Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
In a keynote at the Film Production Finance Market in London this morning, BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts talked about plans for better cooperation with international partners, providing extra coin for minority co-productions and establishing development/production funds for UK producers. Roberts also insisted there will be “no favoritism” at the BFI, which took over responsibility for running the UK movie business last year. He was referencing criticism that was often lobbed at the now-defunct UK Film Council by producers whose applications for funding were unsuccessful. “I’ll be here until I’m despised,” he joked.
Earlier this month, the BFI launched a five-year “Film Forever” plan, which laid out a funding increase of £24M annually by 2017. Today, the message in Roberts’ keynote couldn’t have been clearer: This is not the UK Film Council. While he didn’t openly criticize the work of the organization that handed out public cash under the last government, he said the BFI’s new plan favored “originality, excellence and quality of vision.” In a nod to international partners, Roberts promised the org was hard at work on a new strategy. “We’re slightly hamstrung by the confines of the UK Tax credit. It’s very territorial. Qualifying is tough for co-productions. We’ve realized we have to come up with other ways to be useful to the international community,” he said. Calling the BFI a “global business,” Roberts added the body will allocate around £1M of its budget to minority co-productions. Read More »
The head of the BFI Film Fund has resigned to return to being an independent producer. Tanya Seghatchian — who famously discovered Harry Potter for Warner Bros — has been in what many consider the plum job in the British film industry for the past four years, doling out money to indie producers. I’m told she felt increasingly constrained by the limits being put on her as head of the $28 million-a-year fund. Seghatchian was previously head of the defunct UK Film Council fund, where she enjoyed greater autonomy. Brit producers have grumbled that Seghatchian has always favored art films over more popular projects. Projects backed by her include Bright Star, Fish Tank and The King’s Speech. She backed Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights and Steve McQueen’s Shame, which both won awards at Venice last weekend. I also hear that she had a scratchy relationship with her boss, BFI CEO Amanda Nevill. “She was the wrong person in the wrong job in the wrong organization,” one film company executive tells me. “On the other hand, she’s got a lot of energy and great taste, which is just what you need as an independent producer.” Seghatchian was unavailable for comment.
UK press over here are gushing that The King’s Speech quadruple Oscar major wins – Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay – will be a boost for the British film industry. But I would say it’s all downhill from here. Consider the evidence. Beginning next April, there will be no UK Film Council coordinating British Film plc. Tanya Seghatchian, head of the UK Film Council film fund — which invested just over £1 million in The King’s Speech — says the pic’s success is a “magnificent final chapter for the UK Film Council”. Of course, Seghatchian and her team will move across to new film body the British Film Institute, but people I’ve spoken to are afraid there will be no encouragement to invest in commercial British films such as The King’s Speech or Streetdance 3D. Instead, the impetus will be in to back arthouse movies, which is what the BFI has always done going back to the 1950s. Even speaking to reporters backstage at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, Firth called the decision to scrap the UKFC “short-sighted”. His sentiments were echoed by his producer Iain Canning, who said “it wouldn’t have been made without the UK Film Council”. The UKFC’s equity slug meant “they occupied a place within the finance plan that nobody wanted to inhabit,” he said.
Interestingly, the UK government’s culture department has … Read More »
The film agency tells me there’s no conflict of interest over Woodward joining venture capitalist Arts Alliance, despite it awarding an £11.5 million contract to the company in 2005. UK Film Council selected an offshoot of Arts Alliance, the company which Woodward joins in November, to install a UK nationwide digital cinema circuit. That contract hasn’t expired yet. Arts Alliance founder Thomas Hoegh is a board member of the UK Film Council, although he wasn’t when the contract was awarded. The UKFC tells me that Woodward was not involved in the decision to award Arts Alliance the £11.5 million contract. But the Film Council’s position hasn’t mollified filmmakers I’ve spoken to. “Everyone I have spoken to is absolutely fuming about it,” says one producer. “You can dress it up whatever way you like — Woodward was influential in every funding decision there.” “Was it really possible for the UKFC to make an award of nearly £12 million without the chief executive being involved?” asks another. UK culture minister Ed Vaizey, whose government department oversees the UKFC, declined to comment.
