Five Years – And the changes seen in the Scottish Indie Film Community.
Today is the Fifth anniversary of Tartan Features.
Coincidentally, David Bowie sang a song called 5 years. Unfortunately that’s as far as any links to us go. If he’d been singing about dogs and micro-budget feature films then it would have been uncannily apt.
Year Zero: Tartan Features Fifth Annual Semi-Report
In the five years of Tartan Features we’ve observed – and learned a lot about the Scottish Film Industry: Independent and less Independent.
For reasons beyond still being alive we thought we’d share those 5-years of observations with you:
As a pretext to our ‘to-come-out-sometime-soon’ - “How The Scottish Film Industry Can Work for Everyone” paper.
Because by relating these observations we hope that people will listen to our experiences and use them to make better films. Themselves.
To demonstrate that you actually can make a difference when you try, and that our existence has meant something for the better.
What we plan to do next to help the Scottish Indie Film community.
So here is what we’ve done, learned and observed over the last 5 years.
Our absolute aim from inception was to change things in the Scottish Film Industry, for the better. In 2012-2013 the Independent scene was in an horrendous state.
We wanted self change - but certainly did not want to be a mini Creative Scotland.
Then, as now our belief for real revolution is changing how you perceive what opportunities are available to you, and to adapt to them as they change. We did not want to do the work for someone, we wanted to work with someone. This thinking is how we perceive change to work best and how we wanted to operate.
When we launched ourselves publicly, at our first event screening we were taken aback by how positive the response was. A real demonstration of how stagnant the scene had become, and how much of a barrier had been built between emerging talent and the then current ‘big industry’ . People wanted change. The fact we were proposing – and had already made and released feature films rather than shorts genuinely excited people.
Unfortunately we were not able to provide the change people wanted. As soon as they realized we were not offering Indie-funding, and that we wanted to push for Indie’s to pay cast/crew -at least as a gesture- we lost 90% of interest. Which was a blow.
We were about changing an industry, not replicating an existing one. A proper revolution, not a scene; or throwing money at a broken system. We also offered entry-ism. Part of each film was to be a scalable path into a bigger industry, and for that we had to work with a similar infrastructure. Again we soon realized this was off-putting.
We were genuinely delighted that we did however meet some like-minded believers. Our biggest regret during those earliest years was not being able to facilitate the help we were asked for. There were some genuinely talented filmmakers who likely lost interest when we would love to have given our help – by working together to make a film. We unfortunately did not have enough bodies to help us. In the earliest days there were only two of us, with full time jobs, both also making films.
By rights, we should not have had to start Tartan Features. Many people - funders, exhibitors and festivals – who could have offered help were far too interested in maintaining a status quo. Those struggling filmmakers who wanted help, and there is no doubt, would have gone on to make great films just did not receive it. These unseen great films are as lost as those from the silent era. Many people, by their silence are guilty and have failed the Scottish Film Industry.
There is a great sense of depression and desperation at how backward thinking our creative industry can be.
For a year we had lost the interest of people who genuinely could have made great films. But, for us anyway we discovered that we had tenacity, which would be what eventually allowed us to make some kind of difference. And what we found is the cornerstone to the film industry.
Beyond the traditional industry we discovered that there were – and still are genuine barriers between filmmakers of all sizes. And that there was little help available. We also discovered that – and one of our most important lessons learned – some filmmakers don’t want change. They are happy to recreate what existed before, to become part of that beast. And because of this they are happy to maintain the status quo of not fighting, or more depressingly fighting against the wrong people. The indie film community is its own worst enemy.
Tenacity and a desire to do things differently, in order to create the same desired end result – while forging a new pathway; and infrastructure to help others succeed is how we wanted to present ourselves.
We withdrew and became very selective in our dealings. We just could not – and this is our failing – present our plan in a way which would gain wide-stream acceptance. People wanted change – but a change only in their circumstances, i.e. they wanted funding to only make their own films, on their own. We could not bring people together to work towards changing a system. Many people did not want to risk their own work to do so. Which is generally true of the industry as a whole. But we did slowly meet people, who lent us their hand - for which we are grateful for.
It’s still very hard for us to understand this view, and to realize we are in a large minority. And it is certainly a failing of ourselves that we did not see this sooner. PR is about winning hearts and minds. What people wanted was not what we were offering, or wanted to offer. So we lost them, in a sense we also failed the independent film industry when we really could have done far more.
It would have been very simple for us to give the people what they wanted. We had the opportunity, and by using our exposure we could have changed things in a very different way, for a lot of people. As a compromise we are shortly about to introduce something to rectify this, something to benefit everyone. But at the time – and as now – we were singled minded, and had a vision to see to the end.
For then that was the end of the original Tartan Features.
We turned down a lot of films and filmmakers. Decisions that were hard - and we all know how bad it feels to be turned down, or not be part of something. The decisions were not taken lightly.
Our reasoning was as so few of our films had been released we had to have something beyond a proof of concept of just merely making the films. The films had to be finished, be promoted and to be successful (in the many different senses). Because of these reasons there also had to be a quality control level, which went slightly against our social leaning ideals. We believed in order to benefit indie films a bigger picture was seen as more beneficial to all.
