this does not seem to be the case.

A case in point is the board’s recent Low Budget and Micro Budget initiatives. Introduced in 2003, the initiative was announced with the intention to “encourage new types of filmmaking”—personal, innovative projects that would be high-risk but “may open up new forms of narrative”. (11) The films produced under this initiative so far, however, have largely failed to live up (or even aspire to) these kinds of criteria. With a few honourable exceptions, these films mostly, as Tony Keily writes, “look like youth movies, rom coms or thrillers shot on one-step financed low budgets.” They exemplify “new types of Irish funding” more than “new types of Irish filmmaking”. (12)

One of the causes of this may be the Board’s self-admitted bias to projects that have acquired pre-sales agreements with sales agents, distributors or bond companies. As Liz Gill points out, “Sales agents never will be or wish to be creative visionaries.” To express a desire to take risks and pioneer new forms, but then to add in brackets, “as long as the distributors think it will make money” seems to be a case of taking one step forward and another step back. Gill reasonably asserts, “A body such as the IFB/BSE cannot wait for the market to tell it what to do.” She argues that previous attempts to appeal to the demands of international financing in Ireland resulted in “many films that satisfied only the international financing community’s view of what an Irish film should be.” (13) It seems that the effects will be comparable if sales agents and distributors are allowed to play a defining role in these low-budget schemes. “The board should be leading the way in helping to create an indigenous industry,” says Stephen Kane. “Instead it seems to want to be reduced to playing the follow the leader.” (14)

Five

Commercial reverse psychology. To lead the way as Kane suggests, isn’t necessarily to be un-commercial—but simply to resist the established assumptions about what is required to be commercial. As Tony Keily outlines in his excellent article “What do you mean when you say ‘initiative’?”, probably the best chance for us to make an impact both domestically and internationally, in both commercial and cultural terms—is to do something completely different to the mainstream commercial cinema; something radical, innovative, challenging and personal. Consequently, to make run-of-the-mill genre films or dramas may satisfy the prejudices of sales agents, et al—but, as Keily explains

Not only would it have contradicted the stated guidelines of the initiatives, with their emphasis on "personal visually-based" film, it would have made little business sense. If there was specific demand at the lower end of a polarised international market place, this demand was for the mentioned digital and risky specialty products. … If you make mainstream drama cheaply in a semi-state sheltered environment which for reasons of poor market demand can't be made with conventional financing at a higher budget, that's just making uncommercial commercial cinema. (15)

The Irish Film Board seemed to acknowledge this when it said, “Paradoxically, in cinema, the further you push artistically the more genuinely commercial you can be.” (16) Former head of the Film Board, Rod Stoneman saw this as vital way to counter to American cinema’s dominance. Or at least said so.

Outside of Hollywood, across the world, other cinemas can be more successful by playing to their own artisanal strengths and diversities, which are not the strengths of a very highly centralised and industrialised process based in the lower left hand corner of America. (17)

Five

But. Of course, all this is dependent on Irish filmmakers coming up with the goods—if we’re able. How much of the lacklustre nature of Irish film’s output so far is attributable to the restrictions enforced by funding bodies and market economics—or how much is simply evidence of Irish filmmakers’ thorough lack of imagination? Is it society’s fault? Or are we just bad filmmakers?

In the end, there’s only one way to find out; and the Film Board can’t do it for us. Ultimately, the ball is in the filmmakers’ court…

…BUT TV IS DOOMED.

Another confession—I don’t like TV. I see it as a chronically compromised medium that has had a powerfully negative impact on the modern world. I think it’s bad for you, and I try to watch as little of it as possible. While I love moving images, and therefore would not rule out entirely the possibility of working on some television projects—the opportunities for truly artistic work to get made or screened in the television medium seem so slight that I rarely entertain the idea, unless I’m simultaneously entertaining a wishful “when the revolution comes” scenario.

If the situation in Ireland is difficult for film, it seems positively hopeless for television. While at least the means of production (the most important element in the long term) are now affordable for film, in television, production is so tied up with distribution (ie, something isn’t TV unless it’s on TV) that as a medium it is still inaccessible to the majority of the population. Consequently, my opening argument about the responsibility of filmmakers isn’t really applicable to television-makers. In this case, the system is to blame.

