‘The average film goer is not very bright, and no one wants a film where you have to think.’

Film Sales Agent

I thought the above would be the saddest thing said to me, and saddest indictment as to where emerging filmmakers fit in the industry I was to ever hear.
It came courtesy of a sales agent.

I’d recently completed my first film and had engaged with them while trying to get a deal.  I had been determined to make a film which spoke with my own voice.  Something unique, personally driven, uncompromising, real, rather than follow the tendency of low budget films at the time which seemed to emulate the trend that was proving successful again and again.  I thought, in fact, I’d be criticized if I didn’t.  Not the other way around.

Some years later, after finding out the brutally hard way, just how impenetrable the industry can be.  And after forming the British Filmmakers Alliance and seeing it grow to nearly 3,000 members worldwide comprised of filmmakers, writers, producers and actors, all vying for a sea change in the industry that would mean those with a talent which should not go unnoticed could have at the very least a chance to see that talent come to light, I was approached by a different film agent and producer. They described their mode of working and asked me if I, or any of the BFA members, would wish to get on board and work ascribing to their methods, being;

‘We make the poster first.  We sell the film on the strength of the poster.  After that we make the film and at that point it doesn’t matter if the film is any good or not’

My second feature The Spoiler was the most hard work, but most fun, I ever had.

I’ve often wondered how Stanley Kubrick would have reacted if he’d met with the same proposal, or Ken Loach, or Terrance Davies, or Ridley Scott.  Or even more recently Danny Boyle, Guy Ritchie, Lynne Ramsey, Andrea Arnold, Steve McQueen, Ben Wheatley, or Christopher Nolan.

If the work of emerging filmmakers should be relegated to ‘make ‘em quick, make ‘em cheap, no problem if they’re crap, we’ll have sold them by that point anyway’ then what hope for those writers, actors and filmmakers with the next Chariots of Fires, Defence of the Realm, Kes, Kill List, The Servant or Don’t Look Now inside them?

Looking forward to getting Drowning Room Only the first UK based feature in the new World Film Movement off the ground.

When my best friend Matt Weston visited us on the set of The Spoiler we realised the potential benefit of veterans becoming involved in filmmaking.  Giving rise to the Joining Forces Campaign.

Is the art of the auteur dead?  Or at the very least in deep hibernation? 

Do films that matter and mean something only stand a chance if the team behind them are already playing at the top and have a PR budget to equal to that of the film itself?  And post pandemic, with spots for films having a theatrical release so limited, and the smorgasbord on offer on online platforms so extensive, will the films and careers of those with true potential ever stand a chance of being singled out, nurtured, given an opportunity to flourish and become all they could be?

‘What now must we do?’

The above is a quote from one of my favourite films.  Peter Weir’s The Year of the Living Dangerously.  Billy Kwan, a man played in an Oscar winning performance by actress Linda Hunt, tortured by the world around him, himself quotes Tolstoy who asked the same question. 

Do we humbly as amen to the difficulties we face in life?  As filmmakers do we shrug because the obstacles seem insurmountable, the impossibilities so great?  For some of us it’s not that easy.

What now must we do?

If someone is born with a mission inside them or consumed with a passion that’s as intrinsic and necessary as breathing, the need to pursue that mission is the beat of drum which will never be quietened.  The desperation for your next breath will empower you with the strength to breakthrough any barrier.  It’s what separates the storytelling purists who are driven by a need to move others with their work, from the daydreaming hopefuls fantasising about red carpets and riches. 

Nothing beats working with an actor you trust and who trusts you.  Luke de Woolfson, one of my favourite actors to work with.

Joanna Metrass in The Spoiler.

From the making of the Thin, Brittle, Mile AudioMovie.  Nothing will stop me from getting this film made to honour Matt and other servicemen and women who deserve their story being told.

