Tough choices lay ahead for the British film industry. But there is a path which can lead to a brighter, better future says Stewart Till, chairman of the UK Film Council.

Film industry faces its own epic adventure. Can I pitch you an idea for a movie?

We open on someone standing on a road. Just ahead it forks in two directions. It seems as if our protagonist has been standing at this spot for some time. He looks perplexed, worried and indecisive but at the same time we sense he is a survivor. Someone who has looked disaster in the face before yet, somehow, has triumphed. The atmosphere is oppressive, slightly threatening. Our lead character looks around for help. All he gets is our sympathy.

Our hero, let’s call him Brit Film, looks to the left at the path that fork takes. It’s a pretty arid and desolate landscape with little or no vegetation, the odd bit of tumbleweed, office blocks that look more or less deserted. It looks a little like Hammersmith in February. There¹s an acrid smell in the air, the whiff of redundancy and bankruptcy. Brit can just see a group of dishevelled people, way in the distance, crouched around a bonfire, playing Frisbee with what might be a CD. The only building that seems inhabited and active has a large black flag with a skull and crossbones fluttering from the roof.

Wide applause

Sighing, he turns and looks where the other fork might take him. He has to shade his eyes the sun is so bright. Everything is fertile. The cotton is high. There are shops selling milk and honey. He can just make out a cinema with long queues and nearby half a dozen sustainable producers chatting among themselves. A politician is announcing, to wide applause, that the film industry is officially the UK’s most important industry.

Brit looks longingly in that direction. He so wants to take that path but we realise something is holding him back. We move in close, on a crumpled, much-read piece of paper in his hand. It reads: “How do you exploit the opportunities offered by the new digital world and equally ensure the pirates do not destroy your industry?” He knows if he answers this riddle successfully, the Promised Land beckons. If he gets it wrong, he also knows he is destined to stumble into the wastelands of decline and failure.

Fortunately, if a little unexpectedly, help arrives, maybe in the form of a 3D animated sidekick. It tells Brit, first and foremost, to be brave and decisive. The consumer wants films, recession or not, and they will pay for them if you offer great choice which is available easily and priced fairly.

Creating a market

Secondly, squeeze the windows together as close as reasonably possible and differentiate cinema from in-home entertainment, not just through timing but also by quality and nature. Price the new digital software such as Blu-ray and video on demand with the primary aim of creating as big a market as quickly as possible.

Finally, persuade government that theft is theft and if they believe in a creative economy they have to enact legislation that prohibits illegal downloading. Equally, you must persuade the ISPs that they are your partners not your enemies.

You’re right, Brit thinks, this is not the time to be preoccupied with opening weekend numbers or even annual budgets. This is the time to make some big, smart, strategic decisions, and with that he takes the right fork towards a future of fortune and fame.

The UK Film Council

  • The creative industries account for 6.4% of the UK economy.

Source: DCMS

  • The UK film industry’s contribution to UK GDP was $4.7bn (£3.2bn) in 2006.

Source: UKFC Statistical Yearbook

  • Piracy costs the film and TV industries $720m (£486m) per year.

Source: UKFC Statistical Yearbook

  • The total video on demand (VoD) and near-VoD (nVoD) film market was estimated to be worth $177m (£120m) in 2008.

Source: UKFC Statistical Yearbook

  • High-definition discs sold 5.5 million units in the UK in 2008, with Blu-ray discs accounting for 83% of the total - up 316% up on 2007.

Source: BVA 2009 Yearbook

  • More than 60% of requests on the UKFC’s search engine are for films to download/watch online. Slumdog Millionaire and Bronson appear in the top 10 of searched films on the site, which was set up to provide legal alternatives to film piracy.

Source: UKFC