By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Cameron's comments draw dismay ahead of Film Policy Review; Mike Leigh has 'no comment'

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has riled up the British film community today with a statement emphasising that the BFI should support “commercially successful pictures.”

The statement was made today as Cameron visited Pinewood Studios — he was speaking pre-emptively ahead of the comprehensive Film Policy Review’s release on Monday. Cameron said today: “Our role, and that of the British Film Institute, should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.”

UK industry figures have given a mixed response to Cameron’s remarks – and the spin that has been put on them in advance of the publication of the Review. 

Palme d’Or and Golden Lion winning British director Mike Leigh (one of Britain’s most revered filmmakers) today refused to comment on inflammatory remarks from an unnamed film industry source that his career would be “over” once the Film Policy Review report is published next week.

“He doesn’t want to comment,” Leigh’s spokesman said of the following remark, “well, it’s over for Mike Leigh,” which a BBC correspondent quoted on the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4.

The BBC report suggested that the long awaited Film Policy Review (due to be published Monday morning, Jan 16) will advocate Lottery money being “awarded to films based on whether they can make money, not whether they are artistic or culturally rewarding.” The report said Lottery funds would be invested in “people, not projects” and that the Government wanted to see tax payer money “invested in movies people want to see, not luvvies who are your mates.”

Ken Loach (another Palme d’Or winning British director) disputed today’s rushed interpretation of what the Review is likely to contain. He told the BBC that “success can come at all levels. You don’t need to make a blockbuster to be successful.”

There has been some dismay that today’s events – in particular, the inference that a filmmaker as distinguished as Leigh could now be marginalised. Some say that Cameron’s speech today and the controversy over Leigh risks pre-empting a full, balanced assessment of the report. For example, #fundablefilms was a trending topic amongst UK film industry Tweeters, with spoof commercialised suggestions that might meet Cameron’s approval, including Secrets And True Lies and Gone With The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

However, John McVay, chief-executive of producers’ organisation Pact, broadly welcomed Cameron’s remarks. “If you pick the bones out, what he (Cameron) is clearly saying is that he wants to back successful British film businesses, which is good news,” McVay told Screen. “It’s not about backing quangos and public funds but finding ways that public funds can be used to support our indigenous feature film producers.”

Pact has long been calling for British producers to be given enhanced recoupment corridors on successful films - a call the Report is expected to address.

Citing the example of The King ‘s Speech, McVay pointed out that lines between what is “commercial” and “arthouse” films often blur. He also emphasized the importance of the arthouse sector for “talent, development, and for creative innovation. That’s all a precious part of our industry.”

The British Film Commission also welcomed Cameron’s remarks. Iain Smith, BFC Chair, said in a statement: “On behalf of the British Film Commission I thank the Prime Minister for his comments today praising the work of the BFC. Following another busy and potentially record breaking year for inward investment, it is reassuring to hear the government understands the role big budget, international movies shooting in the UK plays in building a world-class skilled workforce, while boosting the UK economy. With superb acting talent, crew and post production expertise, state of the art facilities, and the lucrative film tax relief, the British Film Commission promotes the UK’s competitive edge internationally to ensure we retain our position as one of the world’s most popular filming destinations. And as we look to the future, I look forward to the publication of Lord Smith ‘s full Film Policy Review and to working with the DCMS and the BFI to consider and implement its findings.”

In May 2011, Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey appointed former Culture Secretary Lord Chris Smith to chair an eight-member panel to conduct the extensive independent review of Government film policy. The Film Policy Review panel also included Will Clarke, Julian Fellowes, Matthew Justice, Michael Lynton, Tim Richards, Tessa Ross, Libby Savill, and Iain Smith. The Report is expected to cover areas ranging from production, development, distribution, inward investment, and exhibition as well as film heritage and education.

Screen will offer full news and analysis of the Film Policy Review publication on Monday.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Its not a black and white issue, but the UK film Industry is institutionally biased towards art and culture over commerce. The overriding culture that prevails in film school education, skillset and institutions like the BFI and the Regional film funds would rather back a Ken Loach Film over a Neil Marshall film. It's just not in their DNA to do otherwise. I applaud Cameron's comments and hope that they lead to a more balanced and inclusive industry.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • The National Lottery was established by Conservative Prime Minister John Major in 1994 with the purpose of funding a renaissance in arts, sport and heritage. It was expressly designed to fund things the Treasury would never fund, so that it was an "extra" on top of tax revenue. Doing things for "fun". As a British film producer I would love to see a sustainable British film industry. But the BFI's National Lottery funds are designed for art in film - that means experimentation, creative risks, fun. And the idea that a Conservative government should aim to be so interventionist in a private industry is ironic. All in all, unfortunately, Cameron doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • OLIVIA HETREED

    It's strange what politicians do to themselves - you have an open goal and so you shoot yourself in the foot...

