BFI Director sketches future timetable for BFI-UKFC merger; Vaizey says “despite the success of The King’s Speech there remains a debate to be had about the sustainability of the film industry”

Ahead of the BFI officially becoming the lead film body in the UK on 01 April, BFI Director Amanda Nevill and Minister for Culture, Communications & Creative Industries Ed Vaizey, were among those to address leading industry figures at the annual British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC) meeting in London yesterday

Speaking to a room of executives and industry figures, Nevill outlined some key upcoming dates in what she described as “a transition year.”

The BFI Director said that the organisation was currently arranging meetings with a shortlist of the 100 candidates who applied for the five vacant positions on the BFI board - including the role of Deputy Chair, previously held by Eric Fellner. Many executives attending the conference were among the applicants, she commented.

Nevill said she anticipated the first board meeting to take place in April, with the new board having ‘scoped its new priorities’ by the end of May. But not until late September or early October would the new administrator of Lottery funding for film be in a position to publish its strategic plan of action, she said.

Nevill clarified which UKFC funds and units would survive the merger. The Film Fund, P&A Fund, the business affairs and financing unit, the partnership office (which handles Skillset, Film London, the newly formed Creative England and Film Agency for Wales), the strategy team, MEDIA desk and the certification unit are all to continue receiving funding and transition to the BFI.

She also said that despite it not being earmarked for funding under the merger, the BFI had decided to “take the decision on risk” to bring the popular Research and Statistics Unit to the BFI, with the hope of creating a public-private partnership to fund the unit going forward.

Neville said that the BFI would “stand shoulder to shoulder with the industry”: “What type of organisation are we trying to be? My perception is that we have a government in parliament that really values the benefit of direct relationship with the industry. I also believe that we have an industry that values the direct relationship with government. The BFI won’t be seeing itself as a gateway, rather we will be an organisation that stands shoulder to shoulder with the industry, leading in some areas and amplifying your views on others. The aim has to be a bold and achievable ambition.”

Minister for Culture, Communications & Creative Industries Ed Vaizey began his speech to the conference by congratulating the team behind The King’s Speech, which he said was “one part of huge success story of British film”.

Citing films Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One, Made in Dagenham and 127 Hours, as well as the UKFC, the BFI, increasing box office revenue and surging inward investment, Vaizey sounded a note of optimism over the current state of the industry, but also ruled out complacency: “We want to maintain the momentum of change and renewal. I think that despite the success of The King’s Speech there remains a debate to be had about the sustainability of the film industry. We want to continue to engage with industry on how best to administer the Lottery money, continue the digital revolution, we have established a film forum and we will continue the implementation of the Digital Economy Act.”

“After the turbulence of the last year we have come through on the other side but we are not complacent. We want the coming together of the BFI and UKFC to work, we think the increase in lottery funding will underpin a successful film industry, we are hoping to establish Creative England, we welcome the increased commitment to film from Film4 and the BBC and we welcome the support of Odeon, Vue, BBC Worldwide, Skillset, the NFTS and others. There is a vibrant and sustainable and important ecology out there. But we don’t want to lose momentum,” he continued.

Vaizey outlined that the statutory instrument confirming the BFI as the new body representing the UK film industry would be laid in parliament in the next few days and confirmed that the film policy review he is carrying out with key industry figures would take place in the spring.

During his speech he also said that he hoped Sky would up its investment in UK film and that he welcomed the inward investment from US studios such as Warner Bros, which recently announced a £100m investment in Leavesden Studios.

Vaizey also confirmed that his department was “going through the themes that we want to put forward for the first stage consultation on a future communications bill,” which he said could become legislation in 2014. Vaizey described the process as “an open consultation” and called on the industry for its “ideas on what regulatory systems you want to keep in place and which you want to discard.”

Under the UKFC-BFI merger Film London will assume the role of the Office Of The British Film Commissioner. Speaking at the conference Film London Chief Executive Adrian Wootton announced that the capital’s agency for film would create a new national advisory committee in April, the chair of which will be announced in the coming weeks. The committee will advise the Film London board on how best to ensure and maximize inward investment and will be made up of industry from across the regions and UK trade bodies.

Meanwhile, Creative England Chairman John Newbigin commented on the makeup and strategy of the new body formed out of the regional screen agencies: “Our overall intention is to use existing resources in the regions as effectively as possible and recognise that we have to be very tough with prioritising what we do in the immediate future. We’re conducting a series of roundtables with the regional industry at the moment but with the film policy review coming up we can’t make any firm decisions.”

During a discussion on the dangers of film piracy and illegal downloading, Icon Chairman Stewart Till said that the film industry was on the “verge of a cliff”, and faced a similar catastrophe that befell the music industry if it didn’t address the issue appropriately.