Lord Chris Smith has again called on British broadcasters to invest in UK film acquisition and production.
Speaking after yesterday’s publication of “It’s Still About The Audience - Two Years On From The Film Policy Review,” Smith (chair of the Film Policy Review Panel) hinted that, in the future, on-demand giants like Netflix and LoveFilm may also be asked to support the UK film industry.
While broadly supportive of the British Film Institute (BFI), the new report has some criticism of the BFI’s “tentative” embrace of the commercial side of its remit.
“I wouldn’t call it a kick up the backside. It is more of a nudge,” Smith said of the recommendations the report contains for the BFI.
BFI Chief Executive Amanda Nevill stated that the BFI was “very comfortable with the report” and that it was “by and large, a very accurate reflection of where we are and where we would expect to be.”
The new report encourages the BFI to “find an optimum balance between providing strong industry leadership and truly collaborative partnership working that allows partners the necessary licence to deliver against their remit.”
Nevill accepted that there is a “perception” the BFI is more comfortable with its cultural and archival work than with its commercial activities. “I don’t think it’s a reality on the ground but I absolutely accept it takes a long time to move perceptions.”
The original Film Policy Review, published in 2012, pushed broadcasters to set out their agreed commitments to British film.
Two years on, although the Government accepted the recommendations, no action has been taken to implement them.
“There wasn’t a real effort at the time made by the Government to sit down with the broadcasters and try and persuade them, possibly because other distractions came along. There were all the issues around Sky and News Corporation and the pre and post Leveson issues,” Smith said of the failure to follow through on the recommendations.
“I think it slipped off the Government’s agenda. One of the things we’re trying to do is put it back on again.”
Smith stated that “it would make a very real difference” if the UK film industry received the same “sort of investment from ITV and Sky in particular” that already comes from the BBC and Channel 4.
The Panel has suggested that BSkyB should invest £20 million, ITV £10 million and Channel 5 £5 million in British film.
“Remember, if you look across the Channel to France where there are compulsory provisions for broadcaster investment in movies, I think it is running at over £400 million from French broadcasters into original movie production,” Smith said.
“There’s a reputational issue here, there’s a public service issue here and there is the potential for a commercial return,” the Film Policy Review chair stated, citing Channel 4’s “investment in and championing” of Oscar front runner 12 Years A Slave and its success with The Inbetweeners Movie.
A spokesperson for Sky said: “Sky continues to increase its investment in original British productions. As the fastest-growing source of investment in UK content, we’re on track to spend £600m on home-grown content this year. The likes of Moonfleet, The Tunnel and Fleming demonstrate the scale and ambition of our content origination.
“Beyond this direct contribution, we also support British production through our licensing deals with both film studios and independent distributors. When taken together with innovations such as on demand, mobile TV and new services like Sky Store, we are proud of our contribution in supporting and distributing high-quality British content.”
Smith suggested that Netflix and Lovefilm weren’t yet “in a strong enough position in the overall marketplace in the UK to fall into the same category as the broadcasters” but added that, “in a few years’ time,” this situation might change.
Another key recommendation in yesterday’s follow-up report is for a new Widest Point of Release (WPR) model under which smaller distributors won’t have to pay Virtual Print Fees for releases of 99 prints or less. Under this model, these distributors would also be given more flexibility regarding cinematic release windows.
“We’re not trying to protect the blockbusters here. That is not where the great anxiety and concern is. It is over the small movies that is struggling to get an airing and that audiences don’t get a chance to see because they (the films) are deterred from going to a wider range of release points.”
Smith praised the work of the British Film Commission (BFC) in attracting inward investment to the UK. “What it (BFC) doesn’t doesn’t particularly do because it hasn’t up to now, been a major part of its purpose, is to assist with the export of British movies.”
This is why the report recommends that the BFC now be moved under the umbrella of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission, welcomed this proposal “The BFC already has a fantastic relationship with UKTI and, as the panel has recommended, we would be delighted to explore how that can be extended so we can continue to best serve the industry and promote the UK to the US and other territories whilst working closely with our key stakeholders, especially the BFI,” Wootton commented.
Asked whether the Film Policy Panel will be reconvening, Smith responded: “who knows…with a bit of luck, in another two or three years’ time there won’t be a need to do a review because everything will have happened - but let’s see.”