Like many others, I was taken by surprise by the coalition government’s announcement about the demise of the UK Film Council. While the UKFC’s funding would certainly have been a likely target for the cost-cutting coalition, the idea that it would be swept away entirely was more of a shock – even to the UKFC themselves.
In the event, the UKFC will be in existence until 2012, albeit gradually winding down, so existing projects and commitments will not be casually brushed aside (like some kind of school building programme). But what happens after that?
The DCMS has said that lottery funding for UK production will continue. However, it has given no indication of how large that funding will be, or how it would be administered (my guess is that it will return to the Lottery itself, who presided over the fund prior to the UKFC’s formation, and gave the green light to films including Billy Elliott and Bend it Like Beckham). Inevitably, this will stall productions that might otherwise have gone ahead, as filmmakers and production companies wait in limbo for some kind of announcement.
Plenty of people have been lining up to dance on the UKFC’s grave. No surprise there: any body which holds the strings of so significant a purse is going to have to turn down a lot of projects, some of which deserved better, and make a lot of enemies. And every time it makes a bad call (Sex Lives of the Potato Men is the one most people bring up) it gives its vocal enemies more ammunition. Even so, there is plenty that the UKFC can be criticised for – the reluctance to fund more personal projects, the failure to develop a new generation of arthouse directors, the generously paid executives, the initiatives allowed to peter out (I’ve had my rant about the Digital Screen Network previously on this blog). But the good work should not be forgotten: whatever one may feel about the creative accounting that allows the UKFC to claim Harry Potter and James Bond movies as British, they have helped to encourage overseas – predominantly Hollywood – productions to come to this country, spending their budget on British crews, cast and locations.
They’ve also made some good choices when it comes to investing in production; commercially oriented films from The Last King of Scotland to The Duchess. The Prints and Advertising Fund is also worthy of praise, a scheme which allowed distributors of arthouse films with wider than usual audience potential (Pan’s Labyrinth, Downfall etc) to apply for funding to increase the number of prints available, taking advantage of critical and/or audience buzz.
That last is significant, because one of the major bugbears I have with the UKFC is that its avowed aim of increasing audiences to what it terms specialised film has repeatedly failed to materialise. It’s fine that Lottery funding should go to things like St Trinian’s or StreetDance – I have no problem with people enjoying shite, at least it’s 100% British shite – but the likes of Fish Tank have been given minimal support.
But the question remains: who is going to administer financial support for film production, and how much will they have to spend? This is significant to me as an exhibitor: a hefty percentage of the films I rely on to bring people to my venue enjoyed UKFC support. Among their upcoming projects which I would anticipate being hits for my business are Tamara Drewe, Another Year, Made in Dagenham and The King’s Speech. Will the supply of films like this dry up after 2012? And what will happen to excellent schemes like First Light?
For the future, I hope that whatever replaces the UKFC looks not just at funding film production but at getting it into cinemas, and getting audiences to come and see it. This means taking on the mantle of distributor as well as producer; working to persuade cinemas to book their product. This body needs to look carefully at each of its films and make judgements about who the audience is, and how best to get the film to them. If you have a mixed slate of (say) Wilderness, The Duchess, and Fish Tank, then you’re looking at three different films with different marketing and distribution needs. A genre piece will work better in the multiplexes; something by Andrea Arnold or Lynn Ramsey will pass through Vue unnoticed, but will flourish in city centre independents like the Picturehouse chain; and The Duchess will have a shot in both markets.
For the more specialised arm of the market, the body needs to offer some excellent financial deals to distributors, some of whom have been severely pissed off by the UKFC’s mishandling of the DSN. They might care to look at the work being done by Soda Pictures and the New British Cinema Quarterly, who are currently touring Skeletons with the support of Q&As from the cast and crew.
Oh, and it would help if the films are good. Did I mention that?