Why do we rally en masse? More often than not, it’s purely to protect a worthy cause. In the case of the UK Film Council being axed, that’s exactly what it seemed like we were doing.
In July of 2010 our Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt (quickly re-appropriated with rhyming slang) announced the UK Film Council would be abolished. Doing what any bewildered and pissed-off aspiring film-maker would do, I went to Facebook and started a group. I know, cliché – but in just 48 hours 20,000 people joined “Save the UK Film Council”. We weren’t alone either. Tabloids were rife with outraged Hollywood celebs, both British and foreign, eager to show their disapproval for Mr Hunt’s decision. 4 months have now passed, here’s what’s happened since.
The UKFC, started in 2000 with a £15million budget, set out to provide funding and expertise to burgeoning film talent in the UK. Here are a few top-line stats about the UK film industry for some context:
Most recently, 33 UKFC-supported films have been nominated in the 2010 British Independent Film Awards including: The King’s Speech, Made in Dagenham, Africa United and Tamara Drewe. How could the Secretary of State for Culture deem these achievements unworthy of preserving?
Following a string of articles from The Guardian which examined the UKFC a little closer, I began to think perhaps he’s not entirely the soaring philistine I initially believed.
Taking into account the 75 staff, 8 UKFC executives earning over £100k per year (including the near £200k salary of CEO John Woodward who The Times reported managed to expense £16,000 on lunches in one year) the organisation has staff costs of £6million per year. Hardly surprising Mr Woodward resigned as CEO in early September. Add those figures to the annual rent of their five-story offices near Regent Street and that’s a sizable chunk of the funding gone on overheads. What’s more worrying is when you look at those costs over ten years:
One would also like to think that given the name of the organisation, emphasis would be on spending the money within the UK. Sadly even that doesn’t seem to be the case. Public money to the sum of hundreds of thousands of pounds has gone overseas. Both The Weinstein Company and 20th Century Fox (one of the largest Hollywood studios) received money to aid their films. Perhaps most ridiculous being Martin Scorsese’s film about The Rolling Stones which got handed £154,000 from the UKFC. Makes sense – I bet Jagger is really struggling. Did the tax-payer really need to step in to help multi-million dollar film studios? The financial proclivities of the UKFC are disappointing to say the least.
WHAT ABOUT THE BRIT FILMS IT DID FUND?
The UKFC have some impressive stats on their website. It’s clear it has made a huge impact on British cinema but this isn’t without controversy either. Some independent film-makers strongly believe the UKFC quantified a film’s success too greatly on immediate commercial gain. Subsequently meaning it didn’t invest in the ‘riskier’ films, effectively stifling the creative output of the country’s film talent. This is definitely not how we would go about finding the next Danny Boyle. That said, as news broke the council would be axed it seemed feedback from the industry filtered into two brackets: “I received funding from the UKFC and therefore this is a ridiculous decision” or “I was given nothing for my film, hasta la vista”. Hardly useful whichever side of the coin you look at. I can’t help but feel the government paid far more attention to the latter – perhaps a little hasty.
Suffice to say, the UKFC isn’t without its flaws but the damage is done. It will still be axed as part of the coalition’s crack down on Labour’s quangos. No petition, Facebook group or ranting celebrity has changed that. Speaking with a representative at the UKFC recently they are still undergoing talks regarding what kind of transition it will have to its new entity – perhaps to the Arts Council or more likely the BFI. It is confirmed however, the Lottery fund is safe.
So what does that leave UK film-makers with?
NEW ERA FOR UK FILM
The good news is the £15 million budget that was in the hands of the UKFC will (so we are told) still exist once it closes. Where and how to access it however is still infuriatingly unclear. Jeremy Hunt even says there will potentially be more money, although he does hint more independent financiers will have to embrace UK film.
Money aside, here’s the real issue: What there won’t be after its closure is the same central hub for expertise and connections to assist young film-makers. I have comparatively only seen glimpses of the UK film industry while I worked at one of London’s top VFX agencies, it’s clear however it is a remarkably intricate and complex world to navigate. Sure we have the BFI, Film4 and universities still doing their bit but one less organisation sharing knowledge of the industry with young talent is by any definition: a loss. It’s also worth pointing out besides spending money on actual film production, part of the UKFC’s remit was to spend it guiding, training and nurturing talent. Will that continue? Will the weight of all the above bear down on the already overstretched BFI?
The money may well remain, the sources for information and mentoring however are set to become more disparate unless the UKFC’s calls to remain integrated are heeded. Independent film-makers are already looking to turn to alternative methods of getting a film made, such as crowd-funding with companies likeKickStarter. Similar strategies have turned low-budget films into blockbusters but It’s hardly big-picture thinking that will generate growth in the industry.
Whatever happens it’s clear there needs to be proper debate between the right people on what replaces the UKFC, most importantly so the expertise it has garnered over ten years aren’t swept aside. We need to actively and openly search for the next Ridley Scott, share resources and knowledge, keep our money in this country and dramatically step-up ambitions of the UK film industry. We know we produce some of the world’s best creative talent, many of the top film-makers in the world are Brits, we even have companies like Framestore andThe Moving Picture Company making visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters sitting on our doorstep.
I never considered a Facebook group would make Jeremy Hunt U-turn (although one did change Christmas), rather what I hoped to collectively achieve is exactly what we have: to demonstrate people in this country are extraordinarily passionate about the future of our film industry. Over 55,000 people rallied on Facebook and 20,000+ signed digital petitions. The message is loud and clear. As long as British film-makers talk to one another, keep everything a labour-of-love, stay hungry and work hard – anything is possible. We are still fucking great, muddled cultural decisions by the government or not.
While the current incarnation of the UKFC may not be the answer, the mere fact so many people are so passionate about the industry means it has all the foundations to develop (over time, with sustained support of the government) into a cornerstone of our economy and continue to produce some of the most inspiring storytellers in the world.
More news as it comes via the Facebook group.