Fulfilling a passion never did come cheap. But, for two Birmingham filmmakers, paying £25,000 to scratch an itch will be worth every penny if it gets them into the Cannes Film Festival this spring.
The British Film Industry – Elitist, Deluded or Dormant? is a movie that Robin Dutta and Vinod Mahindru are making in their spare time at home.
But it has a cast that Hollywood would die for.
From an actor like Sir Ben Kingsley to directors and producers including Lord Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Stephen Frears, Mike Hodges and Nuneaton-born Ken Loach.
After three years of shooting, Robin is currently working through every night to edit 70 hours of raw footage in a sub two-hour documentary with DVD extras galore, while Vinod completes their accompanying book, Failure: The Private Fallacy of a British Film Industry!
The film itself is just over two hours long now, but the dynamic duo think they can shave a bit more out of it yet.
And then they want to shock the film world into action with the untold story of why it is so hard to make films in this country, why it’s so rare to find an independent “British” film in a multiplex and why we collectively fail to take more pride in our culture given that we have some of the best writers (alive and dead), actors and technicians in the world.
“We have so much talent, we should be taking Hollywood out!” stresses Vinod.
“But, at the moment, there is an uneven playing field with the current tax credits set up for the UK.”
Robin, 35, and Vinod, 44, have known each other for years through their company RKD Films and Cinemarx which makes films that are community based and for charities.
But they set up Quota Films to answer questions about the British film industry that just wouldn’t leave their guerrilla filmmaking mindset.
Vinod, who also works at Cineworld Broad Street as an audience supervisor, says: “The film industry is vital because it should represent who we are and at the moment it doesn’t.
“We sent out around 1,000 letters to all sorts of leading people.
“Just for the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and Sir Ian McKellen to write back to us with some often very encouraging comments has kept us going.
“Branagh was the first to come back and he really did think about it, while Emma said it was ‘a very important project... go for it’.
“But then you get people agreeing to join you and it starts to snowball.
“We interviewed the Oscar-winning Gandhi actor Sir Ben Kingsley at the Dorchester Hotel in London after he’d given a press conference for Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo.
“Since he had been playing pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès in Hugo, he was really on our level when talking about how to get films made now.
“He said: ‘People really love to see British films, but we are not making them’.
“Sir Ben was so relaxed and generous with us, and so interested in what we had to say, he made us feel like we were old friends.”
The willingness of such big names to take part has surprised the two Brummies.
But not as much as how outspoken many of them have been about things like the Virtual Print Fee (VPF).
This was designed to use the money saved by distributors not having to ship expensive prints around as a means of funding digital equipment for exhibitors – but it’s failing to help new filmmakers to get their products screened.
“It’s as if we’ve struck a chord and they want to get things off their chest,” says Vinod.
“The VPF seems to have had the opposite effect to what was intended so that it’s now disproportionately more expensive for lower budget filmmakers to exhibit their films.
“Not since the days of the Eady Levy (a 1957-85 tax on box office receipts to create investment in British films) have governments tried to take the industry seriously.
“Margaret Thatcher abolished it in 1985 and since then we’ve had the Film Council and bodies like Screen West Midlands which have been axed.
“Now there’s the BFI, but it can only lobby the government – and has it got the will or is it just self-serving?
“What none of these organisations have been able to do is to secure proper investment in the British film industry.
“Having Disney come over to make another Star Wars film using British technicians is not the same thing.
“They are just employing people to do a job – as welcome as that it is – and it’s an example of Hollywood monopolising the market by saying: ‘We will give their talent some money’.
“They say that after Jesus Christ, the most significant export is Hollywood.”
Robin adds: “In recent years, Lottery money has gone into films but I think that would be better off going to the NHS and hospitals.
“Lord (Chris) Smith’s recommendations after the closure of The Film Council were a waste of time.
“Greg Dyke is chairman of the BFI, but we’ve heard a lot more about his views about the integration of players thanks to his other role as chairman of the Football Association.
“He might (try to) use the same dialogue with the film industry, but he hasn’t said a word about it. If a new Bond film comes out, it costs as much to show that in a multiplex as it would a film that has cost £10,000 – that has to be wrong.
“It can cost £16 to watch a film in London or £12 here at IMAX Cineworld Broad Street and this country uses an outdated method of adding up the ‘success’ of films through their box office grosses.
“In France, they add up the attendees.
“For us, making this film has been a phenomenal journey – we’ve come out buzzing from some of the interviews.”
Among the pair’s personal highlights was a day spent at the Dorset home of the now 81-year-old director Mike Hodges (Get Carter / Croupier).
“He’s probably the director who understands ‘space’ more than any other except perhaps Sergio Leone,” says Robin.
“We have two hours of interview footage with him that will one day be priceless.
“Yet today he’s ignored by the British film industry.
“He’s not bitter, though, just at home painting to fulfil his need to be creative when he should have many more films left in him.”
One of the film’s most outspoken contributors is set to be Mars Attacks! screenwriter Jonathan Gems.
Because he’s retired, he has nothing to lose, unlike some black filmmakers who declined to take part lest they lose their precious foothold.
“Jonathan’s other films include Batman, Indecent Proposal and the Beetlejuice sequel, but you wouldn’t know that from the credits,” says Vinod, whose two-year 1998 diploma at the then London International Film School was grant aided.
“That course taught me about world cinema, the discipline of film and the impact it can have,” he says.
“What we are talking about with our film is a need for cultural representation and films that represent ourselves.
“When you do see British films they are very rare.
“I sense that stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg and Ryan Gosling are moving away from big pyrotechnic films towards films that reflect who they are and that’s more of a European sensibility.
“I said to Sir Alan Parker, whether we agree or disagree, this dialogue needs to get out there – and he agreed with that.”
Because of the length of the project, all of the film has been shot using a seven-year-old Panasonic HVX200 Varicam which can use both tapes or memory cards.
Robin adds: “All we are doing with this film is asking questions very simply and very logically.
“Out of the title words Elitist, Deluded or Dormant, dormant is the key word for me.
“This film is definitely going to rock the boat and I would say watching it will teach people more than if they’d gone to do a three-year degree.
“I’ve worked for companies like the BBC but when I was at Thame Valley University I would ask my lecturers: ‘What qualifies you to teach me?’
“I wasn’t getting good answers so I left after a year, unwilling to get myself into financial debt.
“There’s so much education today, students are being taught by people who just haven’t done it themselves.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would have never picked a camera up. I’d have gone to work for a company like Aldi.”
* Vinod and Robin are launching a Kickstarter campaign this week to try to raise £50,000 worth of backing to finish the film.
None of the participants in the film have been asked to help with its funding, but they will each be sent a link to the Kickstarter campaign once it goes online so they can see the trailer for the first time.
Vinod says: “The deadline for submissions to Cannes is March 10, so we need to get it finished by then.”
Watch the exclusive trailer via http://www.kickstarter.com/profile/britishfilmindustry .