British Kinematography (1949) - Thirty Years of British Film Production
- article: Thirty Years of British Film Production
- author(s): Michael Balcon
- journal: British Kinematography (October 1949)
- issue: volume 15, issue 4, pages 105-115
- journal ISSN:
- publisher: British Kinematograph Society
- keywords: Alexander Korda, Alfred Hitchcock, Angus MacPhail, Appearances (1921), Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (1921), Betty Balfour, British International Pictures, C.M. Woolf, Cicely Courtneidge, Donald Crisp, Downhill (1927), Easy Virtue (1928), Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Emelka Studios, Germany, Erich Pommer, Famous Players-Lasky, Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British Picture Corporation Limited, Graham Cutts, Islington Studios, London, Ivor Montagu, Jessie Matthews, Leytonstone, London, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Michael Balcon, New York City, New York, Paramount Pictures, Robert Stevenson, The 39 Steps (1935), The Blackguard (1925), The Call of Youth (1921), The Great Day (1920), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The Man from Home (1922), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The Mountain Eagle (1926), The Princess of New York (1921), The Spanish Jade (1922), The White Shadow (1924), Three Live Ghosts (1922), Universum Film AG, Victor Saville, W. & F. Film Service, Warner Bros., Woman to Woman (1923)
THIRTY YEARS OF BRITISH FILM PRODUCTION
Sir Michael Balcon, M.B.K.S. (Ealing Studios, Ltd.)
Read to a joint meeting of the British Kinematograph Society and the Association of Cinema and Allied Technicians on May 25, 1949.
Prior to the 1914-1918 war, Britain was certainly in the race for the mastery of a new medium of entertainment ; but the war retarded us enormously and, at the same time, enabled America to make great strides forward. By 1920, the industry was more or less mature and had changed from a fairground novelty into one of great potential power and rewards.
Some sort of an avant-garde movement was generally established in the world to remind us that there was more in films than the photographed stage play or the custard-pie comedy. The newsreels of the war, early travelogues and nature study films gave promise of the great effect that the realist school was later to have on the commercial feature film. But it must be said that, on the whole, those of us who, like myself, were following a new enthusiasm had little idea that thirty years from then, films would be as important internationally as they are now, or that their importance would be measured not only in terms of capital and revenue, but also from the points of view of the State, of the Church, of propaganda, of education, of national culture and so on.
The industry in 1920 was dominated, but not wholly dominated, by American films. A fair number of British films were produced and, in spite of the fact that they were turned out in the small studios which had scarcely changed since before the 1914 war, some were considered to be quite good. The immense number of films being made in America and freely dumped here resulted in a huge reservoir of unreleased films, and release dates were anything from a year to eighteen months after the London trade show ; sometimes the time lag was even two years.
"Block" and "blind" booking was general, and American renting companies, such as Famous Players-Lasky (now Paramount), Vitagraph (now Warners) and Western Import, competed with one another in offering exhibitors complete batches of first features for six months or for a year. Of the many renting organisations, British firms — Walturdaw (now, in 1949, concentrating on equipment), Gaumont, Stoll's, General Film Renting Company (no relation of the G.F.D. of 1949) and, of course, the everlasting Butchers Film Service — offered similar huge batches of pictures which also contained a proportion of British product.
Needless to say, bookings were made on a highly competitive flat figure basis, sharing terms being unknown. It will be understood from this why the exhibitor assumed such an important status in the industry vis-a-vis the primary producer.
British Production in the 1920's
The British feature film of 1920 averaged 5,500ft. in length, took about four weeks to shoot, and cost less than £1 per foot. If a film was reasonably good it might obtain 500 bookings and the renters' receipts might touch £12,000. But the producer was generally delighted to sell his picture outright to a renter at a flat figure if this meant he could get his money back quickly. One of the biggest successes of that year was George Pearson's "Nothing Else Matters," which took four weeks to shoot, cost £7,000 to make, was distributed by Jury's Imperial Pictures, and grossed' about £30,000 in the domestic market and abroad.
