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The British Film Industry: Money, Art And Football Hooliganism

Are films meant for entertainment, or art? Can’t they be both?

British flick THE RISE AND FALL OF A WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN hits shelves today on Blu-ray and DVD, following a limited run in cinemas last week. A quick look at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes tells us it didn’t go down a storm with critics. Meanwhile, we’ve got Guardian columnist Marina Hyde telling us all that the British film industry is in the control of ‘parasite tax avoiders’ using it as a ‘host organism’. Quite the analogy.

But has Hyde hit the nail on the head in her complete dismissal of the UK film industry? Of course not. Think back over the past, say, 12 years – since the turn of the century, has there not been a veritable smorgasbord of great British (forgive the pun) output? CHICKEN RUN; SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE; THE QUEEN; THE KING’S SPEECH; TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – all widely successful (and in many cases award-winning) films. We could go on.

You may be wondering at this point why we mentioned Paul Tanter’s second directorial effort at the start of this article. Well, following the publication of Hyde’s rant in which she pretended to know something about the way films are funded (with  a strangely tenuous link to recent news of Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance scandal), the producer of said film, Jonathan Sothcott, took to Twitter for a few 140-character rants at the columnist, compiled below:

Dear @MarinaHyde – if a £150k investment got £1 mil tax relief I’d be making 60 films a year, not 6. Please stop propagating this misleading, disingenuous and ill-informed nonsense and support the UK film industry; our ‘art’ is as good as any other. [I’m] also sick and tired of our business being abused as ‘art’ – give me escapism and fun over art at the cinema any day. We have a long tradition of great cinema in the UK and not just My Left Foot and Ghandi – films are for the many, not the few.

Sothcott’s point is perhaps summed up in those last few words, but as what you see above is spread throughout four Tweets, it’s clear that just 140 characters isn’t enough.

But what exactly has caused such offense? A quick glance over Hyde’s article proffers disingenuous links between mainstream politics and the manner in which the UK film industry is funded; an inherently complex process already without such grave simplification as hers. She claims – quoting (without specific reference) a Times article – that investing £150,000 in films could save investors £1 million in taxes.

Poppycock! So cries Sothcott (we imagine) and, presumably, the rest of the British film industry. A short interview with the producer does offer further insight, if more along the lines of how the UK film industry really is funded, and less on 19th Century colloquialisms.

Jonathan Sothcott‘It’s like industrial sabotage,’ Sothcott insists. ‘[Hyde] starts laying into a business that she clearly knows absolutely nothing about, in order to try and jump on the Jimmy Carr/Gary Barlow bandwagon… were [her claims] true, I can assure you that I’d be making 60 films per year rather than six.

‘The most popular vehicle for tax-driven film funding in the UK is the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme, and this offers investors a degree of comfort if the film doesn’t work. Many people are not aware of it though, and even if they are then they often invest blindly in a project without really looking into the film’s commercial prospect.’

Let’s tie this back to WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN for a moment. Starring Nick Nevern and directed by Paul Tanter, the film tells the story of Mike, an unemployed football ‘hooligan’, who falls foul of temptation and joins a credit card-cloning fraud empire. But Mike thinks he’s committing an anonymous crime – the ‘victims’ are the faceless banks, not the local corner shop patron just trying to make a living.

‘The white collar hooliganism of the title is really a reference to how these white collar workers were behaving like hooligans in the financial sector,’ Sothcott explains. ‘Most of what happens in this film is based on a true story and is pretty accurate. The fiction is actually the football hooligan element, but we felt that by adding that it gave us an angle to tell a story about fraud to a young audience that might not easily engage with the topic.’

Funded not through ‘a £1 million tax relief’, as Marina Hyde would have you believe, but through an ‘avowedly commercial enterprise’ (Sothcott’s words), WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN was produced on an incredibly tight budget – as were Sothcott’s two other feature films with Simon Phillips under CHATA Pictures: RIOT and ONCE UPON A TIME IN ESSEX, all produced in the past six months.

‘All three have been picked up in the UK by major distributors,’ Sothcott tells us, in reference to his films under CHATA, ‘and not one of them has been funded through tax-efficient schemes of any kind.’

