Submission to the House of Lords Select Cttee on Communications

 From: Jonathan Williams, 25 Parsonage Road, Blackburn, BB1 9PG, 01254 245157. jon.williams48@talktalk.net

Jonathan Williams is an independent film writer and producer, a retired media academic, and is a regular contributor to MovieScope Magazine.

 23 March 2009

Re: HOL Communications Cttee call for submissions, and in particular the following questions:

 2. How do the current UK arrangements for distribution and exhibition of films affect the commercial success of the film industry? How might long run changes in international film production and distribution affect the UK film industry and its export potential over the next decade? To what extent is the raising of finance an inhibiting factor in UK film projects?

And

4. Is the UK Film Council meeting its objectives of giving support to production and export of British films? Could it do more to assist the UK film industry’s contribution to the UK economy?

A. The UK has two completely different film industries.

 One provides technical services: post-production, special effects, etc to The American majors, and to a lesser extent French companies such as Pathe. This sector is hailed as being a great success, but it is dependent on keeping American money ‘sweet’ through tax breaks and subsidies from the National Lottery which are channelled to it via the UK Film Council. These subsidies are substantial. For example, with regards to the Film Council’s ‘Prints and Advertising Fund’ which subsidises the distribution of selected films to cinemas, the biggest grants are awarded to such as Momentum Pictures (Canadian), Pathe and Optimum Releasing (both French), Hollywood Majors Warners, Universal and Fox, as well as Lionsgate and the American financed company, ICON which is run by the Film Council’s chairman, Stewart Till and is part of his business empire which is expressly devoted to catering for American interests.

The second is actual filmmaking, but this is also divided into two sectors.

The first is what the Film Council calls “British Studio Films” – a euphemism for mainly US/UK co-productions and in some cases French/UK co-productions. But what that means is films where the money is foreign, ultimate creative control is foreign, the rights and thus the profits are foreign owned, but the talent: writers, most of the cast, usually the director, technicians etc are British. An analogy would be UK-based Japanese car production – it’s just that the Film Council would choose to call a Nissan Micra a British car. On occasion these majors acquire the rights to British films after they have been completed, as in the case of Slum Dog Millionaire, and they thus become foreign property. This is essential for their success as it is only these now foreign films which many to secure a widespread cinema release. At best the actual producers of these films may make a small profit, but the real profits are made by the foreign owners. The Film Council plays an important part in channelling these profits overseas, whilst preferring to mask the fact through placing the emphasis on ‘inward investment’.

 The other is British Independent filmmaking. Regardless of quality these films will never get more than the most limited of cinema releases. Many are made on nothing more than passion; as, if made outside of London, investment or financial support is virtually non-existent – typically 95% of funding is for London, 5% for the rest of the country. Those which do receive funding paradoxically only do so because of the Film Council, as without the UKFC providing much of the budget, these films would never be made. The Film Council simply does nothing to challenge the structures which mean that these films do not get shown and lose money – the talent is there to be wasted and reduced to a state of demoralised despair.

  1.             Actual British filmmaking is further disadvantaged by European policies designed to support European filmmaking against the power of the American majors. Large subsidies are available to those who distribute and exhibit ‘non-national European films’. Hence, as British distributors have no access to the mainstream cinemas, they purely survive by distributing subsidy-carrying foreign films; and it is the same when it comes to the major ‘arthouse’ cinemas.     These subsidies also extend to film festivals and thus, as the Film Council also prides itself on supporting foreign films, there is double the reason for film festivals to concentrate on foreign, rather than British films – something which is quite unique to the UK.

 The UK Film Council, and its Regional Screen Agencies, needs to be closed down and replaced by bodies with a commitment to British filmmaking. Its abuse of public money is nothing short of scandalous.

