Screen asked experts from production and distribution to share their thoughts about how the UK government can best support film.

On July 26, the UK Government shocked the industry by announcing plans to abolish the UK Film Council and establish a more direct relationship with the British Film Institute (BFI). The Government promised that it would continue the UK Film Tax Credit and Lottery Funding of film, but as of press time had not revealed any details about how those areas will be administered post-UKFC. Even those filmmakers that weren’t fans of the organisation are nervous that there could be a period of instability and uncertainty until a replacement body is named. As the industry now anxiously awaits further details, Screen asked some experts to share their visions and wishlists for the future. We asked each of them: “How can the UK government best support film?” [Have your say here.]

Kevin Loader, producer, Free Range Films
(credits include Enduring Love, In The Loop, Wuthering Heights)

What’s critical for the British film industry is that the current tax credit remains, and that Lottery funding continues, preferably at increased levels in coming years. A single body for film – which promotes film culture, education and preservation, and supports the business of British film production and exhibition – is surely desirable. Lottery funding should remain discretionary but needs to be administered by people experienced in the creative processes of film development and production. The UKFC has many such people working within its offices – so surely the best solution is for the BFI to absorb a slimmed-down version of the UKFC’s funding and investment activities. BBC Films and Film4 shouldn’t want this responsibility nor its conflict of interest.

What also needs to be addressed is the current, ridiculous situation where British film-makers find it well-nigh impossible to have any ownership in their work: we producers have been encouraged by Jeremy Hunt’s recent statements that recognize these structural problems in the business of film. The new age of multi-platform distribution can lead to a huge creative flowering in British film, but only if film-makers retain sufficient rights in their work to enable them to build businesses, as has happened in the television sector.

Rupert Preston, head of distribution, Vertigo Films
(credits include StreetDance 3D, Bronson, The Football Factory)

The key to a sustainable British Film Industry lies in two simple and inextricable inked ideas:

They are:

  • to have a more equitable share of revenues derived from film exploitation to be returned to UK distributors and producers
  • to increase the level of rights ownership within UK film companies.

There are currently three fundamental issues preventing this happening:

  • Theatrical rentals in the UK are the lowest in the world. Currently the UK average is 33%, whilst in America it’s 50%, Spain is 48%, Germany 45% and France 41%.
  • The amount of money UK Broadcasters pay for Independent films. The output deals with the studios leaves the broadcasters little to spend on independent product. If they do acquire independent films, the prices are much less than a studio would receive, even if the film has achieved the same box office.
  • The Lottery monies should be administered on commercial terms and when or if the money is recouped, the production company involved should be allowed to re-invest that money in other films it plans to produce and distribute. It should not have to re-apply on its next project. Thus that company can build it’s business and not be reliant on a film-by-film basis to receive funding.

Once these objectives are achieved, more money will flow back to UK companies who can own their intellectual property, earn more money, re-invest it into the industry and so the system starts to sustain itself.

Rebecca O’Brien, producer, Sixteen Films
(credits include The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Route Irish)

In In the short to medium term, like other PACT members, I’d like to see producers rewarded for their successful films by recycling any recoupment achieved through public funding back into their own productions. It’s fundamentally important, too, that producers should retain more of their intellectual property rights. The tax credit is excellent and much appreciated — it helps to correct the economic flaw inherent in our film industry, in that there is no direct relationship between monies made from exhibition and the funding of our independent production. In the longer term I’d like to see a more direct funding relationship between production and distribution/exhibition – in an ideal world something like the Eady Levy would be the best mechanism to correct the flaw. [The Eady Levy, which ended in 1985, was a tax on box-office receipts to support British film.] British broadcasters should stump up much more for indigenous film – and BSkyB who pay practically nothing – should be made to invest.

In terms of distribution of available Lottery money I’d be happy to see the existing gatekeepers retain their position under whatever funding body was chosen - I’m not sure that the BFI is the right institution as I believe the key thing there is the archive and their role is to preserve, inform, educate and make our film heritage available. The business of film-making doesn’t fit so well with that. So the Arts Council or even NESTA might seem more suitable bedfellows. I also think it’s really important is to use the opportunity to rebuild our European co-production axis. We should rejoin Eurimages and use part of the lottery funding to create a co-production fund like we had before the UKFC. We’re in a unique position in the UK to face both towards Europe and the rest of the English speaking world. It makes commercial sense for our indigenous industry to exploit both markets. 

David M Thompson, producer, Origin Pictures; former head of BBC Films
(credits include The Awakening, Red Road, Eastern Promises)

I want to stress that the Film Council model was a quite effective one. It was working pretty well — albeit in this climate it was inevitable that it would be significantly slimmed down.

