The Forecast

Sightlines Journal, issue 2, 2017

Name: Dominique Webb
Film: The Forecast
Length: 7 minutes

Research Statement

A perspective on the evolving identity of the academic film producer

According to the UK Film Council [1], a ‘no-budget’ film is any film made for less than £50k, although having anything more than a few thousand pounds for many independent filmmakers is quite a rare situation to find oneself in [2]. As an academic filmmaker, sourcing a notable budget to create the fiction film is a continuous dilemma.

As a professional film producer, I share many of the same aims and intentions of the biggest budget Hollywood productions: following the same practices and processes, striving for excellence in all stages of production, innovation and creativity in this nascent art form. However the most influential factor in enabling excellence in all aspects of filmmaking is funding – and this is where the impact of finance creates separation and difference within our industry. The major driving force that would determine the route this project would take in creative, logistical and project management decisions was the funding and its source. How would I be able to achieve excellence in production required for the film to compete at the highest level with no budget? If the funding came from some agencies, would we still be allowed the freedom we wanted for this festival experiment? For this film to generate the impact it deserved, the narrative needed to unfold with complete audience immersion, and only professional level production values would enable this to work.

The situation is not unique and my predicament echoes that of Long & Spink’s findings, who identified that a proportion of the notable low, micro and no-budget producers interviewed, also worked in higher education [3]. Therefore not only is this an interesting development in the identity of these producers but also in their evolving relationship with the industry as well as the causal collaboration with the academy. As an academic and a filmmaker, my methods during preproduction and postproduction are distinctly different than when I work as a full time producer and these are mainly due to two major factors; time constraints due to other diverse employment duties and funding source / size of budget.

The Forecast was shot fifty miles from our production base, set on a remote beach that needed direct vehicle access (for story purposes). Logistically and in terms of production, this setting created a number of issues but the screenplay had been written to be achievable with very little budget so I welcomed the challenge to produce this ‘no-budget’ short. Production would take place in only one location, over a two-day shoot during a freezing English winter.

[1] UK Film Council ceased in 2011 with many duties passing to the BFI (British Film Institute)
[2] Low and micro-budget film production in the UK (UK Film Council, 2008) http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/uk-film-council-low-and-micro-budget-film-production-in-the-uk.pdf
[3] Long, P & Spink, S ‘Producing the Self: The Film Producer’s Labor and Professional Identity in the UK Creative Economy’ , ed. Spicer, A, McKenna, A.T.& Meir, C ‘Beyond the Bottom Line – The Producer in Film & Television Studies (London: Bloomsbury, 2014)

The complexity to produce quality in all aspects encompassed a diverse range of challenges, some more easily managed than others. Through my experience of both the commercial and independent sectors, I am aware that beginning conversations with any necessary actors, agents, companies, organisations and services as an independent producer with no budget is an inherently different experience from a position in a named company with budget in hand. Both positions require similar methodologies and the broad range of skills required to fulfill the requirements of a successful producer but the approach differs, as well as the accompanying cultural identity [4].

Banks and Hesmondhalgh refer to the personalized nature of working in the film industry and this leads me to return to the developing relationship between industry and academia through filmmakers teaching in higher education [5]. My students are able to attend, observe and take part in professional shoots – not as unpaid casual work as is so often the experience of those hoping to break into the industry, but as part of their studies on an undergraduate course. As a producer and an academic filmmaker I aim to influence emerging models of cultural labour and identity for both myself and for the filmmaking students. I hope to contribute to new knowledge in the understanding of contemporary working methods and models of academic filmmakers. For the students, their experience of industry whilst studying may shape or demonstrably change the common acceptance that no-budget and micro-budget filmmaking means inequality and working for free.[6]

The Forecast (2015) Dir. Philip Stevens Prod. Dominique Webb
Premiered at London Short Film Festival and screened at Cannes Festival – Short Film Corner, Kinofilm Festival Manchester, IndieLincs. 2016

[4] Caldwell, Production Culture (London: Duke University Press 2008)
[5]Banks & Hesmondalgh, ‘Looking for work in Creative Industries Policy ‘ , ‘International Journal of Cultural Policy, 15:4 (2009)
[6]Beck, ‘Introduction – Cultural Work, Cultural Workplace – Looking at the Cultural Industries in Cultural Work: Understanding the Cultural Industries, ed. Andrew Beck (London: Taylor & Francis 2003). Long, P & Spink, S ‘Producing the Self: The Film Producer’s Labor and Professional Identity in the UK Creative Economy’, ed. Spicer, A, McKenna, A.T.& Meir, C ‘Beyond the Bottom Line – The Producer in Film & Television Studies (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

Peer Review 1 (Name withheld)

The story of this film is pretty harrowing – if not a little predictable, given the set-up provided before the pay-off – and the remote, stark location works well to exacerbate the theme of the piece. The performance is fairly strong, especially the lead young character; the pace is unnerving (though might the film have worked equally as well in around half the time?); and the dialogue – and/or silence – works well to mirror the raw premise of the story. The overall feeling of watching the film is not one of surprise (see above regarding predictability), though it is disturbing. I was left wondering, though, if giving us more on the characters’ backstories might have created an even more interesting connection with the story. Perhaps there could have been a twist that, in a strange way, might have left us feeling something otherwise to the situation – whatever that otherwise might be. Nevertheless, on the whole this is a neat little film that looks and works well, and that makes us think.

