We Are Time
Tartan Features - Third Annual Report
Prologue – In the Beginning There Was...
They gave us five years.
We said, “That's not a lot.”
They said, “Five years. That's all you've got.”
This is the first three, this is.
A contrary, contradictory yarn about how an ironically named idea called Tartan Features became the – deep breaths and drum-rolls, please - Official-Advocate-of-New-and-Emerging-Talent-Within-the-Scottish-Film-Industry.
The not so secret origin of Tartan Features, how it grew up, got real and morphed into Year Zero Film-making.
Not all of it is true, but that's not the important bit.
1. It's Easy as ABC
“We had a vision...It was 2013 and we knew what the fuck was going on...The industry was a mess, and we could see the future...Like all the best pictures, the cavalry had arrived, just in the nick of time...Kick out the Jams, mother-fuckers...Let's go!”
It started with a film called Sarah's Room, a full-length feature made in less than a week on £4K.
Wonders never ceased, cast and crew were paid and against all odds it turned out a pretty decent little film.
Pretty. Decent. But not AMAZING.
Damned by faint praise and genre-free as it was, none of that seemed important then. We'd made a pretty decent film – a good film - on our own terms, and we had no idea then that, regardless of budget, time and intentions, the fact it wasn't ground-breaking would ultimately affect our effectiveness.
By now it was obvious to us at least that the Industry couldn't really give a toss about all that, and perish the thought they wanted the status quo to change. The world had moved on, but the Industry remained the same.
We knew that we were being held back, and that it was the Industry who were doing the holding.
This was frustrating, but we were clever. Or so we thought.
We could see into the future, and realised that any barriers to making feature films that were left were barricades that could be leapt over or just smashed up entirely. We had found the blueprint to a revolution, and we'd just exploded open the door to the Industry for every future film-maker.
There would be no compromises. We could make our own films without having anyone tell us what to do. There would be no more directors master-class workshop cash cows. The Industry was no longer an exclusive club those outside had to beg, steal or schmooze their way into. We could make feature films and, more importantly, so could everyone else.
Everything was out in the open now, and it would be us and others like us making movies on our own terms who would be showing them the future.
Except things didn't quite work out like that. Or very little of it, anyway. But we didn't know that then. And that's good. The ways of the world are learnt from being (relatively) young, foolish and high on believing in what you do. The Industry did not believe in what they did. We did, and we were on a mission.
We made another film called Take It Back and Start All Over. The title sounded like a prophecy.
This new film was made for even less money than the first, and again, it was 'pretty good'. Our revolution would be unstoppable. It was easy, so easy that we thought there must be others out there already thinking the same as us. Doing it too, maybe. We had to find them. And lo, Tartan Features was born.
2. Tartan Features – Bless 'em All...
Except Tartan Features was and still is a terrible name. It was meant as a cheeky knowing nod to an Industry-led scheme called Tartan Shorts. Tartan Shorts was a scheme that was - and for some still is - the benchmark for 'emerging talent' film-making. It was a template that nearly every other future short film-making scheme would be based on.
That's the official version anyway. The reality was it was the usual cosy boys' club scratching each other's backs. Very few people were actually helped by Tartan Shorts and not much talent was found.
In the interests of full disclosure, we have drawn up a large list - available soon- of what was achieved by Tartan Shorts. Believe us when we say Tartan Shorts did little for the Industry to look for new talent.
To be fair, some films made under the Tartan Shorts banner were pretty decent - pretty good, even - and some talented film-makers were involved. But then, the talent was already there, always was and still is there, and these pretty good films would have probably been made in spite of Tartan Shorts rather than because of it.
Other films made under the Tartan Shorts banner weren't quite so good. They weren't even pretty decent, and that's why Tartan Shorts was a failure. Tartan Shorts aimed low and cost the Industry – our Industry - a great deal. Tartan Features, on the other hand would be about aiming high, even if it did sound like it was serving shortbread from plaid-patterned coffee tables.
Fact is, things have changed since Tartan Shorts. Primarily this is down to technology. The late Martin Hannett once said to Tony Wilson to name the seismic moments when music changed forever, and he would name the piece of kit that enabled that change. TV and Film departments in colleges, universities and schools make films today of equal quality to Tartan Shorts from only a short few years ago. Now name the piece of kit that caused that change?