Other producers were less fortunate. It was a constant source of amazement to me how the British producers of the time managed to carry on. But they did, and out of a total of no less than 881 feature films trade shown in 1920, 147 were made in British studios. Of the British films of that year, mention must be made of Cecil Hepworth's "Alf's Button," George Pearson's series of Betty Balfour pictures, Guy Newall's film versions of popular novels, and the sporting epics of G. B. Samuelson and Walter West. Quality was improving, but costs were beginning to rise rapidly.
The studios of 1920 were all of the pre-war "glasshouse" type, in which the principal illumination was daylight, assisted by a few enclosed-type arc lamps. The stages were generally on the first floor, with the workshops, offices and laboratories underneath. Later, the glass of these studios was blacked over and artificial light only was used. Other studios were constructed in converted skating rinks (London Film Company at St. Margaret's and the B. & C. Company at Walthamstow), in a disused tram shed (Davidson's at Leytonstone), or an old gas works (Hackney Studios). The usual postwar building restrictions prevented the construction of new up-to-date studios, and so further conversions were made, such as Stoll's big plant at Cricklewood (the Nieuport Aeroplane Works) and Famous-Lasky Studios at Islington (a Metropolitan Railway power station). The last two studios were by far the best equipped in the country and were ready for use in 1921.
The Seed of the Rank Organisation
Such was the state of the industry in 1920, when I was with Victory Motion Pictures, Birmingham, on the renting side. Among my co-directors were Oscar Deutsch and Victor Saville. We acquired the local agency for W. & F. Film Service, a renting company founded by the late C. M. Woolf. Here was the acorn from which grew the oak — the J. Arthur Rank organisation. Through the activities of the Ostrer Brothers, W. & F. eventually amalgamated with Gaumont, Ideal and certain theatre interests. Deutsch left and started Odeon.
Victor Saville and I started producing advertising films under contract and arranging exhibition for them. One day, a new acquaintance, Jack Graham Cutts, advised us to abandon advertising shorts and to make a feature film. We talked the finance over with the late C. M. Woolf who, with other friends, Oscar Deutsch among them, raised the necessary amount — somewhere between £30,000 and £40,000. With Saville and another partner, John Freedman, we made our first film "Woman to Woman," Jack Cutts directing. This film, by the greatest luck, was an enormous success in its day, and the success persuaded us to emulate the Gadarene swine and plunge headlong into disaster. The title of the disaster — my second film — was "The White Shadow." It was my first flop.
But once film production is in the blood, nothing stops the perpetuation of such follies. I decided to go on making pictures, and with Jack Cutts as co-director, I formed a £100 company called Gainsborough Pictures. I am very proud of my early connection with a company which was to achieve such a fine record of films over a quarter of a century.
Film Production at Islington
It was my present partner in films, Reginald Baker, who conducted the negotiations with Paramount when we decided to make a bid to acquire Islington Studios, which had been converted from a power house by Famous Players in order to make some of their films in Britain. Some of the films produced by Famous Players are of interest : "The Great Day" and "The Call of Youth," directed by Hugh Ford ; "Princess of New York," "Appearances" and "Bonnie Briar Bush," Donald Crisp ; "Spanish Jade," John S. Robertson ; "Three Live Ghosts" and "Man from Home," George Fitzmaurice. Prior to the formation of Gainsborough and subsequent thereto, many other important British films were made at Islington, including great contributions by Herbert Wilcox, who was then, as he is today, the outstanding showman and producer of big box-office attractions. His films with Graham Cutts included "Flames of Passion," "Paddy," and, under his own direction, Dorothy Gish in "Nell Gwynn." Islington was also the early home of my friends Thomas Welsh and George Pearson, whose series of films with Betty Balfour, brought great credit and profit to the British industry — "Love, Life and Laughter," "Squibs' Honeymoon," "Squibs M.P.," "Reveillé."