So is Hyde wrong on both counts, then? It certainly seems that way. The British film industry is not in such a dire state as she is so keen to impress upon us, even with her still tentative concession that ‘there are exceptions’, and her sweeping generalisations and assumptions of the financial sector of the industry appear largely unfounded.

But to turn now to the second of the points Sothcott raised, and again in relation to WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN, the question introducing this article still remains to be answered: are films meant for entertainment, or art? Can’t they be both? WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN would perhaps be written off as pure genre-driven entertainment by many, and director Paul Tanter believes it’s up to the audience to figure it out for themselves:

‘Obviously I want to make something that appeals to a wide audience and that everyone can enjoy and has people talking about afterwards and asking questions, so I try to meet somewhere in the middle and make something that hopefully will make people think as well as ticking the commercial boxes. I think films can be art and they can be entertainment and escapism. I hope that I manage a bit of both – but I’ll happily let the audience decide.’

Paul TanterAs we’ve already heard from that old social networking Devil sitting in 140-character Hell,  Sothcott agrees: ‘Of course art can be entertaining and entertainment can have artistic merit – but I hate the way people talk about the British Film Industry being all about CHARIOTS OF FIRE, GHANDI and THE KING’S SPEECH. Not only are they not my sort of films but they are no better or more important than THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, LOCK STOCK or THE BUSINESS.

‘We love to hate in this country and we never celebrate success – our media tries to pick apart anyone who does well and makes a name for themselves while trying to convince us that the goings on in the BIG BROTHER house or on THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX are of any importance!’

Anyone trying to classify those last two as art should certainly be taken out back and shot. But when it comes to films, who’s to say what’s artistic and what’s not? Whether a film is artistic or not is completely subjective; much in the same way as whether a film is any good or not. Speaking of which, the common theme for reviews of WHITE COLLAR HOOLIGAN appears to be a divide between professional critics and the general public; where Total Film’s Paul Bradshaw dismisses it as a ‘hackneyed, embarrassing British crime thriller’, awarding it one solitary star out of five, audience reaction (as catalogued by IMDb) shows a rating of 6.9 stars out of 10.

‘The thing I notice is there’s never any consistency – one reviewer will rubbish an actor’s performance, another will say he’s great,’ Tanter emphasises. ‘I do think in some cases, reviewers find it easier to play it safe and pick at something rather than say what they liked for fear of being seen as ‘wrong’ should people disagree.

‘The funny thing is, they usually do realise films can be pure entertainment… the online reviewers tend to have their noses a little closer to the grindstone and therefore appreciate what goes into making the films but also enjoy them for what they are.’

So of course, in the modern film industry, be it in Britain, the States or anywhere else, there is plenty of room for an arthouse flick to sit comfortably alongside the latest blockbuster. But that also means there’s plenty of room for said blockbuster too. As Sothcott says, films are for the many, not the few. Mark Kermode may have questioned the quality of blockbusters in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MULTIPLEX (in which he ponders that if they make money no matter how bad they are, why not make a good one for a change?), but that’s an argument for another time.

For now, they exist to entertain. ‘No one ever said LOCK, STOCK… was an arthouse film – just a good piece of entertainment,’ Tanter points out.

‘And what’s wrong with entertainment?’

Chris started life by almost drowning in a lake, which pretty much sums up how things have gone so far. He recently graduated in Journalism from City University and is actually a journalist and everything now (currently working as Sports Editor at The News Hub). You can find him on Twitter under the ingenious moniker of @chriswharfe.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Paul & Jane

    Jan 26, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Jonathan Sothcott is a notorious and hated conman ripping off Cast & Crews in the British Film Industries. There are 1000’s of people he owes money to and tries to strong arm and threaten those that speak up. He’s very good at taking films budget and using the cash to swan around London with glamour models and starlets partying the films budget away and posting Jet Set lifestyle photos on social media.

    Now is is making a film with Jason Fleyming and Charlie Cox for £120,000 and has Rod Smith as his producer. Although we have heard he is banned from the set. This is the fraction of the cost of a proper movie and we wonder how much of that Sothcott will steal?

    We know of active Police and HMRC investigations into him and we are certain his time in court will come that will tell the world the kind of scum he is.

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