The Industry – Our Industry – is stuck in the past. It never went out and bought that piece of kit that changed everything. Our Industry got left behind, and we wanted to know what the fuck was going on.
We knew the Industry was wrong, and that really anyone who'd already made a few shorts should by now be making feature films. It's like the old music paper classified ads - 'Ideas over experience!'
The skills were there more than ever before, aided by the ever-changing technology anyone with half a mind now had access to. So why make shorts when you can make features? Nobody other than film-makers and their friends actually watch short films. The paying public hasn't done so since the 1970s. The Industry had been Short-changing us and were quite happy to go along for the ride and pocket the grant cheque.
This wasn't spite on our part, and conspiracy theories were for wackos. But the Industry had grown lazy because the future didn't fit in with its agenda. This had to change, and we were the ones to make it happen.
We searched for kindred spirits and we found them. Other films had been made just like ours. Skeletons and Bend Don't Break. They were good, and it looked like things were changing.
3. Change – For How Much Longer...?
Except, the truth is, we were making this all up as we went along. How the revolution that would not be televised but might appear on much bigger screens eventually at some point or other was actually going to be made real was something we hadn't really considered. We just wanted to make movies. Then someone had an idea. Those things again.
'Why not put all these films beneath one banner, and after a year we can show what can be achieved by collective action?'.
It sounded great, but the question that concerned us most wasn't about what we could achieve. It was about what the Industry could achieve if they put their minds to something. And that was the question that probably summed up our ethos the most.
Tartan Features would promote ourselves, AND each other at the same time. If a Tartan Features film did well, its success would help the other films. It would be a selfish form of socialism. This was Cinema Freedom.
We were going to destroy the industry for the better and it would completely democratise film-making. Soon the Industry would see what we were doing and then do it on a bigger scale.
It was going to be fantastic. And everybody would win. All for One. One for All. And lo, Tartan Features was born again.
4. We're Moving on Down – As the veneer starts to fade...
Except that there were more films, films made by like-minded friends and colleagues, or soon to be friends, because the making of friends made the brand, if that's what Tartan Features was now, more powerful. Shock and Awe was to be our mode of operation; and we were about to unleash ourselves onto the world.
Except, to be honest, which we sometimes are, the world didn't want to know. But before we knew that for sure, we decided to put on a couple of events as a means to unleash our vision. We invited the independent film-making community to watch our films and hear our master plan for the future, our Eccosse Neu Welle.
That we still didn't actually have any real plan wasn't important. We thought everyone would just get it, just like Roger Eagle did when his ad campaign for a band called The Table was to put an actual table outside Eric's, and if people got it, then they got it, and if they didn't, so what? We thought after everyone got our idea of The Table that they'd go out and make a feature film and the revolution would take hold.
Except they didn't get it, few features were made and the revolution never happened.. And it's us who get that now. We were too eager to please. We tried too hard, too soon, but the whole of the moon was a long way off yet. As for the films themselves, nobody really noticed them.
Sarah's Room won a few awards and garnered a pocketful of favourable reviews, but it just wasn't good enough. It certainly wasn't part of some imaginary catch-all zeitgeist that inspired fellow travellers to go 'Wow, I can do that too'. And that made us sad. But it didn't make us stop. Jumping in with both feet first has advantages. One of those is that you very quickly have to learn to swim.
5. Realisation – We Are All Prostitutes...
Except, trouble was, as soon as previously keen-bean would-be film-makers realised there was no funding to be had from Tartan Features, they stopped being interested in us. Attendance at our events dwindled, and online hits fell through the floor.
And once the penny dropped that these would-be film-makers hadn't come to hang on our every word, but just wanted some cash to make their film, we realised that, like us, people don't want to do things your way. They want to do things their own way.
Unless you have money, that is. This is an important lesson to be learned. And that's why the Industry have the power. They have not learned our lessons.
Funding is good, no matter where it comes from. Turning dirty money clean isn't a problem. But funding is also harmful. There are many good reasons why we never considered the offer of funding: -
Sour grapes - You immediately alienate those without funding. That is not good for a community.
Survival - You quickly realise who has the tenacity to see through the making of a film without funding.
Public funding is the easy option. In the real world, the horrible, ugly, capitalist world, backers invest in films, not because you're a genius, but because they want to turn a profit, the bigger the better.