At the Islington Studio plant, I made a number of pictures, some successes and some failures, under the new name of "Gainsborough Pictures." Our plant at Islington continued to be probably the most up to date in the country, for I was always of the opinion that good equipment was a sound investment. The list of early films made at the Islington Studios is nostalgic : the early Ivor Novellos — "The Lodger," "Downhill," "Easy Virtue," "The Vortex," "The Constant Nymph" and, of course, "The Rat" series — "The Rat," "The Triumph of the Rat" and "The Return of the Rat." In connection with these it ought to be mentioned, that even in those days the film as an export commodity began to loom importantly. M.G.M. made an offer to us to distribute the Novello series.
It was at Islington I found Alfred Hitchcock working as a junior technician. The studio was indeed the alma mater of many of the key men in the industry to-day : Robert Stevenson, Fred Gunn, Baynham Honri, Victor Saville, Harold Boxall, Ian Dalrymple, Angus MacPhail, Ivor Montagu, Slim Hand, George Gunn, Herbert Mason, Charles Bell, Roy Kellino, are only a few.
Coincidental with this was the Anglo-German phase. Erich Pommer was the head of the German film industry. We made arrangements to make films there — "The Blackguard" and "Mountain Eagle" were the first of many — working with UFA and Emelka, and when talkies came, we made bi-lingual versions.
Quota and its Effects
Meanwhile, the number of British pictures was decreasing. In 1923, 675 pictures from all sources were trade shown, of which 64 were British. In 1925, 34 British pictures were made, and 23 in 1926. A joint trade committee was set up to seek methods of abolishing the practice of blind and block booking as a first step which would enable a British film scheme to be introduced, and it was not long before the draft of the first British Film Quota Bill began to be formulated.
The Quota Bill became an Act in 1927, and British films enjoyed a financial boom in the City. Most of the money was raised for distributing and exhibiting companies, who never failed to quote on their prospectuses the British films they had distributed or exhibited. These were their films, as ever — their achievement, perpetuating the domination of the primary producer by other trade interests. From this position the unfortunate producer has never escaped. Bricks and mortar and the middle-men were regarded as the tangible assets of the film industry, and were allowed to be the major influence on the first Quota Act which, as is well known, served only to increase the unhappy plight of British film production.
The End of the Silent Film
In 1929, we were unknowingly approaching the end of the silent kinema. Generous finance was available for British production and large new studios were being built by B.I.P. and by Whitehall at Elstree, by British Instructional at Welwyn, together with big extensions to the Gaumont Studio in Lime Grove. Cricklewood Studios had the largest stage space, and four or five production companies were there, including British Instructional and Herbert Wilcox's British and Dominions Company, who later moved to their own studios at Elstree, adjoining B.I.P.
Encouraged by the new Quota Act, there was a spate of production, including a large number of expensive ventures. The British production industry had reached adolescence. Writing in The Bioscope special British film number of March, 1929, I said:
The art of telling a story in moving pictures is a highly specialised business calling for keen concentration and attention to detail. The fact that it is a business is very often lost sight of in the glamour which surrounds it, and many people light-heartedly enter the field of production with only the very vaguest ideas of the intricacies involved. Until it is fully realised in England that perfect and almost mechanical organisation is the first essential to success, as in fact is the case with any business, progress will be slow and painful.
The Sound-film Arrives
The talking film arrived in America, and in a few short months most of the newly purchased cameras and lighting equipment at British studios became obsolescent. "The Jazz Singer" and "The Singing Fool," caught the public's fancy — soon there was a flow of American sound films and reproducing equipment.
Vitaphone synchronised discs were the first successful method, but were quickly followed by the sound-on-film systems of RCA, Western Electric, de Forest and British Acoustic.
At Gainsborough, we experimented with the original British Acoustic system, which then used an entirely separate film for sound, running 50% faster than the picture. Meanwhile, hundreds of British theatres were being wired by Western Electric with machines capable of playing off either synchronised disc or sound-on-film, W.E. type. I was advised that the RCA system could be played off on the Western Electric reproducers, and that it could be accommodated in the limited space available at Islington Studios. And so, Islington Studios were soundproofed and fitted with RCA recording equipment at the same time as B.I.P. and Twickenham, though B.I.P. received their channel first.
