The UK Film Council… a time to embrace evolution and create something EVEN BETTER!

HI_UKFILM_CMYK So… much has been said about the closure of the UKFC. Little remains for me to add that has not already been said over and over. It appears to me that people are polarised into two groups.

1. Those who gained something tangible and useful from the UKFC
2. Those how gained little or nothing from the UKFC

It’s clear that these groups also hold broadly opposing views (though not exclusively). They could be charcaterised as…

‘The UKFC is great and the government has made a big mistake’
        or…
‘They never helped me, and I ended up wasting time trying to get their help…Good riddance’
(or as one amusing tweet put it, ‘Oh no! Who’s going to reject my scripts now?’)

The dysfunctional inner child in me did grin when I heard the UKFC was being axed as I have had little or no useful help at all from them. In fact their existence has made my life as a film maker more difficult by helping create and maintain a playing field that is very far from level.

But that is just my experience and I do know that everyone at the UKFC really does want to make a positive difference to UK film. And no matter what action they take, someone will always bleat about it. So if it’s not me bleating, it would be someone else.

Having said all that, I do believe the UKFC really does need to evolve. Left alone, I don’t believe it would change over the next few years, it would remain business as usual.

2010 is VERY different to 2000 when the UKFC was in its infancy. Their own statistics which were released last week show just how much the industry has changed. Link here.

So while I feel the Government has been hasty in its actions (but perhaps tough choices were made in tough times), I also feel that the UKFC needed an overhaul. And it was never going to do this from the ‘inside out’, it needed an external catalyst.

So rather than moan about past transgressions, why don’t we all begin to shape our own NEW UK Film Council dreams and make them a reality?

In years gone by, Government would ask some smart people to give their opinions on what these kinds of bodies should do – the broad stuff like ‘grow the film business’, ‘support culture’, ‘help sustain exports’ etc.

But we live in 2010, with Twitter, social media and blogs now contributing to the debate, with much greater access for all and the ability to mount fast moving, dynamic and vocal campaigns.

We all now have a voice. And by heck, we SHOULD ROAR!

WE should be leading the debate, helping the new government create a focussed, lean and effective NEW organisation. A UKFC for 2010, to represent the new industry. Not the ‘good old days’, but the vibrant future we can all share.

So who exactly is the ‘WE’ I refer to?

Broadly, the 95% of film makers who were never helped by the UKFC. As well as the 5% of film makers who WERE helped by the UKFC. We are all in one boat. Let’s get rowing together.

So what do I think this new entity should do?

In no particular order, here’s my thoughts…

1. Abandon support for any projects that are ‘culture for cultures’ sake. Let the market and consumers be our guide of what British culture is, defined by their choices at the box office. The UK public should celebrate and look forward to new British films, not avoid them like the plague. I know this is an easy thing to say, but we should be feeding the demand, ideally with our own cultural spin, but that spin must NEVER cost us the commercial edge. WE MUST MAKE MONEY. I don’t propose a cookie cutter approach, just a process that celebrates the audience rather than punishes them.

2. Continue the good work the UKFC has done working with bigger productions and bringing US$ into the country, or keeping our GBP£ in the UK. This is essential and one reason why closure of the UKFC is a bit silly. It’s all too easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, and it looks like the Government has done just that.

3. Embrace new models and encourage prolific and sustainable low budget films that deliver quality movies to targeted audiences, all sub £500k in budget. I would argue around £300k is even better. Create small and lean training academies that help new film makers realise their visions for these £300k films

4. Invest in writers. Hugely. In fact if this is all that the new entity did, I would be happy. A good script will usually find money. All too often a bad script gets rushed into production.

5. Invest in sales and distribution outfits in such a way that film makers have safe hands into which they can deliver their completed films. If I had received the money I should have received from the films I made, I would have a sustainable business. There is too much thieving in sales. These organisations should also reach out to writers to help focus their talents on saleability. It’s essential that if a film makes money, that cash MUST flow back to the entrepreneurs who created the product.

