British Screen hit hard

LONDON — The financial breakdown of how the British government intends to restructure film funding has split the U.K. movie biz, with some industryites severely disappointed, and others guardedly optimistic.

The new film council, announced last July, is to be called British Film, and will come into being by April 1, 2000. It is intended to be an umbrella organization incorporating disparate agencies like the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Film Commission (BFC), and the film-funding arm of the Arts Council of England (ACE).

British Film will receive and administer a guaranteed percentage — likely to be about 11% — of ACE’s lottery cash, or at least $45.4 million per year. As well, British Film will receive approximately $37 million in grants each year for the next three years.

In general, this is considered a victory for the BFI, which by far gets the most funding in the old structure, and whose consultation paper was in large part taken on board by Chris Smith, the U.K.’s culture secretary.

But other organizations that do not fall directly under British Film’s auspices, such as the privately owned British Screen Finance — which dispenses development and production money — have been hit hard.

British Screen will get $3.4 million next year, the same as it has received since 1986, and an uncertain amount in 2000. Similarly, European Film Co-production — which is part of British Screen — will also see no increase in its $3.4 million budget.

“I’m pretty depressed and extremely confused by what the government is trying to do,” British Screen’s chief exec, Simon Perry, said. “We feel very hobbled.”

Perry also pointed out that for next two years, approximately $34 million of lottery film funding will go to the three lottery franchise winners — DNA, Pathe and the Film Consortium — leaving only $11 million or so for other purposes, such as development, distribution and single-project funding.

Those players not part of a lottery franchise had hoped to receive in the region of $37 million to help create new initiatives, like the proposed Alpha Fund for non-commercial film production.

“It would be too soon for us to weep, but there are structural problems,” said Bertrand Moullier, head of PACT, the film and TV producer‘s association. “It’s too early to be indignant. It’s not too early to be disappointed.”

The wait-and-see attitude seems to prevail.

The exact parameters of British Film are still being formulated. Veteran helmer Richard Attenborough has accepted the task of heading further consultation within the industry, and the government will make a final announcement on the structure of the new body in March.

At least one exec, however, considers this window dressing, given that the money has already been allocated.

A bigger player sounded a more positive note. Stuart Till, head of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, said he was in the “half full, half empty” camp. “It’s what I think the industry felt was needed,” he said. “It could be a lot worse.”

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