With a Sept 9 deadline looming, industry groups are readying their submissions for the government’s review about future support of film.
“We want to hear from everybody involved in UK films,” Chris Smith (the former Culture Secretary) declared when the UK culture secretary Ed Vaizey announced the UK Film Policy Review (which Smith is chairing) earlier this summer.
This week, trade bodies are scrambling to complete their submissions before the Sept 9 deadline of the Film Policy Review. There have already been 50 meetings between Film Policy panel members and different sectors of the industry.
By late August, the DCMS reported more than 150 responses had been received already to the Call For Evidence.
The Review panel is due to deliver its report to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey by the end of the year. At that point, the report will also be published.
The review has been set four objectives: to identify market failures preventing a more successful and integrated British film industry, to set Policy directions for Lottery funding, to identify ways to develop and retain UK talent, and to work out how best to increase audience demand for film.
“We don’t have any timeframe for the response,” a DCMS spokesperson says of how quickly the Culture Minister is likely to react to the report’s recommendations. However, the expectation is that new policies will begin to be implemented in time for the next financial year in April 2012.
In advance of the early September deadline, different organisations are busy staking out their positions. This may be an age of austerity but there is a lot of money to be battled over. According to recently published BFI statistics, the total public investment in film in 2010 (including tax relief for production) was £266 million. Following the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Government has confirmed that Lottery funding for film will increase by approximately 60 per cent to around £43m annually.
What is apparent is that the UK film industry is largely happy with the way the consultation process is being held. Last summer, the talk was of “being blindsided” by the abrupt decision to abolish the UK Film Council. There was a clear sense that the industry simply didn’t know what the coalition Government was cooking up for film. Thirteen months on, there is a far stronger dialogue between the DCMS and the film sector.
“The DCMS team has been very good on this. After a really horrendous summer period in July and August last year, in July and August this year they have been much more on top of things and have really done a sterling job in tricky circumstances,” says Mark Batey, chiefexecutive of the Film Distributors Association.
Some have questioned just why Chris Smith, one of the original architects of the UK Film Council, has now been chosen to chair the review looking at post-UKFC public film policy. At the same time, industry sources are praising Tory Vaizey for having the courage to appoint Smith, a Labour peer. There is also widespread appreciation of the expertise in the eight-strong panel of industry experts sitting on the panel (among them such senior figures as producer Iain Smith and Sony’s Michael Lynton.)
Each sector of the industry is pushing its own agenda. Film Export UK (FEUK), which is making a submission to the Film Policy Review in conjunction with the Film Industry Export Alliance, is calling for the role of sales companies to be “recognised as a vital sector of the British film industry, in the same way the production and distribution are recognised and supported.” One of its recommendations is for the setting up of an ”export fund.”
“We are keen to get the message across that we are no longer agents in the sense that we turn up to a festival or market, stick a poster on the wall and walk away with our commission. The market has changed drastically since those days,” says FEUK Chair Stephen Kelliher, highlighting sellers’ involvement in everything from development to financing, marketing and chasing royalty statements.
Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas is likewise adamant that more should be done to support the sales sector. “International sales companies should be fully supported by the BFI, like the theatrical distributors are,” he suggests, describing the sellers as “the interface with the market for the film outside its domestic territory.”
Thomas also wants broadcasters to invest as a matter of course in British film production. “The people who are showing cinema films on the TV as a staple should have a responsibility towards their own market like they do in other countries,” Thomas states in what appears a clear reference to Sky. “The BBC put money in and they show films on TV. Film4 put money in and they show films on TV. The rest of the people don’t put any money in although they show films.”
Perhaps predictably, the Film Distributors Association is calling for continued public support of distribution, perhaps now in the form of a new sizable BFI-run audience development fund. (Far more ambitious in scope that the P&A Fund set up in UKFC days.) As Batey puts it, “it would be incoherent as an industrial policy and arguably immoral” for the Government to overlook the work done by distributors “in connecting content with audiences.”
On the production front, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT) has welcomed the Review. “It (the Review) is very open, very inclusive,” comments Pact boss John McVay. “What we’re not doing is just ticking boxes for something that has already been decided.”
The Pact submission will be along familiar lines. “Our main contention is that the past decade saw the disempowerment of independent feature film producers in the UK,” McVay notes. Pact is continuing to press for producers to have access to enhanced recoupment corridors that will enable them to set up as sustainable businesses. One key proposal (first floated by Pact in March 2010) is that 100% of the public investment should be recouped by the producer. 70% of that money would then go into a lock box. 30% would be used by the producer to keep going until the financing had been secured for the next project.
Some producers have also been arguing for an “automatic” subsidy system
The BFI, now the lead body for film in the UK, is leading on one part of the review: the goal of increasing audience demand for film.
Meanwhile, Skillset’s submission will be flagging up the crucial importance of education and training to the film industry. “What we want to get across is that skills aren’t just about training. Skills are about how we do what we do,” says Dan Simmons, Film Project Manager for Talent and Business at Skillset. “It is an issue that cuts across every part of industry.”
At this stage, no-one can second guess what will be in Chris Smith’s report or how the Culture Minister will react to its recommendations.
As Batey puts it: “All bets are off. We are not assuming that anything (in terms of public funding for film) will continue beyond March 2012. It is a good opportunity at the very moment when we reach the digital tipping point in the UK to take a step back and look at the whole landscape for film.”