I am that person who could break up our friendship if you insist on talking to me during the screening of a film in the cinema. So much so, I relish going to the cinema alone, on a weekly basis, Cineworld Unlimited card in hand. I watch as much as I can, unless the films on offer are of the science fiction and horror variety! I consider it to be research since from the age of five, working in the film business has been one of those things on the list. My list.
It goes without saying that at some point, I decided to enrol for an MFA in a film school and my ability to watch a movie and simply enjoy it as a social experience was forever ruined. Suddenly I became that person scanning for turning points, story arcs, continuity and marvelling at camera angles.
When I saw Amma Asante’s Belle a few years ago, naturally my thoughts as I watched this movie, simply drifted to the candles. Don't judge me. But that is precisely what happened as I scanned for detail.
The sheer number of candles. Lit. Where they real or CGI? Probably real and naturally, whose job was it to light them, blow them out, and relight them after every take, whilst ensuring the burn level was the same. I chuckled at the thought and thanked my lucky stars that Production Design whilst a department, I greatly admire, was one I have never tried to work in. There was an obvious answer as to just why there were so many candles. Electricity and light bulbs were not yet a thing in the days of Belle.
Candles were required to provide light. And if you lived in a sizable castle as did Belle, then of course you needed lots of candles. I imagined what it would have been like to own a candle business back then. The very product, everyone required as soon as the sun went down. I wondered what it must have been like to be a candle maker on the day it was announced that electricity and light bulbs were now a thing? Just one flick, of one switch, bright light, brighter than 100 candles could provide. Why would anyone want candles after that? I do not know what the equivalent of ‘think pieces’ were back then but I am guessing there were plenty proclamations about the end of the candle industry.
Proposals for protectionism? Requests for higher tax breaks for candle makers? The 3D phase which never took off only to be replaced by the candle equivalent of VR? Did lots of 'influencers' adopt the new savior technologies not quite understanding or believing them out of a simple desire to not be part of the sinking candle ship ? Was there a 'Power to The Bulb Summit? ' Did they look to China and consider ensuring every candle made henceforth appealed to the Chinese audience? Possibly.
Fast forward to today, not only are we not in the post-candle era, we voluntarily pay more for candles because the candle makers added scent and color. We save for Jo Malone and Eden's Theory or Yankee and probably turn up our noses at supermarkets own brand. The sign of a good candle, we have convinced ourselves, is high price. From a basic necessity, it is now a luxury item.
Candles and electricity exist. None has eliminated the other. There are still some regions, where twenty-four-hour electricity is yet to be a thing. And in countries where having electricity can be taken for granted, it is quite normal to stroll into a restaurant where the room is well lit with a bulb, but there are candles on the table, lit, for ‘ambience.’
Name a 'romantic' scene in a movie without a candle where the seemingly more efficient light bulb is not dimmed in favor of candle light? Scientists innovated to get us away from candles, we voluntarily, switch off the lights because there are times when only a candle will do.
So, as the Cannes Film Festival dawns on us, there will be lots of debate about cinema, cinemas and platforms. Will the ability to stream films from Netflix to Mubi kill the audiences’ desire to go to the cinema? Will Netflix and cinemas in France have a happy ending? Is cinema dead? Are there too many films?
I am sure I will feel some kind of way about the volume of films made, as I stroll through the Marche in Cannes, glancing at the thousands of posters of films in the booths that will never be seen by anyone other than the creators and sellers. I know I am exhausted simply reading the synopsis on page 2 of the titles in the market, and there is probably another 100 pages to go. Each page has about 40 films. And that is just one market and they are the ones listed. In the pavilions, earnest filmmakers will be pitching hoping that one fine day, there films will also be in the Marche and will be the exception to the norm that finds an audience. A large audience that is not made up of friends, family and investors.
Like everyone else in the film industry, I do not have the answers. But when I think about candle makers, my gut feeling is that we will be fine. That is however subject to us finding our equivalent of scent, color and ambiance.
Victoria Thomas is a Producer at The Polkadot Factory (www.thepolkadotfactory.com). She is currently selected for Filmonomics, Modern Tales and the BAME Leadership Scheme run by the NFTS all supported by Creative Skillset and the BFI. Her hobbies includes making luxury scented candles for Eden's Theory retailed via Not On The High Street. www.notonthehighstreet.com/edenstheory