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Global Showbiz Briefs: UK, China, Ireland

By | Tuesday November 29, 2011 @ 10:28am PST

‘Harry Potter’ Among Warner Bros Movies To Land At ITV
ITV announced that it has acquired free-to-air broadcast rights to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince along with other movies as part of a wide-ranging multiyear deal with Warner Bros. The pact was unveiled today by Warner Bros International Television Distribution president Jeffrey Schlesinger and ITV’s Angela Jain. Other films in the package include recent titles 300, I Am Legend and Body Of Lies as well as library fare like The Matrix trilogy and Mystic River. ITV was already home to the previous Harry Potter films.

British Culture Minister In Town This Week; BFI Adds To P&A Fund
Ed Vaizey, the UK’s minister for culture, communications and creative industries, arrived in Los Angeles on Monday for two days of powwows with studio and indie execs. Joining Vaizey is British Film Commission CEO Adrian Wootton as the duo aim to further develop relationships in town and boost the number of U.S. productions shooting in Britain now that the UK’s tax rebate system has been extended to at least 2015. The sojourn will also give Vaizey a chance to peruse the U.S. biz ahead of the publication of a comprehensive film policy review. Meanwhile, the British Film Institute today announced it would devote an additional £1 million to its P&A Fund in order to help get films like Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus out to wider audiences. Read More »

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FULL CIRCLE: UK Government Hands Control Of Film Funding Back To BFI

Britain’s Culture Ministry just handed leadership of the industry back to the British Film Institute. The organisation will take control of and devise strategy for £15 million (£23 million) of lottery funding each year, and administer the £100 million tax incentive. Ex-BBC boss and now BFI boss Greg Dyke  was understandably ecstatic. He immediately announced that the BFI hopes to increase lottery funding for film to £18 million in 2011/2012 – an increase of 20%. Dyke told me the BFI will take over movie funding in April next year. “This decision is a great vote of confidence in the BFI. It is a bold move to create a single champion for film in the UK and we welcome it. We want to achieve greater coherence across the whole film sector and to strike a balance between cultural and commercial. We see an opportunity to reduce overhead costs which in turn will allow us to put more of the lottery funds into frontline activities.”

The culture minister underlined that the film tax credit – so crucial for attracting U.S. investment — is here to stay. Overseas filmmakers injected £780 million into the British economy last year. Vaizey said: “Some people think there are two British film industries — one indigenous and the other supporting big American movies. I don’t agree. Hollywood investment promotes both British characters and British storytelling.”

Film London will take over promoting the UK as a moviemaking destination from the British Film Commission. Vaizey called this a “public/private partnership” – in short, the government is asking the private sector to cough up if it wants an office whose job it is to attract Hollywood to Britain. Studios such as Pinewood Shepperton and VFX houses such as Framestore would, after all, have the most to gain.

And Film London and BFI will also work with BAFTA and BBC Worldwide on how to increase the number of UK films being released abroad – the role which Unifrance performs for the French film industry. The organisations will also showcase the work of British filmmakers in Hollywood. The BBC already runs showcases in China and in Latin America.

Vaizey also announced he was setting up a ministerial roundtable that will meet every 6 months to address film industry problems.

Vaizey said he would consider proposals from industry organisations such as the British Screen Advisory Council and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television to help create “a sustainable film industry”. Vaizey expects to implement these proposals by spring 2012. What was interesting was that he used the word “sustainable”. This phrase has become a shibboleth for British film policy makers. Creating a sustainable British film industry was the original mission statement of the UK Film Council – until it quietly dropped it as unworkable. “The ‘sustainable’ word is back,” Dyke observes. “The Film Council wanted to do it but they just couldn’t live with it.”

