European Commission Unveils “Film Support Rules” For EU
European Union member states provide films with an estimated €3B ($4.03B) per year in grants, soft loans and tax incentives. About 80% of that goes toward film production — one reason pricey indies are turning to the UK and the Continent. Today, in a long-awaited move by the European Commission, the body has published its new “film support rules” for the EU. The revised criteria for assessing member states’ support systems for film and other audiovisual works is being referred to as the “Cinema Communication.” It allows aid for a wider scope of activities, highlights individual countries’ discretion in defining support targets, introduces the possibility for more aid for European co-productions, and promotes film heritage. Among the highlights (the full text is here) is that co-productions funded by more than one member state now will be eligible to receive aid of up to 60% of the production budget. There are no limits on aid for script writing or development. In-country spend requirements will remain at the discretion of the individual states. The new Communication was met today with praise from both the UK and France. The BFI welcomed the news that the Cinema Communication “safeguards the UK’s film tax relief and Lottery funding for film. … The continuation of the successful UK film tax relief framework is a huge reassurance to the UK film industry and will support the growth of the sector.” French filmmakers also hailed the EC’s decision to “preserve the complex but efficient fabric of European cinematic support.” Commission VP Joaquín Almunia said, “The objective of these revised rules is to encourage vibrant audiovisual creation in Europe while preserving cultural diversity everywhere in the EU.”
U.S. Writers Will Head East With AFI/IDG China Story Fellowship
The American Film Institute announced today its AFI/IDG China Story Fellowship, a scholarship program at the AFI Conservatory aimed at developing screenplays that foster greater understanding of Chinese history, culture and literature. The fellowship provides nine AFI Fellows with travel to China for cultural research. They will write a feature-length screenplay and receive a full scholarship for their second year at the AFI Conservatory. “Too many Americans only know Chinese culture through animated films like Kung Fu Panda and Mulan,” said Hugo Shong, Chairman of IDG Greater China. “Americans deserve to see other types of movies about China, ones that hopefully can entertain them, educate them and at the same time touch their hearts.” Read More »
London-based Ingenious Media, the private equity fund which backed Twentieth Century Fox’s Avatar, has struck a deal with Fox Searchlight to make between 2 to 3 movies in the $10M-15M range. Ingenious could inject up to $14 million annually into the deal, providing 20%-30% equity per movie. Fox Searchlight will guarantee U.S. distribution, the Holy Grail for most UK indie producers. Both companies worked together most recently on 127 Hours, Never Let Me Go, and the forthcoming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which Fox Searchlight will release in the Fall. Ingenious has backed more than 30 Fox movies but until now under a loose arrangement, financing between 5 and 10 of Fox Filmed Entertainment’s movies each year. Recent investments include Gulliver’s Travels, Unstoppable, The A-Team, and Percy Jackson.
James Clayton, CEO of Ingenious Investments, tells me he first approached Fox Searchlight presidents Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley and production president Claudia Lewis back in November about formalising their relationship. “The UK independent sector has been going through a very tough time I told them I think there’s something more ambitious we can do in the UK. Given our position, we get to see pretty much every UK project in development. And Fox Searchlight wanted to make a greater commitment to the UK business.” The new deal, notes Clayton, takes advantage of “Fox Searchlight’s great taste, superb marketing and the economics of global distribution [which] are much more interesting from a financing perspective than … Read More »
In America, The Weinstein Co has received most of the PR bonanza for backing Oscar-touted The King’s Speech. But it’s really a British film financing company aptly named Prescience that first recognized the film’s potential. With an office in Beaconsfield, a quaint market town 20 miles outside of London, the Prescience only set up in business 5 years ago — which underscores how far this boutique film financier has come. Prescience has backed 25 films to date with a total production value of $400 million. It’s run by managing director Tim Smith and his co-director Paul Brett who’ve both worked in the movie industry for more than 20 years at British outposts of Hollywood studios. Smith used to work for Fox, while Brett has worked for Miramax, Pathé and Paramount. Both come from a marketing background, which is what they say they’re bringing to the party. Brett tells me: “In Hollywood a film gets greenlit when they have a release date and know how it’s going to be marketed. Here a film is greenlit when the money’s available.”
The Weinstein Company and Prescience were the first financiers in after UK distributor Momentum. Iain Canning, co-producer of The King’s Speech, had decided to keep the project independent, turning down an offer from Fox Searchlight to fully fund the movie. Instead, The Weinstein Company took North American rights plus a clutch of several other territories including France and Germany. Prescience’s job was to fund the production, lending against pre-sales, tax money, and territories which sales agent FilmNation had yet to sell. The UK Film Council and UK post-production company Molinare rounded out the $12 million budget with some equity. But co-producer Gareth Unwin tells me: “Prescience were a key element of our finance plan. Without their commitment, the film would not have happened.”
So, what was it about The King’s Speech that made Prescience want to get on board a period English drama? “It was easily the best script I’ve ever read,” says Brett, who reads between 300 to 400 screenplays a year, about David Seidler’s original screenplay.
Now Prescience has aligned itself with The King’s Speech filmmakers again on another project written by Seidler. Read More »
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 »
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.
