Wasted talent – some email correspondence which shows what we’re up against in the UK

This is a quote from a posting by Christian Martin on Shooting People.org. It’s about his no/micro-budget film, Skank, made and set in Bristol which, as he says “deals head on with homophobia and gang youth culture. It’s a film which has been offered distribution in a number of territories, including the US; has had much festival success outside of the UK, but has got nowhere in the UK.

Christian’s posting was very long. I hope he’ll forgive me for making such as short precis.

I posted a reply putting Christian’s experience into a more general context. And then Gary Delaney emailed a reply to me detailing how, even if you’ve got an already partly funded project with ‘names’ attached but you’re not based in London, no one’s interested.

So I thought I’d post this correspondence so as to illustrate how talent is being thrown to waste in this country and to explain some of the reasons behind this sad affair.

Posted by Christian Martin

“It swells the bosom with pride to see a British Film win
> and win big at the Oscars, a massive achievement. It swells
> the bosom with pride to be British when Britain achieves in
> anything. To make a film, regardless of size or budget is an
> achievement in-of-itself and I think we all know how much of a
> hard slog it can be. However, the support that one seeks and
> the recognition that one desires from British Institutions
> geared up to support small independent films – right at the
> other end of the spectrum to last nights winners – couldn’t be
> more stark or scarce….
“> In these difficult times there should be reliance on British
> Institutions to support and flag wave British achievement,
> however great or small or successful the achievement is. We
> may not have the same level of trust and faith in our
> politicians or bankers that previously we might have but when
> publically funded institutions fail to recognise or
> acknowledge or support home grown talent and achievement we
> should all begin to worry that this failing ranks them
> squarely alongside the bankers who blew our cash and the
> politicians who exploited their expenses and I guess we are
> left only to reflect on how this is an indictment of the sad
> and regressive times in which we now live.”

my reply:

Welcome to the “British” film industry! The first thing is that we really do need to be very careful when we use the term: “British Film”. The UKFC (more later) uses two different terms: “British Films” – by which that’s what they actually mean, and “British Studio Films” which, as Britain hasn’t had any studios in that meaning of the word since about 1970, this is a euphemism for films which foreign studios have made with enough of a ‘British’ component to qualify for UK tax breaks.

Think about it this way – if a French car company hires a team of British designers, sub-contracts many of the parts to British manufacturers (as well as German, Japanese and whatever) and then assembles it in a car plant located in Britain; do we call it a British car?

Similarly if the French hire Richard Rogers or Norman Foster to build some amazing piece of architecture, does that make the result a British bridge of art gallery?

So, most of the ‘British’ films that end up on general release aren’t British at all, they’re mostly American, and a few are French. And then there are some which might have started off as being British, but only got mainstream exhibition because they were acquired by one of the ‘studios’. Talk of these films as ‘British’ simply masks the facts.

What Britain has is a facilities industry which, like carworkers in Sunderland, makes films for others; huge sound stages, post-production houses, weak unions, tax breaks and lax financial regulation and the services of law firms and accountants skilled in exploiting them to the hilt.

And it’s representatives of this sector who are the heavy-hitters of the UKFC’s board of directors. Not only does the UKFC champion these arrangements, it also awards very large amounts of government and lottery money to the ‘studios’. For example in 2007 more than 80% of it’s P & A fund went to foreign films – mostly made by divisions of the American majors, although some French; and most of the remaining 20% went to films for which these ‘studios’ had acquired the rights.

The actual fifty+ British distribution companies hardly get a look-in at the box-office – around 3% or so on average. But virtually none of them distribute any British films. And why should they when between 2001 and 2006 the EU handed out more than £6million to companies distributing non-British European films (and to which the UKFC thenhappily doled out large dollops of prints and advertising money).

And when it comes to festivals and exhibition, during the same period the EU awarded an additional £3million in additional backing to these films.

These EU policies may seem daft, but they make sense for countries which have a strong commitment to their own filmmakers as subsidies to other European films helps resist American dominance.

In America an ‘international’ film festival is one with at best a handful of foreign films. In the UK it’s the reverse. It’s not just down to subsidies, it’s also down to the perverse notion that ‘we don’t get to see enough foreign films’ – and, in some cases, the notion that British filmmakers wouldn’t be so useless if they watched more of these films.

But virtually every film exhibited in this country is foreign! Actual British filmmaking takes place on virtually no money – and outside of London – definitely on ‘no money’. Between 2002 and 2007 about 130 features were produced on less than £50,000 budgets. Not one of these got any UKFC support, and only 4 got any support from their RSA. All of these details are available in a report published in June 2008 called “Low and micro-budget film production in the UK”. It makes for pretty damning reading (you’ll find that I’ve been understating rather than overstating the case). You’ll find it on the FC’s website. They commissioned it.

The only good thing is that more and more people are not only getting angry, they’re also finding the courage, such as yourselves, to start speaking out.

Gary Delaney then wrote:

Hi Jonathan

I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I was with your posting today on Shooting People. I started writing something along those lines myself yesterday but half way through I though ‘What’s the point’, and gave up. I totally agree with everything that you said and just wanted to thank you for bringing all the facts to everyone’s attention today but sadly it will soon be forgotten tomorrow.

I am currently in pre-production of a feature film that is going to be shot on location in Crewe, Cheshire in September and is based on a true story from 1985. We have basically go no help from anyone in the so called British Film Industry despite having managed to persuade David Soul to be the Director. David has worked on the script with me for over 7 months. We also have David Broomfields award winning Editor Ash Jenkins on board and a great cast such as Stephen Marcus (Nick the Greek in Lock, Stock and 2…) and many others.

The town of Crewe is behind the project, the local housing association has made properties available to us to dress up to look like 1985, the community is contributing with pre-85 cars etc. The help and deferments we have got equates to around £150,000 that we have effectively saved on our budget. We don’t need much money to ensure this film gets made but can we get any funding? Well you know the answer to that.

The fact is if a films budget is under £500,000 you have got virtually no chance of raising funds as the general consensus is that you film is never going to see the light of day, or at least never seen in the cinema or TV. This is where things have to change. I have tried to get North West Vision interested for the past two years and was basically ignored. Then out of the blue once they heard we had David Soul they contacted me. I visited them in Manchester but they could offer nothing that I had already sorted. Finance was the only thing I needed but they couldn’t help.

The UKFC is a joke and I won’t even waste my keyboards life by talking about it. We need a true British Film Council that represents British Films. There are really good scripts and stories out there but yet crap like St Trinnians gets major funding? (how the hell did that get a BAFTA nomination for best British Comedy? And they are making another one!!!!

Sorry didn’t mean to go on, just wanted to say how pleased I was to read your posting.


Gary Delaney
Brushy Creek Films



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One Response to “Wasted talent – some email correspondence which shows what we’re up against in the UK”

  1. What’s Buzzing? » Blog Archive » Cinestrata - Montreal Film Resource » the Last Days of Rvcq’09 Says:

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