John Woodward will become managing director of the European venture capital company that invests in digital film next month. Woodward has said in public that if he was starting over he would get involved in digital film rights aggregation. Arts Alliance’s investments include LoveFilm – the UK version of Netflix – and it has overseen the digital conversion of over 700 digital screens across Europe, with over 2,300 screens signed up. Five Hollywood studios have signed deals with Arts Alliance to let it handle digital releasing of their movies. Read More »
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 »
John Woodward says he will leave British film agency in early November now that the Conservative government has ordered the UK Film Council shuttered. Woodward wants to be un-conflicted while negotiations are ongoing with the new government as to what will replace the UKFC. The first round-table meeting between government and industry takes place this week. The government is expected to announce its thinking in October. But nothing will happen before the government announces its public spending review — it’s expected to cut 25% off the budget of most Whitehall departments. “It should then, rightly, be for others to take the new system forward and write the next chapter for UK film,” Woodward says. His announcement follows conflict with the new Conservative UK government and controversy in the Murdoch-controlled British media over whether Woodward’s UKFC has spent public money on campaigning for a reprieve. This includes “briefing” the film industry, including Hollywood, to protest its closure. Clint Eastwood, DreamWorks, and dozens of British actors are publicly condemning the shutdown. The new UK government has been rattled by the strength of public support for the film agency. One producer I spoke to called Woodward’s resignation “long overdue”, charging him with endangering the future of state film support by lobbying against the government. It will be interesting to see what Woodward — who, until events of recent months, has always been the sharpest of political operators — will do next. In the past … Read More »
UPDATE: The UK government agency supporting the film industry in East Anglia has gone out of business because of financial problems. Finance manager Melvin Welton has been arrested on suspicion of theft. Laurie Hayward, CEO, told local newspaper Norwich Evening News: “The directors of Screen East have concluded that the company is insolvent and can’t meet its debts as they fall due. The directors have taken advice and appointed an insolvency practitioner to take the company into administration. We’ve no further comment at this time.” Hayward confirmed that Welton had been arrested though and a police spokesman said: “Norfolk Constabulary can confirm that a 61-year-old man from Great Yarmouth has been arrested on suspicion of theft and released on bail pending further inquiries.” Read More »
This is exclusive to Deadline and updates Director Matthew Vaughn Pitches Film Fund That’s “Win/Win For Britain And Hollywood”:
PROPOSAL FOR A UK GOVERNMENT FILM FUND
This paper sets out the rationale for creating a UK Government film fund using the proceeds from the film tax credit ceasing to be free and instead becoming recoupable and entitled to a profit share.
Film is the flagship of the UK’s creative industries, but suffers from deep rooted market failure due primarily to lack of scale in its home market (only the US, Indian and Chinese markets have sufficient scale to support their film industries). Nevertheless, the UK has two major competitive advantages in its language and the renowned quality of its filmmakers, cast, crew and service providers.
Broadly, the film industry consists of two sectors: (a) the service providers such as post production facilities, physical studios, visual effect houses etc. and (b) the independent producer community. The first group is part of a global market competing for work on U.S. studio productions and currently much in demand because of its quality and the film tax credit incentivising the studios to base their films here; the second group is a fragmented cottage industry consisting of producers of vastly differing ability, all competing to find money to finance their individual film projects.
