8.07 Main Themes from my logbooks

b) Finances and Independence.

One of the main differences between Exploding Cinema and the state sponsored short film agencies is that it is independent and run by voluntary labour. It is financed simply through door takings at its main shows and receives no other sponsorship or grant funding.[1] During the period of my participant observation the financial situation changed considerably.

a) When I joined at the beginning of 1997 there was a One-2-One mobile phone which was mainly kept by one of the collective, and although the calls were free the monthly standing charge was a drain on the finances, especially during periods in which few shows were being put on. Its usefulness in the run-up to a show seemed out of proportion to its ongoing costs. When I finally got to have use of it, it seemed obsolete and almost useless as the batteries only allowed about half an hour of actual mobile use.[2] Of course to the keeper of the 'phone, connected to the mains and free in the evening and at weekends, it was a good 'perk'. And it must be noted that this person worked very hard for Exploding. This vested interest meant that there was considerable resistance to getting rid of the 'phone.[3] This finally did happen in May 1998 after months of discussion.[4]

 b) We had to hire a video projector for each show. This we got mainly from James Stevens at 25 a time, although sometimes we had to pay 50. The purchase of a second video projector was the biggest capital expenditure that Exploding Cinema made requiring a surplus of almost 2000 in the bank. The first projector had been bought in 1993. After the group split up in October 1994 there were bad feelings about this and a year later the projector was forcibly 'repossessed' by people from the faction that had left.[5] This experience left some traumatic memories attached to the ownership of such equipment for the core collective and this may have accounted for the slowness with which a second projector was purchased.

In 1998 a powerful second-hand projector was offered by James Stevens and was paid for in stages. James was given the final 500 cash during the second roof show on 15th August 1998. Owning a projector meant that 50 less income needed to be earned from each show.

A major technical breakdown in the sound at the Union Tavern on 1st April 1999 made it clear that a spare bulb for the video projector (an expensive item at over 200) was necessary as a broken projector bulb would have brought the whole show to a halt. Does the reduced risk of breakdown take a certain edge off the show? Previously Exploding Cinema would celebrate its ramshackle quality as being part of its low-budget makeshift aesthetic.[6] Better equipment made the show appear to be 'more professional'. Could this be the thin end of a process of economic rationalisation?

This is another instance of something I supported in the group because it seemed like 'common sense' but could have lead to a change of style which moved it away from its original character and appeal.

c) The sound system was often hired in. When I first joined sound was regularly provided and set up by a Japanese artist called Taka for a fee of 50 which included an amplifier and speakers, although transport often had to be supplied by Exploding Cinema. Debate on the purchase of an amplifier and speakers was a hot topic but the decision was only taken after the disastrous breakdown of the sound in April 1999. A system was purchased in May 1999.[7]

d) The ticket price was a regular topic of debate when I first joined the collective. The issue of whether there should be a concessionary rate was also controversial. A meeting of the 7th July 1997 agreed a 4 with 3 concessionary rate, but in the event everyone pays 3 as it is uncool to demand documentation. By 1998 the door price had been raised from 3 concession to a flat rate of 4 which led to some ugly arguments at the door with people who felt that by not having a concession rate and raising prices the Exploding Cinema was selling out by excluding those on Social Security Benefits. Most of the collective felt that Exploding Cinema should not be part of the money system or exclude people because of high door prices. This had a symbolic resonance because of the association of the group with the poorest sections of the population that tend to comprise the counter culture. This was another dimension of the open access ideology. On the other hand the price hike was simply in line with an inflationary drop in the value of the pound since 1992.

These four changes brought an improvement to the financial stability of the group, but may have altered the perceived image of the Exploding Cinema. Overheads were drastically reduced by as much as 150 per show and the door price hike brought in an extra 100 (per 100 paying audience) or more. This made the financial basis of the group much more healthy and stable but at the same time introduced other pressures. The obvious result is that there is more to spend and this puts pressure on the democratic framework.[8] People need a sense that the funds they have helped to generate have been spent in ways they agree to. If there are little or no surpluses this problem cannot arise. Conversely a hand-to-mouth existence also bring its stresses.[9]

In spite of these considerations, a strong financial situation is essential to the ongoing survival of the Exploding Cinema and is the main thing to guarantee its ongoing independence. Its persistence as an organisation, that has defied financial realities for more than eight years, fuels its influence. Almost everyone associated with alternative culture has heard of Exploding Cinema and its influence has recently spread to USA with the help of the website and a few visits by individuals from the collective.

Thankyou for sending the Volcano programme. Thank God people still have the courage and tenacity, will and verve to organise no budget events. Letter from Marshal Anderson in Scotland (1-10-1998).

These questions of economics link to the slogan of 'No-Budget film making' which has been used to promote the idea of open access to film making from the beginning of Exploding Cinema. A 10 Super 8 camera from a car boot sale and a 10 role of process-paid film is all a person needs to express themselves on film. But by the end of 1998 the film establishment had hijacked the No-Budget label and with their access to the mass media made it mean something different. 'Shooting Gallery' on Channel 4 had Cathy Burke, the working class everywoman for the Nineties, endorsing the new definition which included films made for 'just a few' thousand pounds. [10]

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[1] For the rejection of sponsorship initiative see L1 p.73/4. In a meeting (3-5-98), Duncan argued against applying to big firms for a video projector. He argued that sponsorship begins to produce dependency and so to effect the selection and aesthetic judgement of work shown. The use of a logo acknowledgement establishes a relationship that stops us being underground. His eloquent argument moved the whole group against sponsorship.

 

[2] L1 p58

 

[3] Minutes of 19-1-98, 14-4-98, 18-5-98

 

[4] L1 p76 & 84 and Minutes 5-7-98

 

[5] For an account see Chapter 10.

 

[6] L3 p334

 

[7] The PA system consisted of two speakers on stands, an amplifier and a mixer costing c1000. This turned out to be not entirely sufficient as audience conversation levels during projection, especially in long halls, sometimes calls for a four-speaker system. This could have been a resistance to a process of 'professionalisation'. A sophisticated four-speaker system might have given an overly 'professional' sound to the show.

 

[8] L1 p85 & 120. It seems that there is an unspoken tension between the ownership that accrues from having created and maintained an organisation on a voluntary basis for many years and the democratic constitution which gives each member, including new members, and equal say and vote. This investment of large amounts of ones life also speaks of a deep commitment which newer members does not, and perhaps cannot, attain.

 

[9] L1 p63. At a meeting on 13th April 1998, it was suggested that a spreadsheet would make the financial comings and goings more transparent than relying on a report from the Treasurer at meetings. On the other hand it is more paper work for the Treasurer - already a thankless task. The spreadsheet never appeared.

 

[10] Time Out Listing, 6 to 13 January 1999.