The reasons for this are analogous to the difficulties surrounding film: chiefly, the exorbitant expenses involved. This leads to a reliance on advertisers (the television world’s investors), who in turn seek assurance that programming will appeal to a large enough (and marketable) audience, which comes in the form of tried-and-tested standards and formulas, spiced up with an array of shock tactics generally appealing to the lowest common denominator and everyone’s basest, worst instincts. All of which leads directly to Celebrity Love Island.

Saul Bellow described this state of affairs as the “moronic inferno”. (1)

The fact that television’s financial pressure leads to a downward spiral that far exceeds even the worst that cinema has to offer (see above example) relates to two other specific pressures.

  1. TV demands a level and consistency of output far exceeding that of film. The fact that this output is often only viewed once further encourages a speedy, production-line approach to the process where the priority is invariably, as Lir Mac Carthaigh says, “getting it done, not getting it right”. (2) TV is a factory for disposable goods.

  2. Because of the pressure to catch and hold the viewers’ attention, particularly those who are “five-second flickers”, television-makers are inclined to employ faster, flashier and simpler images and programming to compete with the other channels who are, of course, doing the same thing. While a film’s marketing department might consider its job done once they’ve got people into the theatre, in TV a program is forced to become it’s own advertising in order to keep people watching.

So what hope is there? In a country with Ireland’s scale and resources—not much. State assistance can offer some respite from the market-driven race to the bottom, and RTE and TG4 can certainly boast the relative quality of their programming compared to TV3. But even the state broadcaster must rely on advertising too, and consequently is at least partially in thrall to commercial interests. The question of how in thrall is highly debatable. But there is a sense in which the dual commitment to both public and profit—like the Film Board’s situation—has a sort of Jekyl & Hyde effect on programming. Bob Quinn described it as “the incredibly difficult task of satisfying advertisers with ratings, while retaining a commitment to programming quality.” (3)

On the one hand, RTE is at least attempting to produce some serious drama, documentaries and current affairs programming. On the other hand, the station has also produced second-rate knock-offs of standard LCD formulas, such as You’re a Star and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; strong contenders in the televisual race to the bottom that one would imagine a state broadcaster would, if not openly work against, at least abstain from taking part in.

There are two possible conclusions here:

  1. RTE have been forced into this situation by the cruel economics of broadcasting—in which case the only solution is, as Andrew Bujalski suggested earlier, “the dismantlement of capitalism”. Or failing that, write TV off as a hack’s medium and go read a book.

  2. The state of Irish broadcasting is less a product of economic necessity than of a cultural choice. In which case what’s required is a serious public debate on the matter.

My own personal inclination is to take the first option and start reading again. This is arguably the easy way out, but it’s my feeling that even if Irish TV is salvageable to some extent, the medium is just too inherently limited to make it worth the effort. (4) Why do we need it anyway? It gives advertisers one more medium to manipulate our desires through; it cheapens visual media by offfering a low quality stream of it, 24-7; and it has the uncanny ability of distracting you, wasting your time and stealing your energy all at once. (5)

That’s how I feel about it—but nonetheless, I can’t deny the unparalleled importance and power of TV in today’s world. As the RTE website tells us, “For most people, television and radio are the closest daily point of contact with cultural experience.” Apart from just ceasing to watch it (something I think should seriously be discussed and considered), the only option in this situation is to try to make the best of it. (6) The extent to which we make the best of it is where the cultural choice comes in—what are the broadcasters willing to risk, and what are viewers willing to demand; and, most importantly, why?

SO WHERE TO NOW?

One

What we want. A prevalent argument against a lot of what I have written so far is that film boards or broadcasters who follow market trends, conventions and formulas are simply “giving people what they want”.

This is a lot like saying Dublin Bus is obviously an excellent public service because so many people use it.

