In light of the Film Policy Review, remembering that you can’t force audiences to watch a film they don’t want to watch; and noting how the UK benefits from US box-office domination.
Everybody appeared happy at the publication of the film policy review this week, perhaps not surprisingly bearing in mind that a whopping 56 recommendations were made that satisfied just about every constituency.
Aside from my natural cynicism that all of these recommendations could ever be realized – especially in an already overstreched BFI infrastructure – I can’t help but feel a certain déjà vu with some of the key determinations. “It’s all about the audience” was the headline of the report, which pledged to connect British film with audiences “at the cinema and on every conceivable digital device.”
Connect them you may, but you cannot force somebody to watch a film they don’t want to watch. Even if you compel Sky and ITV to invest in British films, there is no guarantee that they will find a bigger audience for the films they invest in than anybody else. Likewise if you put the entire Powell/Pressburger oeuvre on the national school curriculum to start audience education early. Or put British films on six screens of every multiplex. Or bundle producers with distributors, as this review suggests, and as the UKFC attempted in its Lottery franchise scheme – to no avail. More British films doesn’t mean an increased market share, as the Section 48 deluge demonstrated.
The UK does not - and will never - have an industrial movie system like the US which now routinely spends half a billion dollars to produce and market single films as part of “four-quadrant” franchises. Audiences religiously go to see them, because they have been tailored by industrial engines to please them.
Even the bigger independent distributors in the UK spend the lion’s share of their budgets on buying and releasing US-made movies, not on UK production – which would often be much cheaper. The UK, after all, does not consistently and routinely make films that UK audiences want to see en masse. And before you say anything, yes, I do consider Harry Potter a US studio product, since only a company like Warner Bros could have made it. There are wonderful exceptions, of course, like The King’s Speech which ranked second biggest hit of 2011 in the territory, but exceptions they remain – and usually surprises.
As an aside here, I think the biggest UK story of last year was not The King’s Speech but The Inbetweeners Movie (ranked at number 3) which took an existing popular property from TV and built a new market for it on the big screen. It’s as close as we can get to our own studio franchise and I foresee a string of Inbetweeners movies – a sort of Carry On series for the new generation.
Indeed, underlying the document is the industry’s unique relationship with Hollywood. The treasury benefits from the massive US production spend on UK soil, courtesy of an efficient tax credit. The UK’s talent pool, above and below the line, earns most of its money either from working in the US or from working in US productions shooting in the UK. The US is a major consumer of UK film, albeit of a certain vintage, as King’s Speech, My Week With Marilyn et al demonstrate.
That UK “in” with the US is a link most countries would die for, but it confuses the issues in a review like this. As long as the studios are spending over $1bn a year producing films in the UK and employing UK talent, it’s very hard to suggest any curtailments to exhibitor and audience demand for US movies.
So while the review makes a lot out of changing audience habits and access to the British film “brand”, it makes no radical proposals about enforcing screen space or distribution pickups of UK movies.
And while the review recognizes the need to develop a new co-production strategy, it also recommends that the UK not rejoin Eurimages. That’s not a priority for government, but a blow for local producers.
The UK fortunately has always spawned nimble and enterprising producers who will continue to draw on their apparently limitless reserves of relationships, chutzpah and entrepreneurialism to get authentically British films made. If they are well-financed, they won’t lose money. If they connect with buyers and local audiences, they will make money. Recommendations to reinvest funding in producers of hit movies make a lot of sense and reward the men and women who are at the backbone of British cinema.