Quota quickies

The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 (17 & 18 Geo. V) was an act of the United Kingdom Parliament designed to stimulate the declining British film industry.

Description

It introduced a requirement for British cinemas to show a quota of British films, for a duration of 10 years. The Act's supporters believed that this would promote the emergence of a vertically integrated film industry, in which production, distribution and exhibition infrastructure are controlled by the same companies. The vertically integrated American film industry saw rapid growth in the years immediately following the end of the First World War. The idea, therefore, was to try and counter Hollywood's perceived economic and cultural dominance by promoting similar business practices among British studios, distributors and cinema chains. By creating an artificial market for British films, it was hoped that the increased economic activity in the production sector would eventually lead to the growth of a self-sustaining industry. The quota was initially set at 7.5% for exhibitors, which was raised to 20% in 1935.

With regards to what was and what was not considered a British film, the Act approved by Parliament specified:

  • The film must be made by a British or British controlled company
  • Studio scenes must be photographed within a film studio in the British Empire/Commonwealth
  • The author of the scenario or the original work the screenplay was based on must be a British Subject
  • At least 75% of the salaries must be paid to British Subjects [1] excluding the costs of two persons at least one of which must be an actor (This caveat refers to the fact that a British film could engage a highly paid international star, producer, or director whilst still being regarded as a British film)[2]

Results

The Act is generally not considered a success. On the one hand, it was held responsible for a wave of speculative investment in lavishly budgeted features which could never hope to recoup their production costs on the domestic market (e.g. the output of Alexander Korda's London Films, a boom-and-bust which was famously satirised in Jeffrey Dell's 1939 novel Nobody Ordered Wolves.) At the other end of the spectrum, it was blamed for the emergence of the 'quota quickie', a low-cost, poor-quality film commissioned by American distributors operating in the UK purely to satisfy the quota requirements. In recent years, revisionist film historians such as Lawrence Napper have argued that the 'quota quickies' have been too casually dismissed, and are of particular cultural and historical value because they recorded performances unique to British popular culture (e.g. music hall and variety acts), which under normal economic circumstances would not have been filmed.

The Act was modified by the Cinematograph Films Act 1938 and further acts, and eventually repealed by the Films Act 1960.

References

  • Nobody Ordered Wolves, Jeffrey Dell, London & Toronto, William Heinemann, 1939.
  • Michael Chanan, 'State Protection of a Beleaguered Industry' in British Cinema History, James Curran & Vincent Porter (eds.), London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983, pp. 59–73.
  • The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930–39, Jeffrey Richards, London, Routledge, 1984.
  • Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the Government, 1927–1984, Margaret Dickinson & Sarah Street, London, British Film Institute, 1985.
  • Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema, Andrew Higson (ed.), London, Cassell, 1996.
  • 'The British Film Industry's Production Sector Difficulties in the Late 1930s', John Sedgwick, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol. 17, no. 1 (1997), pp. 49–66.
  • The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema 1929–1939, Jeffrey Richards, Manchester, I.B. Tauris (2001).
  • Lawrence Napper, 'A Despicable Tradition? Quota Quickies in the 1930s' in The British Cinema Book (2nd edition), Robert Murphy (ed.), London, BFI Publishing, 2001, pp. 37–47.

External links

  • BOPCRIS
  • In Praise of the Quota
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