The last time I interviewed Ken Loach, we discussed the way that digital technology has empowered young and novice film-makers to "just do it" (let's take that phrase back from the multinational plimsoll company, shall we?). As a socialist, I expected him to be all for this transfer of the means of production from a moneyed elite to the masses - after all, anyone can now pick up a camera, or a phone, and shoot.
"Well, you can shoot a home movie," he grumbled. "It’s the equivalent of walking along Blackpool sands with a camera. You can go to an art shop and buy a tin of paint; it doesn’t make you a painter."
On this, the great man and I shall differ. I think affordable digital hardware, for both shooting and editing, is good for cinema. You don't even have to buy film any more.
I'm currently animated about low-budget film - and "just doing it" - because Black Pond is out on DVD. Criminally young first-time British writer/directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe shot their debut feature, an original black comedy about a Surrey family accused of murder, for just £25,000, and in three weeks' flat. It enjoyed a limited theatrical release at the end of last year, and finds its natural home on DVD.
I recommend you seek it out. A mix of social satire and British-horror-movie dread, it stars Chris Langham (The Thick of It), Simon Amstell (Grandma's House) and some other actors you might not be able to name, but who bring real gravitas and humour to the screen. (Sharpe plays one of the roles, too.)
If you or I won £25,000 on the Euromillions, we'd be delighted, and it would seem like an awful lot of money, but as a film budget, it's peanuts. It's the equivalent of around $40,000 at the current exchange rate. The Blair Witch Project, the most profitable film ever made in 1999, cost $60,000 (it made around $250 million), and that's just people running around in the woods with a camcorder.
Black Pond is a more conventional comic drama, with a bigger cast to pay. I asked Tom Kingsley about budget-stretching and he explained that he and Sharpe saved money by doing as many jobs themselves as they could. And they used a shopping trolley instead of a dolly.
Black Pond stands up to the same critical scrutiny as any other film; it earned four-star reviews in most of the national newspapers, and reminded me of Kill List, one of my favourite films of last year (whose British director Ben Wheatley's debut, Down Terrace, cost peanuts and was shot in eight days). But even if it didn't, I'd still admire Kingsley and Sharpe. Why? Because they've made one more film than I ever have.
I am in awe when people get off their backsides, cadge money, organise their free time, recruit like-minded souls and come up with the goods. Shane Meadows, one of British cinema's leading lights, started out using borrowed video equipment and his mates to make his first feature, Smalltime, which alerted anybody who saw it to a raw, new talent.
This puts him in the same bracket as David Lynch (whose debut, Eraserhead, took six years to complete), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, funded by taking part in medical experiments!), Kevin Smith (Clerks) and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity).
An actor friend of mine, Ewan Bailey - he played the detective in a recent Silent Witness - made a short film last year, Deafblind, and managed to get no less than Maxine Peake to star in it. Ever since, he's been in the arduous process of trying to get it shown at film festivals and to gather positive quotes to oil those wheels. It's a fine piece of work. And again, I bow down to him, and to anyone else who puts themselves through hell to get this far.
A guy called Chris MacDonald, who approached me on Twitter, had used a "crowd-funding" website where investors could sponsor him in order for him to finish his film, Disaffected. There are ways and means if you're the can-do type.
Making a film is only half the battle; getting it shown (and if you're lucky, distributed) is the other half; and there are so many points where a film-maker who lacks mettle would throw in the towel. Not having seen Black Pond when it came out last year, I contacted the directors and asked who was doing its DVD's publicity. "We are," came the reply.
Let me just check, one more time: how many films have I made? Oh yes, none.