Category Archives: UK Filmmaking

The Birmingham Feature Film Trail

Birmingham CanalsI received this email from a colleague Keith Bracey. Never short of an opinion, Keith is a writer, broadcaster and avid historian of Birmingham.

Enjoy

 

 

 

I wondered why in your otherwise excellent examination of ‘incomers’ as I call them, rather than immigrants to the diverse City of Birmingham who made a great difference to our city, the Birmingham Jewish ‘Film Triumvirate’ of Sir Michael Balcon, Brummie Grammar Schoolboy and Birmingham and Britain’s first ‘Film Mogul’ who at one point worked for Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Victor Savile, who bankrolled Balcon and the eponymous Oscar Deutsche who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain in Birmingham in the 1930’s were not mentioned in History WM’s special edition on ‘Migration to the West Midlands’ and the effect that migration has had on our region, good (mostly) and bad………………..

All 3 film ‘movers and shakers’ could be found on a ride on the Inner Circle number 8 ‘Corporation Buzz’ in Birmingham’s inner city!

They are the reason Birmingham should set up a ‘Birmingham Film Trail’ with various stopping-off points in the City of Birmingham which as a city was almost single-handedly responsible for the world-wide film industry in the late nineteenth century with Brummie Alexander Parkes invention of the eponymously-named ‘Parkesine’ the first viable plastic in the City’s Jewellery Quarter in 1860, which led directly to the development of celluloid, also in the Jewellery Quarter and thence to the development of ‘film’ and the film industry.

Birmingham needs a ‘Birmingham Film Trail’ to highlight and showcase our cities film and cinematic roots which continue today with Sir Michael Balcon’s grandson, the excellent actor, possibly the best ever film actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, the record-breaking triple-Oscar for Best Actor winner.

The City of Birmingham is also home to the UK’s oldest existing cinema: ‘The Electric Cinema’ run by the excellent Tom Lawes which dates from 1909….and the oldest surviving ODEON Cinema which I think is ‘The Clifton’ in Perry Barr in North Birmingham.

keith braceyl well recall the early 1970’s BBC TV Black and White TV Series ‘Gangsters’ set in Birmingham echoing ‘The Peaky Blinders’ with an understated lead actor Maurice Colbourne ( like a typical Brummie, modest to a fault!) playing the lead role opposite a Pakistani actor with the surname of Malik (I cannot recall his first name) as they prowled the ‘Mean and Moody Streets’ of Birmingham where the Clubs along and just off Broad Street were run by ‘characters’ like Martin Hone’s ‘Opposite Lock Club’ in Gas Street.

Martin Hone, a big car-racing fan, was the prime mover behind the ‘Birmingham Super Prix’ of the 1980’s.

I was a Freshman at Birmingham University in the mid 1970’s and well remember going to the Fewtrell’s ‘Barbarella’s’ in Sheepcote Street opposite the old Liberal Jewish Synagogue which is long gone.

Birmingham then in the 1970’s was a generally racially tolerant city with an undercurrent of racism and violence pervading the city.

I went to George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1969 until 1976 and in that time we had two fine young black men as our Head Boy, both incidentally, who went on to play and coach in top class Rugby Union: Rudi Smith, who I think was the first black schoolboy to play for England Under 18’s International Schools Rugby and Collin Osborne, who is the current Harlequins Rugby Skills Coach, whom I interviewed on my Rugby Union Show on Sports Radio Birmingham a couple of weeks ago.

Collin has coached and played rugby at an elite level with Harlequins and coached Zimbabwe in the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 1987.

As a former Academy Director of Harlequins Collin played a pivotal role in the development of current England Rugby Union Captain Chris Robshaw and England Internationals Full-Back Mike Brown, scrum-half Danny Care, and centre in his own image, Jordan Turner-Hall, a fine young black England international and centre as Collin Osborne was for Dixonians RFC (my Rugby Club) and Birmingham’s Premier Club Moseley RFC who currently play in the second tier of English Rugby, the IPA Greene King Championship, the tier below the AVIVA Premiership where Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints play.

People do not believe me when I tell them that Moseley Rugby Football Club was a bigger rugby club in Birmingham than either The Tigers or The Saints…….!!!!!!!

Other young black men in soccer like the ‘3 Degrees’ Regis Batson and Cunningham the WBA soccer players were those brave young men who changed the attitudes of Britain toward black people by their groundbreaking feats on the football field and beyond, in Batson’s case as a PFA Union Official

They ignored the throwing of bananas onto the pitch and other such vile acts of racism and played the game as it should be played with passion and heart and soul.

I am so glad that their efforts have been recognized with Sandwell Council and the Baggies erecting a statue in the centre of West Bromwich to these 3 pioneers who braved the ‘Monkey Chants’ from the so-called soccer gangs like the Blues ‘Zulu Warriors’ and West Ham’s ‘Inter-City Firm’ as portrayed in films like ‘This is England’.

