The UK Film Council’s new three-year plan will focus on “creative excellence”, meaning more risky projects, but will genre films take a back seat?

The UK Film Council’s new three-year plan contains a very clear message to UK producers which should clear up some of the bad air that the organization has generated in the past. The new unified production fund is now focused on “creative excellence”, meaning challenging and risk-taking endeavours which would perhaps struggle to find financing on the conservative open market.
The Premiere Fund, which was the Film Council’s “more mainstream” production fund, invested £8m a year into films which arguably could have been financed without it – broadly commercial period pieces like Gosford Park, Brideshead Revisited and Miss Potter as well as family-oriented movies such as Valiant, Stormbreaker and St Trinian’s.
But now, driven by budget cuts, the Film Council is reverting to the more familiar patterns of European public subsidy – supporting first and second time film-makers, seasoned auteurs of the Leigh and Loach variety and experimental or low budget projects. As for more obvious commercial propositions, the UKFC’s John Woodward told me this week, the answer is probably No. Although many of the new fund’s strategies have to be ironed out, the emphasis is defiantly on the creatively ambitious. “One of the things that public monies should do is provide a space for people to get their foot in the door and get their voice heard,” he said.
Under the aegis of the capable Tanya Seghatchian, the Film Fund can now get down to the real work of cultivating a new generation of film-makers while continuing to support the voices that have inspired them. Take Mike Leigh, whose last few films including his latest Another Year have been backed by the Premiere Fund. His films have always made money but they are never slamdunks and, because of his particular process of prepping and rehearsing them without a script, never easy to finance. Should the Film Council be backing Leigh, one of the UK’s great film-makers? Yes, probably, it should. There are few film-makers who boost the nation’s cultural profile as globally as Mike Leigh.
While saluting the Film Council for its refocus on the art of film, I lament the apparent shortage of genre directors in the UK and the dearth of sustainable production centres which could nurture them. Yes, there are Working Title, Recorded Picture Company/HanWay Films and one or two other companies which have built infrastructures that generate a consistent pipeline of films. But most producers go from film to film, reinventing the wheel with each new project and usually giving away the house to get anything made.
The problem is that without these sustainable production centres which can afford to give film-makers the chance to make several films, the UK’s most commercially promising film-makers quite naturally flee to the US where they can develop their talents on a larger canvas. So Martin Campbell, Guy Ritchie, Matthew Vaughn, Paul Greengrass et al might do an odd movie with UK funding once in a while but they are essentially studio guys.
It’s galling (or should that be Gaul-ing) to look at EuropaCorp in France which has brought up a new breed of French genre directors. Pierre Morel (Taken, From Paris With Love, District 13), Xavier Gens (Hitman, Frontieres) and Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Danny The Dog) have all come from the EuropaCorp school and all made several films there.
Perhaps with one or two EuropaCorps of its own – and Scott Free and Icon show signs of expansion in that direction - the UK will be able to keep genre directors working in the UK beyond their first feature.