Peter Weir, one of the world’s last great auteurs, this year received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 81st Venice International Film Festival. 
But how does any filmmaker achieve a ‘lifetime’ in film?  One of the most challenging and finically and critically risky art forms, forever glued with a long-embedded mantra ‘no one knows anything’.   

Even the most established of producers can’t predict which projects will work.  Nor can the most successful of filmmakers guarantee success.  Work derived from literary accomplishments, often considered the safer bet, come with no assurance.  A global bestseller can be a commercial and critical disaster as a feature film, then a sensation as a Netflix series.  Indeed, ‘no one knows anything.’ 

How does any filmmaker even start?  If it’s challenging enough for the successful, it’s downright impossible for the first timers.  No one runs into running, you must first crawl, then stumble then walk.  Every filmmaker knows theirs, and others, first attempts are usually a succession of carefully traversed minefields.  No body, fund or entrepreneur will be falling over themselves to donate finance to an unknown filmmaker who’ll almost certainly fail on their first attempt. 

Who took a chance on Peter Weir for his first film?  Or Christopher Nolan, or Ben Wheatley, or Shane Meadows, or Robert Rodrigez?
To answer.

They did.

Ben Wheatley made Down Terrace for £8,000 in 8 days.  Robert Rodriguez infamously sold his blood to make El Mariachi and go on to become a modern-day Hollywood legend.  Christopher Nolan used his salary to make his first film the neo-noir thriller Following, shooting over four months on Saturdays only.

Did these films become instant classics?  No.  But they did serve as calling cards which gave rise to illustrious careers.

Even without commercial success, or a feature behind them, the acclaim from shorts Where’s the Money Ronnie? and Wasp would lead to careers for Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold respectively.

So, is that all it takes, make one film, any film, as a passport into the industry? Sadly no. Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the most successful British filmmakers in recent history. But he’s a British Filmmaker in birthright only. He tried tirelessly to make Memento in the UK on the back of Following but every door was closed to him. But clearly a man born with a mission inside him and a drum that would not stay still, the word no wasn’t enough to silence any drum or dream and he moved continents, literally, to get Memento made in America. The rest is history.

What now must we do?

Across cinema’s a hundred year plus history it has been filmmakers themselves responsible for the greatest changes in the industry that has allowed new trends in filmmaking to be shaped, new avenues to open, new movements to arise. 

From the French New Wave, the enfants terrible at Cahiers du Cinéma, the American Independent Film Movement, Dogma 95 and New Hollywood, visionary filmmakers, working together, have defied the rules, and the odds, and changed the shape of the cinematic landscape for themselves and their own work, and others in the slipstream behind them.

Along side Thin, Brittle, Mile, Age of Descent a poignant and powerful story about the knife crime epidemic is a film that WILL be made.

What now must we do?

We must start out on a journey that’s ending cannot be known. 

As a screenwriter, I know the ending, the climax, of my stories before I commit a single word to page.  The documentary Fires we’re Starting . . . charts the course of myself and other filmmakers supporting me, alongside an army of veterans battling for their own place within the industry, as we endeavour to bring about our own changes.  A gentle revolution, a revolution for the talented, a new World Film Movement which will form a model that can be emulated by others, meaning anyone with a talent unique enough, a will strong enough, a heart tough enough and a mind determined enough will, at the very least, stand a chance to fulfil their potential.  But, more importantly, reach the audiences that key, poignant, powerful, and uncompromising films were meant for. 


It is indeed a journey that’s ending cannot be known. 

But I have asked myself the question ‘what now must we do?’ time and time again and the answer resurfaces like a dream that won’t leave you:

We must take to the path like warriors!

So as I, and others, set forth on that path, on a journey that’s ending isn’t known, the question we have for you is . . .

Who’s coming with us?

Katharine Collins

Founder, The British Filmmakers Alliance
Co-Founder, The Joining Forces Campaign

Love of Words, the first film from the Joining Forces Campaign, made by filmmakers and veterans, in front of and behind the camera.


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