    Comment from WGGB Film Chair Olivia Hetreed here: http://t.co/cKnIVc4O

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • It's all a question of perspective. I'd put money on Warhol's "Man Asleep" being commercially successful, whereas there are plenty of blockbusters that couldn't recoup even if they if they were registered charities. We all want our films to be commercially successful - that's how we get to make the next one. But this is the film business - nobody knows anything...

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • The National Lottery was established by Conservative Prime Minister John Major in 1994 with the purpose of funding a renaissance in arts, sport and heritage. It was expressly designed to fund things the Treasury would never fund, so that it was an "extra" on top of tax revenue. Doing things for "fun". As a British film producer I would love to see a sustainable British film industry. But the BFI's National Lottery funds are designed for art in film - that means experimentation, creative risks, fun. And the idea that a Conservative government should aim to be so interventionist in a private industry is ironic. All in all, unfortunately, Cameron doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • The idea that arthouse is the opposite of commercial is simply wrong. Lots of films that are marketed to a wide mass audience fail to make a profit. By contrast, pretty well every single one of Ken Loach's films sell all over the world, taking in good money from most of continental Europe - something that most UK 'commercial' films conspicuously fail to do.

    Loach works on low budgets, and judging from Box Office Mojo, the vast majority of his recent films have more than recouped - a batting average that the commercially-oriented Hollywood studios could never dream of matching.

    Commercially, both Loach and Marshall are successful directors. The only difference between the two is that most private equity is much more interested in investing in big-budget productions - the overheads on a huge slate of Loach films would simply be too high.

    If public funding ceased overnight, Marshall would still get financed. Loach would not. Giving the latter's (paltry) financing to the former, where it would be just a drop in a huge ovean, would be an utterly ineffecient waste of resources and only serve to shrink the UK film industry as a whole.

    This isn't about commerciality - see the UKFC's final curtain with King's Speech. This is about a growing culture of philistinism in the UK, implicity encouraged by much of the press, that denounces anything with any intellectual or artistic merit as 'uncommercial' - often in blatant disregard of the hard numbers.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • As long as the BFI, Film4 and BBC are stuffed full of white, middle class, private school men and women who all think the same way and like the same movies the British 'film industry' ain't going nowhere.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • In response to that last comment about the British film industry going nowhere, because of the 'white, middle class, private school...' people involved - I just want to say - is 'going nowhere' making millions and winning Oscars galore with The King's Speech? What about - We Need To Talk About Kevin. Shame. Hunger. Attack The Block... Just to name a few films that were NOT going nowhere. Commissioned by people who actually know what they are doing, and made by people with talent.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Interestingly, a major point missed by Cameron in his lauding of 'success' is that whereas the profits from a relatively low budget british financed 'arty' film will stay in this country to help fund further projects, the profits from the blockbusters (including the Potter and Bond franchises among many others) are scooped back to the US and never seen again.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • It appears Cameron rolled up with a prepared statement aimed causes a little fuss as possible. They have no substance behind them so all we can do is infer what they mean, which my guess is very little. Mike Leigh and Ken Loach have made important contributions to the UK Film Industry and in fact some of their film perform reasonable well given their budgets. i'm not a fan of either, but rail against them because they are not making Harry Potter is beyond absurd.

    Britain makes commercial films... it' makes all kinds of films. Some good, some bad, some that perform, others that don't. This is the same around the world. If someone told me before the Kings Speech broke that it would have been as big as it was, I would have thought the person mad. We roll the dice.

    Camerons more realistic speech should have been along the lines of. Let's make good films and hope for the best because that's the reality isn't it. Anyone tell you otherwise is a false prophet.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • I do feel our foisted upon us PM is somewhat dense, and Olivia Hetred's comments rather pertinent. Why open his mouth before the Review?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

Related Jobs

Sign in to see the latest jobs relevant to you!

    newsletter+promo