Paul Greengrass: British film industry must nurture young directors

Maker of Captain Phillips says emerging talent must be fostered if Britain's standing in world cinema is to be maintained

Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass has warned the British film industry it will not maintain its position of excellence in world cinema if it does not protect emerging directors and allow them to develop over time.

"There's no question we have a fantastic opportunity right now," Greengrass told the Guardian. "Britain has never been stronger in terms of the talent we have right now – but the point is that it is the product of a lot of work over a long period of time, and we have to think carefully about how we go from here. The difficulties young directors face is a real, real problem."

Greengrass was speaking before delivering the annual David Lean Lecture at Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), an honour accorded in previous years to the likes of Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch and Ken Loach.

Greengrass cites heavy British involvement in the films nominated for the best picture Academy award (won by 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen) as evidence of the UK's current film-making strength, and also points to the tax incentives offered to overseas productions to film in the UK as providing a "second pillar".

"Over a long period of time, across three governments now, there's been a long-term commitment from government to get [state support] in place. [Lottery funding] was a disaster to begin with – there was a lot of overproduction of films that no one wanted to watch. But Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were prepared to see it though and not be deflected by something that didn't work. They stuck at it and got it right. And, to be fair, George Osborne has extended the scheme, and widened it to high-end TV, which will have a profound effect."

However, Greengrass expressed his fears for the future, particularly due to the way the British TV industry treats directors – in his view, directors are increasingly hampered by "an alliance of over-mighty executives and powerful writers" – with significant knock-on effects for the feature film. He says directors have been all but eliminated from factual TV – "you have a camera person to go and shoot rushes, and a so-called edit-producer to put it together in the cutting room" - which has a knock on effect on the director's status when it comes to drama.

"If it had been a director in the US making the first episode of Downton Abbey, who had been involved in setting the tone, casting the main roles, setting the whole thing up – that director would by right have shared financially in the success. That way you incentivise people who make a profound contribution. But what's the reality in Britain? When the BBC revived Doctor Who in 2005, the stunt co-ordinator made far more than the director of the first episode. It shows you just can't make a career here."

With his track record of working on the ITV documentary series World in Action in the 1980s (as well as co-authoring Peter Wright's celebrated Spycatcher memoir) before moving on to feature films and longform TV drama in the following decade – and then making it big in Hollywood with 2004's The Bourne Supremacy – Greengrass has considerable authority behind his analysis of how both film and TV industries have evolved.

He points to TV's position, alongside theatre, as a traditional breeding ground for film directors, and his prescription is to "open up pathways". "We're pretty good at giving opportunities to first time film-makers, but not so good at finding ways to help them make more."

"If television becomes a place where directors can't grow muscles, that's not good. If we don't sort it out, all we will breed is conformity, we will not breed skills."


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

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