EXCLUSIVE: BFI proposes new VPF framework ahead of Film Policy Review meeting.

Ahead of this autumn’s reconvening of the Film Policy Review panel, the British Film Institute has written to digital cinema integrators with a “formal request” for them to implement “changes to [Virtual Print Fee] agreements affecting smaller scale releases.”

In the letter acquired by ScreenDaily, written by BFI CEO Amanda Nevill on behalf of the UK’s lead body for film, sets out a “fairer,” “widest point of release mechanism,” to ensure that distributors of smaller scale releases (which they classify as less than 100 screens) would only pay the number of VPFs for the film at its widest point, without incurring repeat fees between integrators.

The total number of VPFs payable at this widest point of release would be split equally between the four integrators, or divided between integrators according to their market share.

The BFI said it recognised that “some individual measures have been developed” by integrators to assist independent releases but it cautions that these have not gone far enough.

Within its proposal, the organisation also called for a “sensible pricing structure” of newly formed VPFs and “complete transparency” over the end of the VPF term, i.e. when recoupment of the equipment costs have been reached.

The BFI has asked the integrators for an answer to whether they are able to accommodate the proposed changes by this Friday [Sept 20].

Ben Roberts, director of the BFI Film Fund, told Screen: “There are naturally nuances to be resolved but we believe this principle is viable and straightforward and most closely models the 35mm paradigm.”

Some integrators have blamed the snails pace of change on competition regulations, which they claim prohibit negotiation with other integrators.

Roberts quashed this excuse: “Having consulted with colleagues at the European Commission, we don’t believe that existing contractual obligations with the US studios in relation to Most Favoured Nations would prohibit the integrators from implementing a solution for smaller releases.”

According to the BFI letter, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey will this autumn ask the Film Policy Review chair Lord Smith to look again at the issue and ensure an industry-approved solution is a “top priority”.

“We received the letter and have reviewed the proposed terms, much of which has been discussed before,” said Eric Stevens, commercial director for Arts Alliance Media, the integrator with a UK screen count of close to 1,000, and the only integrator who replied to Screen’s request for comment. “It’s great that things are moving forward and we welcome the opportunity to work with the BFI toward resolution.”

However, some independent distributors also remain frustrated with the amount of time it is taking to get the issue resolved. “Whilst welcome, this letter is long overdue and a minimum requirement,” said one distribution executive. 

The letter comes nine months on from meetings between the Film Distributors’ Association and integrators Arts Alliance Media, DCinex, DDL [on behalf of Odeon] and Sony — which administer the fee on behalf of exhibitors - and 20 months on from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)-commissioned Film Policy Review, which called on “studios, third-party consolidators and exhibitors to find a new virtual print fee model.”

The hope among many in the industry now is that a mutually beneficial resolution can be achieved as quickly as possible and that the issue doesn’t become a perennial thorn in its side.