As a research film however, I am less convinced. What is it doing new? What does it offer to the discipline of filmmaking? How does the work perform its research endeavour and/or findings? The research statement contains what could be half a dozen research questions – all of which are legitimate – spanning industry practices, ideas of creative labour, production, technology and craft, and lastly education. While it might be a problem to identify the research in the film precisely because there are so many research intentions discussed, I am interested in the idea that many (if not all) of these questions might not actually be achieved through the film itself, but rather reflections on the filmmaking process. In short, I would argue that the research questions posed can really only be answerable by reflection on the filmmaking experience; they are not research pursuits that produce particular findings that are then put into / embedded in the film itself, creative a true research output.

How, for example, can we judge aspects of pedagogy and new models of students as creative labour agents in the film? What aspects of the film would demonstrate an answer to this question? Similarly, how would we judge project management practices in the film? How do we know that the project management was different, when all we are seeing is the result of the project management? If the statement were to highlight areas in which aspects of the film responded to these constraints, for example, an argument might be mounted; but even so, would these be a true contribution to the field? Have others never experienced this?

I would see this work as a good example of film being used as a method by which to collect data about something that is being asked outside of the film itself (e.g., about the process and/or contexts of making); it is not a work where the film performs the findings, given that the research questions cannot be answered through the medium of film. This does not mean that the film is not legitimate – it was made in the academy and under academic conditions; rather, the research pursuits outlined essentially require a reflective practice methodology that uses filmmaking as a method to collect data (e.g., practice-led research), as opposed to a creative practice methodology in which the creative work embodies and performs the findings of new knowledge created in the pursuit of the making (e.g., research-led practice).

Peer Review 2 (Danielle Zorbas)

Notes on the film

Beautifully composed, photographed, character study with the audio weather report guiding the moment. Various points of view of character, while he then views other characters.

Minimalist approach creates mystery, great measured pace, following gesture, building tension as boys start throwing rocks and swearing and aggression ensues.

Builds so quickly, such realism. Close ups work to great effect.

Twist in the narrative, the boy knows the man, they have an understanding yet to be understood by the viewer. Left with a completely perplexing ending, so understated, the twist comes full circle. Astutely measured, all elements come together so neatly, nothing excessive, considering the sensitivity of the material.

Notes on the statement

The written statement works through the complexities of the ‘no-budget’ film landscape defined by the UK Film Council, with a personal account of its navigation. I fundamentally disagree with the statement that “the most influential factor in enabling excellence in all aspects of filmmaking is funding”, however as a fellow independent filmmaker, I share the attitude of abhorrence of the preposterous conditions for filmmakers sourcing funding between 0 and £50k.

The participant poses the question, “If the funding came from some agencies, would we still be allowed the freedom we wanted for this festival experiment?”, and it’s always a pertinent question, whereby often the limited resources allow for much more experimentation where there’s not the reliance on finance and more of an independent ethos.

It is mentioned that “audience immersion” was important for the filmmaker with this project, and I feel the film work has been very successful in those terms. The film world created is intimate, focused, engaged. The minimalist aesthetic works so well to involve the audience member as a participant, the hand held camera, the close up shots, the pace. Perhaps if the filmmakers had had access to higher production values, there would’ve been the risk that the intimacy of the film’s minimalist approach could have been compromised.

The inclusion of the Long & Spink’s findings, that “a proportion of the notable low, micro and no-budget producers interviewed, also worked in higher education” is very pertinent to the subject of practice as research in the field of filmmaking, and the personal account of this experience is insightful. The cross-fertilisation of industry and academia is a very interesting development in the field, driven arguably by necessity for filmmakers to find work associated with their skillset, and often providing funding pathway opportunities. It’s also in my opinion, an argument for how filmmaking is an art form of philosophical inquiry, rather than an entertainment commodity or service driven by corporate profit.

The statement’s outlining of experience across both independent and commercial sectors of filmmaking and the different approaches required including “cultural identity” is well contextualised within the film “industry” and academic fields. The “personalized nature” of working in the film industry the filmmaker has been able to integrate as Producer, into their work with emerging film students as Academic, is worthy of more discussion, as a cultural movement across the fields; it’s a very positive phenomenon emerging, encouraging the strengthening of “cultural labour and identity”.

Excellent film and good accompanying statement, not necessarily tending to a particular question, but rather a more personal account of working in the micro-budget film “industry” while involved in academia; and the positive bent on the subject towards the conclusion helps solidify the argument for research-as-practice, or at least, the open dialogue between industry and academia. The “industry” has been so corrupt and un-innovative for so long, that it’s imperative that other areas of discipline such as academia speak truth to power, and engage in the reallocation of this power, towards the underground and the independent artists who are not profit driven, but empowered by the instinct to contribute to culture; this is new knowledge.

The submission does successfully expose practice as research despite its casual and sometimes anecdotal style. This style is in fact, welcomed, due to its intimate and passionate position, and relevance to the topic of filmmaking- as-research, even if it comes across as somewhat ambivalent about the necessity of filmmaking to involve itself in academia, due to the “industry” not making room for micro budget films below £50k, which is substantiated. There are complexities within the otherwise simple argument posed, which are large questions worth answering within a broader cultural framework, such as filmmaking in the academy and peer reviewed research contexts such as Sightlines.

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