Key figures in the UK film industry have given a generally positive response to the report from the BFI’s Commission on UK Independent Film which was published this week. However concerns were raised about some aspects.
John McVay, the chief executive of UK producers’ association Pact, suggested the Commission came into being partly as a result of Pact’s own report last year, ‘The State of the UK Independent Film Sector’, which highlighted the “parlous” state of the sector and recommended the UK’s film tax credit should be increased to 40% for UK films in the £2m-£10m range.
“Obviously, I am very pleased that the BFI have taken on board the findings of our report which effectively started the whole process,” McVay said.
He said the recommendation that there should be an enhanced tax credit for films in a certain budget range would “allow for many commercially ambitious independent films to be produced by the UK independent sector”.
However some producers expressed disappointment the report didn’t contain more detail about this proposal.
Andy Paterson, producer of The Girl With The Pearl Earring and The Railway Man, said he was “very happy at the idea of more development investment”. But he added: “It will amount to nothing unless there are changes to the lack of revenues available to producers. You can’t build businesses if you have no access to revenues.”
One potentially contentious issue is whether the commission’s proposed new EIS Fund, which is expected to raise up to £5m a year to be invested in film companies to enable them to develop their businesses, might distort the market for fundraising and film financing. Like the mooted commercial development fund, the EIS fund will be affiliated to, but independent of, the BFI. There is concern investors who might otherwise have taken their money elsewhere will commit to this fund instead.
“It remains to be seen whether it will distort the market or enhances it,” said EIS expert Dave Morrison, an accountant at Nyman Libson Paul. “People may look at [the new Fund] and perceive that it is endorsed by the BFI who are part of the establishment. It may look like it is almost underwritten. That would give it a huge advantage [over other funds].”
The response to the report from sales agents has been upbeat so far.
“[Commission chair] Zygi [Kamasa] and the members of the commission have sought input from across the industry and crystallised some clear proposals for interventions and pilots,” said Simon Crowe, chair of Film Export UK. “The interests of Film Export UK’s member companies and of the filmmakers we work with will clearly be advanced if we engage with BFI and all partners to support the implementation of these proposals.”
One practical measure set to benefit the sales sector is the recommendation the BFI seeks additional funding from the UK government to pilot a series of global digital marketing campaigns for approximately six UK films in the first year, working closely with Film Export UK to identify potential titles and focus territories.
Mark Batey, chief executive of the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), welcomed the inclusive nature of the commission during a period that has been “brutal” for independent UK distributors, with some of the smaller players being forced to exit theatrical releasing.
“Over the 12 months since the commission started in July 2017, there have been lots of opportunities for FDA to discuss the progress of the commission and for different independent distributors to contribute directly to the process,” Batey said. “[The report] does bring the opportunity for a little more capital to become available to independent distributors.”
“No golden bullet”
Stephen Bristow, a partner in the Film & Television Unit at media accountants Saffery Champness and an executive closely involved in UK public film policy in recent years, praised the report.
“It’s a really good attempt to look at the state of the independent sector,” Bristow said. “I think it is a good report. As Amanda [Nevill] and Zygi [Kamasa] have said, there is no golden bullet. That’s true. If there was, we would have thought of it by now. I think there are some useful ideas in there that if they come to fruition will make a real difference.”
Director of Film 4 Daniel Battsek pointed out how much the commission’s findings echoed Film4’s own strategy.
“The focus on development, on partnerships with the streamers, traditional film companies and with private equity and generally looking to be market facing in order to ensure sustainability, while still pursuing a diverse slate of independent, authored films,” Battsek suggested.
“Given Film4’s model encompasses both production and advertising-supported broadcast [via the Film4 channel], the value of rights is a key issue for us, so we look forward to on-going discussion within the Commission’s proposed study into ways to maintain this.”