Firstly, as MacCarthaigh put it, “For many, cinemagoing is a social activity first, and a cultural experience second.” Many factors come into play before the quality of a particular film is even considered. Often times it need not become a consideration at all—for example, in a small town two-screen cinema, where one must simply choose between Hollywood film A or Hollywood film B. In such cases, one’s freedom of choice is about as meaningful as it is in a US presidential election. “The preponderance of blockbusters in our cinemas does not imply that there is a great demand for them,” MacCarthaigh points out, “merely that there is a great supply of them, and (more than likely) that much has been invested in advertising them.” (1) Indeed, the influence of big budget marketing shouldn’t be underestimated. Rod Stoneman believed that “across time it has actually changed people’s taste.” (2)

As for TV, it may be a markedly less social pastime, but most people’s viewing choices tend to be even more arbitrary. When we feel like watching TV (which, incidentally, is usually when we feel like pigging out and giving our minds a complete rest), we tend to search for the least objectionable piece of junk on and live with that.

It should be clear, therefore, that the market-driven media hasn’t so much discovered what people want as it has what people will put up with. As Bob Quinn said:

Monetarist thinking … claimed that competition would produce greater choice and variety. In broadcasting the reverse has been proved to be the case. All television now relies on a staple diet of soaps, sit-coms and soundbites. (3)

This homogeneity is a result of what Stoneman called “the reduction of the ‘inefficiency’ of diversity.” (4) In other words, the objective isn’t the satisfaction of the tastes and interests of the whole spectrum of society, but a product that the largest amount of people find the least objectionable.

Market defenders will keep coming back to the viewer’s freedom of choice. But, as Michael D. Higgins said, “Some choices are facilitated rather than others.” (5) The question of whether people would choose more unusual or original films has already been answered to some extent—for example, by the consistent success of the IFI or the popularity of the recent Pavee Lackeen. (6) Or take the UGC multiplex’s commitment to “giving equal billing … to indigenous product, independent filmmakers, films from across the globe.” The cinema’s managing director posited that “any cinema that limits its products, limits its audience.” (7)

Two

What we need. Of course, even exposed to a wealth of alternatives, many people will be inclined to stick with what they know. If you’ve been raised on fast food, a gourmet meal is probably going to taste pretty inedible at first. This is natural in the sense that it’s an inevitable consequence of the state of things—but that doesn’t mean it’s the way it has to be. It’s a cultural problem, and one that art, and society itself, should be working to address rather than accommodate.

The oft-praised fact that we are one of the most enthusiastic cinema-going countries in Europe, is probably more indicative of the fact that it fills a necessary recreational gap, rather than any deep love of cinema. In fact, the quality of output that the Irish public put up with indicates, if anything, that most people don’t really care about film and TV. It isn’t part of the fabric of their lives in the ways that their friends, family or job might be. It’s a form of pleasant distraction rather than a means of transformation or enrichment.

The only solution is to artistically educate the public. This is not to belittle or patronise people, but simply to establish the obvious. If we were talking about football, there would be no argument that not only does one need to learn the rules of the game to appreciate it, but one gains a greater understanding of the game—its principles, its subtleties—over time. One might respond that the public have been watching films all their lives. Yes, but for the most they’ve been watching mediocre ones. If you’ve only ever seen terrible teams play, you’d have a very skewed understanding of the game.

It doesn’t seem too much to suggest art be taken as seriously as sports.

A key step to creating a healthy film culture is a public with the faculties to appreciate one. What meaning does freedom of choice have if people aren’t able to make informed ones? If, from an early age, people were given an understanding of art (including film)—of its depths and virtues beyond functioning as a mere distraction or recreational filler, its potential to transform and enrich—higher cultural expectations and standards might develop and we might start “putting up” with less of the market-driven pap that we currently do. It might very well be the only way to fulfill what Michael Tracey described as the object of public broadcasting: to make “good programs popular and popular programs good”. (8)

My final point is a suggested first step towards this education.

Three

What are we talking about exactly? In his book The End of Education, Neil Postman observed that most debate surrounding education had focused on what he called “engineering problems” rather than “metaphysical ones”. In other words:

Most of the conversation is about means, rarely about ends … They evade the issue of what schools are for. It is as if we are a nation of technicians, consumed by our expertise in how something should be done, afraid or incapable of thinking about why. (9)

Michael D. Higgins identified a similar problem in Irish broadcasting when he wrote that what has developed here

has been a generation of technicians rather than visionaries, each one taking a career rather than an idea seriously. The answer must be reform in our educational methods, so that students are encouraged to ask about 'know-why' as well as 'know-how'. (10)

I have stated above the need for educational reform—but in the mean-time, it seems essential that general discourse on Irish film and TV re-focuses itself on the “know-why”. In film, the bias towards “means” is obvious: it isn’t hard to find an article discussing the merits of Section 481 or the structure of the Film Board. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece of journalism in this country addressing the question of what film is for.

