One month into his tenure as chief exec of government supported agency British Screen Finance, Simon Perry concludes there’s a lot wrong with British films.
And he’s aiming to use his powers of persuasion, and an investment kitty of some £4 million to £5 million ($8 million to $10 million) this year, spread across as many as 10 pictures, to try to right some of those wrongs.
Heavy dependence on tv coin has resulted in a batch of telepics masquerading as theatrical films, opined Perry, who succeeded Simon Relph in the British Screen hot seat. “We should be more cautious about investing in films generated by tv companies, which might be considered high-quality tv,” he said.
Many scripts lack the narrative, shape or content to coax cinemagoers through the door, he ventures. He says he’s been “astonished” by the prevalence of undercasting: using unknowns or actors who, however skilled, “do not fill the screen.”
Some British films cost too much, he judges, in relation to what they can expect to recoup. His credo: “I’m interested in films that are visual, visceral and European. I’m not interested in films that reach a tiny audience.”
The difficulty British producers face in clinching U.S. distribution deals, particularly with indies who lately are offering guarantees as paltry as 15% of the budget, has a flipside, Perry argues, “because it’s forcing them to look to Europe, Australia and elsewhere for co-productions or co-financing.”
The next two British Screen supported films firmed for this year can’t be characterized as extravagant. Both “Edward II” and “Prague” are ticketed at well below £2 million ($4 million).
“Prague” is a co-prod with Constellation of France. It’s set to roll in June, with Bruno Ganz and Sandrine Bonnaire, with investment from the BBC and Scottish Film Development Fund.
The BBC also is aboard Working Title Prods.’ “Edward II,” with Derek Jarman directing.
Much of Perry’s time is occupied as a member of the film industry committee formed last summer at the behest of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who’d belatedly been alerted by Richard Attenborough to the parlous state of production. In June the group expects to finish its report on structural reform of the industry.
Since Thatcher’s unexpected departure, Perry admits to an atmosphere of uncertainty. “Without her imprimatur, we don’t know who we’re reporting to,” he said. The fiscal studies group, similarly created as a Thatcher initiative, has recommended tax incentives to stimulate private investment in films.