While its producer and stars celebrated on Skye, The Inbetweeners continued its reign at the top of the Box Office charts for a second week, adding another £5.6m over the weekend (bringing its total take to date to just a shade under £28m) outdoing new releases One Day, Final Destination 5 and Conan the Barbarian and securing another record as the fastest-grossing live action comedy in the UK ever. To put this all in perspective this low budget (3.5m) has already taken more than last year’s Sex and the City 2, Clash of the Titans and Despicable Me and more than Four Weddings and a Funeral (well OK, not if you allow for inflation)taking the latter’s place as (so far) 64th highest grossing (In the UK) film of all time.
With his seventh theatrical feature Skye-based Chris Young has not only broken UK box office records for both comedy and an independently produced feature but remains the most prolific Scottish-based film producer if we count only lead rather than co-producer credits. However the journey from 1989’s Venus Peter (Writer/Director Ian Sellar) to TV series spin-off The Inbetweeners has been far from plain sailing .
Demonstrating considerable entrepreneurial flair, the National Film School Graduate sold £50 shares in Venus Peter on the basis that if the film got made investors would get £80 back. For his second feature, Prague (1992) , earned a certain (undeserved) notoriety amongst Scottish-based crew because of the small number of them employed on the shoot in the eponymous Czech city. Not particularly well reviewed critically (though Philip French cited it as an ‘example of a genuinely pan-European cinema transcending individual national borders’ – quoted in Jonny Murray’s excellent 2004 bibliographic research guide That Thinking Feeling), Prague managed a very modest £15,000 at the UK box office (BFI Film and TV Handbook 1994) which probably didn’t help accelerate the prospects of Young’s slate of films in development.
After a considerable gap of seven years Young’s next theatrical release, Gregory’s Two Girls, brought John Gordon Sinclair back to the screen as Bill Forsyth’s beloved teenage hero some seventeen or so years after his debut in what remains the best (and still one of the few) cinematic accounts of Scottish adolescence. Sadly it didn’t charm audiences back to the cinema, taking a disappointing £130k at the UK box office and failed to get a theatrical release anywhere else
Young’s next release, The Final Curtain, brought two more talents with Scottish ‘form’ together, writer John Hodge (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) and Director Patrick Harkins (Sea of Souls, Taggart) but the result went straight to DVD/PayTV.
Undeterred (and remember that getting a film financed and made, far less securing any sort of release, is nothing short of a miracle) Young returned to Scottish subject and locations with writer/director Annie Griffin’s 2005 debut feature Festival. Garnering three stars from the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wasn’t enough to help it break through at the box office though with a £178k gross or around thirty-eight thousand admissions.
Having established his home and company base in Skye it was perhaps not totally unexpected that his next feature had a celtic dimension but to produce a Gaelic language feature was a bold move and the result in 2007, Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle was a beautifully written and performed set of intertwining stories. Billed by its producer as the first feature film in Gaelic (actually it wasn’t, the accolade should go either to Barney Platts-Mills Hero or, if ‘contemporary’ is the qualifier Mike Alexander’s 1993 As an Eilean). Perhaps not surprisingly, given the language barrier, Seachd didn’t get far across the border despite being picked up by dynamic London distributor Soda Pictures but I suspect its reported 2000 theatrical admissions significantly underestimates the true audience in the Gaeltacht.
2007 was clearly a very busy year for Young with a TV movie Flashpoint, a comedy pilot and the first series of Inbetweeners going into production. Three series later the transition from small to big screen has proved to be a commercial triumph, indications of which were already clear when the Telegraph and the Guardian gave it three star reviews at the same time as the Sun and the Mirror gave it four stars.
The twenty-odd years between Chris Young’s debut feature and his first smash hit are a salutary reminder both that producing is not for the faint-hearted and that it can take a lot of attempts to find the combination of story, talent, execution and zeitgeist to spark a wave of interest in a British film that can pull (young) people into the cinema in the kinds of numbers we saw this weekend. It will be interesting indeed to see how the movie does in the UK over the next couple of weekends and the extent to which foreign distributors up their release strategy/marketing spend. Meanwhile Chis Young can bask in the satisfaction of having a real hit on his hands, not something a Scottish producer has had to contend with for some time.