NEW WAVE HITS BRITISH FILMSCategory: Cinema + TV/Radio
I believe that there is a place in Britain for realistic, hard-hitting films which take chances and show the well-trodden paths of stereotyped, purely commercial, film-making.
The Italians found such a place soon after the war. The French in the early 50’s. The Americans with Marty (1955) and in Britain the first film of this kind was Room at the Top followed by Look Back in Anger.
But in Britain film-makers who want to make such films are faced with greater difficulties than their counterparts in France, Italy or even the USA.
Here the artistic content of a picture is finally in the hands of distributors and the financiers upon whom independent producers are reliant. These people won’t take chances. They seem to want Carry On… films ad nauseam. There is room for Carry On films and other innocuous English comedies. But there must be room for realistic films as well.
One thing I should like to point out is that we did not form Woodfall Productions from an arty-crafty point of view. We are extremely commercial-minded and we regard the properties we have as commercial properties. For instance Look Back in Anger will pay off and make a profit; The Entertainer is a tremendously commercial picture, as will be Saturday Night and Sunday Morning But the important thing about our company is that we insist on Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)
having artistic control of our pictures. We want to make them honestly. In other words, we control the script, the cast, the shooting and the completion of the picture.
We won’t allow our distributors or the people who back us to tell us how to make a picture. It’s a hard road; we’re the only people doing this in England and it is a battle all the time.
After two or three more pictures I hope we’ll find a permanent home where we can go on making them. We are not making cheap pictures, budgets are fairly high. We’ll cast people who may be totally unknown — so long as we think they- are right. I can’t think of anybody who could have done The Entertainer better than Laurence Olivier. On the other hand I cannot think of any actor who could play the main role in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning better than Albert Finney. We are going to cast the way that we see it rather than the way the distributors see it. We may be bankrupt and out of business tomorrow, but we’re going to give it a go.
In The Entertainer we made an honest film. But it was an awfully hard fight to make this picture because we insisted on controlling the artistic content. I don’t know of one producer, or producing group, outside ourselves, working in England today, who can insist on, and get, artistic control.
One thing that I’m particularly incensed about is that this is the only major film-producing country where producers have no line of credit from their suppliers.
In France, -Italy and California every producer gets credit from the laboratories and from the studios, which fight for the business. But here you are forced into the hands of the distributors for backing.
If you want to be a producer in this country, you have to be subservient, obsequious, and listen to business people rather than to creative talents as to who to cast, how to have it written and what to do with it.
I would say about seven out of ten motion pictures made in England don’t pay off, and it is producers like these who are making them. Eight out of ten pictures made in this country have no market, or a very limited one, of their own. This lack of credit facilities is one of the stifling points in our industry. Our company is trying to make a break-through on that and I think that we will one day.
The National Film Finance Corporation certainly help, but when a producer comes to them he already has to have a distribution company agreement. But the distribution company has already put him in chains. So much compromise is made at the setting up of production by the producer… some of them will cast the story wrong in order to get a big name to please the distributor, who thinks that’s going to sell it. When we made Look Back in Anger, Tony Richardson directed. He had never directed a picture before and it was an incredible job to get him accepted by the distributors and financing groups. Now Tony is one of the most promising directors in the world market. He’s been inundated with offers by some of the same people who turned him down as director for Look Back in Anger.
For Saturday Night and Sunday Morning I have a virgin director, Karel Reisz, who has done a number of documentaries, and I think he’s a great talent. In this film particularly there are no names. Apart from a small role in The Entertainer Albert Finney, who has the leading role, has never made a picture. This time the story is the star. Alan Sillitoe has written a very important book, which has been a tremendous success in America, and we are gambling with new faces and a new director. «
«You can only do this if you can control and follow your artistic conscience and not have the distributor interfere.
Two Years to Wait
I think eventually we will attract the normal lines of picture finance to accept our thinking, if we prove a financial success. It will take another two years to find out, by which time we will have made six films.
In everything we are doing the most important thing is the entertainment quotient. I don’t believe in selling messages. We’re interested in making commercial motion pictures with a high entertainment quotient. But at the same time I don’t believe in being phoney in the portrait of life. A property we have, Articles of War, is a war story with a tremendously different twist. I don’t think that there was ever a war story like this. It has no message and it isn’t documentary — it’s pure entertainment. No one could deny The Entertainer is entertaining. So will be Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Apart from Articles of War we have two other originals lined up. One is by Arnold Wesker called The Diary, which Tony Richardson will direct; and the other is tentatively called Maybe Tuesday?
We think these pictures will export. We’re not cocky or arrogant about it, and we’re not saying that we can teach other people how to make films. We just feel there’s a niche for the kind of films we’re making and we are fighting for it.
(New Wave Hits British Films by H. Saltzman, Films and Filming)