Young film talent is ignored in UK says 'Britain's Tarantino'

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The Independent Online
GUY RITCHIE, the young writer and director who was hailed this week as Britain's answer to Quentin Tarantino, has attacked British film distributors for their failure to recognise original work.

On Wednesday, his film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels opened to critical acclaim, but Mr Ritchie argues that if London distributors had had their way his film would never have made it to the big screen at all.

"We made our film without a distributor, and in Britain that is a big problem," he told the Independent on Sunday. "The distributors here are the wrong people to be deciding what should or should not get a theatrical release."

Mr Ritchie, 29, is one of several young film makers who complain that many British films are not reaching an audience. If his violent, slapstick tale of gangland chicanery was almost left in the can, how many other potential money earners are languishing on production company shelves, he wonders?

This spring, industry pundits claimed that as many as 60 per cent of British-made films were held in a distribution log-jam. Even if only 40 per cent never make it to the screen, a fundamental commercial question remains: are the right films reaching the cinema?

By this May, only 48 of 114 homemade films that went into production in 1996 had been shown in a British cinema and only 13 had a theatrical distribution deal with a release date.

"Distribution is the film-maker's holy grail," said producer Chris Figg, whose romantic comedy Virtual Sexuality will open with Columbia TriStar in next February. "There are not enough of the right sort of screens around to show the less profitable kind of film. The industry here needs to wake up and become a little more distribution-led rather than production- led."

Mr Figg, who also produced Hellraiser and Blonde Fist, believes the British film market has been hyped by lottery cash and tax breaks, so that too many films are now being made. "We are going to have to change and I hope it is already beginning to happen," he said.

Stephen Garrett, of the independent production company Kudos, agrees that the problem is not one of young film-makers casting pearls before the swine of the distribution companies.

"I find it hard to believe that the makers of Lock, Stock can really complain," he said. "That film has been packaged brilliantly by Polygram and is doing very well. It just proves that good films can win through."

But Guy Ritchie is still angry. He and his producer, Matthew Vaughn, had to set up a series of public screenings in order to persuade distributors to come on board. "We kept getting these fantastic results from audiences off the street," he said. "But when we showed the film to 10 British distributors, we didn't get a laugh or a snigger from any of them."

In an attempt to avoid the paralysing log-jam, Metrodome, the team behind the groundbreakingly popular, low-budget film Leon the Pig Farmer, has now moved into distribution. "This is one of the most expensive places to release a film and it is getting worse," said Rupert Preston, the firm's head of distribution. "There are twice as many films coming out every week so each film has a shorter time on the screen."

Yet, he argues, the ratio of films that win distribution is no higher in Hollywood and it is still possible to make money in Britain given the right film. Metrodome is responsible, for example, for the US release Daytrippers - currently one of London's top five films.

Metrodome may be small, with a market value of around pounds 4m, but it is even considering opening a chain of cinemas. Other producers have talked about setting up their own multiplex to screen the films that miss out on big deals.

For Wilf Stevenson, former president of the British Film Institute, the solution may lie in the Government's film industry action plan, launched in March. "I have great hopes that the action plan will allow the production process to become more in tune with the distributors," he said.