6. One day a week, all staff should have a ‘Google’ style blue sky day. For that day they should work on innovation in the industry, spend time with ALL levels of producer, asking questions, answering questions, connecting and creating new relationships. To me, the UKFC was largely a mystery. I gave up asking for meetings. They didn’t care who I was or what I was doing, largely because they didn’t know I existed and so there was no real way for us to connect. And so everything I did, from my own films, to my Guerilla Film Makers books, to the free outreach ideas that I have initiated (like our film production show ‘The Production Office’), all went completely under the UKFC radar. Sadly, they had no idea that my short film ‘Gone Fishing’ was the only UK short to be Oscars shortlisted in 2009 for instance. How is that possible? Did they not read the full page article in Variety and think, goodness, maybe I should drop these guys an email? The current UKFC seems to only look inward and rarely outward to the wider film community. I am sure they would vehemently disagree. The fact that they don’t monitor films in their year book that are budgeted under £500k will tell you that they are completely disconnected from the current micro budget revolution.

7. If a new entity is created, cherry pick the best of the current staff. There are some really, really smart and dedicated people at the UKFC. Honestly? I believe there are more dedicated, experienced and talented people at the UKFC than most of us really acknowledge. I think the current ‘political entity’, complete with its rules and regulations and forms add-infinitum, probably stifled many dynamic and creative voices from within the actual organisation. That’s a real shame. 

I am sure I can add to this list, and I would love to hear your thoughts too, on how you would like the UKFC v 2.0 to reboot. This is our chance to take the reigns guys, let’s make it happen!

UPDATE – I got this email, confidentially, and so have withheld the name…

"Great post Chris. As an ex-employee of UKFC, I often felt frustrated by some of the policy and funding that was present but also didn't think it was too far away from being a really useful organisation. Just a rethink and adju
stment was, and will now be, required. Perhaps a more flexible approach to an industry that seems to be shifting constantly, although, as you say any such funding body will always have it's detractors. I particularly like points 3 and 4, as that's something that I feel really could and should be addressed."
Name Withheld by Chris

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author

www.livingspirit.com
mail@livingspirit.com

14 Responses to The UK Film Council… a time to embrace evolution and create something EVEN BETTER!

  1. Stuart Jamieson July 28, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    Chris,
    on #2 – On the Andrew Marr show on Sunday Jeremy Hunt expressed a real desire to reintroduce Tax Breaks to keep this up but accepts that George Osbourne won’t do that until the recession is over.
    If that is to be the case then let’s use those tax breaks for bringing in US$ and keep lottery funding to encourage UK talent.

    I’d also add
    8. Political oversight on how the money is distributed: if UK talent is not being encouraged with this money and Jerry Bruckheimer is, then questions should be getting asked in parliament why Taxpayers are being denied the benefit of Lottery Money and those of us being denied should be able to ask those questions through our local MP’s.

  2. James D July 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about this. As far as I know, the regional screen agencies, where most independent filmmakers go for advice, funding, etc., will not be effected by the decision to close down the UKFC. So in that sense many aspects of film funding, at least on a local level, will remain the same.

    Re: new entity – you make some very valid points. Number 6 really strikes a chord with me. I know a successful playwright, actor, director who’s been working steadily in TV and theatre for twenty years, and our local screen agency has never even shortlisted one of his short film scripts. He’s one of the most talented writer/director/actors in the region, and basically they don’t know he exists. How can this happen?

    Recruiting qualified, fair and honest assessors who can judge “story” and properly assess talent and the market would be a big improvement for a start.

  3. Neil Meffan July 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    I find it completely absurd that in all the years that the UKFC has existed that taking risk was not a big part of what they did – although the same could be said for any NL funder!!

    “We can’t risk public money” so lets just use proven talent (which makes the budget bigger) and proven ideas (which only stagnates the industry and bores audiences).

    When will these people understand that they are giving out LOTTERY MONEY – a gamble if ever there was one – so what better way to spend that money than to take a little risk in return for a possible big reward.

    Now I’m not suggesting they should be stupid about it BUT asking you to bring in established talent only does 2 things;

    1. Increase your required budget
    2. Stops new talent from coming through

    It doesn’t however guarantee the success of the film, nor does having new talent guarantee failure!

    That’s what I would like to see, money being spent on NEW TALENT and NEW ideas and if you’ve been taking UKFC “handouts” for 10 years or even 3 pictures and you can’t stand on your own two feet then get lost please, or at least to the back of the line.

    You have had your chance and perhaps the problem is that you don’t actually know what the hell you’re doing and maybe you should let someone else have a go.

    People are entitled to make mistakes and even completely fail but they shouldn’t be able to do so, time and time again, with public money and no one else can get a turn to try!

    This is not the school yard and you cannot have my lunch money anymore…

    Although there is a fundamental issue here and I’m afraid it’s called the Conservatives – first it was the games industry (worth £2 Billion annually) and now Film.

