Panelists touch on producer/writer/director recoupment, commercial value of British films and Review’s lack of attention on sales companies.

Top experts from the UK film industry gathered at BAFTA on Thursday night [Mar 1] to mull the Film Policy Review.

The panel consisted of Matthew Justice, managing director, Big Talk Productions and also part of Chris Smith’s review panel; Caroline Norbury, CEO, Creative England; Robin Gutch, managing director, Warp Films; Stephen Kelliher, head of sales and marketing, Bankside Films and chair of Film Export UK; Alex Hamilton, director of film for eOne; and director Iain Softley (film chair, Directors UK). Screen International editor Mike Goodridge moderated the discussion.

Justice initially spoke about the Review’s main aims: “There was a collective wish at the beginning of the process to produce a work that would bring the industry together. It wasn’t about being too proscriptive but looking at areas of the industry that haven’t spoken to each other in quite as collaborative way as possible in the past.”

Inevitably, increased recoupment across the sectors was a key topic as were the proposed joint ventures between distributors and producers. Director Softley said: “If you feel you own something you don’t frontload the costs in fees. Part of the problem has been a lack of continuity and a feeling that you need to reinvent the wheel on each film but if there is a sense that you will get a revenue stream further down the line this changes the whole attitude towards the funding and filmmaking process. The hope is that the review will lead to more joined up thinking”.

“Diversity flourishes through partnerships,” agreed Caroline Norbury.

Robin Gutch expressed disappointment that the review didn’t touch more on the potential for increased regional funding, to which Justice countered that at the time of the report Creative England was still in flux so it was hard to recommend how funding would be allocated to the screen agencies.

Norbury and other panellists stressed the importance of increased devolvement: “This is a very different type of Report to those that have gone before. It is seeking a cultural change. It is a Report that realises that the industry is made up of many different parts,” she said. The panel agreed that the BFI shouldn’t become an inordinate centre of power. It needs to “remain an enabler not a taste definer” said Justice (who is also on the BFI board).

The panel also discussed the commercial value and potential of British films, especially in light of their strong box office in 2011. Hamilton touched on the occasionally prohibitive cost of some UK films: “We talked about this a lot during the consultation,” he said. “US movies with name directors and cast often come to us with an asking price that is lower than a low budget British movie attempting a commercial enterprise such as a UK genre film. As distributors we want to be involved in UK films but it is sometimes difficult to justify the acquisition of an expensive UK film with lesser-known names.”

Stephen Kelliher lamented the lack of attention within the published review focused on the sales business: “It is fair to say that the members of Film Export UK were disappointed with the lack of recognition in the report of film export and sales companies of which there are around 30 specialists in this country.”

Justice responded that there was a feeling on the Review panel that sales companies were not in the same “perilous” state as producers and writers who had suffered the “greatest market failure.”

Kelliher also said he found the report’s recommendation for BBC Worldwide to play a greater role in film export “unsettling.” Justice countered that their inclusion in the report was partially “politically motivated” on account of the BBC’s status in the UK, but all panelists agreed that there was scope for BBC Worldwide to play a constructive role in film export.

The debate encountered the usual complaints about Sky’s lack of investment in UK film production but these were countered by some audience and some of the panel. Alex Hamilton said the Sky debate was to some extent “yesterday’s debate”, and Norbury said it was time for a “more sophisticated debate” on the matter which engaged Sky in a commercial way. “This government has no appetite for further legislation or compulsion. They are not about to have a mud fight with Sky. The nudge approach has some merit in that sense. How can we encourage Sky and others to invest via commercial incentives?”

Hamilton and Justice agreed that Netflix and LoveFilm’s entry into the UK first pay-TV window had been “the single biggest economic change in the distribution environment in the last ten years.”

The idea of a British Film week met a mixed response while in response to a question about the UK joining Eurimages, Sixteen Films producer Rebecca O’Brien said that the amount it would cost to join Eurimages (an annual contribution of £2m) would be “small beer compared to what we would get back.”