If backers think your product can turn them a profit, they will invest. It's that simple. Your product is based on what you and your team bring to the table. How safe is their investment is one of the backer's key questions. If you don't believe in your film, why should anyone else? And if you can't talk the talk, with all the bullshit energy wasted on all those endless power-breakfasts/brunches/lunches, forget it. Best go home now.
But – and here's the sixty-four million Euro question - would you fund yourself? This is an important question. Of course, you SAY you would, and you might even think you would, because you're not a capitalist like all those Industry investors, and you couldn't care less about turning a profit, even a small one, because the only thing that matters is your ART. But, really? If it was your money, would you?
And besides, our aim was to inspire people. You can only make an industry work if you contribute to it, and we need to get the idea of independent film-making out there at a more holistic, idealistic level. Only being interested in what you can do for yourself through the easy option of public funding is not what we believed would make an industry. We wanted, and still want, film-makers to think differently in their approach to what they do. Change the world, you say? Yeah, that too.
If you can get funding, great. seeking it elsewhere and contributing to a movement by making a film makes the movement move. But we had failed to paint it black, and using public funding to promote a country's contribution to 'art' worldwide is another matter for another time and possibly another place. For now, we wanted people to feel they were part of something.
6. NEXT?– From Safety to Where?
Except that our first venture into the world of the establishment was a failure. But no matter. We decided to try again. And if we failed again, just like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting For Godot, we'd fail better. And because we believed so strongly in the kernel of an idea about a new approach to film-making, we adapted. This was a change by any other name, and change is good. It's certainly not defeat. Many people have done it. A war of attrition or a new constitution, by any means necessary, they're all the same to us.
We decided to create our own world and how we would like to be perceived. Eamon De Veleira's New Constitution and Whaam! Records combined. Business, if that's what this is, calls this rebranding, but we would do it with a sugar coated bullet. Our core idea was good, but this was no mass movement. Why not? Just because, probably, though in truth, and even though we'd learnt a lot about why we wanted to make films, on the hoof and flying blind, this was something we hadn't a clue about. Again.
We recognised, however, that people want to make movies for lots of reasons that were different to ours:-
The Glamour – Because red carpet parties are sexy. Allegedly.
The Art – Because you have Something To Say and it's sexy. Allegedly.
The Money – Because it's sexy.
All valid reasons, but by and large ones we couldn't care less about.
The Industry as it stands is in it's death throes, and rather than attempt to fix something that is broken, we'd prefer to rip it up and start again.
We'd rather agitate, educate and organise that Industry until we can be in a place where we can all innovate within it. And we'd rather the Industry, Our Industry, the Scottish Film Industry and those driving it were pushing for evolution as much as revolution. And that, alas, is something very far away from where it is right now.
This is why we want to make films, and this is why why we are pure cock-a-hoop to have you join us in ours, yours and Scotland's next film-making trip. And believe us, it will be a trip.
Except let's be honest, here. We have no duty to you. We owe you nothing. You are not shareholders. You don't own us. We are not paid by anyone. We have our own agendas just like you have yours. We want to do things our own way, and we will, just as we have done so far. If we change, then it's because we want to, and not for you to say.
But feigned toughness, elitism and ego aside, we want to make the Industry a better place, a place we can be part of and call home, and we want you to be part of all that too if you want to be.
We can only be a small part of what is a much bigger, much scarier Industry, which has lots of different reasons for doing what and how and why it does what it does, and we can all be part of that. We can help each other. Experienced dyed-in-the-wool Industry professionals can take people under their wing. Mentoring, they call it these days. Giving suckers and tramps like us an even break.
Lots of us are shouting for a set-up that would allow for this. But let's shout out even louder. Don't wait. Do it yourself, and do it now. Work out the plan later.
Beyond that, we don't have to answer to anyone. And that keeps us on our toes as much as anyone else. Never apologise. Never explain.
As for rebranding, I guess we just got a little bit more honest, really. We wanted to help everyone. We wanted to be liked, and we didn't want to say no to anyone. But we realised that in trying to be inclusive and all things to all people in that way, it probably doesn't really help anyone much, and, well, we just couldn't do it even if we tried.
7. Tartan Features Phase 2 – Rise Again...
Except that something happened. Something unplanned and seemingly spontaneous, but also something that we'd hoped for from the start.