    Mr Hunt says the UKFC cost £3 Million to run and that should be given straight to film makers – yeah like we believe that’s going to happen – but the industry, at least the part that the UKFC accounts for, according to the latest stats brought in £3.7 Billion last year.

    I don’t know but that seems like a good return to me, but then again I’m not a banker who screwed up our economy and is still getting to enjoy a 7 figure salary this year (plus shares in the bank)

    No, instead I’m a start up film maker who is getting shafted right left and center and my potential funding bodies are getting shut down to aid the economy… PS which me getting funding and hiring people would also do!

  4. zahra July 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Phew, finally something I almost agree 100% on. As I’ve said elsewhere, I have very mixed feelings about the whole affair – part of me jumping with joy, then the sensible grown up part saying – but they did do some really good things… and probably a rethink was what was required rather than kicking the whole she-bang into touch.

    Having said all of that – it was on the cards (although I thought the RSAs would go and the UKFC would stay), how can this government justify keeping film funding as it was while hacking the crap out of every other budget going?

    Keep flying the flag and keep making movies. x

  5. Ryan Hooper July 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Looking at the financial figures, my concern about this development is that it’s purely an ideological decision, driven by a political party determined to end up with a smaller state, as opposed to a well thought determination, based on the reality that UK filmmaking is facing.

    It would be nice, as Chris points out, if the filmmaking fraternity could have a say in how the industry is administered, but if the DCMS were willing to unilaterally abolish an institution that, at least financially, has had a lot of success, what makes anyone think they intend to have a discussion about the new body.

    It’s possible that UK filmmaking has hits zenith at the moment, with box office successes like HP and Mamma Mia and critical success for filmmaker likes Andrea Arnold and Chris Nolan. Maybe now is the time to change things around, use the goodwill to experiment with new forms of delivery, budgets or formats.

    But I fear that in the hands of, at the moment at least, a unilateral DCMS that is more obsessed with dogmatic ideology, the conversation that is being had at the moment, and should be listened to, is falling on deaf and ill equipped ears.

  6. RH July 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    I would rather my script was rejected by the BFI or the Arts Council than by the Film Council. At least I would feel that I was rejected by an organisation that knew about and cared about film.

  7. Henry Williams July 29, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    I’d argue the best thing any official body could do is set up subsidized apprenticeships on features. If 16-18 year old school leavers could be paid (for instance) £500 a month by the production and £500 by the state it would become viable for us to provide the on the job training in entry level positions that so many people I’ve spoken to want to offer but are currently unable to justify on tight budgets. It would massively democratize film making, moving it away from being largely the preserve of those who have rich parents and back towards people who have the drive and talent to succeed.

  8. Mark Morris July 29, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I grew to think of the film council as a good way to copyright my scripts for free as they keep a record for their files Making the idea that a miracle may happen worth a punt.

    Obviously the film councils problem was its leadership who to me almost seemed like Omnipotent Dr Who villains who after centuries of watching films and seen all ideas, variations look for a new experience. They also seemed to be against indigenous white middle class as well as anyone who made a film audiences enjoy.

    They wanted to give a go to films that wouldn’t ordinarily get one. In other words those at the bottom so that the worst films would take poll position (If your film did get funded then I wasn’t referring to yours and well done;)

    My suspicion was they possibly might be upper class pretentious and used to wealth and society.. Were anti Brit, IE Felt guilty AND so compelled to help what they narrow mindedly believed were those less fortunate. But NOT THE despised well orf middle/lower classes who err actually bought the lottery tickets and so funded them. No. Anti establishment hOORAYS always bite the hand that feeds them.

    So often those who make films have a COMPELLING need to express themselves. Sometimes bought on by a TRAGIC life Exacerbated further by the disbelief of enterprises like the UKBFC that they could reach down and feel important in those they blessed. Just why did they ask people to give there race colour and creed in their applications and would they include disabled and ethnic groups in their films.

    I devised a plan where I would make an art film that would cater to their abstract psychosis and play up to the top brass but in the end just couldnt do it. No matter what the cost.

    Maybe there was method in their madness because they did have some sense they spent money on the tiny British film industry doing well. Helping fund Harry Potter, James Bond making the very few pro film productions and crew sympathetic and supporters.