"The Wrecker," "The Crooked Billet," "The Return of the Rat," "The City of Play" and "Taxi for Two," were silent pictures, which had to be held up for sound. It was a case either of complete loss, or of mitigating the loss by making these films wholly or partially into talkies. So we turned them into partial talkies. Some of them, such as "The Wrecker," had music and effects synchronised in New York. Others were recorded in England on the new recording equipment. They were half-mute, with the last reel or two suddenly becoming voluble. Peculiar hybrids they were, but they were saved from the scrapheap and did not fare badly with audiences.
The Birth of Gaumont-British
I will not dwell upon the next phase. We had a fire at Islington and were out of action for a few months. "Balaclava" was completed on one of the stages at B.I.P.
Not long after the plant was rehabilitated at Islington, I extended my activities to Shepherd's Bush, and found myself in charge of a large number of productions. Gainsborough, Gaumont Film Hire Service, Ideal and a large number of theatres had been amalgamated under the banner of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. The days of vertically integrated combines were arriving.
The Ostrer brothers had acquired Gainsborough and I was to be in charge of production, both at my old studios and the new Gaumont-British studios at Lyme Grove, Shepherd's Bush. Some years of really feverish activities followed. It is perhaps forgotten now, or not realised, how widespread our activities were. The Islington and Shepherd's Bush studios were working at high pressure, but even so, we had to rent space in other studios. And we were adventuring overseas : "Rhodes of Africa" was made partly in Africa, "The Great Barrier," exteriors in Canada, "Barod" (with Rex Ingram) in the South of France, "Journey's End" in — of all places to go to make a film — Hollywood ! There were the films at the Emelka Studios in Munich and at the UFA studios in Berlin, "The Constant Nymph" in Austria, "Wings over Everest" — even in these days of a contracted world, the list is impressive.
A short list of some of the films made during this hectic Gainsborough-Gaumont-British period reminds one of the formative effect of those years on our native kinema : Hulbert and Courtneidge in "The Ghost Train" and Hulbert again, with Renate Muller, in "Sunshine Susie," "Jack's the Boy" and "Soldier of the King" on the one hand — Flaherty's "Man of Aran" on the other ; "Friday 13th," "Little Friend," "Tudor Rose." There was the Arliss series : "The Iron Duke," "The Guv'nor," "East Meets West," "His Lordship." There were the musicals with Jack and Cicely Courtneidge, Lilian Harvey, Jan Kipura, Evelyn Laye and the one and only Jessie Matthews — "Evergreen" was perhaps the best of the lot. There were the Tom Walls farces. There was "The Good Companions," the first talkie to be seen by King George V and Queen Mary. Hitchcock was making an international name for himself with such films as "I Was a Spy," "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "39 Steps."
Looking back on the titles, one would imagine that they meant a healthy thriving industry. So in a few years' time, remembering titles such as "Hamlet," "Great Expectations," "Fallen Idol," "Odd Man Out," "Red Shoes," "Oliver Twist," "The Winslow Boy," "Scott of the Antarctic," "The Overlanders," "Passport to Pimlico," it will be hard to explain why there should have been, at the end of the nineteen-forties, a film production crisis. We have learnt the lesson now, that it is not enough for the primary producer to make good and successful films for him to remain solvent. We were beginning to find out in 1936 when financial crisis hit Gaumont-British production and work ceased.
The Influence of Sir Alexander Korda
In the nineteen-thirties, Sir Alexander Korda hit the British film industry like a tornado. He exerted the most lively and stimulating influence on British films, for he is one of those rarities, a man who combines great business acumen with a personal creative talent. No review of past years could be complete without reference to the magnificent contribution made by him : "Wedding Rehearsal," "Henry the Eighth," "Catherine the Great," "Sanders of the River," "The Ghost Goes West," "Four Feathers," "Scarlet Pimpernel," "Elephant Boy," "The Drum," "The Divorce of Lady X," etc. — films which are genuinely of the international calibre.
