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More Change For UK Film Organizations

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 »

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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 Boss Quitting Under Fire

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 »

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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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So, What Will Take The Place Of UKFC?

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 »

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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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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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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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New Government Scraps UK Film Council; Reaction From Organisation Swift & Angry

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 »

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