From Celluloid to C:Drive

Asten Yeo and Charlie Landells interview Jeremy Taylor, the head of Abingdon’s Film Unit.

As surprising as it may seem, digital video is a newcomer to the movie industry. In fact, for almost a century, motion pictures have been shot on film which, for the first 40 years, was made from unstable explosive compounds. It wasn’t until 1948—the year the non-flammable film stock was introduced—that the motion picture industry made its first technological leap towards reinventing the medium, taking it away from the threat of cinema fires (which were surprisingly common at the time) and towards much safer means of filmmaking.

Now, in the wake of the digital revolution, new technologies have completely changed the dynamics of filmmaking. From the introduction of tape in the late 70s to HD video recording on DSLRs in 2008, the shift from analogue to digital media has resulted in an explosion of creativity in the field of filmmaking. In the past decade alone, dozens of directors and cinematographers have turned to digital media as the solution to all the drawbacks of film.

However, the biggest impact this paradigm shift has had is on the amateur filmmaker. With advances in consumer electronics allowing the layman to film, edit and showcase films of a progressively higher production value, the world of the motion picture has expanded to include the vast pool of independent filmmakers, eager to exhibit their works to a wider audience.

Since its inception in 2003, the Abingdon Film Unit has been doing just that. Many of the 120 or more films from the AFU have gone on to be selected and screened at film festivals locally and abroad and have won various awards. In the last year alone, the Film Unit produced its first music video, had an alumni receive a BAFTA scholarship and also had one of their films screen at not one, but multiple film festivals.

 We spoke to Jeremy Taylor, head of the Abingdon Film Unit, about his opinion on the relationship between filmmaking and technology, as well as what he thinks the future could hold.

 What has the digital revolution brought to independent filmmaking?

 I think its been a huge democratizing force – it’s enabled pretty much everyone and anyone to make a film. When we first had the idea for a film activity at Abingdon, we would’ve need a trolley for all the equipment. By the time we actually came to start the film unit, you could do it with a camera and a laptop, so that’s been a huge benefit to people who want to make films. Perhaps what it’s also done, of course, is to saturate the market a bit. I remember hearing Mike Figgis, a well-known British director, worrying about how the next generation of filmmakers could come to prominence in that sort of environment. But there’s no doubt it’s been a fantastic thing for getting more people doing it.

 Social media these days is being used for networking and getting your name out there. Would you say filmmaking and social media work hand in hand?

 Oh absolutely. It’s fantastic because you can simply advertise your film instantly, not only that, but in terms of film financing and funding, there are new models now. Instead of having to go cap in hand to the gatekeepers – the Channel 4s – to get the money and the agreement to make the film, what a lot of professional filmmakers have now is their own email communities of fans and they say: “Look, I’ve got this idea and I need some money”. Quite literally huge budgets are being raised from this pledging system in a matter of a few days and then people can get on and make the film, rather than this endless process of waiting for some corporate guy to grant you the money.

 Do you think that there are now more people in the filmmaking industry because there is less skill required to make a film?

 That’s a good one. I don’t know the numbers, I don’t know the statistics, so I can’t say whether there are more people. Is less skill required? I don’t think it is. I think just as much skill is required to make a good film. Loads of people can make a film, but to make a good film is still incredibly hard and one of the things that the digital revolution has brought about is that, because it is so much cheaper and instant to create the footage and to consume it, people maybe don’t have to think as hard before they shoot. So I think the challenge is still there – you’ve got to have an idea. Without an idea you’re just going to be waving the camera around.

 Where do you see independent filmmaking going in the next decade?

 Well it’s hard to predict really. I think the harsh reality for lots of independent filmmakers is that it’s incredibly hard to make a living from it. I think there’s always the chance that an independent film can get through and get picked up but whether the industry can support the numbers of people going forward is hard to say.

 I think, though, in common with every art form, when the market is saturated, people have to be ever more resourceful and inventive in coming up with something different. Personally, I find it hard to see with any clarity where things will go. I suspect resolutions will keep going up, but I come back to the fact that, fundamentally, what makes the difference is the quality of the idea and the thinking that goes into it. People are really striving to be inventive and creative and I think that’s the way forward.