Friday, 12 November 2010

From the ‘Brit List’ to the ‘Black List’

Last week saw the publication of 'The Brit List' – a reactionary response by the British cottage film industry to try and ape the American 'Blacklist'. Both of these lists are catalogues of the best unproduced indigenous screenplays voted for by industry people over the year. Whilst in the U.S. scripts for Juno, The Social Network and Mel Gibson's next movie The Beaver were all featured on the Blacklist and went on to become major films, one can't help but wonder if any screenplay included on the Brit List will go on to become hit films. For example, previous winners of the Brit List were Men Who Stare at Goats and Nowhere Boy, both being British films that got made but hardly generated the type of adoration some of the screenplays featured in the Black List have managed. Last year's Brit List winner was Good Luck Anthony Belcher which remains unmade and has the awful She's Out of my League's director Jim Filed-Smith signed on to helm. This year's Brit List winner with eight votes is Sex Education by Jamie Minoprio and Jonathan M. Stern who previously penned the very funny on paper I Want Candy and the very shitty on film St. Trinian's reboots – though they can't be entirely blamed for the latter as they only did script rewrites to Piers Ashworth's original draft. Oscar winning producer Christian Colson (Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) fares best of all as three of the shortlisted Brit List scripts are optioned and developed by his production company Cloud Eight Films. While there are some high profile properties like On Chisil Beach and Jamaica Inn, and some interesting scripts like Shan Khan's Honour (having previously written the excellent Prayer Room which hinted that he may be Britain's answer to Spike Lee), there's nothing on the Brit List that makes you believe the featured works will go on to become major films. Chances are that all of Colson's films will go the way of his last British movie Centurion which on its release didn't even manage to penetrate the UK top 10. Sex Education will probably flop in a similar way to I Want Candy as the British are largely incapable of producing smart ribald comedies without infusing them with copious amounts of unfunny smut. Honour will probably fail to secure necessary funding because financiers will fear that the controversial subject matter about honour killings in British Asian communities will render the project un-commercial. Furthermore, for every On Chisil Beach there's an Enduring Love, and for every Jamaica Inn there's a Birds II: Land's End – not a good sign.

So while the British film industry polishes its own dick, we film enthusiasts look to America for movies worth watching. Not even British audiences can be fucked seeing British films as can be seen by the recent hyped up arrivals of Made in Dagenham and Tamara Drewe, both of which came on a flurry of publicity and neither attained love from punters who actually pay to watch films. You can't blame the British film industry for trying because the way things are going there won't be any industry other than what Hollywood creates by buying up cheap studio space for their own features to be filmed in. Warner Bros. announcement this week of buying Leavesden Studios where they will invest a further £100 million to redevelop the site seems like great news, but with volatile currency rates and the abolition of the UK Film Council there's reason to suspect Warner's commitment will not live beyond 2015. After all, American studios are in it for themselves and want a reliable base to shoot their own movies at cheaper rates. The purchase of Leavesden Studios doesn't signify a wanton desire for Warner's to make British stories as the studio's head of production, Alan Horn, has gone on record saying their commitments are now to develop tentpole DC comic book properties, practically all of which are American stories. Horn at this year's Showest convention said: "As we ease out of Harry Potter, we hope to bring you the excitement of the DC [Comics] Library," which pretty much affirms where Warner's emphasis will be focussed.

Truth be told, writing a quality screenplay seems like a very difficult task. Scriptwriting is a craft that requires amazing skill at creating characters, dialogue, structure, pace and atmosphere – all in the blueprint for a story that is to be told visually. A further truth is that no one has mastered the art of scriptwriting better than the Americans. We are now in awards season meaning that at this time of year you get some very good screenplays vying for Oscar consideration. No doubt the bulk of these scripts will be American, with a few British titles like The King's Speech thrown in for good measure. The Hollywood Reporter has begun its annual 'Awards Watch Roundtable' discussions where they gather as many of the best key talents they think will feature highly in this year's awards season and get them to engage in debates concerning their films and craft. On the subject of scriptwriting, they've started this year's debates by bringing together Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), John Wells (The Company Men), Todd Phillips (Due Date) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole): all of them candidly discussing the highs and lows of writing movies. The video is over 1 hour in length but it's worth sticking to even if you're not verily into cinema as for the most part it's a bunch of seriously clever men talking about very interesting things. Though some may scoff at the inclusion of Todd Phillips in this debate, having watched Due Date the other day I was amazed at how well he managed to balance coarse humour with genuine heartfelt emotions such as the scenes in which Zach Galifianakis laments the passing of his father whist also doing something maddeningly buffoonish. These scenes in Due Date demonstrate Phillips' skills in both comedic precision and dramatic performance. Also, the video illustrates the contrasts between American writers like Phillips and Sorkin who seem to have a very anti-unionist attitude towards the Writers' Guild of America, whereas Yorkshire man Simon Beaufoy has a more socialistically sympathetic approach to what the union is there to do and wishes something similar existed for British scriptwriters. It is brilliant stuff and reminds us of why we love cinema so much.

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