The Regional Screen Agencies and the Film Council

This is slightly edited version of  something I posted on Shooting People’s UK Filmmakers Network #3474. At the time the sense of frustration that many feel about the Film Council and its regional offspring was boiling over; with ‘Discrimination/reverse discrimination’  in funding policies as its main focus. But the problem was that many of the contributors quite understandably had misconceptions about what these funding bodies actually do – by way of example there’s no point in getting mad about your RSA not giving your film any support if that’s not what they were set up to do in the first place. Hence I offered the following by way of clarification…

RSA’s were set up with the aim of attracting the film industry to make films in the regions, i.e. to attract large budget UK productions which would be acquired by the London offices of US distributors once they’d had the UK tax breaks and whatever other subsidies going. This is exactly what happens in Canada as well. Hence an enormous amount of Lottery money has been spent, and continues to be spent, on setting up offices, putting together directories of everything from film services to locations. Has this strategy of attracting ‘inward production investment’ had any success as originally formulated? Overwhelmingly no.

The RSA’s were also set up to ‘talent scout’ for Wardour Street; with ‘Digital Shorts’ being a scheme to discover new directing talent that could be invited to London, along with regional script development which would increase the pool of scripts that could be offered to ‘the talent invited to London’. This was made plain to me when I was invited, along with some others who had made feature films recently in the North West (and largely completely independently from either the UKFC or NWV) to attend a meeting between New Cinema Fund head, Lenny Crooks and the recipients of this digital short film and script development largesse. Throughout we were studiously ignored by Lenny Crooks as we weren’t part of ‘how things were supposed to work’. Finally Helen Bingham tried to open things up and create some dialogue between the independent filmmakers and the aspirants which resulted in Lenny Crooks snarling at me that “I’d never get to do any business with him”. And this despite the fact that we’d never met before and he knew nothing of our work. But have these schemes created an increase in regional feature production or regional stories? Or have they produced an ever growing archive of unscreened shorts or scripts that gather dust in forgotten filing cabinets? I mean, the Film Council’s own research discovered that feature film scripts are typically commissioned from 50+ year old white male TV writers who are mates of the producers…
On top of this RSA’s are supposed to be involved in film education which is largely to do with ‘foreign’ and ‘classic’ films.
If RSA’s are to do any more of this then they have to spend hours and hours and hours trying to ‘leverage’, as the put it, money from other sources. In the North West, Liverpool is an EU Objective One area, so money can be got from EU budget for everything from job creation to business development, to ethnic minoritues and so on. This is why so much of this sort of funding involves tortuous form filling and great restrictions on who may apply. But you could argue that this is a case of making the best of a bad job as, without it, there’d be no additional money at all.
I wouldn’t blame anybody for feeling agrieved by all of this, and any one who attempts to research where this money comes from and where it goes soon finds themselves in a very murky world of obfuscation, the trendy but often meaningless ‘newspeak’ of the New Labour agenda, disorganised and distorted statistics, bland reports by think tanks obviously unqualified for the job and so on. I would really counsel anyone not to go there as it is not at all good for one’s sanity. Instead it’s maybe better to apply Occam’s razor and reach the obvious conclusion – that UK theatrical exhibition is dominated by American films plus a very few British films whose rights are American owned and which are deliberately bland/watered down etc so that ‘they will travel’ i.e. can be watched by typical Americans; and that films made independently of this arrangement, however good they may be, are unlikely to be released.

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One Response to “The Regional Screen Agencies and the Film Council”

  1. vigosblog Says:

    Thanks to Screen South for their magnificent help for film-makers in the region. Theyve been absolutely awe inspiring and have recently, in keeping with Govt. policy and their own age-old traditions, updated their site so you can search for crew and other film-makers in the region who you want to work with;

    http://clients.businessbox.co.uk/productionguide/?sid=ss&searchid=all

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