For businessmen, the answer to that is simple. However, for those of us who want more, defining the purpose of film—and indeed art as a whole—is a difficult but necessary task. Without an active description of itself, film in particular is effectively neutered. As the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (who’s book Sculpting in Time should be required reading in any artistic education) once said:

The yardsticks by which art is distinguished from non-art, from sham, are so relatively indistinct and impossible to demonstrate, that nothing could be easier than to substitute for aesthetic criteria purely utilitarian measures of assessment which may be dictated either by the desire for the greatest possible financial profit or from some ideological motive. (11)

The close ties of film with business make this substitution even more likely—and makes the construction of a strong definition of art, something to compete against the more easily demonstrable and definable realm of the market, even more pressing. In terms of Irish cinema, it could be a crucial development.

An example. Defending the Film Board against Liz Gill’s critique (quoted earlier) Mark Woods argued that should the Board

make solely editorial decisions without marketplace partners, [it] is open to charges … of spending taxpayer money on personal choices… There is no perfect decision making process in terms of dividing up a limited financing pie—a purely editorial decision making process invites as much discomfort as a purely market-driven one. (12)

The choice of words here implies two possible bases for the Film Board selection process: subjective, “editorial” decisions and objective “market-driven” ones. The fact that any judgement outside of a business-related one is deemed to be utterly “personal” illustrates what shaky ground art is on in this culture. Even the word itself has become genuinely embarrassing to a lot of people. Tony Keily acknowledges this in his aforementioned article when he asks himself, “Why don't you say ‘art’ at all except when you quote Joe Comerford?” (13)

Speaking of Joe Comerford: he has argued that

if cultural criteria are to be reintroduced, then the Film Board must be fundamentally restructured. Options vary from having two different organisations, one for commercial movies and one for cultural film, to having two departments with separate directors under an alternating chairperson. (14)

For ideas like this to take hold, or even be taken seriously, the very notion of art needs to be discussed and defined—an obvious idea maybe, but one that has rarely been carried through concertedly, and never to my knowledge in this country.

Lelia Doolan has said “the arts must always be part of the oxygen we breathe rather than an option to be relinquished or adopted according to economic conditions and the availability of sales agents”. (15) For this to happen, we have to start looking at why art’s so essential; at what it’s for and what it does. Vague phrases like “arthouse” or “cultural filmmaking” aren’t enough.

In The End of Education, Postman argues that for schools to be successful, strong narratives need to be in place articulating what schools are for—what their “end” is. According to him, “There is no surer way to bring an end to schooling than for it to have no end.”

He lists Economic Utility and Consumerism as examples of popular Western narratives— but ones that fail to satisfy the imagination.

There’s a lesson here for cinema. One might argue that the world of art is too subjective, too personal and too intuitive to be reduced to any restrictive, formulaic definition. Yet there are clear, articulable reasons—outside of economics and politics—why art should exist. This definition can be flexible but still be something to hold on to. It need not be all-encompassing or exclusive. As Postman writes, such narratives do not necessarily have to be perfectly true. “The measure of a narrative’s ‘truth’ or ‘falsity’ is in its consequences.” With a “why” established, film as art might be able to achieve a greater hold on the “how”s of production and distribution, and establish some non-market values that are more than just “editorial”.

