Slum Dog Millionaire’s co-producer, Film4 fears for its future

Yesterday Film4 head, Tessa Ross, along with their chief legal advisor who’s name I didn’t catch, was giving evidence yesterday morning (19 March) to the House of Lords Communications Committee enquiry into the British Film and Television Industries.

The ‘trades’ summed up her hour long submission as being that, due to financial pressures, Film4’s very existence was under threat. But I thought I’d check it out for myself and so I watched the recording on:

As you’d expect the cttee was very interested in Slum Dog Millionaire. Tessa Ross explained that Film4 had developed the project and had invested £1.5 million. She took it to Celador who put up maybe £8 million – I was tired and I wasn’t jotting anything down as it was all pretty predicatable at the start, so I didn’t catch the actual figure. But this does mean I made a mistake when I said that it was only made because Pathe put up most of the budget. What was reported in the trades was that, if Pathe and Fox had not bought the rights the film would have gone straight to video. But it does need to be said the Film4 were quite confident that, because of the quality of the film, they would be able to negotiate better distribution deals than they would normally hope for.

But Tessa Ross went on to explain to the cttee that this would only add up to a small profit on their investment for Film4 and Celador to, whereas all the real profits would be made by the distributors. But strangely these were never named, and neither did the ctte ask for these details – and thus, by implication why it was that foreign companies would reap the rewards.

So here we have Tessa Ross confessing that Slum Dog Millionaire has done nothing to secure Film4’s future – and I for one really value Film4 which spends its tiny £10million a year budget to vastly greater effect than the UK Film Council. Without it we have pretty much nothing.

But the ctte did voice concerns about why a public service broadcaster should be dabbling in a profit and market driven sector, film production, which was beyond its PBS remit. What’s more as Lord MacDonald pointed out after about 35 minutes, Film4 represented 25 years of losing money.

Tessa Ross and her legal advisor replied that Film4 the money was all made by sales and distribution and that C4/Film4 had never had the resources to run an effective sales and distribution business. In fact later on, after about 48 minutes, they pointed out that, in 2001, FilmFour (as was) had virtually collapsed under the strain of trying to run a mini-studio without the necessary financial resources to mount an effective challenge to the major players who dominate the market.

However, once again the cttee failed to follow this up with the obvious questions. Despite the chairman, Lord Fowler, introducing the proceedings in terms of how Parliament can best support the UK film and television industries, no one ever thought to ask the questions, ‘If C4 can’t establish a mini-studio in the UK, can anyone?’ or, “What measures could have been taken so that an organisation, such as FilmFour, could grow an effective and profitable film business.”

One final point. The Cttee’s Home Page states: Committee members are required to register any relevant financial and non-financial interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their actions. Maybe the members of the UKFC’s Board do actually conform to this requirement themselves, as it’s stated quite proudly how they are leading executives of US majors, or the leading executives of companies which provide services to US majors. It’s just that no one seems to be considering how this “might reasonably be thought to influence their actions” and in what direction and whose interests.



One Response to “Slum Dog Millionaire’s co-producer, Film4 fears for its future”

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