This entry is taken from a recent presentation I gave, as part of a group, on the company Film Four.
In 1982, Channel 4 was asked to help the British film industry by starting up a department that could help build a new relationship between British cinema and British television. Since the glory days of Ealing comedies, the British film industry had suffered. Something needed to change and it was Channel 4 and its creation, ‘Film on Four’, that would help to make this happen. Channel 4 was chosen for this venture due to its reputation. It was known for its deep involvement with its programmes. Where other channels simply produced programmes, Channel 4 commissioned its own work. Therefore, Channel 4 was known as a publisher-broadcaster instead of a producer broadcaster like the BBC.
Over the previous two decades, British cinema was being lost under the weight of Hollywood’s global success. Prior to the success of Film on Four, 85-90% of British cinema audiences were watching films from Hollywood. It was clear that British cinema’s exposure needed to be increased. Channel 4 created Film on Four in 1982 as a way of ensuring that British cinema received a lot more recognition. Film on Four was created with the means of displaying British cinema on Channel 4 and investing in British films and directors. The company were instructed to invest in independent films for around £500,000. These small investments are believed to have helped to form the iconic ‘low-budget’ look and style of the work of certain directors such as Mike Leigh, with whom ‘Film on Four’ have invested repeatedly. The beauty of these low budgets of production meant that the films did not have to earn a fortune at the box-office in order to turn over a profit. For example, Film of Four’s first twenty projects were all made for a total of £9.6 million. In Hollywood, this type of money would only have been capable of financing one film. Out of the first twenty, eight of the films were released into cinemas.
|My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Successful films such as ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ gave the company money that could be invested into new projects. As Film on Four gradually built up a portfolio of great work the profits grew stronger which gave the Channel more freedom and opportunity. They were suddenly able to invest in many more adventurous projects. In 1991, by forming a partnership with the B.F.I Production Board, Film on Four was able to be more experimental and decided that it was their responsibility to represent minorities by catering to audiences that were not usually addressed. The company’s editor for independent film and video was in charge of finding suitable projects to meet this goal. This led to the collaboration and investments with groups such as ‘Cinema Action’ and the workshop movement of the time. Film on Four’s international department was then set up in order to secure more finance from abroad and to ensure that world cinema was being displayed on Channel 4 along with British cinema features. Suddenly Channel 4 were showing Bollywood, Japanese and European cinema alongside the work of independent British film-makers.
The mid-nineties became the company’s peak and saw the company’s most successful and famous films being made, including ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ in 1994 and ‘Trainspotting’ in 1996. By the end of the 1990s, Film on Four, now called Film Four, had helped to recharge the batteries of British cinema and had also helped to promote British directors, scriptwriters, producers and cinema to Hollywood. It is believed by many that Britain now has 4 successful film studios, Pinewood, Shepperton, Elstree and Ealing thanks to the hard work of Film Four in its first twenty years.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.