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LFF: Funding, sales, production fears debated in Brexit panel

Panelists spotlighted freedom of movement as one of several concerns about a post-Brexit Britain.

At today’s BFI London Film Festival industry panel, which looked at the potential ramifications of Brexit on the UK’s status as a leading international film and TV location, freedom of movement, Creative Europe funding and the potential impact on the sales and production sectors were flagged as key issues.

While Isabel Davis, head of international at the BFI and moderator for the panel, set out reassurances at the start about the UK tax credit being secure and UK co-production treaties remaining intact, panellists expressed different levels of concern over the UK’s impending departure from the EU.

Alex Hope, managing director of leading VFX house Double Negative, noted that, in order for the UK to remain a leader in the visual-effects field, freedom of movement for workers was of paramount importance.

“We want the brightest and the best coming to the UK to work in our industry, to train people in this country, build scale and future-proof our business,” said Hope, noting that 29% of Double Negative’s UK staff are European.

“We don’t want freedom of movement to start being turned off because it will restrict the growth and potential in this country,” he added. “We have to see immigration as way of growing this country and encouraging diversity of the workforce.”

Peter Dinges, director general of Germany’s national film funding body FFA, was more blunt with his assessment: “Without freedom of movement, we will have serious damage in film industries all over Europe. It will seriously limit artistic choice if people can’t hire who they want.”

Stan McCoy, president and managing director, EMEA, for the Motion Picture Association, echoed the argument while noting that a key driver of film-making success in the UK has been the tax incentive as a means of attracting Hollywood productions - something he didn’t believe Brexit would impact.

“The US studios and their partners in the UK will be looking to make sure the UK remains a thriving movie-making market. I doubt that much of this existing investment was primarily because the UK was in the EU.” 

Dinges, Gail Egan of Potboiler Films and Dimitra Tsingou, chief operating officer, Protagonist Pictures, all stressed the need for UK films to continue qualifying as European in a post-Brexit world as crucial to the health of the overall European film eco-system.

Egan stressed the importance of being able to pre-sell to European distributors to raise the budgets for her productions (recent Potboiler films include Our Kind Of Traitor and Trespass Against Us). Accomplishing a pan-European shoot for a project like Our Kind Of Traitor, which took 100 crew to different locations, was only made possible with crew members holding EU passports, she noted.

“If you are hemmed in by who you can hire, it makes you deeply parochial,” she added, also saying that the potential impact on UK production may not be felt for three or four years down the line.

Continuing membership of Creative Europe and the Media sub-programme were hugely important, all the panellists stressed. Creative Media support for slate and individual project development was crucial for UK producers and production companies to continue to thrive. “Development money is always the most difficult to raise,” noted Egan, a beneficiary of Creative Europe slate support.

Our Kind Of Traitor

Our Kind Of Traitor filmed across Europe

Distribution support was also key. “On one film, we did £1m in pre-sales which we had to do in order to trigger the equity, which we couldn’t have done with our European partners without guaranteeing it was a European film because they wouldn’t get the distribution support,” she said.

“The Media and Creative Europe programme makes films travel all over Europe – it’s even more important in this situation than it has ever been before,” said Dinges.

Dinges set out the example of Norway as one that the UK might follow, remaining part of Creative Europe for the benefit of audiovisual sectors and also on a wider national economic level.

“We have to find a special relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe, and this special relationship will certainly have to be tailor made,” said Dinges, setting out the point that bilateral co-production treaties would likely become an increasingly important tool going forward. “There are clever ways to put the UK in good position. Brexit is really not a good thing but we can make it work, and Norway could be an example.”

A question from Martin Smith at Ingenious Media about whether there was a future for a vibrant independent film ecosystem without European pre-sales was answered in the affirmative by Protagonist’s Tsingou.

“If we make good films with good stories, they’ll always find a way to get made,” she said. “There may need to be a price readjustment in terms of what distributors pay. We may need to rely on Media to offer higher MGs. We may need to look for additional sources of funding. It hasn’t come up yet with buyers because at least there is certainty for the next couple of years.”

The European system would likely require financiers like Ingenious to step in and bridge the gap, concluded Davis.

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