Earlier this week, the UK Film industry took a massive blow as it was announced that as part of the governments cost cutting, The UK Film Council was getting the axe after a decade of funding film and nurturing new film makers.
There are many people, some who I know, who have a personal grudge against the Film Council, the criteria, for example was quite stringent and therefore for some it was difficult to get funding for short films – it seemed to favour projects which had established film makers attached, or in an effort to promote ethnic diversity, it was difficult to obtain funding unless you were an ethnic minority.
A friend of mine wrote on his twitter this morning “#ukfilmcouncil was an elitest organisation, & it was near impossible to get any type of funding unless you were a one legged muslim lesbian.” (sic)
I can understand his gripe with the UK Film Council. We both have worked on short films and have been unsuccessful in securing funding from the UKFC or from any of the regional bodies set up to ensure filmmakers were filming in and promoting the region to which the funds were coming from.
A while ago, I attended a meeting for young producers; we were encouraged to find a director and a writer as they were going to fund several micro-budget features with budgets of £150,000. Sounds good, but there was one catch – One of the three had to be living in Merseyside, and have a Merseyside address. When this was heard, we all rolled our eyes at one another. This meeting was being held in central Manchester and not one person from Merseyside was attending.
So the UK Film Council and its local bodies seemed to have gotten the wrong end of the stick.
However, since the evolution of the Council, film production in the UK has risen. More and more films are being shot here and tax incentives, introduced by the labour government surely would have brought more film work to the UK. This would mean more jobs for freelancers, and more money into the economy. As is stands, many films are shot on the Isle of Man, which uses its own tax system, favouring the film industry. And for the record, thanks to some Canary Wharf bankers, the proposed tax breaks never saw the light of day. Pity, because In 2008/9, three films alone brought in over £100m into the economy – Quantum of Solace, Mamma Mia and The Dark Knight, these films were partly UK funded and were shot in the UK, with British crew. Films supported by the UK Film Council have attracted massive attention from abroad and in 2008/09 British films took £2.3bn worldwide, a 15% global market share.
Some have argued that for every £1 the government put into the UK Film Council, it would generate £5 in box office revenue. Not bad, when you think about it. The film industry in the UK supports over 40,000 people and the investment from the Film Council has generated fantastic revenue in export earnings. Of course, we’ve had our flops, one that come to mind is the recently publicised “Sex lives of the Potato men”, Okay, I didn’t see it – and let’s be fair, we don’t always get it right. But Slumdog Millionaire, Man on Wire, Kidulthood and Adulthood have all had a decent return and have given British film making talent an international platform.
I want to mention one more thing about short films. Short films are the way filmmakers break into the industry. No one (unless you’re very lucky) is going to hand you a quarter of a million pounds to make your first feature film, unless you have something to back it up. So a short film is your way in. We all know the film Saw. Saw started as a short film that was taken to Sundance, investors saw that something special in the writers and directors and based on this short invested. The Saw franchise recently was awarded the Guinness world record for the most profitable horror franchise. Not bad.
So the UK Film Council, along with Working Title and Pathe and Film4 have all managed to really bring together new film makers, nurture them, so the British films that we have sitting in our DVD collection can actually be sitting there.
It is important to mention also, that the funding for comes from The National Lottery. The Film Council is a body that helps to distribute this cash to different projects. The government has also announced that this will continue, but without an experienced body, such as the film council, the process could become unorganised, and without strategy; allowing for film makers to go elsewhere to shoot their films, which will mean that freelancers will find it more and more difficult to find work, studios will sit empty and post production houses will have nothing to edit.
The knock of effect of this decision could be catastrophic. And what it boils down to is the sums.
The government pays £15m per year to the Film Council. This investment, bring far more money back into the economy, therefore I don’t quite understand what the coalition government is thinking, because if it intends to close down organisations that are wasteful, then WHY choose one that generates a lot of income through box office takings and international studio collaboration?
I have a theory on this. Some of you may disagree, and that’s fine.
I think it comes down to socialism vs. capitalism. The government seems to be cutting everything that has government support, that it believes can thrive in the private sector. The problem is the funding comes from the lottery and the UKFC helps to distribute that funding in a fair manner in line with the criteria it has decided. The majority of the choices that the UKFC have made have been pretty good to be honest, promoting digital film making, in a world where we can’t turn on the TV without someone mentioning High Definition, and now 3D TV, Street Dance 3D was the first UK film to be shot using 3D cameras, and the film is still drawing an income from international territories, and without an organisation that has the experience and the foresight, then I’m afraid that the UK film industry may be the bigger casualty of this terrible decision. This is one cut; I think that even the majority of Conservative voters shouldn’t even stand by. But Conservatives are people who don’t believe in public support, because public sector businesses do not generate as much capital. Because it’s all about the sums at the end of the day – so if someone from the coalition would take a look at the income generated from the film council, then maybe they’ll see this is short sighted decision – at the moment, it currently stands that there is no plans with regards to the distribution of this continued lottery funding.
So for all its faults (Merseyside funding aimed at Manchester residents) the UK Film Council does do a pretty good job, supporting festivals, training and cutting edge digital and 3D cinema and without it – well, we’ll be like that three filmmakers that got lost in the woods looking for a witch.
In the meantime, I’m thinking What if the Film Council became a private organisation which would still be authorised to distribute the lottery funding, then receipts from box office taking from projects directly linked to the UKFC would go back into the company? It’s just a thought I’ve just had, and since it costs £15m a year to run, perhaps our good friend Richard Branson would like to oblige?
Because I really do think it should be saved.