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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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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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BLIMEY! British Government May Give $19M Lottery Cash To BBC Films And Film4

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 »

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