Most of this finance comes from offshore (typically a US studio or other foreign distributor) so any profits arising from exploitation of UK films return
… Read More »
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 »
James Lee, former chairman of Scottish film agency Scottish Screen, has written to UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt proposing all £15 million of lottery funding be injected into a single distribution label. BBC Films and Film4 would be obliged to release all their films through this “British National Distribution Company.” Indie producers would then apply to have their films fully financed. This is a revival of an old idea. Back in the late 90s, a government report recommended that all lottery funding be spent on a distribution-led studio aping the Hollywood model. Fine in theory but the government immediately saw the impossibility of using public money to fund a commercial rival to existing film companies. John Woodward, current CEO of the Film Council, was one of those who shot the idea down. Woodward, then CEO of UK producers’ lobbyist Pact, realised that the Middleton Report proposal would leave too many of his producer members hungry for cash.
Michael Grade has also weighed in to the UK Film Council debate, suggesting producers get to be the ones distributing lottery funds. “Could we introduce a system whereby internationally established UK producers, who have had success in both commercial and cultural terms, play a role in distributing lottery funds?” Grade wrote in the Times of London. “Surely they are more likely to pick winners than the bureaucrats.” But wait, the government has already … Read More »
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 »
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.
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 »
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 »
EXCLUSIVE: The UK government is considering handing over the £15 million of lottery film production cash, which the UK Film Council currently handles, to public broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4. Ed Vaizey, the government arts minister, has talked about splitting the UKFC’s £15 million of lottery funding only recently. He argues that both broadcasters both fund the same kind of films. One UKFC insider I spoke to today described this as an “appallingly dumb” idea. “It may have come up now they are desperately scrabbling around for something to do with film money,” this insider tells me.
Even if BBC Films and Film4 go with the plan – and both complain that they’ve long been starved of funds – what’s to stop Auntie BBC and Channel 4 from just cutting their annual budgets as a result? BBC Films currently receives £12 million a year, while Channel 4 has just had its budget increased to £10 million annually. Producers would also likely howl as it further reduces the number of gatekeepers from three to two.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport tells me nothing has been decided yet. A detailed implementation plan will be worked out over the summer. But DCMS is considering options to transfer these funds to other existing bodies. There’s been talk of the British Film Institute handling the lottery production cash through an arm’s length commercial body — much like the arrangement BBC has with BBC Worldwide. I’m … Read More »
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 »
EXCLUSIVE… UPDATE: John Woodward, CEO of the UK Film Council, has e-mailed staff telling them today’s government decision to abolish the government agency “has been imposed with no notice and no consultation… I think we can all agree that this is short-sighted and potentially very damaging, especially as there is at present no roadmap setting out where the UK Film Council’s responsibilities and funding will be placed in the future.”
The government intends to close the organisation completely down with its assets and its remaining operations transferred out by April 2012. The Conservatives have underlined their commitment to £15 million a year of lottery-funded film. The tax credit is also to be retained – at least for now. The question going forward is who will control that money pot. UKFC will be working with Culture Department officials over the summer on transferring power and assets.
Tim Bevan, chairman of the UKFC, also blasted today’s news calling it “a bad decision”. He said: “People will rightly look back on today’s announcement and say it was a big mistake, driven by short-term thinking and political expediency. British film, which is one of the UK’s more successful growth industries, deserves better.”
Today’s announcement comes as 55 other culture department bodies are set to be merged, abolished or streamlined as part of the government’s cost-cutting drive. Department For Culture, Media and Sport secretary Jeremy Hunt gave an interview to the Independent newspaper over the weekend, apparently softening … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The international sales arm of the London-based financier is handling worldwide rights apart from US, which it’s sharing with executive producer Anant Singh. The First Grader has been tipped for Venice, and has already been accepted for the London Film Festival in November. Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean) stars in this first feature from former BBC Films boss David M. Thompson. The director is Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). BBC Films and UK Film Council are also on board.
The film tells the true story of an 84-year-old village elder who used a Kenyan government initiative to introduce free primary school to get the education he always wanted. He took on the government when it tried to stop him attending lessons.
Penny Wolf, head of Goldcrest Films International, tells me: “I loved Ann Peacock’s script when I first read it. It’s such a heartbreaking story.”
Goldcrest hopes to start selling in earnest around the Toronto International Film Festival.