It was to the studios he had caused to be built that I went after the temporary cessation of Gaumont-British production. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer asked me to take charge of their production here and, with some misgivings, I accepted. First I went to Hollywood, there to prepare the first film, "A Yank at Oxford," to be made at Denham. I have much admiration for American production methods, but I found it difficult to integrate myself into them, and after "A Yank at Oxford" I decided I should prefer to take a chance on independent production, and the M.G.M. lion and I parted company. By a curious coincidence, my first two partners in business became involved in this. Victor Saville took over producing the films for M.G.M. ; Reg. Baker proposed that he and I should again unite. We are still together at Ealing in 1949.
Undertones of War
This partnership began in 1938, the year of Munich, a year of much hesitancy in all commercial enterprises and — inevitably — another year in the film crisis calendar. We started very modestly at Ealing with a second feature re-make of Edgar Wallace's "The Ringer" under the title "Gaunt Stranger," and later, "The Ware Case." I have always believed that the type of film with which we have become associated started with "There Ain't no Justice" which, I may say, was made for less than £15,000 and still contrived to show a loss.
There is no question that the greatest influence on British film making, and certainly the greatest influence on the Ealing type of film, was the impact on our native kinema of the second world war.
Because of the rather irresponsible plunge that in the 'thirties' the city had made into film finance, with the inevitable accompaniment of adventurers with little or no qualification to produce films — because the first Quota Act had been more or less brought into disrepute by the "quickies" which flooded the market — the prestige of the film industry generally was then at a low ebb. It is no secret now, that in the early days a move had been made to disband the machinery working the Quota Act, and it looked as though the history of the first world war would be repeated as far as British film making was concerned. There was no immediate protection of studio personnel, who were joining up or being called up at a fast rate.
The American production interests here, anticipating no doubt the collapse of the renters' Quota, ceased production. The Government's attitude towards the industry was undefined, but there seemed to be a vague idea that the G.P.O. film unit could furnish all that was required of wartime production ; indeed, the G.P.O. unit — later to become the Crown Film Unit — did a very fine job, but their mandate in the main was to make propaganda shorts, instructional five-minuters and so on.
Wartime Role of the Film
Were production of commercial features to have been abandoned, the production industry would have really gone down irrevocably, as I maintain it could never have survived a hiatus of six years.
Fortunately, the war found even film producers in a fighting mood. It did not require much imagination to realise the post-war consequences economically (and, indeed, from every other point of view) of being without a national film industry. But even if any of us lacked that imagination, the lesson was quickly drummed into us by such enemy films as "Baptism of Fire," that there was an actual and practical wartime use for films, which meant that a closing down of the industry meant the immediate loss of a potential weapon of war.
And, in retrospect, it is no idle claim to make that British films did play their part in rousing American opinion, in relations with allied and neutral countries, in keeping up the morale of the troops, and, more particularly, of the civilians in a war in which the civilians were more fully involved than ever before.
Wartime Film Production
Two factors emerged, both of the greatest importance and the widest implications. The first, of course, was the purely psychological effect of the conflict on film-makers, as on all creative people. It is a comment on the human scene on which I am not qualified to enlarge that, as flowers grow on bombed sites, so out of the horrors of all wars all arts begin to blossom.
The second was an understandable external influence on the type of film produced. It was an understood thing, since personnel was reserved and materials in short supply were required for manufacture, that only films could be made which were considered "worth while." This did not mean that all films had to be propaganda : the question of keeping up morale was rightly considered as being within the category. Yet the total effect was salutary. Every subject that came up for discussion in the studios had to be examined in the light : was it right to use much needed timber for this purpose — much needed metal for that — much needed personnel for the other ?
