UK producers have long survived on resourcefulness rather than reward; trade association PACT is determined to rebalance the industry although its plans to help producers get their share have met with lively debate.
UK producers, via trade association PACT, continue to lobby aggressively for the adoption of proposals which would return 100% of the recoupment of public investment to the production company rather than the funding bodies, namely The UK Film Council, BBC Films, Film4 or the regional screen agencies.
The monies recouped would be directed towards future UK film productions, the difference being that the producers themselves would be making the funding decisions and not the funding bodies. Among the other proposals in the package is the notion that the UK tax credit be treated as producer equity and that the tax credit be raised to 30% on movies with budgets lower than £5m.
The PACT proposals, designed to build more sustainable production companies in the UK and give them more “skin in the game” on their next projects, are not asking for enormous amounts (UK Film Council recoupment, 30% of which already goes to producers, comes to about £2m a year) and are only asking for returns on films which have recouped ie which are successful.
Yet they have met with considerable resistance from the public bodies which argue that they will be weakened if the recoupment stream doesn’t return to them, and skepticism at PACT’s argument that the enriched companies won’t need to keep knocking on public funders’ doors if they have their own revenue base.
Regional bodies fear recoupment leaving their regions, while arguing that public funds can’t be so transparently poured into the private sector. And, sans recoupment, won’t there be less money for everyone to apply for? Certainly the UK Film Council’s Film Fund, which consists of £15m plus around £2m in recoupment, would be less flush.
Discussion on the subject was lively at a panel at the Edinburgh Film Festival last week and at least one panelist voiced concern that the recoupment would simply go to the same small number of producers in the UK industry that have the highest profile, even though, as producers would remind you, recoupment is only derived from successful films. The public bodies also suspect that producers’ funding choices won’t be as balanced nor accord to cultural imperatives as theirs are supposed to.
I think PACT’s proposals are ambitious but timely. Of course, what they are positing is theoretically open to abuse but there has to be some measure of trust and investment in the production community which continues to exist on resourcefulness and little reward. UK producers are getting successful films made but in the final analysis, equity investors and distributors are walking away with the returns. How many stories have you heard of producers simply not receiving a penny of profit from their films? It happens in Hollywood with the biggest blockbusters, so it certainly happens in the UK.
On the panel Tom Harvey, chief executive at Northern Film & Media, suggested that PACT was going after the wrong piece of the pie. Rather than aiming for a relatively small amount of public funding, he said, they should target the distribution sector which controls the lion’s share of revenues. Some producers have also gone into distribution to control the returns at source – most notably Vertigo which has enjoyed stupendous success with Streetdance 3D. Producer Rebecca O’Brien, who also sat on the Edinburgh panel, explained that she handles the sales of her films to a small group of distributors which always take the Ken Loach-directed films she produces. These alternative revenue streams can only strengthen the producers as they go forward to future projects.
Whatever the outcome of this debate, PACT has opened the conversation to rebalance the UK industry towards a healthier production sector and it shows no sign of letting it slide. It’s well-known that talent can fly the nest to the US, but most producers remain in the UK unearthing and nurturing the talent of the future as well as cobbling together finance to put UK actors and crews to work. When those films succeed, it is only natural that the producers should share in the rewards.