Saturday, March 20, 2010

Duck Speaks To Chicken

When I was learning Mandarin Chinese several years ago, I found particular joy in some of the four word sayings that I was being taught. Among these were 'Horse Horse Tiger Tiger' - meaning neither good nor bad. 'Chicken Egg Crack Stone' - meaning a thing is impossible. And my absolute favourite 'Duck Speaks to Chicken' - a phrase describing the situation where two people talk but, coming from vastly different starting points, completely fail to understand each other.

Well, Duck Speaks to Chicken is the perfect phrase to describe an argument (debate seems to imply too much reason) presently raging between the communications union BECTU and individuals desiring to protect the new wave of low-to-no budget independent film making.

On the side of the union are people who believe it is wrong for anyone to offer their work or free. On the side of the independent film makers are people who believe that any form of regulation is an unjustified imposition. And lying heavily between these two groups is the Minimum Wage.

The argument is a fire which has generated lots of smoke but little light. Though I have followed it carefully for a week or so, I still feel unable to offer a summary, such are the claims and counter claims flying about.

The tragedy, of course, is that there are good, well-meaning people on both sides, who do not seem to be able or willing to understand each other's passion. Duck speaks to chicken.

There is undoubtedly exploitation going on, which needs to be stamped down on. But there is also the terrible possibility that whatever quasi-legal framework emerges from this debate it will unintentionally result in the stifling of a new creative movement.

I love the idea that an individual can shoot a film on a cheap camera, edit it on her/his own laptop, broadcast it for free on YouTube or Vimeo, have it viewed by millions and potentially even generate an income from it - without ever having to go to film school or become another brick in the huge edifice of a monolithic studio. It would be a deeply ironic tragic if a well-meaning union inadvertently turned film-making back into the special preserve of the very wealthy.

Have a look at the debate on Chris Jones's website. Or look at the BECTU article on this, entitled 'High on Creativity Low on Ethics? Indi-Film Making in the Frame'