From Bedrooms To Billions: “a story that needs to be told”
Two British filmmakers have launched an Indiegogo campaign in a bid to fund From Bedrooms To Billions, a documentary about the UK videogame industry from 1979 to 1996.
In an interview, Anthony Caulfield – whose partner in the project is his wife, Nicola – explains that the pair have been working on From Bedrooms To Billions, on and off, for four years. It's an ambitious endeavour, telling a story spanning 17 years in just 90 minutes, with a third act set in the present day.
"It's a story that really hasn't been told," Caulfield says. "It's a great British story that needs celebrating and needs to be recorded. This is an incredibly important part of UK history that we're talking about: the rise and, in a funny sort of way, the fall, of the nation's videogame industry."
The Caulfields have been making documentaries for 15 years, and in 2008, after finishing a project for the BBC, the pair decided to pitch Bedrooms To Billions as a three-part TV mini-series. "It was extremely difficult," he admits. "It was the first time we understood there was a gulf between broadcasting and the videogame industry.
"We didn't actually realise this until we kept getting similar responses, but it was fine for the TV industry to push that Saturday morning slot – lots of fast music and very quick reviews of the latest games in exchange for cash – but actually doing anything proper…there was no interest.
"I know for a fact that Charlie Brooker had to fight tooth and nail to get Gameswipe made. He had to really fight, and wanted to do it as a series but was told to do it as a one-off and he's not been able to get it done since."
The project was put on hold. Channel 5 loved the idea, but with only one channel it couldn't find a suitable gap in its schedule. In 2009, the BBC expressed an interest: it was working on Micro Men, the drama telling the story of the ZX Spectrum, and wanted to air From Bedrooms To Billions afterwards.
"We really started to push things forward, and then they canned it," Caulfield says. "About a month later, the controller at BBC Four just said – and I still have the email – 'videogames are too niche a hobby for BBC Four viewers'."
When Micro Men aired, what was on afterwards? "A documentary about flags."
Then they went through the Film Council, the National Lottery funding of which dictated that any "celebration of an untold British story – which could, of course, be flags as well – be taken seriously. It ticked all their boxes, and we were granted some money."
In 2010, four weeks after assuming power, the coalition government shut down the Film Council. Any project that wasn't yet in full production was canned; From Bedrooms To Billions was still technically in pre-production, and lost out.
Luckily, documentaries can be made piece by piece, and over the last four years Anthony and Nicola have shot interviews and pulled together a lot of footage. With crowdfunding's suitability to the videogame industry long since proven, IndieGogo seemed a sensible choice, and at the time of writing, the project has raised $5,400 of its $35,000 goal, with 22 days left on the clock.
Caulfield is confident that From Bedrooms To Billions will meet its goal; he and Nicola have already agreed to show some rough cuts of the film at the Play expo in Manchester in October, with the full film to release next March. For that to happen, he needs Indiegogo backers; $25 will net you a download of the final cut; $8,000 nets a host of rewards, including an executive producer credit. See the project page for more.