This was a spur which gave film producers, as at no other time, a sense of their deep responsibility towards the State and towards their fellow citizens. From this spur sprang such films — at Ealing alone — as "The Foreman Went to France," "Next of Kin," "Nine Men," "San Demetrio, London" and in other studios "49th Parallel," "We Dive at Dawn," "The Way Ahead," "The Way to the Stars," "The First of the Few," "In Which We Serve," etc. There was a definite common denominator in these films — an approach to film making in which the tinsel of pre-war production was replaced by a form of fictional realism which owed much to the documentary school of film making, but which primarily became a form of film journalism, in which the kinema held a mirror to the strange and fearful world in which we found ourselves living.
In the 1939-1945 war, the British film production industry really found itself. The question is — what have we built so far on this splendid foundation — and what, in the future, are we likely to build ?
The Problems of Peace
It was my view during the war years, when the J. Arthur Rank Organisation was undergoing its rapid process of development, that Mr. Rank was making a bid to secure a virtual monopoly in the film industry. Events have proved me wrong. True, Mr. Rank was building up a vertically integrated combine, but it was in competition with others which were developing and (most important of all) it was in competition with the American influence on our kinema. Here was the real bid for monopoly, and monopoly on a world scale.
We began to realise at Ealing that only by building up large production-distribution-exhibition units could this country put itself in a position to talk terms with American film companies, and we attached ourselves — through a distribution contract — to the Rank group of companies. It was not a question of the principle of vertically integrated groups, but of practical issues.
The peace was not long advanced when the soundness of the position from the practical point of view showed itself. The combine, like the protective Quota, proved itself a necessary expedient. Only the strength of the British groups has enabled us to hold our position. The real conflict — and the key to our future — is the Anglo-American film war for markets.
The position today is that America maintains a virtually complete monopoly of her own domestic exhibition, and though statutorily allowed only 60% now of British screen time, in fact must possess more nearly 70%. It will be seen from this that American films can obviously be costed at a much higher level than our own, and our rivalry begins on this basis. I have often said, and always believe, that brain power and not money power is the most important factor in the manufacture of films ; but even I cannot ignore that there is a great difference between making films with a theatre potential of 15,000 to 20,000 theatres on the one hand, and 5,000 theatres on the other. (These are not actual figures, but I use them to illustrate roughly the relationship between British and American exhibition potentials.)
The Causes of the Crisis
What is the result ? Much of the present crisis in British film production may be laid at the feet of the policy of costing films on an expectancy of proper American returns, thus making films with star and production values to compete with the best American product in our own domestic market. It is easy enough to advocate that we should make films costed on an expectancy of domestic returns only, but inevitably this diminishes the appeal of such films in our own British kinemas.
These are the problems we have to face in a future as uncertain as any I can remember in thirty years of production. Uncertain, yes, but was there any time when the hopes were as high as they are today for British films ? One factor we cannot ignore in our assessment of the situation : we have proved repeatedly we can make films as good as the best from any country, America included, and (so I believe) with as great an international appeal.
But our problems cannot be over-simplified as being vis-a-vis our American competitors. Nothing I believe is quite so complicated as the film industry is internationally. For instance, the problems of the British and the American primary producer are in fact identical vis-a-vis distribution and exhibition. In Britain as in America, producers bear witness that the primary producer is not getting a fair share of the film's ultimate revenue.
In Britain this is largely the cause of closed studios, unemployment, retrenchment of every kind. In America the unemployment is even more serious than it is here ; production is at a low ebb ; there is retrenchment as stringent as any here. In France and, I believe, in Italy, in spite of some excellent product, there is a similar situation. As far as Hollywood is concerned, what a lesson can be learnt from the fact that, despite a virtual world domination of markets, the American production industry suffers from depression.
Hopes of the Future
At long last there is the welcome sign that the worst aspects of the struggle are over, that prejudices are being overcome and that some attempt will be made to take a long view of English-speaking film production going forward with the goodwill of two peoples. We can only hope that these talks will resolve many outstanding problems for the future. Rightly, the Americans have condemned the quota system ; I say rightly, although nobody is a greater champion of the Act than I am. But it is right in the long term view to dislike the Quota system and to look upon it as a temporary expedient.
May I sum up briefly the hopes that I hold for the future, with the warning that my fears are implicit in my hopes ?
