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BFI to investigate health of independent film sector

UPDATE: commission members revealed; Lionsgate’s Zygi Kamasa to chair group.

The BFI is launching a commission to investigate the health of the UK independent film industry.

Led by Zygi Kamasa, CEO Lionsgate UK and Europe, the working group will make recommendations on what should be done to improve conditions to ensure domestic and international sustainability.

Kamasa, who has been outspoken about the challenges facing the sector and has previously mooted industrial incentives such as cheaper cinema tickets for UK films, will invite evidence and contributions from cross-industry specialists from the production, sales, distribution and exhibition sectors over the next four months.

The commission, which was one of the projects set out by the BFI in its latest five-year plan for film, is expected to work closely with industry partners including PACT, UKCA and the FDA before publishing its findings in autumn 2017.

The commission members, all from London-based (or foreign-owned) companies, will comprise:

Chris Bird (Worldwide Head of Film Licensing, Amazon)

Efe Çakarel (Mubi)

Pete Czernin (Blueprint Pictures)

Gail Egan (Potboiler Productions)

Zygi Kamasa (chair) (Lionsgate)

Philip Knatchbull (Curzon)

Hakan Kousetta (See Saw Films)

Amanda Nevill (CEO, BFI)

Danny Perkins (Studio Canal)

Ben Roberts (Director Film Fund, BFI)

Libby Savill (Partner, Latham & Watkins)

Thorsten Schumacher (Rocket Science)

Alison Thompson (Cornerstone)

Polarised landscape

The UK’s film production space remains a highly polarised landscape.

Last year was a record year for inward investment but spend on domestic films was at its lowest level in three years.

Spend reached £1.6 bn in 2016 – the highest ever recorded. That figure was largely supercharged by a record level of US investment for films shooting in the UK.

In a boon for UK crews and facilities, inward investment for film production reached £1.35bn, an 18% increase on 2015.

However, while the number of inward investment films produced in the UK was relatively stable at 48, the number of domestic films produced in the UK has declined from 282 in 2012 to only 129 in 2016 (based on non-final numbers).

The same picture is true at the box office.

Fuelled by a string of US blockbusters, 2016 saw strong total box office for the calendar year of £1.227 billion, the second highest number on record.

However, UK admissions were 168m, down 2% year-on-year, and the market share for UK independent films was only 7%, its lowest level in three years and below the ten year average.

The 7% market share for local films compared to 63% in Japan, 36% in France, 28% in Italy, 18% in Spain and 16.5% in Germany.

Range of voices

Josh Berger, BFI CEO said about the commission: “Film in the UK is booming and the role of the BFI is to ensure that independent film – the incubator of creativity - flourishes in this environment. That’s why we made a commitment to look at the health of independent film one of our first priorities in our five year plan BFI2022.

“We are delighted Zygi Kamasa will be leading the BFI UK independent film commission as chair and we look forward to hearing from a range of voices, drawing from their experience and expertise.”

Kamasa commented: “I am very happy to accept the BFI’s invitation to chair this commission, and look forward to working with them and our new board who have the depth of knowledge and experience to identify and consider the most critical issues facing our sector now and in the future.”

Readers' comments (7)

  • It would be interesting to know how many of the 282 British films allegedly made for theatrical release in 2012 actually achieved the same.

    Last year's figure of 129 British films produced still means that over two British films a week are seeking to be released into UK cinemas - do we really think this is a realistic level of output?

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    The prime reason so many UK independent films get made is because of the tax incentives for investors to invest in EIS or SEIS approved projects combined with the BFI tax credit - which is worth 25% of 80% of the budget (which works out at around 20% of the total budget).

    This is fantastic for getting films made. My own debut feature, Papadopoulos & Sons, benefited greatly from the BFI tax credit and I am forever grateful for it. Without it, we could not have brought this story of London Cypriot life to the screen - which was then bought by the BBC, Netflix, ARTE.

    But I had to self distribute the film - in order to get it on the screen and get the ball rolling. Every single UK distributor saw Papadopoulos & Sons as a risk. And they were right to.

    If I was in their shoes, I would have made the same decision. Yet, this was a film bought by the BBC, Netflix etc.

    Therefore, the bottle neck is not in getting high quality movies made but in getting them onto a big screen and getting the distribution ball rolling - to open up other sales windows/ build momentum/ start the word of mouth/ reviews etc.

    But look. If the tax payer is happy to subsidise the film makers to make the film of cultural importance and help British voices be heard - through the BFI tax credit, then surely, the same principle must be extended to the Exhibitors. Surely, the tax payer would also agree? Otherwise, it's a waste of the tax credit in the first place.

    The tax credit principle needs to be extended from making the film to distributing the film in order to fulfil the mandate of the tax credit which is to preserve and nurture British stories and British voices.

    Exhibitors need some kind of tax incentive to screen the films that are being made with tax incentives. Extend the principle.

    Papadopoulos & Sons proved that there was an audience for it at the cinema - achieving the second highest screen average in its opening weekend.

    The audiences for British films are there. If the tax payer is already contributing to making these films, then it is in all our interests that some kind of incentive exists so that these films are played. At the moment, so many British stories and voices are being squeezed out because they are too much of a commercial risk against American products.

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  • It'd be great if this investigation could look at the issue of bad debt too. I'm an agent and from two films alone that have crashed this Summer I've three clients who are owed close to six figures between them. And this is nothing new. It's been like this for years. Escrow would help, but half of indie producers can't even spell it, let alone know what it means.

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  • Independent film in the UK is made up from many sectors , so a little disappointed to see that the commission is made up predominantly of producers, distributors, legal and sales companies. What happened to post production and associated technical services? These make a big contribution to independent film.

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  • The commission reads like a list of usual suspects with a couple digital arrivistes for 'edge. None of them will speak out, individually or collectively, to take on the cartel that is UK exhibition. Specialised films (i.e anything other than a Studio release ) account for approx. 64% of UK theatrical releases, the fastest growing sector in the last decade, yet they command only 4-6% of aggregate box-office. They are on screens for a few days and gone - and their platform release does NOT give traction to TV prices or DVD sales. These films are tolerated as 'seat warmers' for big US releases - guess where the other 95% of UK box office goes?! ( This UK commission is headed by a US mini-major so no boat will be rocked but lip service will be paid ) UK screens are THE most expensive in Europe - 250k P&A for circa 200 screens and 750K for 300 screens - and return THE lowest rentals, 28% average on ticket sales. Who will even attempt to negotiate with the 'Cinema Rulers'. Every other media has absorbed the experience of market fragmentation, film exhibition is a last bastion of old school monopoly. Time for a breakaway circuit.

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  • Sounds like gathering the fattest cats for a commission on why fat cats like cream-
    absolutely ridiculous ! the problem is mostly with these people who do not like cinema (with the exception of Efe ) and are part of a rich self serving club dictating their own taste and objectives on film makers. no change will come from here! why not consulting experts from other countries with cinematic culture ?
    this is not serious , there will be absolutely no change if these people are in charge.

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  • A significant factor has to be in developing the script in the first instance. There simple isn't enough development money for indie producers to find an idea (or writer) and then spend the time developing that into a viable and commercial script. The Bfi has a tediously slow process taking around 12wks to progress a pitch past the 1st stage. Outside of this scheme, none of the established production houses seem willing to develop work - except from within their own inner circle of collaborators. And I hear the reply that if the idea is good enough it will find a home...but that is simply not true in our experience.
    The lack of funding at the development stage effectively asks the writer and director or producer to work for free in developing a project. This drastically reduces the amount of films that can progress to getting financed and shot.

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