  9. Cherry Bennet July 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

    I don’t think the UKFC were a very good advert for a vibrant industry.
    It might seem silly and petty but an image which stayed with me one year at Cannes FF – UKFC pavillion had panel discussion after panel discussion, American Pavillion was vibrant and razzmatz. Had interviews and talks with Cronenberg, Morgan Freeman, Roger Ebert et al. It was fun.

    I also don’t think training is a problem – it’s utilising the training and talent which is missing.

    Filmmakers are now more galvanised than before and should be doing it for themselves.

  10. Parveez Syed July 31, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    Something better is needed. So, when/where do we all meet to go beyond talkshops and start to lobby UK-EU MPs, ministers, National Lottery, etc?

  11. Jonathan Stuart-Brown August 25, 2010 at 8:04 pm #

    Chris there is most certainly a much bigger group which do not fall into your two groups (gave me money; never helped me).
    This group saw that the real USP the UK has for Hollywood (sound stages which are essential for $60 million to $300 million shoots) was in danger of disappearing because although in the 1930s built on cheap land, the main 44 Uk sound stages are on the most expensive in the country. The UKFC was a very poor leader. It did not warn Government to refer the merger of 34 sound stages in 2002 after 65 years of healthy Pinewood and Shepperton competition. it did not warn that being a plc from 2004 would inevitably lead to property developers buying it. It did not warn that they had. it did not warn Pinewood was opening up in Malaysia, Canada, Germany, and last week had a man in Shanghai talking deals. It did not warn this geared up Pinewood to quickly switch all the big budget Hollywood rentals of sound stages out of The Uk taking the jobs with them.
    The UKFC also was mooting the UK tax credit to apply to shoots in Malaysia !!
    The UKFC also did not REPEAT did not make these ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Shallow Grave’, ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Brassed Off’, ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Shakespeare In Love’, ‘The Winslow Boy’, ‘Mrs Brown’, ‘Wind In The Willows’, ‘Sense And Sensibility’, ‘The Madness of King George’, ’Gandhi’, ‘Passage to India’, ‘Room With a View’, ‘Four Weddings and A Funeral’, ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘The Long Good Friday’, ‘Henry V’,’Shirley Valentine’, ‘Educating Rita’, ‘The Mission’, the Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan 007 James Bond movies, “Elephant Man”, ‘Bean’, ‘Nuns on The Run’, ‘Flash Gordon’, ‘The Shining’,’The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, ’Gregory’s Girl’, The Peter Ustinov Agatha Christie movies, ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’, ‘The Bounty’, ‘A Private Function’, ‘Clockwise’, ‘Withnail and I’, ‘Cry Freedom’, ‘Hope and Glory’, ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Memphis Belle’, Chaplin, Howard’s End, ‘The Remains of The Day’, ‘The Crying Game’, ‘Shadowlands’, ‘The Browning Version’, ‘Little Voice’, ‘Sliding Doors’, ‘East is East’, ‘Without A Clue’, ‘Little Dorrit’ and “Chariots of Fire”, ‘Slumdog Millionaire”.
    British Screen Finance before it had a staff of 15 on modest salaries. UKFC had in 2009 92 staff on salaries which shock. They just were not very good at what they did. The UKFC did not take up many initiatives from councils and entrepreneurs around the UK to build sound stages, film theme parks, anything if it would take the juice from London. The UKFC did not help the 760 acre project in south Wales (7 times the size of Pinewood Studios) to build sound stages and sets. It went into liquidation for want of a few million (in a year UKFC had over £70 million) just as it had made it first $14 million shoot with a US star. This would have taken the focus off London. But losing Pinewood and Shepperton sound stages will lose over 80% of UK film industry jobs so UKFC did not even guard The London industry. I have zero negative experience of UKFC but they just were a disaster for which we are about to pay unless The Government take urgent action.
    The UKFC has been around in the most profitable years the global industry has seen. Moreover although before UKFC the global cinema and DVd revenue was 80% Us and 20% rest of the world; now in 2010 Avatar took 73% revenue outside The USA. UKFC had tied itself to the wrong horse and now The UK box office plus the EU and Commonwealth countries are the real deal for Uk product. UKFC believed it was forever 2000 not 2010. Just like British Screen Finance, time for a change.
    Tax credits and Lottery subsidies are also meaningless for Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg if the sound stages they filmed on in the UK in the past are sold by property developers.
    http://www.savethebritishfilmindustry.com/

  12. Jonathan Stuart-Brown August 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    Chris,
    Point 1 absolutely.
    Point 2. “Continue the good work the UKFC has done working with bigger productions and bringing US$ into the country, or keeping our GBP£ in the UK. This is essential and one reason why closure of the UKFC is a bit silly”.
    Alas this is exactly what it did not do. Pinewood, Shepperton and to a lesser extent Elstree did this because of their sound stages. Now UKFC has let other countries build sound stages, and anyone can now read how vulnerable Pinewood-Shepperton are (because of the value of the land they are on), UKFC is being given an out ! They will be gone just before their poor stewardship and leadership is exposed as Hollywood has better sound stages everywhere but The UK.

