MORE THAN HALF WAY…

A nice write-up about the BILL project in the Boulder Weekly was picked up by USA Today, and with 22 Kickstarter days left, we’re more than half way to raising $100,000 to make the film of Harry Harrison’s immortal science fiction novel.

What is very noteworthy is that in the crowdfunding world none of the caveats of “film finance” seem to apply. For as long as I’ve been making features I’ve been told I can’t shoot them in black and white. “Audiences won’t stand for it” is a refrain film directors and cinematographers have been subjected to since the 1970s. “Television won’t accept it” was another frequently heard claim. Both were always demonstrably untrue since commercials and pop promos continued to be made in monochrome, and their only destination was the telly. Yet the caveat, for studios and British film funders, remained written in stone. Whereas not one of our 500+ backers has complained about the monochrome stock, or suggested we shoot the film in 120-fps 4K 3-D video instead. It’s almost as if Kickstarter backers have a clearer idea of what a film is, and what they want it to be, than Hollywood studio execs… Could this be so?

I have had a couple of enquiries about the student aspect of the production. One person is worried that the term “student film” has a negative connotation which could put supporters of the project off. This might be a valid point, but it isn’t something I’ve felt. I was a film student, at Bristol in England and at UCLA, and had a great education and a great time. At UCLA our role model was Charles Burnett, who had made, as one of his student projects, a black-and-white feature: KILLER OF SHEEP. When we shot REPO MAN I re-enrolled at UCLA so that we could use the video studio and the sound stages. Much of the work done at CU Boulder is technically and creatively of a very high standard: check it out here. So I reckon this attempt at making the biggest student film of all time is a plus, rather than a minus.

The other query was as to the ethics of getting students to work without pay on a feature film which may one day make money. This, too, is a fair point. No one working on BILL will get paid. The budget will be spent entirely on film stock, processing, props, costumes, visual effects materials, food, travel, and shipping out Kickstarter rewards. Most sane people in the middle of their lives cannot live this way. They need to be paid, to support their families, and homes, and cars. Only students, and those with a vocation, or a vacation, can create art without hope of pay.

What if BILL makes money? Let’s raise the budget first, and make the film, and hope it’s good and blessed with great fortune. Everyone who works on the film, as a crew person or an actor, including me, will receive one producer’s point. What will this be worth? Who knows? There are so many stages in the progress of a film. Finishing it is just part of the process. Getting it out and seen by an audience is another part. Happy retirement in a sunny fishing village is probably something else. Right now, one must concentrate on fundraising, and making the best film possible.

And on other things unrelated. For, as Harry wrote, “I know of no serious writer who does not need his solitude, his sitting and thinking time, in addition to his writing time.

SHOOTING ON FILM: THE FATE OF SUPER 16mm

The BBC have told producers that they will no longer accept delivery of programmes shot on Super 16mm film. This is more serious than it sounds: I would imagine it’s been years since the BBC took delivery of anything on film – producers deliver on tape, or, in a pinch, on hard drives. But the broadcaster isn’t just rejecting film as a delivery medium: it’s rejecting anything shot on Super 16mm: which includes many British and independent features and TV shows, and a couple of my own features.

That these are dire days for film is no secret. The last manufacturer of black and white 35mm film is bankrupt. Kodak still makes monochrome stock. But for how long? Of course, broadcasters rejected black and white as a medium long ago (if you make a show for broadcast on the BBC or Channel 4 or the IFC or PBS you make it in colour!) but rejecting film as a medium seems arbitrary.

Image  Perhaps part of the problem is that Super 16mm is harder to shoot with than 35mm. Financiers never believe this, imagining that a cost saving on stock and processing means cost savings everywhere – rejoice! But it is not so. The comparatively small area of film exposed translates into a need for lots more light. So what the production saves in one area it spends elsewhere: on more lamps and grip equipment, on extra crew, and on time wasted as lighting setups become more critical. You can “run and gun” an independent feature shooting on 35mm. It’s much harder on Super 16mm. So maybe indy productions shot on Super 16mm are tending to look under-lit and grainy. Still, one feels the BBC should not reject drama on the basis of film grain (especially when video producers often add “grain” to make their output look more filmlike), or make arbitrary rules proscribing all the work made on a good, if difficult, medium.

Image  Rumour hath it that Alan Yentob, former BBC arts supremo, will intervene to grant Super 16mm a reprieve – at least for drama (does anyone still shoot documentaries on film?). Let’s hope so: otherwise films as diverse at THIS IS SPINAL TAP, LEAVING LAS VEGAS and MARCH OF THE PENGUINS can ne’er again be shown. The small pix accompanying this article are from my own film THREE BUSINESSMEN, shot and edited on Super 16mm. They’re taken from DVD screengrabs, not the original 35mm blowup, which would show considerably more detail. They look nice to me. You just need to shoot in daylight, or spend the time lighting!