An Open Letter to Lord David Puttnam, CBE
Republished from the British Society of Cinematographers, April 6th, 2023
Dear Lord Puttnam,
The Board of Governors of the British Society of Cinematographers were disappointed, yesterday, to read your interviews in The Guardian and Screen International with reference to your speech at BAFTA on behalf of the FDA (Film Distributor’s Association).
Your address outlined the incredible success of the U.K.’s production sector, the slow but steady return-to-business of the Cinema sector post-Covid, and the necessity for unity across the fields of filmmaking endeavour: development, production and distribution. A considered analysis of various statistics illustrated how the U.K. film industry is displaying real economic growth whilst other areas of business stumble or even retract. A rallying cry to applaud successes, a cautious tone to recommend inward investment in skills, and a warning shot against complacency should productions consider a move overseas. Level-headed and even-handed.
However, in your post-speech interviews, you unfairly singled out the role of the cinematographer as an example of why the British film industry is “flushing money down the drain” when it comes to production costs; a thinly disguised attack on all Heads of Department and the hierarchical earnings structure that exists within our world of freelance employment. You may have been speaking to CEO’s and business leaders, but the subjects of your vitriol are self-employed artisans, with all the economic fragility that entails.
In an attempt to make important and valid points about the lack of investment in our industry and the scarcity of trained production personnel, you went out of your way to say cinematographers get paid “a colossal” wage and that if there were more cinematographers then producers would have more bargaining power to lower rates and cut production costs across the board.
Your stance on heads of department, and cinematographers in particular, displayed a pernicious and damaging rhetoric. A rhetoric that is as unjust as it is untrue. We write to you as representatives of the British Society of Cinematographers, an organisation of over 160 world class cinematographers and camera operators. We know this because our members travel the world working on theatrical and HETV productions, their skills are sought after, and their experience level is unique. In addition, many of our members were taught at your very own National Film and Television School, the nation’s outstanding educational institution which has ordained over 200 alumni with a Masters in Cinematography. The U.K. film industry may be facing a skills shortage but there is no shortage of skill amongst the nation’s cinematographers.
May I finish with some of your own words:
“… we need to remember to support the very best of our producers, writers, directors, cinematographers, production designers, editors, and those many others who will always be the bedrock of our domestic industry.
Creativity, be it in production, distribution, or exhibition, is about seeing things from different perspectives, being bold and imaginative, and being prepared to transform accepted ways of doing things. Remember what Toby Jones [Empire of Light] said in that clip; “nothing happens without light” – the very best of us need, in whatever way we can, to offer it.”
We stand in solidarity with all the leaders in our filmmaking community… who are striving to maintain excellence, to achieve desperately needed progress and to nurture and protect collaborators. Cinematographers, production designers, editors, costume designers, hair and make-up designers, camera operators, gaffers, grips, colourists…we are the light…and we shine brighter than ever.
Yours in service to the industry,
The Board of Governors of the British Society of Cinematographers