Where’s Me Washboard?
We recently wrote about Write Shoot Cut’s radical decision to screen local independent features as being one of the direct ancestors to Tartan Features.
There are however other, more intangible and ideological roots too. We’ll occasionally write about them as we believe they help explain a little more about our aims for the film industry, and how we’d like to make it a better place for those wanting to make interesting; independent films. As these roots influence us we hope they also influence you to go out and make a movie. You most definitely already can, and so should.
It’s clear that we have more than a passing interest in independent music – if not from our branding – from us having made 4 feature films on the subject.
As we have mentioned previously, we believe there are significant parallels in music and film, especially Independent Records. Importantly for Indie Filmmakers many lessons, ideas, influences, attitudes and more can be directly taken from Independent music. And it should be stressed that there is an ocean of creative ideas waiting to be mined if you go looking in the right places.
Very briefly, for those only partially aware of late 20th Century Pop-Culture history here is the established, if not entirely true summary of UK music from 1963 onwards:
1963: Ex Skifflers, The Beatles appear on US Telly. Every young person across the world looses their mind and buys their records/forms a band/or both. Record companies rub their hands together.
1976: Major Record Labels have become behemoths. Every young person has conveniently (for record labels) forgotten that The Beatles started their career by playing with broomsticks and washboards in their bedrooms. The general consensus being: To be a pop star you have to have superhuman skills as a musician, Mozart-like abilities at composition – and all recorded by top producers in vastly expensive studios. And if you want to sell millions of records you will need a Major Record contract, PR and an A+R team at your disposal.
Late 1976: John Lydon puts on his I Hate Pink Floyd T-Shirt, and The Filth and Fury begins: UK music’s year zero moment.
Except this is all myth. In the same way that El Mariachi, Miramax, New Line, and their like are all myths. The Sex Pistols had an unlimited supply of resources at a major record company. The Clash, and almost every other so called Punk band were signed to majors, each and everyone was rubbing their hands more vigorously than when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. This was no revolution.
The real UK music YZ moment was (excluding I Feel Love for simplicity sake) Australian imports of I’m Stranded by The Saints and Spiral Scratch by Buzzcocks. These were real, home made, 100% independently produced records recorded in sheds, and released to record shops. Of course, this is all widely known, been written about countless times before and has had an insurmountable influence and reach on the history of all genres of music.
However, Spiral Scratch is far from the first independent record but in terms of a mission statements of ‘I can’t play or sing very well, I have no money, nobody will sign us, nobody will give us money but I’m still going to find away to make a record – EVEN IF THAT MEANS DOING IT OURSELVES’. Nothing comes close in terms of inspiring a generation to realize they can take direct control of their creative outlet themselves.
Almost every aspect of popular music can be traced back to Spiral Scratch:
Public Enemy on DefJam, Nirvana on Sub Pop and Afrika Bambaataa all start there. For anyone interested in the power of not letting your voice be silenced, and the influence it can have when YOU let it be heard – especially filmmakers- please take note.
While Spiral Scratch is clearly a major influence on everything we do – and why we have gone into such detail – it was what came after which is more influential to us, and the way we operate. And how we’d like our film industry to operate.
After SS, The Buzzcocks eventually signed to a major record label though still continued their subversion, especially through Linder Sterling’s astounding artwork. As an aside, and to further back-up the 6-degrees-of-separation-to-Spiral Scratch claim have a look at her artwork for The Undertones All Wrapped Up. Lady Gaga certainly has!
Spiral Scratch’s more intangible effects and influences were on ideology, and less about going on to sell a lot of records. ‘Independent’ is a very important word for us. ‘Indie’, in music terms has become a genre much like peoples expectations of what ‘Indie Film’ is, especially those made in Scotland.
We feel there is a difference in making Indie films and making Independently produced films. It’s an ideological stance against what we perceive as fight against a failing system. Independent is a widely misused word in film sadly.
The current film industry, certainly in Scotland has stagnated to a level we feel is comparable to that of the UK Music Industry in early 1976. The system has failed which has resulted in good people not taking risks. Nothing good is made by not taking risks, and nothing is learned by not making mistakes. Sadly the risk of mistakes neuters anything of interest.
Rather than trying to compete, or worse wanting to become part of this we aim to show that there is an alternative. An alternative that works. To us, Independent is synonymous with DIY. Believing you can work on your own, releasing films on your own and creating your own success is very powerful.
The film industry is yours for the taking. We want to show that ideas are more powerful than government funding grants or funded film schemes. We want people to take an attitude of having the initiative to do things for Yourself.
“An industrial lesson in how to liberate art from conglomerates and corporations” Jon Dale.
The three singles which inspire us most are The Bill Grundy EP by The Television Personalities, Skank Bloc Bologna by Scritti Politti (which we’d previously posted about) and The Medium was Tedium by Desperate Bicycles. They all sold around 100 copies each but they took the DIY approach and made it into an important manifesto and movement. Their meta genius was to not only release a self-financed record but to also include the instructions for anyone wishing to do so likewise on their covers.
Scritti took it one stage further and later included a full pamphlet called ‘How to make a Record’. We forget easily that before this there was virtually no way to know this information. There was a clear Us v Them stand-off. Part satire, part Situationist prank but a clear demonstration that the curtain had been lifted from the Wizard of Oz. And over a few short years everything in the music industry would change.
Creativity, and the control of it are cyclical. The film industry is clearly on the brink of a new change.
Information should be free.
For us, the 8 films which were made as Tartan Features from scratch -the others were being brought in already completed, under the umbrella- are all treated as projects bigger than the entertainment value of the films individual merits. Each film has an extensive guide on how they were made, and fairly open instructions on how we did it so that someone else can hopefully try and have a go themselves. The process and results are part of the package. We’ll later collect all guides together. That’s our influence from DIY music.
Our biggest desire is to not make a series of financially lucrative genre films. Someone else can – and will do. We just want to lift the curtain on the film industry by showing things can be done differently.
We’re delighted that people make films through us and go on to have great success after. That’s all part of what we’re trying to do. We don’t want to become part of the current industry, we want to show there’s a clear alternative, or be a temporary bridge to help you get there.
Festivals and Cinemas – and the films you make are part of a shared culture. They get reflected back at us all to become an even greater part of how we operate in our daily lives. Don’t waste your talent and time pandering to a broken system. If you want to tell a story and someone is suggesting you tell it another way remember Spiral Scratch. If you feel nobody’s listening there’s a clear alternative to do something on your own terms.