Reading the features published on Screen today (see below) will help pin down the queasy collective feeling that permeates the UK film business.
The stories quantify the almost-certain knowledge we all have that UK independent film producers are being systematically devalued and unfairly treated as the industry booms around them. They couldn’t catch a break even during the Hollywood strikes. Their first-hand experiences illustrate that you can talk up inclusion but if producers continue to be paid — and treated — as badly as they are, it will be impossible to look them in the eye as the problem continues to fester. Or keep them in the sector.
The levels of pay revealed in our stories for young independent producers should collectively embarrass the industry, alongside the fact the deferment of those fees has become more than a habit. The sums don’t lie. Total film production in the UK in 2022 was a record £2bn ($2.4bn), but with a 31% decline in the spend on UK films; inward investment on films was £1.7bn ($2.1bn). UK independent producer fees can be as low as £3,000 ($3,650) over the development life of a project, to be shared if there is more than one producer credit. IP protections are not extended to streaming services.
Every year at Screen International we put together talent spotlights: the annual UK Stars of Tomorrow initiative has now been joined by similar, smaller, biannual Scotland and Ireland issues. And every year it has become harder to find young producers who can realistically make a go of it. Asking economically ‘diverse’ hopefuls onto this and similar schemes might make for a warm feeling of inclusion, but unless the situation changes, it’s like asking a butterfly to break itself on a wheel.
Independent producers are the bedrock of the industry, identifying and nurturing the current and next generation of talent in the mighty UK business (the very same pipeline the ‘inward investment’ enjoys). The Hollywood strikes have underlined the problem: if UK independent producers couldn’t get a foot in the door during the cancellations in a country increasingly associated with the word ‘backlot’, then we are in trouble.
The UK’s independents need help. They’re under fierce pressure from rising costs and land-grabs for IP, talent and studio space from international studios and streamers; starved of cash and beset by credit-snatching. The wider industry should consider taking a leaf out of the WGA’s book, and strongly and vocally support them.
Our features set out in detail the perfect storm that has taken place in the UK, and particularly in England — a victim of its own success. Costs rising at levels of 30%; inflation-hit budgets at the funders, in particular the BFI’s National Lottery fund; a lack of protective legislation regarding IP; talks of tax deals that never seem to come to fruition; and a government, reaching 13 years in power, which is allergic to intervention (say, in the form of the streamer levies currently being introduced in some European territories).
Change has to come and it must be significant and help the people in question, and not, as has happened in the past, those with bigger pockets who can rebrand themselves British and independent and enjoy those benefits — there are plenty of others available for them. It also has to take a view that the streamer boom is unlikely to be here forever — or that the industry is ever going to revert to what it was, even if the streaming market weakens.
The Hollywood strikes were a scary place for the UK film business. There are many lessons to be learned, but one of the most important is ensuring the indigenous film business is supported and able to survive by itself, no matter what happens in California.
Culturally, the sector is the jewel in the UK’s crown and an export of soft power. And it’s powering on despite all the challenges, with younger producers finding younger audiences even when that’s a tough nut to crack. It’s not insular either. In the last year we’ve remembered childhoods in Turkey (Aftersun), danced through Rye Lane, and are soon to learn How To Have Sex in Crete, all through the tenacity of young UK producers who have fought for these proudly diverse features.
With the UK government about to launch a House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee to look into the challenges facing the UK’s film and high-end TV sector, now is the time to speak up in solidarity. And loud. In that respect, the lesson from Hollywood is clear. If you want change, you have to fight for it.