For too long UK producers have been been deprived of access to funds and co-producers that their European counterparts take for granted.
At a panel in Cannes, Italian producer Nicola Giuliano of Indigo Film explained that Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place was originally set in the UK. Sean Penn’s retired rock star character lived in London when he got the news that his father was dying in the US. In the final film, of course, Penn’s character lives in Dublin, Ireland.
The reason that this €25m production changed its script to shift Penn to Ireland is not difficult to guess: Ireland’s Section 481 tax relief is easy to access, the Irish Film Board is co-production-friendly and Ireland is a member of Eurimages, enabling the Italy-France-Ireland co-production to apply for – and win - €0.6m in the 2010 round of Eurimages funding.
Creatively, the move to Ireland made sense since Ireland has a rich rock history of its own and it is not inconceivable that an American rock star would become a recluse there. Financially, it was a no-brainer. After all, what has the UK got to offer?
The co-production issue gets to the heart of what is problematic with the UK film support system. The UK became a member of Eurimages in 1993 but by the end of 1996 had pulled out, even though UK producers in that period became actively involved in European co-productions and 34% of all films produced in the UK in 1995 had accessed Eurimages funding in some capacity. At the time, the UK was getting out more than it put in.
But historically the UK government has preferred to grant its favours to US studio movies to shoot in the country. On a national level, that brings in millions to the economy and keeps thousands of British craftspeople and actors in employment. But on an industry level, it’s a handicap. It denies local producers access to Europe and renders the UK essentially unattractive to independent producers on the continent. It’s all very well for UK producers to go to Germany and benefit from minority German co-producers, but there can be very little reciprocity when the UK tax break is designed specifically to accommodate Hollywood studios and is virtually inaccessible for independent co-productions.
Industrially and culturally, the UK’s emphasis on inward investment is at the expense of the independent production sector. There is no denying the boon to the Treasury of having Clash Of The Titans 2, Captain America or The Dark Knight Rises shoot on UK soil, but in the final analysis, UK producers don’t benefit directly nor gain any rights ownership.
For the year 2011, membership costs to Eurimages were changed to reflect not only the GDP and population of member countries but also their appetite for co-production. That meant that France paid around €4m to join, with Italy and Germany on around €3m each. New member Russia paid €1.7m this year, suggesting that if the UK were to rejoin, it would be required to pay in the €2m region in its first year.
That would be €2m well spent, especially as UK Lottery funding for film increases. UK producers have for too long been deprived of benefits and access to funds and co-producers that their European counterparts take for granted, and they should lobby to rejoin Eurimages. The influx of independent production and increase in UK co-production activity might actually help build that “sustainable business” model that so many in the UK talk of as just a dream.