One of its initiatives was to put nearly £13million of Lottery money into the creation of the so-called “Digital Screen Network”. Most of this money was spent installing the latest digital projectors in cinemas owned by the biggest multiplex chains. The UKFC claimed that the purpose of this exercise was to greatly increase the exhibition of foreign (i.e. sub-titled instead of ‘American’ – 95% of films on general release are already ‘foreign’), classic, documentary, and independent British films. This was nothing more than hogwash. The projectors installed were those required by Hollywood in order to screen its move into 3D! The contract for the work went to one of the Film Council’s directors, Thomas Heogh, CEO of Arts Alliance Media. 3D ups the cost of film production. It will increase Hollywood’s grip by further pricing others out of the market. What’s more small, local and independent cinemas will not be able to afford the conversion costs and, unless they can find some way of reinventing themselves, they will thus be driven out of business.

 Foxes in charge of the hen coop. UK politicians are obliged to declare their interests. The Film Council though is nakedly proud of how it is completely dominated, at Board level, by American interests:

 UK Film Council – Board Members

 Total members :14 + CEO and Chair

 Number of film directors: 1 – Beeban Kidron (OK, more of a TV director – see imdb)

 Number of film producers: (essentially 1) – Rebecca O’Brien, producer of many Ken Loach films (which would never have been produced if they weren’t French) as well as Mr Bean.

 Executive Producers: Pippa Cross – very experienced – see imdb

 Greg Dyke – now head of the BFI

 Heather Rabbatts CBE is also listed as an ‘independent film producer’. This is her C.V:   graduate of the London School of Economics, of which she is now a governor, and London University; masters degree in international relations; qualified barrister; former deputy chief executive of Hammersmith and Fulham Council; chief executive of Merton and Lambeth Councils; founder of the public-sector consultancy iMPOWER; head of education at Channel 4; BBC governor; director of the Bank of England and the UK Film Council; trustee of the British Council. And oh, head of broadcasting for New Moon, the film company whose award-winning video helped London secure the 2012 Olympics. See:  http://www.new-moon.co.uk/index.aspx

 Mark Devereux. Mark Devereux is a solicitor, specialising in media, and is the Senior Partner and a founder member of the law firm Olswang. Olswang specialises in such as organising co-production deals for US majors seeking to take advantage of UK tax breaks etc.  Olswang has a formal alliance with a major US law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP.

Gail Egan.  Gail Egan is a qualified barrister and practised commercial law at Lincoln’s Inn before joining Price Waterhouse Corporate Finance.

Nigel Green, joint Managing Director of Entertainment Film Distributors,  – described by the FC as “the most successful UK film distribution company”. It’s success has been dependent on acquiring distribution rights to such as: The Departed, Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain and Lord of the Rings; as well other apparently British but actually American films such  Run Fat Boy Run and Gosford Park. (so, as you can see the description ‘UK film distribution company’ has missing from it ‘of overwhelmingly US films’)

Stephen Knibbs. Chief Operating Officer at Vue Entertainment (originally Warners, continued in American hands when bought by SBC. But then VUE was formed as the result of a management buyout. Vue is very profit driven and has placed more emphasis on the importance of ‘concessions’ in its revenue stream than any other of the chains. Seeks to ‘out-American’ the Americans.

Barbara Broccoli Current heir of the American dynasty which has been part of United Artists since 1962. More recently has also developed close links with Colombia Pictures

Thomas Heogh CEO of Arts Alliance Media. AAM was the first company in Europe to have deals with 5 major Hollywood studios (Fox, Universal, Sony, Paramount & Disney) to fund a digital cinema rollout of up to 7000 screens, under a Virtual Print Fee financing model. Awarded the UKFC’s ‘Digital Screen Network’ contract which was worth around £13 million of Lottery money. This scheme provided large subsidies towards the initial installation of the digital projectors which Hollywood needs to screen its 3D films. Somehow the Film Council managed to present this scheme as being something which would benefit such as ‘Classic’ and independent foreign and UK films(!)

