John Flahive's Comments
re Comment 2 and 4, the contributor's own stats don't bear out the case he/she's trying to make. Just over £1m a year each for the top two recipients isn't a big proportion of the annual budget. This notion of production companies being "self sufficient" is unexplained, very few are. Eon Productions for instance are unable to make Bond movies without MGM's money. The very nature of the business is that production companies and filmmakers go cap in hand to someone to find finance, whether public or private. Of course, each individual project that the listed companies have been involved with, has presumably been with different combinations of filmmakers and creative talent etc. The contributor's totally wrong I feel, the problem is not same old faces, it's that the UK film industry discovers talent and then leaves it high and dry. This doesn't happen elsewhere, compare Francois Ozon with John Maybury, both of whom made their debut features around the same time I just don't see the problem. The contributor is basically advocating that success is punished through exclusion. What's wrong with public funds continuing to be available to companies with a track record of creating good projects. I'm absolutely at ease with Ecosse receiving funds from the UKFC to work with Andrea Arnold on Wuthering Heights. On the face of it, a combination of talents with intruiging artistic, cultural as well as commerical possibilities.
Comment on: The Foreign Film Conundrum
It's more than just a matter of language, this is also a symptom of how different countries can be culturally. Even for a film as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a cultural barrier exists because it's a different style of filmmaking that's intriniscally Swedish - and reflects a society that's culturally as well as linguistically unfamiliar to mainstream US audiences (and also to varying degrees in other countries too). Thus it's a film that only appeals to niche audiences with an intellectual interest in other cultures and societies - hence it's a film that also has to deliver for critics like the bod who writes for the NY Times. This also frequently happens in the other direction, exhibitors and overseas arms of studios groan at films that are "too American" (eg. baseball, high-school life, presidents) that despite achieving fairly high publicity profiles go on to mediocre box office performances. American films also have to resonate in other cultures to be genuinely successful - whether or not they have critical merit. Economics plays a big part. American films made for a population of 300+ million have a massive built-in economic advantage in terms of production budgets and just as crucially the amount that can be spent on promotion than European countries who's population sizes are only 20% of the US. All this makes Michael Douglas massively better known around the world than Jean Reno. But nevertheless when the film's "The American President", it's going to be a soft performer outside the US. If France was also a country of 300+ million people and consequently had companies with the budgetary and promotional capability to market its films in the US on equal financial terms and sustained over time, it's commercial cinema would exert an equivalent impact in the US. Lastly, notions that VOD or some other bit of technology offers a cure is hopelessly naive. It's not a matter of access, one still has to have the marketing capability to reach audiences and persuade them to switch over.
I feel that the panel of experts - just producers and theatrical distributors, is far too narrowly drawn. Why are there no viewpoints from sales agents and exhibitors? There are many other cultural, educational activities (not just the BFI) that the UKFC funded either directly or through funding channeled to regional agencies. Viewpoints from all these areas would all provide a fuller picture of the impacts and needs. To set out my own view - any Government needs to be able to engage coherently with the film industry and this can't be done without the UKFC, or a similar body. The DCMS doesn't currently have the capacity to understand the detailed workings of the film industry, and this will especially so after its done its own internal cutbacks. The multiple bodies such as the BFI that reported directly to DCMS, were dealing with uncomprehending civil servants and junior ministers who lasted 12-18 months on average. Public policy was an incoherent mess and this is being resurrected if the closure of the UKFC proceeds. Over the last 10 years, Government would take a very broad policy view for film in general and award an annual overall sum to the sector leaving the detailed allocations to the UKFC, who could at least give out what's available in an informed way to all areas. People might disagree with the UKFC's decisions, but they are accessible people, that read the trades and attend industy events etc. Try knocking ones head against the brick wall of a Govt Dept to whom very basic things have to be constantly explained.
