UK Film Council naysayers are having a field day in the wake of the organisation’s death sentence, and, bitchiness aside, they cannot be ignored.
The response to last Monday’s news that the UK Film Council would be abolished has been divided, to say the least. On the one hand, many protested the move by the new coalition government, but on the other hand there have been vocal cries of “Good riddance,” “Told you so” and “Serves them right.”
Screen’s viewpoint from the start was that the move, which came out of the blue and apparently without consultation, will be harmful to the UK industry in both the short and long term. The government offered no plan for what would come next, guaranteeing only the continuation of the tax credit and an unspecified amount of Lottery funding. How these would be administered has not yet been made clear, throwing the UK into at least two years of uncertainty, damaging numerous homegrown films and causing the loss of untold millions in inward investment as US studios merrily move on to Hungary, France or Australia.
In axing the centralized UKFC infrastructure, the commitment to film as a whole by this government is clearly in doubt. Slash the overhead, fire the management team, cut down organisational costs. Fine. Do what has to be done to make the UKFC more palatable to the Department Of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), but don’t just wipe it out altogether.
But, bigger picture aside, the personal rancour that has emerged from many quarters in private and in print cannot be ignored. I have had many conversations in the last week, with people saying that Screen is being naïve in choosing to “back” the UK Film Council (as if there were another organisation that could be backed instead), that it is a “hated” organization and that it has brought about its own demise.
These complaints have of course been rife throughout its 10-year history and I have always been aware of them, even living in the US as I did for most of its tenure. Of course any funding organisation which turns more people down than not is bound to stir up bad blood, but it’s still perhaps a sad reflection on the UKFC that many people only feel free to air their complaints now, even if the majority are spurious. Nevertheless the issues have to be raised in order to avoid the same mistakes if a centralised film industry body is ever to be built again in the UK.
Overhead and operational costs were too high vis-a-vis other Lottery-operating groups or quangos – from salaries to T&E budgets – a fact which stirred resentment in an impoverished production community that exists on reining in costs.
The UKFC was not a movie studio but sometimes behaved as if it were. It was always shocking to me when US studio executives took executive producer credits, so when heads of UKFC funds insisted on it for a few years, it only served to rile producers and deliver a picture of arrogance that many cannot overcome to this day. The subjective opinions of too few people decided the success or demise of many UK projects, yet the atmosphere was such that few dared to speak out against the regime.
Did the UKFC need to pour Lottery money into films (mainly through the Premiere Fund) that could have got financed on the open market? And it continually put people’s backs up by claiming Harry Potterand James Bond as UK success stories when none of the revenues from them stayed in the UK.
The concept of sustainable film companies remains elusive in the UK which still behaves for the most part like a cottage industry. Admittedly it was The Arts Council which created the film franchises, but the UKFC’s Superslate concept failed and the idea of sustainable integrated film businesses remains just that – an idea.
Politics got in the way. The UKFC spent so much time managing the government, the DCMS and the media that it often left the industry itself feeling out in the cold. Producers balked at the cost and time involved in filling out stacks of paperwork (in earlier submissions processes) and the focus on too many activities distracted from core duties.
These are just a few of the issues raised in the last week. Did the UKFC try to answer them? I believe that in its latest, leanest incarnation, it tried hard.
Indeed what mustn’t be overlooked is that there are many talented and dedicated people working at the UKFC and many people who care passionately about the industry and film. The myriad achievements of the organisation will also be heralded when a comprehensive post-mortem emerges, alongside its shortcomings
In the meantime, the UKFC management and the industry at large now have to unite for the next steps – to ensure that the government’s plans for the industry are not meagre, half-hearted or inept, to consult and engage with the conversations ahead.
Screen plans to be at the heart of that conversation and has launched a Have Your Say section which welcomes constructive ideas for how the industry can best be served. We’ve had numerous unattributed comments in the last week which were too venomous to post, so henceforth we are only accepting comments with names provided.