Amanda Walsh  previously Chief Executive of Lowe London – a division of the US advertising and media giant, IPG.

 Elisabeth Murdoch, CEO of Shine Limited and second daughter of global media magnate  Rupert Murdoch, whose ownerships include the Fox Entertainment Group….

 Josh Berger. Recently appointed to the board, Josh has been President and Managing Director of Warner Brothers Entertainment (UK) since 2002.

 Stewart Till CBE (Chairman UKFC) appointed as the Chairman of the UK Film Council on 1st August 2004, taking over from Sir Alan Parker CBE. He was previously, from 2000, the Vice-Chair. For most of this period he was also Chairman and CEO of  UIP – the cartel formed by the Hollywood majors with the purpose of co-ordinating the distribution of their films in all territories outside of the USA and Canada. In 2006 the UIP cartel began to fall apart.

 “September 08, 2008 Stewart Till, the former CEO of United International Pictures and current U.K. Film Council chairman, has made his first major move toward an international distribution empire, snapping up Icon Group’s international sales arm and distribution companies as well as its Majestic Film and Television library. Till’s Stadium Entertainment, backed by Access Industries, among others, is taking 100% of Icon’s distribution and sales operations in a multimillion-dollar deal subject to due diligence.” Hollywood Reporter

“THE Hollywood star Mel Gibson and his business partner, Bruce Davey, have sold their sales and film distribution businesses in Australia and Britain.

The sale, to the British film executive Stewart Till, has them continuing in film production from Los Angeles and retaining the Dendy cinema chain here.

A former chief executive of PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and United International Pictures, Mr Till aims to build an international distribution network outside the Hollywood studio system.

His company, Stadium Entertainment, picked up the international sales and distribution operations of Icon Group for an undisclosed sum. The deal includes the Majestic film and television library, which includes the Oscar winners Driving Miss Daisy and Dances With Wolves.” Sydney Morning Herald

Much of the financial backing for Till’s Stadium Entertainment is reported to be from New York billionaire Len Blavatnik.

John Woodward CEO  “Woodward has an extensive track record in heading up other film and television industry organisations. Prior to joining the Film Council he was Director of the British Film Institute (1998-1999) working with BFI Chairman Alan Parker and was instrumental in refocusing the BFI as an educational body.

Before that, as Chief Executive of the Producers’ Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), Woodward set up and ran the most successful and influential trade association in the UK film and television industry representing the commercial interests of some 1,000 film and television companies. Previously Woodward had ran the successful “25% campaign” forcing the BBC and ITV to buy 25% of their programmes from independent producers. Woodward also successfully lobbied for the introduction of tax breaks for film production investment and the introduction of Lottery funding for film.” – UK Film Council

So, in the past, Woodward was more than just very much in favour of quotas favouring British independent producers, he was the most active campaigner. But, given the composition of the UKFC’s Board, it is hardly surprising that the has made a 100% volte face.

An unbiased conclusion

Some people, such as British filmmakers, would look at the above with utter horror. They see it as a demonstration of Britain’s colonial status  – that somehow the foxes have been put in charge of the hen-coop. Others have gone further and described it as putting paedophiles in charge of the children’s home. At the same time many are loath to speak out as, without a large amount of seed money (grant/soft loan) from the UKFC their films will never get into production (still, if they’re not then acquired by the ‘majors’, virtually no one will see them anyway. They’ll lose money at home and make no impact abroad.)

But, if you see the UK film industry as a set of service industries (i.e. as not a film industry at all) which competes on the international market to attract inward investment from the (real) Film Industry, it makes perfect sense for this service industry to be controlled by its colonial masters and by those who share their vested interests.  On no account must anything be done that could jeopardise this inward investment.

However this is to argue for the continuation of a status quo which has negative implications for the country’s balance of payments. Us investment and US culture flows in and the profits flow out, and out, and out, and out.  We have been reduced to an utterly dependent state. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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