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Tesco’s Finest Films Range?

This news story grabbed my attention last week. Apparently Tesco – yes, the provider of weekly shopping, credit cards, loans and cheap shots at homegrown retailers – will be entering the bright and glamourous world of show business. Will this be part of the finest or economy ranges?

I'm not even sure I'm kidding on this one...

In fairness, this was probably inevitable. Tesco just keep growing and growing and growing. First they were a shop, then a bank. Next thing they’ll be the local church as well. They pride themselves on providing their own brands of food, so it seemed that they must eventually provide their own brand of entertainment. I would have figured that books would have been the first aspect of media they turned to producing themselves – as production costs are much cheaper than film – but I can understand that wasn’t case. It’s very hard to sell a book not written by a named author, and most big named authors are signed with large publishing companies and would it would take a huge investment to move them.

To be honest, Tesco’s policy seems (financially at least) sound. They will be adapting the works of established authors – Jackie Collins, most notably – into films which they will be selling. I imagine the author’s name will be prominent on the cover, as that should sell itself. It’s certainly easier than planning to draw in customers using big name actors or directors. It doesn’t matter who is in it, Jackie Collins fans will buy it.

The most interesting aspect of the story would seem to be that Philip Pullman – he of ‘the Catholic Church killed my film franchise’ fame – will have his work adapted into these own-brand films. Two things should be noted: the first is that the novels are fantasy, not the cheapest to film convincingly; the second is that his work is… divisive to say the least. I accept that it will be easier to make a sequel to The Golden Compass in England than over stateside, but I can’t see Tesco being too fond of the idea, particularly given how much of this strategy is predicated on playing it safe. Indeed, comments from the company indicate that they may be conscious of what they are selling:

Apart from telling the film-makers what I don’t want to see in Tesco, then there is no interference in the subject matter. Of course, I don’t want anything too risqué. Nothing that would be 18-rated and that would not sit well on our shelves.

Other than that, though, there is no editorial involvement from us. We have been sent a script of the first film, so we know the story. That’s it.

That seems just a little bit contradictory: apart from telling them what they can’t do and ensuring the material is inoffensive, we do not interfere with their work. I can see the organisation having a bit of trouble adapting Pullman’s three-book-long rant against the Church into a non-controversial piece.

Part of me wonders how these are going to sell. The rumours seem to be that this isn’t the time to be in home media – certainly not in hard copy format anyway. DVD sales are dropping and BluRay isn’t rising fast enough to keep up. I’d suggest that a prudent business man would be wary of entering the market, particularly where so many of the classic studios – like MGM and Miramax – have gone belly-up.

Still, Tesco are shrewd. They always have been and always will be. I can’t see them entering a business where they don’t see a way to turn a profit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this turn out to be quite the successful enterprise, economically speaking. As a crazy idea, maybe they plan to sell the rights to these movies dirt cheap around the world and turn a massive profit on next-to-no investment. Or maybe I’ll have to wait to see.

Still, as a film fan, it’s hard to get excited about this news. It’s set up on an admittedly trashy basis, it has a huge platform to sell itself from and I don’t see it evolving to become a producer of original media – just a machine churning out adaptation after adaptation. The influence the company has is huge. Part of me wonders what it could do if it decided to support local and national film-makers, selling the best of the homemade films cheaply in its stores, helping them find a market. Instead we get this.

Ah well.

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