Today’s announcement from a Tory government was surprisingly well-received by the traditionally left-of-centre British film industry. It was amusing to see the jockeying for position already within this new world order. It was almost as if the UK Film Council had never existed. How quickly the waters close over one’s head. “There’s an irony in that a year ago the government was forcing the BFI to merge with the Film Council,” Dyke tells me. “Fine, we said, but it’s got to be on the right terms. Today we got those terms.” Read More »

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UK Govt Drawing Up Film Fund Shortlist

EXCLUSIVE: Ed Vaizey, the British culture minister, hosted a meeting at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning to thrash out who should administer UK’s lottery film funding. He tells me that the government has drawn up a shortlist of 3 to 4 organisations which could run it after the UK Film Council is due to be shuttered in April 2012. Organisations in the running include the Arts Council of England, the British Film Institute, and technology fund NESTA. Vaizey  tells me that everybody was “on the same page” as to what should happen: he said those at the meeting agreed there shouldn’t just be one “gatekeeper” reflecting one person’s taste. But the question on every producer’s lips is which state organisation will run state film funding? Vaizey tells me the amount of lottery money available for all UK film activity will rise from $42 million this year to $47 million once the UKFC closes. The government plans to announce its thinking by end-of-November latest. Vaizey also tells me he wasn’t phased by the amount of hostility towards scrapping the UKFC. “No industry ever likes change,” he says. “Privately, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have been open to innovation than they let on in public.” Other organisations attending this morning’s meeting included the British Screen Advisory Council, Cinema Exhibitors’ Association, Film Distributors’ Association, Film London, … Read More »

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UK Film Council Spending “Tens of Thousands Of Pounds” Hiring Lobbyists

This morning’s Times of London reports that the film agency has hired political lobbyists Portland, the PR firm founded by a former adviser to Tony Blair. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to John Woodward, CEO of the Film Council, demanding he explain why has taken on Portland, whose other clients include McDonalds and the Russian government. Ed Vaizey, the culture secretary, wrote to the UKFC last week accusing the quango of “overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests”. This was before news that UKFC has hired an external PR firm came out. Treasury regulations prohibit quangos from using public money to employ PR firms to lobby government. UK Film Council says that it’s not using public money to fight against closure. Rather, its two-man press team have been overwhelmed by thousands of media enquiries. Portland is solely there to help the internal PR team cope with the tsunami of emails and phone calls.

The Times points the finger at Portland for procuring letters of support for the UKFC from Clint Eastwood and DreamWorks. UK Film Council head of communications Oliver Rawlins told trade mag PR Week that nobody from his team liaised with Eastwood or DreamWorks to invite to make their comments, despite handling a comms strategy relying on third-party advocacy. “We’ve ensured that the message has been simple, clear and consistent: this is a terrible decision that disregards the commercial benefits of the UK Film Council, the significant … Read More »

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BLIMEY! Government Warns UK Film Council To Stop Briefing Hollywood

Ed Vaizey, the UK arts minister, has written a stern letter to UKFC head John Woodward demanding to know whether the agency has been spending public money on campaigning for a reprieve. Vaizey wants to know whether the UKFC has been “briefing” the film industry – including Hollywood – to protest against its closure. Clint Eastwood has become the latest Hollywood star urging the government to reconsider its decision. “The prospect of losing a valuable resource such as the UKFC is of great concern to us,” Eastwood wrote. Steven Molen, DreamWorks’ head of physical production, has also written to Chancellor George Osborne. Fifty three British actors including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt and Bill Nighy have signed a public letter condemning the decision.

The government has been rattled by the strength of public support for the film agency. Nearly 50,000 people have joined the Save the UK Film Council Facebook page, while another 25,000 have signed a petition. Culture secretary wrote an article last weekend singling out the UKFC for paying eight executives more than £100,000 ($156,000) a year.

The DCMS has released a section of Vaizey’s letter to the Independent newspaper. “I am very concerned about what has come to light,” wrote Vaizey. “It looks as though sources at the Film Council have been overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests. As a result they may be damaging the film industry that they purport to represent. This is completely wrong and … Read More »

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Protestors To March Against UKFC Closure

By | Wednesday August 4, 2010 @ 7:08am PDT

UPDATE: I’m hearing that a march is planned for London protesting against the scrapping of the UK Film Council. The Save the UK Film Council petition now has nearly 22,000 signatories, while the Facebook page has 42,000 people who’ve signed up. Regardless of how many of these are friends and family of Film Council employees, culture minister Ed Vaizey cannot have envisaged this grassroots campaign when he made the decision to scrap UKFC.