To that end, we need to start talking. (16)

Four

Just do it. This sort of talk is important but, as I said at the beginning, everything I’ve been discussing is of secondary importance to one thing: actually making films. There may be plenty of problems in the wider film world, but the act of filmmaking itself is an increasingly viable option, and as Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” (17)

The last word goes to critic Tag Gallagher:

Between making a movie and making a culture, there are only practical differences. A movie becomes a convention when copied; a culture needs constant renewal by each individual... (18)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Unidentified Film Board Rep, "Q&A," Film Ireland 90 (Jan/Feb 2003), p15

  • Joe Comerford, "Moves Drive In, Film Driven Out," Film Ireland 104 (May/June 2005), p17

  • Lelia Doolan, "Litany of the Minor Matters," Film Ireland 100 (Sept/Oct 2005), p21

  • Vincent Durack, "Access All Areas," Film Ireland 49 (Oct/Nov 1995), p27

  • Roddy Flynn, "Risky Business," Film Ireland 49 (Oct/Nov 1995), p11-13

  • Liz Gill, "Where to Now?", in Film Ireland 104 (May/June 2005), p16

  • Liz Gill, "Low Future?" , Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p16

  • Stephen Kane, "Other Voices," Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p17

  • Tony Keily, “An A-Z of Low and Micro Inspiration,” Film Ireland 90 (Jan/Feb 2003), p12

  • Lir Mac Carthaigh, Film Ireland editorials 97 (Mar/Apr 2004), 102 (Jan/Feb 2005), 103 (Mar/Apr 2005)

  • Bob Quinn, "Degeneration Gap”, Film Ireland 100 (Sept/Oct 2004), p18-20

  • Laura Slattery, “Investors still queue for film finance tax relief,” The Irish Times, 28 October, 2005. Rod Stoneman interviewed by Hugh Linehan, “Shot for Shot Remake,” Film Ireland 95 (Nov/Dec 2003), p16-18

  • Rod Stoneman, “Five Easy Pieces,” Film Ireland 97 (Mar/Apr 2004), p40-42

  • Margaret Taylor interviewed by Lir Mac Carthaigh and Esther Terradas, “Beyond the Blockbuster,” Film Ireland 96 (Jan/Feb 2004), p24-25

  • Mark Woods, “Response from BSE/IFB,” Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p16

  • Andrew Bujalski, “No Trouble With Movies”, http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/newse vents/upcoming.shtml

  • Ray Carney, "American Narrative Art Film: The First Thirty Years, 1949-1979", http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/indiemove/survey.shtml

  • Donal Foreman, “What’s Missing From Irish Cinema?”, http://people.bu.edu/rcarney /newsevents/upcomingarch2.shtml or http://www.robnilsson.com/newsletter0506 .html )

  • Michael D. Higgins, "Active citizens or passive consumers?", http://www.nzonair.govt.nz/images/media/about/higgins.pdf

  • Tony Keily, "What do you mean when you say ‘initiative’?", http://www.filmireland.net/104/tonyk.htm

  • Tag Gallagher, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini (Da Capo, 1998)

  • Neil Postman, The End of Education (Vintage Books, 1996)

  • Bob Quinn, Maverick (Brandon, 2001)

  • Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (University of Texas Press, 1986)

“THE CINEMA IS FINE” ENDNOTES

  1. Tony Keily, “An A-Z of Low and Micro Inspiration,” Film Ireland 90 (Jan/Feb 2003), p12. (My particular views on Irish cinema itself are outlined in my previous essay, “What’s Missing from Irish Cinema” at http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/newsevents/upcoming arch2. shtml and also http://www.robnilsson.com/newsletter0506.html )

  2. Of course it’s true that there are certain ideas which simply can’t be realised in such a low-budget context. But it’s also true that any genuine die-in-the-wool filmmaker will make do with whatever he can. As the saying goes, it’s a poor musician who blames his instrument—or, one might add, their government. I apply this to myself first and foremost: I truly believe the only thing that can stop me from making a great film is me—whether I have the skill and talent or not.

  3. Undeniably the real “hard nut to crack” these days is distribution. But I don’t think this negates the liberating fact that the means of production are now extremely affordable. And there are signs of alternative modes of distribution developing. The internet, both as a viewing platform and a retailer for more obscure films, has immense possibilities. Personally, some of the greatest American films I’ve seen (by Andrew Bujalski, Caveh Zahedi, Rob Nilsson and others) have been purchased directly off the filmmakers themselves through their websites.