Again there were still stumbles along the way, and lessons learned. As one of our initial reasons for existing was to create revolution by self-change we had some issues with our own promotion and distribution.
Not all of the films listed as Tartan Features were born that way. Some arrived in various states of realization from external filmmakers, under our united banner. Our belief was that by promoting your own film you then in turn promote all the others. We saw this as another revolutionary idea -and we still do… However film promotion and self-distribution are not simple and lack of immediate success for TF, and the individual films meant not everyone promoted their film.
Because of the initial belief that self-change was a key aspect of the TF concept, and our lack of resources; without fellow filmmakers support we could not promote all films. This was a shame, as a united front would have been beneficial to all. There is a fallacy that Hollywood will start knocking as soon as you make your film. The reality is that merely making your film is the simple part.
By only focusing on our core films, and further realisations that resilience was all that stood in our way we did start to see success.
From essentially making things up as we went, asking lots of questions and re-appropriating ideas from other media we created our own self-distribution and PR system. Through that we managed – with a great deal of help from friends made in the industry - to get two films licenced to the BBC, a small cinema run, Creative Scotland funding for 2 films, numerous large film festival screenings, DVDs - in the shops, high street magazine reviews, Sight and Sound’s best film-of-the-year lists, broadsheet newspaper end-of-year lists, festival awards and the attention of the outside world.
We’ve not caused a widespread revolution as planned but we have changed things in Scotland.
What we’ve learned – and shown is that on your own terms you can make – and release films that have a degree of success beyond vanity. Don’t ever be put of by seeking funding beyond the simple options. If Creative Scotland don’t fund you there are options to try elsewhere.
You can create a body of work that leads to the outside world taking notice and perhaps funding you. We haven’t blown peoples minds but we have shown that Micro Budget features have many important functions within an industry. So we were partly successful – if only by seeing this through.
By not sitting back we showed that indie filmmakers, with a few ideas and some friends – on their own – managed to achieve more success than the appointed guardians of Scottish new talent - with features, not just shorts. While we’ve had failures, we tried to take on an establishment and made dents. Just because you didn’t win does not mean that you lost. But we also noticed that by doing this we also made our path more difficult. A surprising revelation is that you can be perceived as a threat by doing things yourself. DIY can be dangerous – especially when there are businesses offering their professional services.
What we’d always hoped was that others would follow our lead, in their own way. And again this is where some disappointment lies. Ideas, and the will to see them through – especially when applied by others is what we thought would re-ignite the Scottish Independent Film Industry. Beyond our small dents we hoped others would push further. Different ideas should help in the overall battle.
We always knew that what we proposed would not work for everyone, and genuinely wanted alternatives for everyone to flourish. Unfortunately, and as flattering as it is, rather than people being ignited to try something different what we see are mostly Tartan Features re-interpretations. At best - sets of existing films and future films being re-imagined under a single brand; albeit very successfully. At worst - unimaginative plagiarism of our ideas presented in an old-fashioned way. What Scotland needs is fresh ideas, not exhausted ones. Our Indie industry should be pushing further and further. As filmmakers we should be inspired, and use that inspiration to develop further.
That was then.
We’ve been busy. Very busy.
We have 5, almost complete new Tartan Features, born that way and just waiting to be announced. Next year we will stop however… We’ll eventually have 23 films under the banner - all quirky, scratchy, idiosyncratic and they will always exist through this association. If anything, Tartan Features legacy will exist because of their joint cataloguing and branding.
In the immediate future the new films will co-exist through a new strand and branding, all under the Year Zero Filmmaking umbrella. This will essentially be an international version of Tartan Features. This is where we have been devoting our time – building an infrastructure that’s more international in scope. After all, for the world to realize the quality in Scottish films they have to be presented on a world scale, which is where we aim to take them.
We’ve been slowly building our strategic networks in every geographic location. There’s still a phenomenal amount of work and evangelizing to do but we believe it will create a solid international distribution network for our films. And of course, we take every opportunity on individual merits so are always aiming for larger third party distribution - when that would benefit an individual film more.
Regarding our plans to help more independent filmmakers outside of Tartan Features: We’ve been sea-trialing a new experiment. We think we’ve created something unique, democratic and free which aims to short circuit PR and Film Distribution for everyone. We believe all information should be free, and this aims to offer all filmmakers the chance to give their films a giant boost - all based on goodwill. This is currently live, and working. As soon as we reach a wide enough audience we will share this with everyone here.
We continue to fight behind the scenes to what we perceive as barriers to emerging talent. While this can often be antagonistic we believe it is for the good of all. Our industry is full of compliancy and elitism when we should all be working together to create the best possible industry.
We’re not over yet. At times things may appear slow, and we will still make mistakes, or not give everyone the attention they deserve. This is the price of jumping in at the deep end. There’s a lot to do but we will keep pushing ahead with new ideas. As every year passes we see more and more cracks in the wall. The only help we’d ask for you to push ahead with new ideas, re-phrasing us only dilutes the fight to have the independent voice heard.
The more ideas, alternative thoughts and people fighting means those cracks will only get bigger and bigger. The fight is slow, but persistence and attitude help everyone get there.