- An Anglo-American rapprochement.
- A rationalisation of film production costs, accompanied, I fear, by continued sacrifice on the part of the top-grade personnel.
- A resolution of the primary producer's problem as 'to a fair share in a film's earnings.
- A streamlining of the trade-union problem — i.e., some attempt to bring about a unified representation of the workers' interests.
Finally, I believe that the greatest hope that can be held out for our industry is that there are men in it who do not regard film-making merely as a means of livelihood, but who have a passionate interest in film-making as an art and who hold a passionate belief that in no civilised country today should this medium of national expression be allowed to perish, or lose its freedom.
Mr. T. S. Lyndon-Haynes : Would bilingual films, such as those made in Germany, have any importance to-day ?
The Author : It is difficult enough to make a good picture in one language, but when you try to make two versions it is generally impossible. I do not look upon it as a solution to any problems, for the purely theoretical and commercial approach is not any solution to film making.
A VISITOR : I should like to pay tribute to Sir Michael's work in a branch of film production, the film poster. I am very pleased to see the work of Barnet Freedman, John Piper and other dignified photographers and artists in your posters. What reaction has been received on this aspect of film publicity ?
The Author : We have a very unusual contract for the distribution of Ealing films : we have the right to say something in the exploitation of our films up to their West End presentation. It has always been my view that film posters are not worthy of the industry. Two men have had a large part to play in this matter ; they are Monja Danischewsky and John Woods, old and very valued colleagues.
Many societies and institutes all over the world are sending for these posters They have been borrowed for exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and for Exhibitions in other places. But the view is held by some people in the industry that our posters are not ticket sellers : they are, of course, entitled to their point of view and I have mine.
Mr. Ralph Bond : What are the possibilities of achieving the American rapprochement which you mention in your Charter and on what basis would it be of value to the British film industry ?
The Author : Negotiations are in a certain stage and I do not want to say anything that would affect them. I have always thought the quota good enough as a temporary expedient. One cannot go back on one's political belief and I was brought up in a Gladstonian atmosphere and am a hardened free trader. We want to see the manufacture of a certain number of good films in America, in this country and in other countries. Some world patent has to be worked out whereby there is a free world exchange of those films.
Miss Frances Cockburn : What about co-operation between this country and others within the Commonwealth ?
The Author : This question gives me a chance to elaborate on the English-speaking film. The over-riding consideration is co-operation between England and America. It has always, however, been my ambition to make a contribution in building up film production in any of the English speaking countries. I look forward to the day when there is film production in Australia, Africa and Canada.
A Visitor : Would Sir Michael give his opinion of Independent Frame film production ?
The Author : I cannot do it, because I have never worked on I.F. It is a logical extension of processes known to many of us for a number of years. The whole of my personal approach to film making is in the opposite direction to I.F. We like working on actual locations and I personally would like to make films without working in studios.
A Visitor : What are your feelings with regard to television and the future of film production in Britain ?
The Author : Television must come in the public interest. As to its impact on kinemas I am not sure. I am a viewer myself and find the outside broadcasts fascinating. But the general studio production is handicapped by limited technical facilities. Television men are beginning to express themselves in their own medium. In America, some people say it has had an effect on kinema audiences and others say it has not. I really do not know. Television will not be able to provide all the entertainment needed without the aid of the film industry.
Mr. Leslie Knopp : For some years the proportion of British first-feature films has been approximately six "A" films to one "U" and, on the other hand, British second-feature films have been in the proportion of about 10 "U" to one "A." Is not this ill proportion somewhat prejudicial to film production, bearing in mind that exhibitors prefer a programme of either all "A" or all "U" films ?
The Author : Any form of censorship is unacceptable in general terms. The B.B.F.C, however, operates admirably and the problem is the silly categories, "A" and "U." They do not really serve the purpose which is intended, i.e., keeping children from films which are unsuitable for them. That is largely the responsibility of the parent. I believe discussions are taking place as to the possibility of changing their categories.
Notes & References
- "I Was a Spy" was actually a Victor Saville film.