However, without a widespread marketing campaign attached to the film in question, it may seem unlikely that such avenues could ever yield consistent or considerable profits. This is true to an extent, but there are two counter-arguments worth considering:

  1. As Margaret Taylor of UGC cinemas said, “word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool.”

  2. A public that was more educated about the limitations of what the conventional distribution system would be more inclined to search out films through alternative means.

    1. Laura Slattery, “Investors still queue for film finance tax relief,” The Irish Times, 28 October, 2005. Andrew Lowe quoted within.

    2. Roddy Flynn, “Risky Business,” Film Ireland 49 (Oct/Nov 1995), p11-13.

    …Seven first-time Irish directors are shooting their first feature film this year, all one budgets considered low by international standards … and all of which will have raised ‘a significant proportion’ of their budgets from Section 35 [now 481]. … [Ed Guiney] states that neither Ailsa nor Guiltrip, both debute features from Irish directors, could have happened without Section 35.

    1. Slattery: “…The Revenue believes the loss to the exchequer due to abuse of the scheme over that period was about €23.3 million.”

    2. Andrew Bujalski, “No Trouble With Movies”, http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/newse vents/upcoming.shtml. (Bujalski even goes so far as to describe these cinematic triumphs as “miracles … defined by their scarcity as much as by their brilliance.”)

    3. Ray Carney, “American Narrative Art Film: The First Thirty Years, 1949-1979”, http://people.bu.edu/rcarney/indiemove/survey.shtml.

    4. Home page, www.filmboard.ie

    5. Joe Comerford, “Moves Drive In, Film Driven Out,” Film Ireland 104 (May/June 2005), p17

    6. Unidentified Film Board Rep, “Q&A,” Film Ireland 90 (Jan/Feb 2003), p15

    7. Tony Keily, “What do you mean when you say ‘initiative’?”, http://www.filmireland.net/104/tonyk.htm

    8. Liz Gill, “Low Future?” , Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p16

    9. Stephen Kane, “Other Voices,” Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p17

    10. Tony Keily, “What do you mean when you say ‘initiative’?”, http://www.filmireland.net/104/tony k.htm. (This “specific demand” has been proved before, for example by the Danish Dogme movement and by the low-budget output of New York’s Blow Up Pictures.)

    11. Unidentified Film Board Rep, “Q&A,” Film Ireland 90 (Jan/Feb 2003), p15

    12. Rod Stoneman interviewed by Hugh Linehan, “Shot for Shot Remake,” Film Ireland 95 (Nov/Dec 2003), p17. (Lir Mac Carthaigh makes a similar point in his Film Ireland 103 editorial.)

    “…BUT TV IS DOOMED” ENDNOTES

    1. Saul Bellow quoted by Rod Stoneman, interviewed by Hugh Linehan, “Shot for Shot Remake,” Film Ireland 95 (Nov/Dec 2003), p17

    2. Lir Mac Carthaigh, Film Ireland editorial 97

    3. Bob Quinn, Maverick (Brandon, 2001)

    4. Take the American station, HBO—generally acknowledged to have produced some of the finest fiction television in recent history: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Oz, etc. The station’s best shows represent the closest TV has come to overcoming financial compromises and actually making something of lasting value—something that might even persuade one to drop the manufacturing terminology and bring out that old dirty word art. It has done so by tapping into a minority audience (10% of the market) that, because of the size of the US, is a sufficient market in and of itself (roughly 30 million people).

    Obviously Irish TV is incapable of tapping into such a significant minority—but I bring up HBO because, for an organisation that has gone to the very limit (so far) of what TV can achieve, its shows are still strikingly limited. The Sopranos and Six Feet Under are good—but they’re not in the same league as the greats of cinema or of any other art. They still follow traditional A plot/B plot/C plot structures, must adhere to a prescribed time limit and level of output, and are all fairly traditional in their modes of representation.

    1. Personally, I suspect there is something inherently negative about the television medium. While TV obviously does serve some unequivocally positive functions—for example as a provider of news and analysis, as a forum for discussion and debate, and as a vehicle for the promotion and exhibition of the arts (eg televised films, concerts, stand-up gigs)—these are all nevertheless activities which exist outside of and regardless to television, and are often better served through other mediums (eg, newspapers).