Comment on: Have your say: UK film industry's future
There is much more to the UK Film Industry than film production, and the weakness of the FACT report summary above is that it says nothing about exhibition, distribution, international sales. Nor does it say anything about issues such as education and training, funding regional agencies, etc. etc. The UKFC was constructed on the basis of an all industry focus and many important things they do are being overlooked. I'm afraid Clare Downs is not taking account of some basic facts in her commentary. British Screen of course never administered any lottery funding, and the size of its production fund was massively smaller. If you added in the numbers employed by the Arts Council Lottery and their franchises then perhaps a more valid staffing comparison could be made. If the overheads for British Screen in 1999 money employing 14 people was £1m and the figures usually quoted for the UKFC with 75 people and a massively broader range of activity is £3 million in present day money, then the UKFC seems by far the leaner operation. Also, why on earth does someone have to hide behind a pseudonym to make a posting that mostly reprints a published FACT report?
A very clear pattern in emerging in terms of how the Government pursues its cuts strategy. An announcement is accompanied by soundbite justifications like "cutting overheads", "eliminating bureacracy" or rubbishing their work suggesting they don't don't do anything useful". These things are only said in order to ease through the cuts agenda. This spin and PR has been very effective in may instances. Various advisory boards and obscure quangos are going quietly. It's not easy for any threathened entity to defend itself against this onslaught without the support of a broad constituency, which the UKFC clearly has. More subtle aspects of the Government PR campaing is to blame the threatened body for "scare mongering", etc. Another is to divide and conquer which I'm afraid the last anonymous contributor is naively falling for. The industry needs to be clear with Government that the reaction to the UKFC announcement is as a result of genuine concerns for its damaging impact. We're not being misled.
It’s already evident that the abolition decision is a PR disaster and without the UKFC the Government is only setting itself up for many more. The film industry is complex (the British one in particular) and has a public profile massively out of proportion to its size. The days prior to the UK Film Council were characterized by an endless succession of uncomfortable gaffe-prone ministers poorly equipped to address film industry matters. The creation of an agency with a comprehensive remit meant they could share a platform with people who did understand the industry, that they could rely on to deal with complex industry questions. Without the UKFC there's nobody to fulfill this role. Ed Vaizey’s gaffes on BBC-4 is only a taste of what’s to come and in these days of the internet, these embarrassments will be amplified much more than they were in the past.
The BFI sounds very satisfied with itself from the tone of this article, which may not be its intent as in reality it has a lot to be concerned about. As a former BFI veteran, I remember well the pre-UK Film Council days when the BFI reported directly to the DCMS and they were very definitely not halcyon days. Collaboration was difficult with uncomprehending Govt depts and ministers who understood little about film and even less about the BFI, and the constant turnover of junior ministers meant they were always having to re-start from scratch. There was a feeling of loss of status and marginalisation when the UK Film Council was created thus getting back to a direct report might be something that many at the BFI want, but real tangible benefits are dubious. The BFI may only be a more visible target for a budget snip or two if the DCMS decides it wants to move money somewhere else, something that was all too common in the old days. The BFI might not have always had an easy relationship in the past 10 years with the UKFC, but may have a lot to lose if it were to close. It may find itself pressurised without extra funding, into various left-over tasks the DCMS can’t find a home for. The BFI is a cultural and educational institution who's film industry role has been accidental at best and there isn't much overlap in its staff skillsets with the UKFC's.
Comment on: Passion is still running high
If there was a way of making money with web distribution then like any sales agent I would engage with it. But so far there isn't. Since the first dotcom bubble which burst and subseqently, I have had constant approaches from new online ventures all rabbiting on about this future impact of online. But nobody will put their money where their mouth is and pay an advance and every year at every market there is a new online time-waster that takes the place of the last one. It's always a revenue share that's offered, and the couple of times I agreed to an experiment, I got statements showing pennies. No sensible person whether its the film industry or any other business will waste their time on something that doesn't generate money. My observation about downloaders is that they don't care much about the inferior quality of what they download, their only interest is in getting something for free. Why waste time with them? many of them like students have no disposable income anyway. The film industry in the main makes money from people for whom a quality experience matters, as you get at the cinema or with a well-produced DVD edition. The correct analogy is with Macdonalds coffee drinkers and Starbucks coffee drinkers, I know who I want to target. The present state of technology with connection speeds stuck at 2mbps for 10+ years to come means that an online quality experience won't be possible. Like any entrepreneur, I'll happily work with online distribution if/when there is money to be made.