Back in 1974 I went to see the Reggae star Jimmy Cliff’s Biopic ‘The Harder they Come’ at the ODEON New Street founded by a chap from a previous generation in Birmingham who had suffered from prejudice in the City, a German Jew called Oscar Deutsche, who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain which is still the largest in the UK based on the acronym ‘Oscar Deutsche Entertains Our Nation’ the Greek for to watch is ‘ODEON’ so you can see Oscar was on the ball.

I saw Cyrille Regis, the late Lawrie Cunningham, who played for Spanish Giants Real Madrid, before his untimely early death in a car crash and a young Brendan Batson came out of ‘The Harder they Come’ who was a Black Hero to these young Black men……that typified and exemplified Birmingham in the 1970’s for me…..three young black men out for a good time, watching a violent Gangster Film in racially tolerant Birmingham…….

Another Brummie Grammar School Boy Sir Michael Balcon who founded Ealing Studios which gave us those great ‘Ealing Comedies’ like ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’, ‘Passport to Pimlico’ and ‘The Ladykillers’ should be part of ‘The Birmingham Film Trail’ too for me.

Balcon went to my old school George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1906 when the school opened until 1913 when he left to join up in 1914 at the outbreak of The Great War.

Balcon tried to establish some of the early ‘Birmingham Pals’ Regiments in The Great War but ironically could not fight and serve himself due to defective eyesight……….

Balcon also named his ‘Everyman Copper Hero’ PC George Dixon of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ fame after his old school, named after Education Reformer and the founder of Edgbaston High School for Girls, which my daughter attends and where my wife is a Teaching Assistant: George Dixon MP.

George Dixon was the Birmingham MP and Lord Mayor who was much overshadowed by his direct contemporary, former Colonial Secretary and architect of the modern municipal Birmingham Joseph Chamberlain.

‘The Birmingham Film Trail’ should be set up by Film Birmingham, Birmingham City Council‘s film promotion agency in my opinion, to maximize Birmingham’s film and cinematic history.

And as you can see the film and TV legacy of ‘The Peaky Blinders’ is nothing new in portraying Birmingham as a gritty, edgy city!

Keith Bracey
Writer, Broadcaster and Historian
Greensward Enterprise Business Consultancy
Oldbury, Sandwell, United Kingdom

 

Any opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and not the publisher or In Mi Experience.

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Documentary, Social History, Fact or Folly?

The Public West BromwichI don’t consider myself a social commentator, I’ve always felt that my comprehensive education and working class background didn’t afford me the luxury of judging society’s flaws. But as I’ve wondered (not lonely as a cloud) through life, I’ve found illogical situations created by my elders and supposed betters.

One such situation revolves around an arts complex called The Public in my home town of West Bromwich. After years of controversy about whether or not the building should actually exist at all, The Public is now at the centre of a new row. The local Sandwell Council have announced, without any apparent consultation, to close the burgeoning arts and theatre venue and turn it into a sixth form college.

After moaning for many years that the 73 million pounds of ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) or anagram for someone else’s money) could have been better spent, this latest refit will cost a further 20 million pounds. Not a huge amount of cash by today’s standards but unusual as there are already two other empty schools within a 5 minute walk and….well….schools…..not…..art centres.

Now, I hope the people of West Bromwich will forgive me when I say, the town centre needs a lot of tlc. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the high street looks like it was tidied up by Darth Vader and a few blaster-happy storm troopers. I, and I believe most locals would agree that 20 million could be used to far better effect in renovating a town, which is now only getting a second look because of the very thing the Council wish to close down.

Ironically, a few years ago this same argument raged during the planning and building of The Public. I wonder what those people who opposed the project are saying now?

As a filmmaker, I felt I had to reach out to Linda Saunders and the dedicated team at The Public and offer to record some of the genuine feelings of the locals. I was forced to edit a lot of footage from the Tea Dance as some of the comments by the elderly attendees were…lets say ’18 rated’.

It’s a simple and honest video – well worth 5 minutes of your valuable time.


Independent Film Goes 4K

NAB saw the launch of the new Black Magic 4K Cinema Camera. Boasting an amazing super 35mm sensor, the camera retains many of the original BMC’s boasting rights.

Apart from the obvious quality upgrade the camera also features a global download of captured information. This means the problems with the previous models rolling shutter are now a thing of the past.

Check out the NAB video right here:


Independent Series by Guvnor Media goes to The Public

The Haunted KingdomFor the past 5 months, Guvnor Media Ltd has been creating a growing number of short videos for its series The Haunted Kingdom.

 

Based around an area of the UK called The Black Country, the series looks at the many historical ghost stories that surround the region. The beauty of the series is contained not only the people relating the stories, but also the glimpse into the history of an area that encompasses The Industrial Revolution.

The first six videos of the series are now part of an exhibition at The Public in West Bromwich – Black Country Legends. This is the latest  of the videos which takes a look at The Crooked House, near Dudley.

Keep a look out for more new stories in the coming months.

The Guvnor Media Team.


