Writer and actor Ford Kiernan is reportedly rather frustrated that his film Seven Songs for Amy is being made in Ireland after having been turned down by Scottish Screen (Interest declared: a former employer of mine, though it no longer exists). Well of course they did. Why? Not because it wasnt any good or despite it being good (I have no idea of the quality of the project) but because everybody, repeat everybody (with the exception of Pixar), is very, very bad at picking winning film ideas.
It’s as simple as that – many very succesful films get turned down several times by very smart, very succesful executives in studios, independent companies and public agencies. Equally the majority of films that do get made disappear without trace. Film development is a game of chance (for a personal experience see previous post ) in which judgement and taste are important but not determinant and routinely overstated (see http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/10.1086/209624.pdf?acceptTC=true) and no-one (well Pixar do seem to be the exception) has devised a system to beat the odds. This has been shown repeatedly, with considerable scientific rigour and is part of the fundamental reality of the creative industries. One person passes on a project and another says yes. Fire the former and promote the latter and you’ll soon find the terms reversed. (There’s some evidence that US Studio Executives are often fired for underperformance shortly before the projects they have actually been involved in developing get released and the studio’s performance improves. In other words they get blamed for their predecessor’s decisions and their decisions get credited to their successor. For more on this and a good non-technical introduction to chaos in movie making see Leonard Mlodinow’s Chaotic – How Hollywood really operates.).
Seven Songs for Amy may well turn out to be a smash hit like The Inbetweeners or it may tank. If the former, then Scottish Screen’s decision will be seen as poor, if the latter as wise. Twenty-twenty hindsight is the curse of this business and those close to a production are always going to be miffed when an exec passes on their cherished project. There is a good case to invest public funds to keep productions in Scotland on economic grounds but those funds need to be kept separate from those invested on the grounds of a film’s significance to our culture or audience needs. In either case some decisions will prove to have been smart, others not, that’s life in a risky business.