The British industry has been reported to be doing well, but is it a fair assessment?
The UK Film Council’s (UKFC) annual statistical yearbook, published last week, paints the picture of a British film industry in rude health and breaking records for both production and box-office figures.
It cites films such as The Dark Knight, Mamma Mia: The Movie!, Quantum Of Solace and the Harry Potter franchise as British productions, and makes some headline-grabbing claims about the power of UK film around the world.
The UKFC’s statistics highlight not just the UK’s role in helping create many of the world’s biggest movies, but also the disconnect between the UKFC and some in the independent sector.
The bullet points from its press release issued to journalists show clearly what the UKFC believes is the we should all be reporting: “British films bank $4bn at 2008 global box office”, along with “UK films take 15% of global box office and 32% of UK box office”, and “Number of indigenous productions up on last year”.
The reality is these headlines tell a very selective of the British film industry, and gloss over fundamental questions about the future of British film and how the UKFC and film funding in the UK market really works.
The British film industry is essentially made up of two very different parts. The first is the area of the business that exists to work for and service the US studio movies that are made in the UK. The second is that of Britain’s local film producers, who look at the UKFC’s reporting on the UK industry and regard it as PR spin that distorts the reality for many local film-makers and smaller companies.
There is no doubt the US studio films are incredibly important to the British film industry and the UKFC is right to flag up the amount of inward investment they bring. Without them British film companies would go bust or close, thousands of jobs would be lost and Britain would be poorer off, both culturally and economically.
It’s a legitimate exercise to include the money spent by these films in any analysis of production investment in the UK industry. Claiming them as British films in the box-office numbers is far more questionable, and adds to the impression the UKFC is spinning a success that doesn’t match the reality for huge numbers of people working in the industry.
For many of the film makers in that second part of the equation, independent producers, the battle to find funding and audiences for their films has never been tougher. Equally the change in the tax relief rules, which mean British film-makers filming abroad no longer qualify for tax breaks, has seen the number of co-productions drop by 78% in the first six months of this year compared to last year (a point the UKFC has identified, and flagged up strongly in its report, as it continues to lobby for change).
There were 33 indigenous productions in the UK in the first half of this year, spending $147.7m (£89.9m); compared to 35 in the same period last year, spending $130m (£78.9m). So on many levels, the smaller homegrown market is also doing well.
But there is little doubt the annual statistics published by the UKFC highlight not just the UK’s role in helping to create many of the world’s biggest movies, but also the disconnect between the UKFC and some in the independent sector who believe it is more focused on serving the international studios and global film companies, than on encouraging new and bold voices from the local market.
As the UKFC’s incoming chairman, Tim Bevan, considers the future direction and strategy of the organisation, he might want to consider how to address that sense of frustration experience by many in the “other part’ of the UK film industry.