    Point 3. “Embrace new models and encourage prolific and sustainable low budget films that deliver quality movies to targeted audiences, all sub £500k in budget”.
    If we build sound stages in the Midlands, North and Wales the quality will soar. These can be built with Lottery Money.
    “I would argue around £300k is even better. Create small and lean training academies that help new film makers realise their visions for these £300k films” yes around the new sound stage centres.

    Point 4. “Invest in writers. Hugely. In fact if this is all that the new entity did, I would be happy. A good script will usually find money”.
    Absolutely. Maybe set up a Writers Room similar to Warners in 1930s. 100 each day paid by the day to work on any script. Could sell the service to the world while keeping Writers in work on films in between their own projects.

    Point 5. “Invest in sales and distribution outfits in such a way that film makers have safe hands into which they can deliver their completed films. If I had received the money I should have received from the films I made, I would have a sustainable business. There is too much thieving in sales. These organisations should also reach out to writers to help focus their talents on saleability. It’s essential that if a film makes money, that cash MUST flow back to the entrepreneurs who created the product”. ABSOLUTELY. This is exactly what UKFC did not address. It is unlikely we can get a fair deal in the USA. In the 1990s this was 80% of world cinema revenue but now it is 27% based on Avatar sales. We can get a better deal with the 73% other cinema revenue in the world.

    “To me, the UKFC was largely a mystery. I gave up asking for meetings. They didn’t care who I was or what I was doing, largely because they didn’t know I existed and so there was no real way for us to connect. And so everything I did, from my own films, to my Guerilla Film Makers books, to the free outreach ideas that I have initiated (like our film production show ‘The Production Office’), all went completely under the UKFC radar. Sadly, they had no idea that my short film ‘Gone Fishing’ was the only UK short to be Oscars shortlisted in 2009 for instance. How is that possible? Did they not read the full page article in Variety and think, goodness, maybe I should drop these guys an email? The current UKFC seems to only look inward and rarely outward to the wider film community. I am sure they would vehemently disagree. The fact that they don’t monitor films in their year book that are budgeted under £500k will tell you that they are completely disconnected from the current micro budget revolution”.
    May I use this fact on The Save The British Film Industry website please ?
    http://www.savethebritishfilmindustry.com/

  13. Jonathan Stuart-Brown August 27, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    Chris you wrote: “If a new entity is created, cherry pick the best of the current staff. There are some really, really smart and dedicated people at the UKFC. Honestly? I believe there are more dedicated, experienced and talented people at the UKFC than most of us really acknowledge.
    “Great post Chris. As an ex-employee of UKFC, I often felt frustrated by some of the policy and funding that was present but also didn’t think it was too far away from being a really useful organisation. Just a rethink and adjustment was, and will now be, required”.

    Sad to say every failed Prime Minister, every failed Government, every failed business, every failed football manager sincerely believes this. Sacking managers, getting new ones usually works better than giving failures and nearly successful people ever more time and ever more millions. Plenty of new people to give a chance to. Clean sweep, fresh start.
    http://www.savethebritishfilmindustry.com/

  14. John Shimenawa October 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Good riddance to the UKFC and especially to Woodward, who was the worst thing that could ever have happened to the UK film industry. Oh you were fine if you were Kenny Branagh, Michael Winterbottom, Stephen Fry or dreary Mike Leigh. In other words, if you were part of the ‘establishment’ you were looked after. If you weren’t, forget it. Let those arrogant snobs fight for their financing like everyone else does. The UKFC was nothing but a Members Only club for a priviledged few and shame on Woodward for fostering that. He was and is a joke. Incidentally, he handed out millions to a tech firm called Arts Alliance for a rollout of digital equipment and guess where he’s now working? That’s right, Arts Alliance! Should anyone be investigating that?

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