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Government Mulls Handing Over $19M Lottery Money To Arts Council Of England

UPDATE: UK culture minister Jeremy Hunt and arts minister Ed Vaizey have rowed back transferring the £15 million ($19 million) lottery film cash to the British Film Institute. Nor are they going to ask BBC Films and Film4 to split the money between them. I’m told that BBC Films has reacted “with horror” at the prospect of controlling the lottery cash. The BBC’s film department may make the same kind of features as the UK Film Council, but getting hold of that money could see its own £12 million funding being cut.

The irony is that it was the Arts Council of England’s original bungling of the lottery film cash that partly led to the UKFC being established. In the late 90s, producers were crying out for proper industry executives to award production funding, not a committee of well-meaning amateurs. Now it looks like we’re going full circle. “Once it finds out what’s going on, the whole industry will start laughing and then start crying,” says my source.

Tim Bevan, co-chair of Working Title, and UKFC chief executive John Woodward met Vaizey and Hunt this afternoon at 2:30pm (6:30am PST).

Liam Neeson, meanwhile, has weighed in to the controversy, calling the government’s decision “deplorable”. Neeson told the BBC: “We need movies. It’s a powerful industry that provides a credible entertainment for millions of people and I think it is wrong, I just think it is wrong for the government [to do this]. I … Read More »

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UK Film Council Closure Polarizes Industry

UPDATE: Reactions to the UK government closing down the £60 million-a-year ($94 million) state film agency have formed into two distinct camps.

Many producers I’ve spoken to say the UK Film Council never did anything for them and will not be missed. Sure, they’ve had dribs and drabs of funding but they’ve been excluded from what they perceive as the charmed inner circle. The UKFC’s headcount is still 75 despite the recent 20% slash in its overhead. “A handful dealt with film financing,” one producer tells me. “It was never clear what the rest did.”

Indeed, it may be that the UKFC closure increases the amount of cash available for production. The agency had been spending 23% of the £38.5 million lottery funding it was receiving on overhead. This compares with 13-14% at other UK screen agencies Scottish Screen and Film Agency For Wales. UKFC had worked up a plan to get its lottery overhead down to under 5% before the plug was pulled.

And the amount paid UKFC executives is another bugbear. The government recently disclosed that four of the organisation’s executives had been earning more than £150,000 a year. Tanya Seghatchian, the new film fund head, had an annual salary of £165,000 – although this has since been reduced — the argument being that the state must match what executives could earn in the private sector. But it’s not as if the industry’s crying out for development executives, say producers – … Read More »

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Filmmakers React With Shock & Dismay To Government Plan To Scrap UK Film Council

UPDATE: I’ve been told that the decision to get rid of UK Film Council was Ed Vaizey’s alone, and not, as has been posited, by his boss Jeremy Hunt having a gun pointed at his head. What the government ministers disagreed about was timing. Vaizey wanted to consult the industry as part of his summer film review. It was Hunt who forced through the scrapping.

Roger Michell, director of Notting Hill, has called British culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision “astonishing” and “catastrophic” without the merest hint of consultation with either the wider film industry of the UKFC itself. “The decision flies in the face of economic sense,” says Michell. Armando Iannucci, director of hit British comedy In the Loop, tweeted: “Mad move by macho numbercrunchers. It made UK a gargantuan load of money. They’re wangpots.” Fellow director Mike Leigh said he’s “reeling” from the shock, while Mike Figgis said the government doesn’t strike him as being people who understand the film business, or even the culture business.

Among name filmmakers, only Alex Cox (Repo Man) has welcomed its closure, calling it “very good news for anyone involved in independent film.” What’s startling is how much hatred there is for the Film Council out there on the message boards, despite columnists and opinion-formers all calling this a black day for the British film industry. Of course, the UKFC rejects 95% of people who apply for money so there’s bound to be bitterness. Rebecca … Read More »

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