We'd come to a worrying conclusion. The structure of our film industry did not lend itself to Do It Yourself. Our world was a carefully structured system of 'What we say goes, as long as you're already successful'. The flaw was that if you entered this world in any other way than how they wanted you to then the flaw would be exposed. If you made a film off your own back that was half decent, even pretty good, it could not be promoted by the mainstream industry as that would be them coming clean that someone had goofed in deciding what was or wasn't a good film to make.
But that system would have to break eventually if other people outside promoted and recognised a film's worth.
So many people have dropped out of the Industry because of this flawed system. It is not the fault of anyone within that system specifically, but the construction of it as a whole. Our Industry is based on this system, and for the Industry to work again this system has to change.
Except something had already changed.
We had two films that people eventually paid attention to. Films that did well. Films that would win recognised awards, play at recognised festivals, get distribution and appear on real terrestrial TV.
Both these films had been passed over by the Industry, and they were made by us because we believed they were good. And people started to take interest. In the films and the film-makers.
Strange things started to happen. The Industry had been paying attention, or at least they were now, wherever they'd been, and they would offer those associated with some of the films MONEY and jobs. Jobs, as in making films for them.
And this was how it was meant to be.
The mainstream had been infiltrated. The means of production had been seized. Missions previously thought impossible had been accomplished.
8. Ever Get The Feeling You've Been Cheated? - I've met the man in the street and...
Except that brought up questions. Why had the industry not given MONEY and jobs before? Why had they not seen the talent? Why did these films have to be made on their own? Was it because of a lack of a track record, a decent funding application, a fluke? Or was it all of these and none?
Clearly there was something wrong, and something wasn't working. Both of the films which were picked up had been ignored by the Industry at large. They had won on their own terms, but why had they had to be made on their own to get to where they are? Why? A question we can only speculate on.
But we got MONEY and jobs! Take what's handed to you on a plate, don't bite the hand that feeds you and don't be a martyr to a cause. Play the game and play to win. The Industry had their own game to play, and it was a long one. They kept their cards close to their chests, double bluffing as they went. They were being careful, because they had to be.
And that's the key problem with the Industry. It's careful. People are given money to pass around, and they in turn are paid to do this. So they have to be careful, or someone else starts asking the same questions we just have.
9. Year Zero Film-making - From Y to Z and Back Again
Except something had changed. We had made our own films and they had been noticed, and our goal had been achieved. What we had set out to do had happened. In short, we won.
Except this was something much bigger than Tartan Features. This was Year Zero.
We had to grow. But to grow you need pruning. Things slow down sometimes, so in the long term they can only speed up. And slowly what we are doing will be spotted, picked up and sent out into the world afresh. This was a brand new era, and we had to grow up and grow into it.
Year Zero Film-making would encompass Tartan Features. Tartan Features would still exist, it would be a strand within the Year Zero Film-making movement.
We had shown we could find the talent the industry did not see. We needed to replace what already existed and we needed an outlet for those not wanting to make a feature yet. So we created another strand, a sister for Tartan Features that has the exact same ethos, except exclusively for shorts.
And if you've not heard of it yet that goes Whaam!
'You Don't Need A Weatherman / To See Which Way The Wind Blow...'
The times they are a-changing in the Industry, and that change was started by us. Looking around, other film-makers, groups and organisations are appearing. Many are starting to talk like us, or else are looking after other groups who are growing up around us. Even some of the existing ones are talking like us, but rather than becoming copycats, they're making themselves in their own image too. This is good. This shows that the Industry is failing on a bigger level, and that it has to talk in different ways. And if we helped make that happen in some way, then our work is done here.
Except it's not. Can we be part of this larger movement? Well, no. Not directly. We work on our own, or with those we feel share our mission. If you don't know what our mission is, if you don't get the idea, then, as with The Table, we are probably not for you.
There are other groups, and we have no interest in re-creating something that is broken. We have to move on. Our Industry has to move on. We don't ever want to be a glitz and glamour mini version of anything.
And just what is it we want to do? We want to be free to do what we do, and to get our ideas Out There. Today that might be in your own back yard, tomorrow it could be the world, and the day after that it could be the entire cosmos. And credit where credit's due, we do still mean business.
Epilogue – Where There's A Will...
They gave us five years.
We said “That's not a lot.”
They said “Five years. That's all you've got.”
That was the first three, that was.