But if the decision has been taken to close it then clearly the concern is to preserve its positive achievements. And also, critically, to keep the hiatus as short as possible.

Maybe the simplest, and most effective solution now, that would cause the least disruption, would be for the BFI to assume most of the UKFC roles. This would mean there would be less need for the formation of a major new bureaucracy and some of the functions like education and training, already have a natural home there. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up a unit there administering Lottery funding.

With any future body [that would have to be created], my suspicion is that it will have to have some of the key elements of the Film Council – you would have a leaner and meaner version of the Film Council.

It’s really important to have plurality of taste, so you need a number of different sources. If the Lottery funding were given to BBC and/or Film4, and that would put intolerable pressure on them, and inevitably, lead to funding cuts. The system of there being several sources of film finance is absolutely crucial for a healthy, risk taking, bold form of filmmaking in this country. And it is vital that there are several gatekeepers in both development and production.

One alternative way of running the film fund would be to have a professional administrator and some sort of small rotating committee made up of industry professionals — a sort of Dragon’s Den for filmmaking. But this is fraught with problems. The current system of individuals mandated to make a decision is probably far more effective.

It’s not just about development and production funding. The real role the Film Council did was being a force for lobbying and unifying the industry, and that’s a crucial role that needs to carry on.

Process and structure are important but actually individuals are equally important. That’s the key  factor – who are the individuals going to be running it it? That’s every bit as important as the structure.

Stephen Woolley, producer, Number 9 Films
(credits include The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, Made In Dagenham)

The abolishment of the UK Film Council highlights the fundamental role the government plays in supporting our industry, from the grass roots of film societies and regional film theatres through to archives, cinema distribution (both digital and film) film schools, development of both features and shorts (high and low budgets), film festivals and regional film funds like Film West and Film London, are all dependant on either Lottery, direct or indirect funding, or a combination of both.

The media have pounced on the film investment ‘premiership; funding but its vital these other funding reliant bodies are also sustained and replenished.

Whatever quango, Arts Council, BFI or UKFC body that administrates that grant is irrelevant to the receiver. What’s important is that we can make distribute celebrate and encourage British and European movies and moviemaking at the same if not higher level than we have been.

Whilst supporting cinema as a cultural imperative seems to continue to be  an impenetrable mystery to successive governments, (unlike many of our European neighbours, like the French who appreciate cinema as an art form) what is unarguable is the revenue that is generated by a thriving film production and distribution business. That business needs to educated and instructed here in Britain if we have any chance of achieving a sustainable industry.

The UKFC seemed dedicated to that philosophy and whatever body or quango that replaces them must embrace the entire infrastructure, and food chain, in the same way the UKFC is currently committed to doing.

Our role now, especially those of us who are active practitioners, is to help encourage the coalition goverment to see the bigger industry picture.

As an industry statesman so adroitly reminds us it was under firstly a Thatcher goverment and then the goverment of John Major that the UKFC was first conceived and that fact should put to rest the notion that there any political points to score by hanging out the industry to dry.

Justin Marciano, CEO of Revolver Entertainment
(Revolver’s releases include The Infidel, Tell No One and Kidulthood; it also produced and released Shank)

Support systems that were put in place across many of the UKFC departments have grown into immensely supportive mechanism over the last 10 years, not least of all for distributors who had previously not received any support. Why? Because it has helped to change the entire mentality of the UK independent distribution sector through its injection of confidence enabling both us and others to take risks that we might not have previously. It has made us look hard at our business models and quickly adapt to changes and moods in the public consumption of films.  

Our industry is stronger in many ways than it’s been for a very long time. We have a wealth of both seasoned and new, fresh talent working across the industry making films more geared to the broadening tastes of British and international audiences than at any time in recent history. The Government remains committed to supporting film and the tax breaks it generously offers. And I hope that the UK Film Council can continue in some shape or form and that many of the talented UKFC executives we constantly work with will continue to be on hand to give their invaluable advice, financial and business support in order that the positive changes it has made live on.

We now know how to make extraordinary and daring films as much as being able to reverse engineer and package for profit. Both of these skills are needed simultaneously to create the holy grail of ‘sustainability’. It might be that the industry has to pull together in more ways than just in spirit. To make and deliver British films, we must offer a sense of protection for our product. Not because it is weak, but because it needs air to breath in the congested marketplace and does not have the might of studio cash to make the necessary noise. The UK Film Council works hard to bring together historically disparate sectors. Rather than work in isolation, it’s up to us to continue to forge new and long lasting relationships between producers and the distribution and sales sectors.  

We also know categorically that the British public loves good British films. It’s been proven enough over the last 10 years. Our job is to continue to make them but we also need to have support to deliver them in what shape that support comes.