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UK industry welcomes Film Policy Review but cautions that words must be followed by action

Industry experts bullish on policy report but say that the BFI has a huge job ahead to deliver on proposed action points.

It was the day the British film industry had been anticipating eagerly for the last six months – the publication of “A Future For British Film ,” the Film Policy Review report commissioned last summer by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.
 
When Review head Chris Smith stood up at the Vue Cinema 5 in Leicester Square on Monday afternoon to outline the report’s recommendations, he was given a near rapturous response by many of the industry delegates in a crowded audience.
 
Over the course of the day, writers, producers, distributors, financiers and academics enthused about the report (although the response to the report from some broadcasters and sales companies was more muted).
 
Minister Vaizey himself was the first to praise the work of Smith and his panel in drawing up the 56 recommendations contained in the report.
 
“When you read the Report, I hope you will be delighted, stimulated, interested by the recommendations,” Vaizey said, calling the Report “fantastic” and promising that he would try to respond to it by the end of March.

“For the first time in a long while we’ve got a government report into our industry which is informed by the actual experiences of its practitioners rather than by some jaded ideological mantra…and we’ve had far too much of that,” said Peter Watson, CEO of production outfit Recorded Picture Company and deputy chairman of sister sales company HanWay. “It is refreshingly clear and well-informed in its analysis and courageous and pragmatic in its recommendations.”

However, Watson added: “the BFI should resist taking on all the responsibilities the report would seek to pile on its shoulders. The BFI will need to carefully define its new role and not forget its preeminent role as a cultural organisation and trustee of our national heritage. Rightly, the industry has high hopes for the new BFI but our expectations should be qualified.” 

John McVay, chief-executive of producers’ organisation Pact, welcomed the report’s various recommendations for enhanced recoupment positions for producers. “In principle, it (the recommendations) is identical to the Pact proposals,” McVay said. He also applauded the proposal for joint venture Lottery Funding that could be accessed by partnerships between producers and distributors.
 
“I hope the BFI recognizes that all the things in this report seem to be progressive and are good news for the BFI in terms of having a clear blueprint. I hope they adopt most of them, if not all of them, and move quickly.:
 
Meanwhile, Mark Batey, Chief-Executive of the Film Distributors’ Association, pointed with enthusiasm to the Report’s slogan, “it begins with the audience.” He also responded warmly to the Report’s endorsement of “the fundamental importance of the P&A Fund.”
 
Some were surprised by just how outspoken Smith and his team were in their call for major broadcasters (in particular Sky and ITV) to invest more in British independent film. In what many saw as a tacit threat, Smith suggested that if the broadcasters didn’t respond voluntarily, this was an issue that could be addressed directly in the forthcoming Communications Act.
 
“Our contribution to UK film reflects the distinctive position we hold in UK broadcasting,” a Sky spokesperson commented. “Unlike those public service broadcasters who receive public money for the purposes of investing in UK content, Sky needs a clear and sustainable commercial rationale to do so.   With that in mind, the fact that home-grown content is so appealing to our customers explains why we are investing more money in the UK’s creative economy than at any point in our history.  It also explains why through our output deals we invest in the movies that matter most to our customers, which include many of those from the UK.”
 
 
Veteran producer -director Don Boyd (the founder of online platform HiBrow) praised the way that film education was placed right at the centre of the report, which advocates bringing “film education into every school.”
 

Boyd called A Future For British Film “the most important serious review of film policy ever made. It must be taken as such by government and the industry. I think Chris Smith and his panel have done a brilliant job. And now Action not Words!  he primary arena of advice in relation to education is particularly vital. The British Film Industry and the DCMS could influence future generations all over the world if they could give this report ‘teeth’.”

Director Charles Sturridge (Brideshead Revisited, Lassie) was likewise full of enthusiasm for the work done by Smith and his team “in getting people to work together to make the industry more effective.”

Earlier in the day, Smith had confirmed that the Report would not be recommending that Britain should rejoin Eurimages, the (the Council of Europe Coproduction and Distribution Fund that Britain left in 1996.)

“We looked at rejoining Eurimages. One of the problems with that is you have to pay an upfront membership fee and you have to make an annual contribution without necessarily getting anything out at the other end,” Smith commented. “We thought that at a time when public finances and lottery finances are going to be pretty tight…this was probably not the highest and most immediate priority.”

Contacted by Screen, Roberto Olla, executive director of Eurimages, pointed out: “there is no such a thing as a one-off fee in Eurimages. Member States pay annual contributions to the Fund.”

It is sometimes suggested that the UK is not currently attractive as a co-production partner. The Panel acknowledged this, recommending “that the Government continues to monitor the effectiveness of the tax incentive in relation to co-production, in particular in regard to the issue of ‘used or consumed.’” 

“We were asked as a panel to leave the tax credit alone and not to try to re-invent the wheel particularly as the tax credit has bedded in and is working very well,” commented panel member Libby Savill, head of Film and Television at Olswang. Savill added that as “part of a corpoduction strategy, there will be an appropriate time to look at things connected to the tax credit as it currently stands that would help coproductions be more attractive to our European partners.” Among these is the proposal the “‘used or consumed’ is applied to British tax payers working abroad.

Sales companies also welcomed the Report, albeit with caveats.

“We congratulate Lord Smith and his review group for creating a comprehensive and forward-thinking policy document. Film Export UK is glad that the review acknowledges the vital role that sales companies perform in relation to the international success of British films. It is unfortunate that export is not the subject of any specific conclusions but we do welcome the recommendation that the BFI “produces and implements a robust, cohesive international strategy” and we look forward to fully engaging with it,” said Stephen Kelliher, the Chair of Film Export UK and co-founder of Bankside Films.

His remarks were echoed by those of Samantha Horley, a founder board member of Film Export UK and the MD of sales and financing entity Salt. “We are very glad that export is on the agenda, “ Horley said but pointed out that sales companies are heavily involved in financing and production and that the full extent of their role should be recognised. “It is a really good start but there needs to be more.”

Zygi Kamasa, CEO of Lionsgate UK, applauded the work of Smith and his panel. The challenge now, Kamasa said, was to “deliver” on the recommendations.

The question now is how many of the 56 recommendations will be accepted by Government and acted on — and when.

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