How Low Can Film Go?

Let me set the scene. I'm in possession of two scripts:  The first emotionally discusses human rights, focusing on oppression, torture, solitary confinement and unlawful and unjustified control of the weakest (think "Someone To Watch Over Me").  The second script focuses on a group of individuals hunting each other down across London for fun (think "Series 7", "Running Man").

'Sensationalism has become the most powerful way of monopolising our attention and we are unfortunately fooled into thinking that we choose to like it.'

The truth is the independent film industry is dying on its feet as it panders to every burst of fresh sensationalism.  The prospects of achieving funding for the human rights epic are as great as Satan ice-skating to work.  Feverish attention was paid to filming the real reactions of the general public when someone is “murdered” in front of them.  Sensationalism has become the most powerful way of monopolising our attention and we are unfortunately fooled into thinking that we choose to like it.

Why the rise in sensationalism?  From which well of humanity does it spring?  

Technology has undoubtedly aided the march of sensationalism.  It has certainly allowed us to have more footage and cross-media content than ever before, and the falling costs of film-making have made everyone a director.  On a small scale, note the emerging depravity of those who crane their necks at tragic incidents, and pull out the phone camera to preserve the moment for later viewing.  For a film producer, the act of finding the content has now become more difficult than making it.  It has now become the business of the film producer to make real cinematic efforts stand out, against a backdrop of cheap sensationalism.

'Is shock content what we really want to watch? Or does it result from a poverty of options?'

Unfortunately, getting press coverage through intelligence and worth is extremely difficult and it seems that the easiest way to the public eye is by attacking whichever social barrier actually remains in tact. Shock value is replacing the need for other more traditional aspects of film such as writing and direction.

Is shock content what we really want to watch?  Or does it result from a poverty of options?  In the bright new age, the films we watch will be tied much more closely to our demand.  The films we watch, from low cost internet distributors, will no longer be tied to commercial imperatives.  In essence, the film market will become more democratic.  However, this moment is not yet upon us and it leaves most people with an IQ above 60 wondering who actually wants to see half the material available. How is it that more people below the age of 25 voted in Pop Idol than the General Election?

There is another option.  That we enjoy sensationalism.  Is there a little corner of the human psyche that enjoys blood-thirsty action?  The violence on our screen can replace the need to feed enemies to the lion in a frenzy of thirst for ritual destruction.  By sacrificing a few hapless Christians to the lions, we all benefit by understanding greater our animalistic urges the better to deal with them.  We need a theatre of violence, lest everyday life becomes that theatre.

Another problem is thrown up by images of war.  In the interests of openness and self-education, Iraq war footage is available here:  Footage of our soldiers being shot and of civilians dying is harrowing but not inherently sensational.  In using images of war, a director can be fulfilling two aims.  The first, and noble, aim is to show us the horror of war in the hope that mankind can be so revolted as to avert future wars.  The second, and downright shameful, aim is to actively seek out this footage in the hope (knowledge) that it will cause controversy and bring in the ratings.  The image of war is just the same as pornographic images.  Where is the satisfaction in having your film discussed because of its existence rather than what you were trying to say? That is like being remembered for being at a party only because you got hammered, puked in the fridge and tried to pull the host’s underage sibling. Well, nearly.

The saving grace may be that we ultimately run out of taboos and there will be nothing left to shock us. Once we have run out of social barriers to break then there can only be content we want in existence. Nothing would surprise us and so we would ignore things we don’t enjoy. Having said that there will always be more disturbing content on the news than in the cinema and filmmaking is merely adapting the stories that society provides us with (there will be a new branch of galling terrorism movies, which terrify our everyday existence).  There is a difference between delivering pioneering subject matter to the screen and causing discomfort for the sake of ratings, even if the content is the same.

So let me know. Am I wildly off the mark? Am I depriving myself of a possibly life changing experience by not watching everything put before me? Or am I right in thinking that there are a large number of people that are merely absorbing mindless media because it is sold in a thinking-free and effort-free box?

Do we have the films we deserve?