Independent film – Spike Breakwell’s article features on Disability Horizons

Guvnor Films’ feature film Bad Reception continues to create a stir. After a successful premier in Dunstable, executive producer Spike Breakwell was asked to write a piece about his work on the film.

http://disabilityhorizons.com/2013/01/from-a-stage-in-luton-to-an-la-movie-set/

A full cast and crew listing is on IMDB

Own a copy of Bad Reception yourself, just click buy below.

Bad Reception DVD


Independent Film: In this digital age, is the BFI my BFF?

tumblr_m4wmqiTPZG1qher3go1_500Six months ago, I returned home to the UK from Hollywood. Bank bail-outs, global crises, and an explosion in production technology aside, the landscape of the British film industry had changed in my time away. Screen West Midlands was no more, and many of the old filmmaker online hangouts (with the exception of Shooting People) had also gone by the wayside. Nevertheless, we hit the ground running and began production on our feature length documentary.

Short of Facebook friends, our next stop had to be the ever present British Film Institute. A quick browse around the site yielded an email address…10 minutes later my request for some professional updating was on its way.

Now, at this point, I should say I don’t usually ‘hang’ with institutes and such; I’ve always found, for them, red tape is thicker than water – like the time I was in Cannes celebrating the financing of a feature film project. In a flurry of champagne and French cuisine, I was invited to meet with The Film Council. The next day, I arrived at the spacious suite on the Croisette and was handed a form to request a meeting back in London. I was there, they were there….but the meeting was back in London?  #wtf

Anyway, I digress. Back to my BFF’s at the BFI. As the application deadline passed, thoughts of development funding retreated from my mind, replaced with schedules and logistics. Our promotional series, The Haunted Kingdom, began to attract the attention of the press, and with the failure of the Mayans to predict a simple end to the world, it was Christmas which finally brought an enforced halt to production.

The New Year brings fresh interviews, a fresh fall of snow and a reply from….the BFI/MEDA [sic] (MEDIA, methinks?). Two and a half months after my original email, I got the reply and the invitation I was waiting for “…Check out our webpages.” OMG. I presume the address is: http://www.wedontgiveacrap.com.

Ignoring the obvious points: a) I couldn’t have contacted them without getting the email address from the website, and b) timewise, my BFF’s email took longer to write than the New Testament, I have to ask myself:

Are entities like the BFI redundant in today’s digital film and media landscape?

Personal annoyance aside, I would genuinely like to pose the question and open the debate.  Let’s look at the areas these types of foundation/quango/whatever purport to support: #poetanddontknowit

Development
If you are a writer, you write. If you are a producer, you produce. Creativity is an itch which always needs to be scratched. It doesn’t stop when the money dries up. Giving development money to people who need encouragement to create is promoting the wrong sort of people to be “in the business.” Proactive writers and filmmakers are often penalised for getting on with it, so…tell me again how this is helping British filmmakers?

Funding

The BFI has announced its Vision Awards for 2013-2015, but the entry criteria for production funding is too high for anyone except established companies. Arguably, filmmakers are much better off spending their time and efforts raising money with Kickstarter or other crowd funding options.

Distribution

You will struggle to find anything on the Film Council/BFI or other websites that would help regular filmmakers to get their film out there. Most smaller filmmakers struggle to get any distribution and don’t have the tens of thousands of pounds to support their own P&A campaign. So, again, an online distribution or streaming solution is a clear winner.

SO?

Well, let’s take a moment to look at a few factors affecting filmmakers today:

So, a dedicated filmmaker can: raise money for a project via suitable crowd funding; produce a feature length project in an HD format; cut the project on a relatively inexpensive edit solution; then distribute it online. All without involving a funding body, studio or production company.

🙂

Now, aside from the issue of filmmaker’s objectivity and the quality control that comes with third party eyes viewing a creative project, there is that point again…Who are my BFF’s really helping?

The Vision Awards help companies with a “fiction, documentary or animation feature film that has been distributed theatrically in the UK.” That eliminates 99.9% of all filmmakers in the UK, for the reasons I mentioned above. So, this helping filmmakers guise is actually a none too subtle disguise to subsidise companies already in a position to make films. Unlike.

Banks are always criticised for only lending money to people who don’t really need a loan. But is this any different? This is government money used to subsidise film companies who already have the means to make films. If that’s the case, wouldn’t a more honest approach be to introduce better tax incentives for ALL companies making films, and re-allocate BFI/Lottery hard cash to prop up organisations like the CAB, who actually need help and are in a funding crisis? Like.

I don’t mean to sound like a rabble rouser, but it irks me when people claim they help but actually don’t. That’s why I love Ronseal — “It does exactly what is says on the tin.”

But back to my original point: why does this matter? Well, it doesn’t. If filmmakers can produce their own quality digital material and distribute it, then these types of elusive BFF’s aren’t needed.  Unfriend.

Talent floats, and realistically, there is no filmmakers’ lifeboat. But the digital age gives us literal safety in numbers, and these ones and zeros do help creative, informed people. All we need now is a way to connect all those disparate people…Oh hang on, isn’t that called the Interweb?

Mark Alexander Todd is a working writer/director located in the West Midlands.

More details about the projects he’s involved in can be found on his company

website, GuvnorMedia.co.uk.


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