It is unusual: low-budget Welsh film outperforms big hitters | The Fan Carpet

It is unusual: low-budget Welsh film outperforms big hitters

23 November 2009

The Hollywood blockbusters 2012 and A Christmas Carol are playing to respectable audiences Merthyr Tydfil's Vue multiplex, entertaining fans with their multimillion pound effects.

But in screen eight, the staff are having to drag in extra beanbags in an attempt to accommodate everyone who wants to see a comedy made for just £100,000 and with a marketing budget of a couple of grand.

In these days when megabucks movies dominate, A Bit of Tom Jones?, is providing hope for independent film-makers who may have ideas and talent but no money.

The movie is a bawdy farce with a plot turning an attempt to sell the Welsh superstar singer's severed manhood (better not to go into too many details for taste as well as spoiler reasons). And it is outselling rivals such as Michael Jackson's This is It and the sci-fi drama The Fourth Kind at some cinemas in south Wales.

Unlike other low-budget movies that have found homes in small arthouse cinemas, A Bit of Tom Jones? is doing good business at large screens in multiplexes.

It has already spread from Merthyr, in the Welsh valleys, to Cardiff and Vue is now considering releasing it just across the English border, perhaps in Bristol to start, to see if it can gradually take hold across the rest of the UK, just about the reverse of the normal multiplex model in which films are released with huge hype and quickly vanish.

Writer and director Peter Watkins-Hughes, a former BBC producer, could hardly contain his excitement as he introduced the film, his first feature, in Merthyr this week. "We're killing The Fourth Kind, we're killing Harry Brown and that's got Michael Caine in it," he said. "I think it's just extraordinary." The making of the movie sounds a little like something out of an Ealing comedy. Set mainly in the valleys town of Tredegar, the team begged and borrowed to eke out the budget. Watkins-Hughes had originally imagined setting it in 1960s Los Angeles with Errol Flynn's penis at the centre of the plot. But cost prompted him to bring the setting back to south Wales.

Businesspeople, including a pub landlord and solicitor, clubbed together to raise funds while Welsh actors including Eve Myles, Gwen Cooper in the BBC's Torchwood, and Margaret John, who plays Doris in the BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey, worked at reduced rates.

A factory loaned a small fleet of dumper trucks for the film's chase scene and the local force provided flashing lights for a police car.

The film was originally intended to be a straight-to-video release. But Watkins-Hughes decided to send it to the Vue in Merthyr. Staff looked at the film, thought it had potential and passed it on to head office who agreed it ought to be shown.

The production team has not been able to afford many 35mm prints and so, on one crazy day, they had to play half the movie at one cinema, take that reel to another so it could start there and then repeat the process for the second half.

Meanwhile, the paucity of the advertising budget meant Watkins-Hughes and his cohorts had to drum up an audience themselves. They bought a little bit of advertising space on local radio in the valleys and then blitzed the area with photocopied posters until the police and local councils warned them to calm down. It also helped that a little controversy was sparked because some Tom Jones fans were upset at the film's premise.

But mainly it has been about word of mouth. At the first screening in Merthyr, Watkins-Hughes told the audience: "I want to make a contract with you. If you enjoy this film, will you do me a favour, will you tell other people: 'Saw this Welsh film, it should have been shit but it was really funny'."

Watkins-Hughes told the audience the film aimed to "capture the valleys' sense of humour." But he said there was a serious side in that the success of the film could prompt others to make movies in and about their own communities.

Craig Matthews, the manager at the Merthyr Vue, said: "It's great that a local product has done so well. They've made it work because of the energy they've put into it." Clive Threadgold, Vue's film buyer for the south west, said he felt other independent film-makers could follow the Tom Jones model – if they matched the effort and verve of Watkins-Hughes and his backers.

Bernie Snowball, the manager of the Market Hall cinema in Brynmawr, said: "I'm not surprised the film is doing well. It's a laugh-out-loud comedy, with the added bonus of being set in Wales." Adding that it comfortably beat the Michael Jackson film at his cinema, he said: "It's a mad thing they've done, but a brilliant one."

Source: Guardian Online

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