There was a mostly bullish response from the industry to UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s new plans for the Government’s support of film.
The announcements today (full story here) comes four months after the UK industry was thrown into uncertainty after the Government’s unexpected announcement that it would abolish the UK Film Council.
One bright point was the Minister revealing that Lottery funding for films will increase from the current £27m per year to about £43m per year in 2014. Christine Langan, Creative Director of BBC Films, said of that news: “it’s a positive sign about [the Government’s] commitment to film and the belief that it is a necessity.”
However, the plans revealed today aren’t very detailed, and there will still be months of due diligence, transfer plans and consultation to come.
eOne director of film Alex Hamilton expressed confidence in the BFI as an organisation, which he said had a lot of “brilliant individuals,” but was eager to know more about how and by whom the funds will be allocated: “As ever the devil will be in the detail,” he noted.
Producer Stephen Woolley, while applauding the move to the BFI and the increase in Lottery funding, also expressed dismay at the lack of detail: “It seems to me half a decision. What elements of the UKFC are they taking to the BFI? Who are the additional BFI board members? Will a new role be created to oversee film at the BFI? There are a lot of unanswered questions there. We’re taking an unspecified number of people, paying them an unspecified amount of money, to an unspecified location. When they get those details sorted out it will be really interesting.”
Woolley also questioned whether there would be a transference of the current funding application process to the BFI or a revised, more accessible system in future: “Is the UKFC system of allocating funding going to be inherited by BFI or will there be new hoops we have to get used to jumping through? We’ve just got used to how the Film Council funding worked and that took ten years.” (The DCMS and BFI will work together on a consultation with the industry about future plans for Lottery Funding procedures and goals.)
Still, some news is a good thing after a tough summer. Producer Matthew Justice, managing director of Big Talk told Screen: “I think a lot of what the minister was saying will be warmly welcomed.” He was especially encouraged that it seems that the UKFC current Lottery Funding team under Tanya Seghatchian will move to the BFI (although those specifics couldn’t be confirmed today). “If there’s an already proven and good team that will move to the BFI to look after Lottery funding, that’s a good thing,” Justice noted.
The UKFC staff is still standing by for due diligence and to see which positions will move to the BFI. Tim Cagney, the current Managing Director of the UK Film Council, said in a statement: “We are relieved that, after over four months of uncertainty, the Government has made up its mind on where public support for UK film will sit. There are still many unresolved issues so, to benefit the industry and to protect our staff, we will continue to work with the relevant organisations on a smooth handover of film functions and expertise. I want to recognise the outstanding professionalism and commitment to the film industry that the UK Film Council staff have shown throughout this incredibly difficult and uncertain time for us all.”
There has been a mixed reaction to the government’s announcement from UK distributors. While generally upbeat about the BFI’s structural ability to deliver film funding, the lack of guaranteed support for distribution in the form of the Prints & Advertising Fund left some distributors understandably nervous. When asked about the future of the P&A Fund this morning, Vaizey said he’d rather have one fund administer all backing from development to production to distribution. A firm plan for that is yet to be established.
Justin Marciano, head of UK distributor Revolver Entertainment, told Screen: “The announcement wasn’t full of surprises, but is a concern that there wasn’t a firm future for the P&A Fund for supporting distribution of specialised film. Revolver and other distributors will work to ensure the DCMS recognises the value of the P&A Fund,” he said.
Stewart Till of Icon added that going forward the move to the BFI “was the best possible solution”. He praised Vaizey’s “commitment to the film industry” and the “rational, smart decisions” that had been taken, but expressed concern that the distribution sector needed to present a unified lobbying front: “Historically producers have had a disproportionately loud voice when it comes to film funding. We haven’t lobbied particularly well in the past so through the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA), and as individuals, we need to use our collective and individual voices to better effect.”
Hamilton of eOne expressed a fear that one fund could come under the aegis of a production expert to the neglect of the distribution sector: “It would be remiss if one fund came under someone from production. Even studios don’t operate like that. The experience in distribution is essential,” he said.
Dave Morrison, a partner at accountants Nyman Libson Paul echoed the thoughts of many by questioning the cost savings of the current Government plans: “The Lottery money ending up with the BFI was fairly predictable but otherwise it’s all a bit vague from Ed Vaizey so far with more detail to follow. The sugared pill of more Lottery money is good news, meanwhile Creative England emerges as UKFC disappears. Is this cost cutting’s version of a revolving door?”
Producers group Pact welcomed the changes announced today, and also was bullish that the formal review of Lottery distribution by the DCMS and the BFI will include examination of Pact’s recent proposals (put forward in April 2010) that British producers can get a share of recoupment from Lottery-backed films so that they can reinvest those monies into future British films. Vaizey had highlighted specifically the Pact “lockbox” proposal as one that the government and industry would discuss in coming months.
Pact chief executive John McVay said: “We strongly support the Government’s vision outlined today. It ensures that British film production is underpinned with firm foundations through the increased level of National Lottery funding and the tax credit, under the auspices of the respected BFI, but at the same time it sets out an ambitious goal to deliver more – a genuine, sustainable prodcution sector where British companies have a chance to grow businesses that can compete on a global basis. We now have an opportunity in the forthcoming review of lottery recoupment to ensure that UK companies can benefit from their creative success.”
Of the Minister’s new Forum, producer Rebecca O’Brien said she was grateful for the direct dialogue between government and the industry but she noted: “It shouldn’t be too clique-y, I hope the attendees will be a rolling group of people.”
More industry responses to today’s news:
Ivan Dunleavy, Chief Executive of Pinewood Shepperton: “The private/public partnership that is being put forward will have a clear business objective: to build on the UK’s already impressive system of film tax relief, its skills and its infrastructure to attract increased levels of inward investment films.”
Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns: “We welcome the clarity that today’s announcement brings and we look forward to working with the BFI to ensure that the Lottery funds can be used to the most beneficial effect for UK film makers, producers and audiences. Today’s announcement also brings us to a point where we have a great opportunity to work together as an industry with government to build a sustainable UK film industry. A crucial element of that goal will be to ensure that there is a proper reward for all creators in the process, and a genuine incentive for British talent to commit themselves to work on great British films.’
The Producers’ Forum representative Steffan Aquarone: “The Producers’ Forum believes that success in industries like film and digital content production relies upon producers having the chance to develop professionally throughout their careers, to access opportunities on a local, national and international level, and feel part of a community in their region. In the seven years that the Forum has been delivering these things as one of the few member-led professional organisations for content producers, we have seen a growing space for our approach across England. Our members’ growth in productivity and award-winning work is testament to this. Whilst we think it’s important not to forget the importance of accessibility at a local level, we welcome the government’s proposals to salvage what’s worked best from the last ten years in British screen industry and apply it across the board during a time of austerity.”
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