    I’ve heard the argument that TV provides, or can provide, a sense of togetherness and community in a society that’s otherwise lacking. Bob Quinn described this, in relation to soaps in particular, as an addiction “to a surrogate version of the social and community identity whose reality lies in smithereens about us.” Obviously such a sense of community is a pale imitation of the real thing. It strikes me as equivalent to trying to eat plastic food; you’re better off fasting.

    1. I’m intrigued, and almost swayed, by this comment from Bob Quinn: “TV in general may be debased but it is still the real battleground, a position that must be retrieved by filmmakers.” (“Degeneration Gap”, Film Ireland 100, p20.) Averse as I am to TV, I must admit those committed to “make the best of it” may have the most engaged and ethically sound position.

    WHERE TO NOW?” ENDNOTES

    1. Lir Mac Carthaigh, Film Ireland 102 editorial

    2. Rod Stoneman interviewed by Hugh Linehan, “Shot for Shot Remake,” Film Ireland 95 (Nov/Dec 2003), p17

    3. Bob Quinn, Maverick (Brandon, 2001)

    4. Rod Stoneman interviewed by Hugh Linehan, “Shot for Shot Remake,” Film Ireland 95 (Nov/Dec 2003), p17

    5. Michael D. Higgins, "Active citizens or passive consumers? Culture, Democracy and Public Service Broadcasting in the era of an unaccountable market", http://www.nzonair.govt.nz/images/media/about/higgins.pdf

    6. IFTN News Article, 17 November 2005, “Pavee Lackeen Scores at Irish Box Office”, http://www.iftn.ie/news/index3.htm?area=Distribution&fuseaction= section :

    7. Perry Ogden’s IFTA winning Irish feature film ‘Pavee Lackeen’ opened to sell out crowds in Ireland last weekend. The film scored a weekend screen average of €5,719 exceeding major studio titles including ‘In Her Shoes’ and ‘The Constant Gardner’.

    8. Margaret Taylor interviewed by Lir Mac Carthaigh and Esther Terradas, “Beyond the Blockbuster,” Film Ireland 96 (Jan/Feb 2004), p24-25

    9. Michael Tracey quoted by Higgins, "Active citizens or passive consumers?”

    10. Neil Postman, The End of Education (Vintage Books, 1996), page x

    11. Higgins, "Active citizens or passive consumers?”

    12. Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (University of Texas Press, 1986), p164

    13. Mark Woods, “Response from BSE/IFB,” Film Ireland 103 (Mar/Apr 2005), p16

    14. Tony Keily, “What do you mean when you say ‘initiative’?”, http://www.filmireland.net/104/tonyk.htm. He then explains: It makes people nervous. They think it's a four-letter word. In Ireland, men don't feel manly saying it. It reminds them of ballet lessons. Commerce is more suits and cigars, like somebody's daddy.

    15. Joe Comerford, “Moves Drive In, Film Driven Out,” Film Ireland 104 (May/June 2005), p17

    16. Lelia Doolan, “Litany of the Minor Matters,” Film Ireland 100 (Sept/Oct 2005), p21

    17. My own “stab” at such a definition is present at the end of my essay, “What’s Missing…” referenced earlier. But the most cogent attempts at this project that I have found have been at Ray Carney’s website, www.cassavetes.com, and in Andrei Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting in Time.

    18. Friedrich Wilhelme Nietzsche quoted by Postman, The End of Education (Vintage Books, 1996), p4

    19. Tag Gallagher, The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini (Da Capo, 1998)

    Andrew Bujalski on the art and business of film / Charles Lyons on going for broke / The Puffy Chair / Why Film Production Majors Should Be Replaced by Auto Mechanics / JuneBug, 2046, and Mutual Appreciation / David Chien on Caveh Zahedi's I am a Sex Addict / Donal Foreman on Independent Film / Donal Foreman on the Irish Television and Film Industry / Quotations about the artistic process/ Tarkovsky on film school and trying to please people / Donal Foreman on the State of the Art / Other films and filmmakers / Quiet City / Henry James, Art of Fiction 1 / Henry James, Art of Fiction 2 / Emerson, Circles, 1 / Emerson, Circles, 2 / Avedon on Alfredson / David Ball Interview

     

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    Text Copyright 2006 by Donal Foreman. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.