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Slicing Up the U.K. Film Industry Pie — Will This Reform Work?

The new British government has finally come up with a solution to “rectify” the demise of the U.K. Film Council

Following the internationally berated demise of the U.K. Film Council earlier this year (see my article: “Did the U.K. Film Industry Die in Secret?”) — where Clint Eastwood wrote a complaint letter to the Prime Minister and where the British culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had to fly to L.A. to calm U.S. filmmaker and investor worries (Hunt has since privately admitted the U.K. Film Council affair was handled badly) — the new British government has finally come up with a solution to “rectify” the situation this week.

They believe the answer – in order to promote, nurture and encourage Britain’s film industry – is to simultaneously split up the U.K. Film Council’s responsibilities and hand most of them to the internationally unknown British Film Institute (BFI), at the same time as abolishing England’s regional film and TV support network in favor of creating a wider “Creative England” – an organization that will have just three geographical area “hubs”: Creative North, Creative Central and Creative South.

These “hubs” will be streamlined funding organizations, all working to funnel as much money from the U.K. National Lottery and other schemes directly to the film industry.

As well as this, Film London will take sole responsibility for encouraging international filming in the whole of the UK. Hollywood filmmakers who enjoy shooting in Great Britain, like Clint Eastwood, will now talk to the British Film Institute, Film London and Creative Central.

Except, of course, not many Americans I know who work in the “Hollywood” film industry in Los Angeles seem to be able to put their finger on what it means to be working in TV or film in the U.K. After I spoke to some of them – including several producers who work jointly in the U.S. and U.K. – about the U.K. government’s new plans, they felt the British movie industry does appear to be a fragmented, inconsistent and generally impenetrable wall with a somewhat vague and under-funded approach to developing movies.

A pretty harsh summary, but one perhaps the U.K. Conservative government are attempting to work hard at combating. And they will have to work hard at it, especially if they are to go some way to promoting Britain as a viable filming location but, just as importantly, to explain to the worldwide movie community in simple terms how this new film organization(s) will be run. The plan is for the BFI to begin “trading” with Film Council responsibilities from April 2011, so we should know more in the new year.

The U.K. culture minister Ed Vaizey said, in a high-profile press conference at BAFTA headquarters in London on Monday 29 November, he wanted the film commissioning role of the U.K. Film Council to be scaled down and its responsibility moved more on to the film industry itself, helped along by the British Film Institute (BFI).

“We have listened to the industry,” Mr Vaizey explained, “and we know that there is more that we can do to support our talented film-makers and to create a more stable and financially sustainable industry. What we will do now is make sure that our investment in film is properly targeted and transparent. Our biggest challenge is to make sure that the success of British films means success for British film makers. What we have announced today will deliver this.”

This action of “breaking up and centralizing” would, I guess, be equivalent to handing a massive chunk of film-funding, development and regulation to all U.S. state-funded and county film commissions. In the Los Angeles area this would mean the California Film Commission (CFC).

And, in this type of move, the CFC would theoretically be responsible for film development and co-ordination, location promotion and the financing of movies already in production (instead of just dishing out tax incentive money as it does now) at the same time as having to fire every one of the 46 county film commissioners dotted around the state to leave the CFC to do its new job in a more centralized, streamlined fashion.

Maybe not such a pretty picture if that were to happen over here.

But there are several big bright lights at the end of the dark U.K. film industry tunnel.

Many of the big studios and independent production companies absolutely do not want to see the levels of film investment drop in the U.K. and will be looking at setting up a public-private body to help co-ordinate aspects of the banished U.K. Film Council’s old roles.

This, it seems, would be an important step toward stabilizing any worries especially as, in the first nine months of this year alone, the U.K. film industry has had almost $1.3billion (£780m) injected into it with movies such as Spielberg’s “War Horse," “Captain America” and new installments of franchises “X-Men," “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” all shot in Britain.

As part of the film reform package the government has committed to maintaining excellent tax incentives for filmmakers of up to 25%, at the same time as promising to ensure U.K. Lottery film funding will rise from $42 million (£27 million) a year to $67 million (£43 million) a year by 2014.

So, although all this above might seem — on the surface — as a move to save money that may suck the life out of the networks of regional promotion and support for British filmmakers, I do, however, think that this level of change, reform and “renewal” of film as an economically viable force in the U.K. could in the long-term be a very good thing for British and international filmmakers and moviegoers.

Because, let’s face it, you really can’t beat a bit of British. No matter how it gets from script to screen.

Aaron Barlow writes about film, new media (especially blogging) and whatever else happens to pique his interest. Past owner/operator of a cafe, a store, and a gallery (among other activities), he began teaching at New York City College of Technology (CUNY) four years ago. His newest book is “Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes.” Visit him online at www.aaronbarlow.com.


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