Devil's Plantation - Elemental Films

BAFTA Scotland Awards

posted on
17 November 13

The Devil's Work

Regular readers of this blog might be excused for thinking I’ve lost my way. What began in 2007 as a record of my city-wide meanderings while making The Devil’s Plantation has lately turned into a rant on the vagaries of public arts funding in general and film funding in particular and for which I apologise. A backward glance at my posts over the last six years has me hankering for the days I took the 900 bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow laden with camera kit en route to some forgotten graveyard.

Tombstone, Govan Old Parish Church

Ironic then that my movie was nominated for this year’s BAFTA Scotland/Cineworld Audience Award after only two public outings, unencumbered by funding, social media overkill and the marketing machine. In other words, it has no chance of winning. In a matter of minutes the awards ceremony for the Scottish BAFTAs will take place in Glasgow. Sadly I won’t be attending because in my case the term ‘unfunded’ extends to the cost of admission – £100 a ticket – a sum better deployed in my next film, which I plan on shooting in 2014.

Still, I want to thank BAFTA Scotland and those involved in nominating TDP, just as I thank everyone who saw and voted for the film, especially the many people who took the time to contact me directly to say how much they enjoyed it. I’m grateful too to the film critic Siobhan Synnot who, without prompting, lobbying or bribery, championed the film both on Twitter and BBC Radio Scotland. Naturally I wish all my fellow nominees the very best of luck – all eight of us.

Caged CCTV on Shaw Street, Govan

However it would be remiss of me to not mention Craig Brown’s article published in Scotland on Sunday last Sunday, and how a question mark hangs over the legitimacy of the Audience Award amid allegations of rigged voting and the grist of social media in promoting the nominated films that – arguably – skews the outcome. That, and the suggestion of flaws in Cineworld’s online polling system. If so, this is depressing news, not because of any implied underhand bids to win, but rather, the stakes are so low. Besides, one would have to be craven to game the system because to win under those circumstances would be none too gratifying; the walk to the podium to collect one’s gong one of shame rather than fame.

Earlier this year, in a speech to Creative Scotland’s Open Session in Glasgow, I asserted that with the rise of social media ‘all films are equal’. With crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, the tools are still evolving. Today on my Twitter feeds I count at least a dozen Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for would-be films. Of course some shout louder than others and succeed. Others – the ones we don’t hear about – fail to reach their target and forfeit any money pledged. Seems the only people guaranteed a margin are those operating the crowdfunding sites. Personally I’ve never considered crowdfunding – perhaps a consequence of my aversion to soliciting funds from individuals on the grounds that I wouldn’t do it in the street, so doing it online isn’t any less embarrassing.

The City Streets

Apart from a few tweets and Facebook posts, my attempts to promote The Devil’s Plantation have been somewhat lacklustre. That said, I believe I’m the only person to make their film available as a free download for those who couldn’t make it to the Cineworld screenings or who were unable or unwilling to pay the £9-plus admission fee. I should add that none of the filmmakers concerned saw a cut of the box office takings, which presumably went towards Cineworld’s overheads. Indeed, I made several copies of the film available for the public screenings but have yet to have them returned. Not that I imagine some unscrupulous projectionist is busily flogging copies up the Barras.

Reflecting on the future of the film – and this blog – it’s perhaps better to live in the moment and value the task of making films as an end in itself rather than dwell on the meagre means with which I – and many of my peers – have to work with. In 2007, I was pleased to win one of the last Creative Scotland Awards because without it this project would never have existed. But contrary to most people’s ideas of what filmmakers earn, let me state here that for the two and a half years it took to create the DP website my income was below £4000 a year – on a par with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Not that I carry any sense of entitlement, not when yet another food bank has opened in my neighbourhood. On the contrary, I find it shameful that broadcasters, academic institutions and a handful of ‘eligible’ production companies in Scotland continue to be awarded public money – and yes, Lottery money is public money – year in, year out, to make content that few people want to watch, yet give nothing back in return. So much for ROI.

Amid all the talk of 2013 as a bumper year for Scottish film production and with the ongoing debate on a Scottish studio, any notion of a viable, thriving film sector is risible because quite simply filmmakers, like me, can’t survive on passion projects that take years to realise, or crowdsourced and/or crowdfunded films where only a few individuals get a wage. Or films made on deferments where both cast and crew take a hit. Or all the writers expected to turn in endless drafts for a pittance. Or schemes claiming to support emerging filmmakers yet flaunt union pay minimums to provide cheap TV content in the guise of opportunity and career advancement. If I have any hope for the future of Scottish film it’s this – that Creative Scotland can find a way to not always back winners but also contemplate taking risks with those perceived ‘lesser’ films that may not grab the headlines but still have resonance within the national culture, films that touch people’s hearts and souls.

No right no left

Meanwhile, far better to cherish the process you create for yourself, make what you can with what’s available and be thankful you can get out of bed in the morning knowing you own it. As I write, well-dressed people are sitting down to dinner and applauding all that’s been deemed best in Scottish film and television. I have no idea what will become of The Devil’s Plantation, either app or film. Naturally I’m open to offers, but keep my expectations realistically low. Perhaps one day in the distant future, the film may screen again. Or, as many of you have requested, if I can find the money, make it available on DVD. I’ll keep you posted.

Leave a Reply

  • Sheila Robertson - 16 January 14 at 9:51 pm - Reply


    I am Harry Bell’s daughter. I was amazed to discover tonight while grazing online that you have made a film re my Dad’s book, and wonder when it might next be screened, so that I can go and see it? My summer job when I was at High School was proofreading and binding copies of the book, and the b&w photo of the Deil’s Plantin’ was a blast from the past as we used to go there on our bikes from our house!

    Sheila Robertson

    • May Miles Thomas - 17 January 14 at 8:35 am - Reply

      Hi Sheila,

      I had to do a double take when I got your email last night. When I set out on this project in 2007 I made numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact your brother about Harry’s book which has fascinated me for years. I completed the website in 2009 which won a BAFTA Scotland award in the Best Interactive category but last year I decided to make both an app and a feature-length film based on the project, which also features the story of Mary Ross, a woman I met whose walks in the city oddly coincided with those of your late father. The app is currently available through the iTunes Store and the film is available through Vimeo. I would love to do a DVD release at some point if I can get any funding.

      Please feel free to contact me again through the email address at the bottom of the home page for this site.

      Thanks for being in touch,

  • May Miles Thomas - 19 November 13 at 10:09 am - Reply

    UPDATE – The BAFTA Scotland Cineworld Audience Award went to The Wee Man.


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