EXCLUSIVE: Fulcrum Media Finance, the London- and Sydney-based film and TV financier, has closed its first wholly British deal. Rachel Weisz stars in Davies’ new screen version of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Shooting on the UK Film Council and Film4 backed project begins in November. Tom Hiddleston will play Weisz’s reprobate RAF pilot lover and Simon Russell Beale her stolid husband. Fulcrum is cash-flowing the UK tax credit, worth 20% of the budget. In the movie business, that’s as risk free as you can get.
The financier hopes to finance 24 UK projects a year. Fulcrum is co-owned by Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, producers of Oscar-tipped The King’s Speech. Fulcrum offers to lend up to 95% of the value of the tax credit. Until now the financier has been financing either wholly Australian films or Australian/UK co-productions such as Oranges and Sunshine and Triangle. Canning tells me that UK producers should welcome working with a financier who’s a filmmaker too. Fulcrum says it will undercut banks such as Barclays and Coutts that offer this kind of finance. “As producers ourselves, we know filmmakers just want financiers to be straightforward with them and just get the job done,” Canning tells me. Read More »
The Daily Telegraph has been leaked a list of 177 taxpayer-funded agencies to be abolished by the new British government. There’s a question mark over the British Council, which promotes UK film culture abroad. And the Film Industry Training Board, chaired by A-Team producer Iain Smith, is set to be privatised. (Smith told me the government’s decision came out of the blue. “We are now trying to establish what it might involve.”) The BBC World Service just announced 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 »
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 »
Details Of Matthew Vaughn’s UK-Hollywood Film Plan
Hollywood studios have a long history of shooting blockbusters in England. For instance, Britain’s Pinewood Shepperton has been the location of choice for big Hollywood blockbusters like the Harry Potter, James Bond and Batman franchises. But for all intents and purposes the U.S. majors have viewed the 20% UK tax credit they receive for making films here as free money. Now Matthew Vaughn, director of X Men: First Class which is just about to start shooting here, is floating an interesting suggestion. He is proposing that Hollywood majors who take advantage of the 20% British tax credit then repay the money in the event of a hit — and plough that portion of the profits into a UK film fund backing British-produced pics.
“The thing I’m annoyed about,” Vaughn tells me, “is how many movies are made in Britain without any British money in them. It’s tragic how we’ve handled things. Most British producers think it’s an achievement even getting a film made. My goal is that we won’t even need Hollywood money in 10 years’ time.”
Vaughn tells me that the UK needs to monetize that 20% studio tax credit. Since Hollywood needs investor equity now that Wall Street money has dried up, the studios could count on UK plc as a firm partner that takes a secondary equity position. “In today’s cash-strapped world, ‘soft equity’ is a valuable commodity for studios and producers alike,” Vaugh insists. “Looking at the UK’s position … 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 »
EXCLUSIVE: The venerable British film company is covering 20% of the budget for Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold’s new version starting shooting this autumn. Kaya Scodelario from UK teen series Skins is the only cast member attached so far. Co-financiers include Film4, UK Film Council and regional agency Screen Yorkshire. Hanway Films is selling this Ecosse Films project internationally.
Over the past few years, Goldcrest has invested in 18 Hollywood movies including Twilight, Knowing, Tropic Thunder for DreamWorks, Paramount and Summit. Now it’s changed tack and wants to invest in between 3 to 5 British films a year. It provides 20% of each project’s budget as an equity investment. Goldcrest has raised £19 million ($29 million) through the UK government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme. This EIS funding is designed to stimulate investments in risky enterprises such as movies. However, the amounts each EIS can raise are pretty small. Goldcrest’s investment will be capped at just £2 million per £8 million feature.
Adam Kulick, partner at Goldcrest Capital, tells me that although there’s no shortage of projects, getting any of them advanced to the stage where his company can invest is more difficult. Goldcrest’s equity is the last chunk in, with budgets mostly covered through pre-sales, soft money and broadcaster licences. “Projects are taking a lot longer to pull together,” he says.
Goldcrest’s sole British investment until now has been in Paramount’s teen comedy Angus … 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: 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 »
The culture department, which funds British film to the tune of £26 million each year, is preparing for savage cuts. The Department For Culture, Media and Sport faces having its budget slashed by 25% – or even higher – over the next four years. Earlier this month, UKFC told me it was drawing up plans for what 20% cuts in grant-in-aid expenditure might look like over three years. Now that looks optimistic.
Final government department budgets will be set in the October 20 spending review.
Chancellor George Osborne said department spending will be cut by £17 billion more than expected by 2014-14 because, he said, “the structural deficit is worse than we were told”. It’s the classic skeletons-in-the-cupboard tactic used when one politician takes over another’s job.
And the video games industry has lost the tax break it was promised by the previous Labour government — which the Conservatives originally supported.
It’s all part of the kill-or-cure Budget unveiled by the Conservatives, determined to get the UK’s debt-load down before Britain implodes like Greece or Iceland.
Trade body Tiga estimated that the video game tax relief would create, or at least keep, 3,500 college-level jobs here in Britain. Staffing levels among French games developers have increased by 20% since France introduced a 20% tax break a couple of years ago.
The BBC has also lost out. Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that a tax on landline phones, proposed by … Read More »