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Brit Producers Feuding With Dept. Of Trade Over Production Plight

A row has broken out between senior British film industry representatives and the Dept. of Trade & Industry over the latter’s handling of a committee that is investigating the plight of U.K. film production.

The industryites say the DTI is not putting its full weight behind the inquiry and has failed to impress on theatrical and video distributors, cinema exhibitors and tv broadcasters that major structural changes in the industry are inevitable.

Producers note that at stake is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put Brit film production on stable footing. “If the industry misses the boat this time, it will be a tragedy,” said one experienced Brit producer.

Dissatisfaction became extreme after a Jan. 10 meeting with film financiers and bankers. The latest in a series of reportedly half-hearted and inconclusive parleys, it was followed by a showdown between a core group of committee members and civil servants from the DTI’s film branch. Resignation threats and ultimatums were exchanged in an encounter that has been described as “icy and unpleasant.”

Outcome of the faceoff is that a representative of the committee is to meet with films minister Lord Hesketh Jan. 23 to get clarification and clear the air. The film reps will seek assurances that the DTI is committed to implementing measures to improve the climate of film production in the U.K.

Committee stalwarts who have brushed with U.K. mandarins before contrast the DTI’s attitude with its enthusiastic endorsement of the “independent quota,” which requires all U.K. broadcasters to commission 25% of their output from U.K.-based indie production companies. That measure became government policy, in the face of concerted opposition from the BBC and the ITV companies, largely thanks to the DTI.

Reaction to the film committee’s proposals from those groups most likely to be affected has been one of interest or puzzlement rather than outright opposition, yet producers feel that the DFI is failing to press their case.

Most of all, industry reps want Hesketh to send a clear signal to all sectors of the industry that if they don’t like what is proposed, they must come up with alternative schemes.

The committee was set up last summer following a seminar at Downing Street hosted by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and attended by a bevy of industry worthies. Thatcher, alerted to the perilous state of Brit film production ordered a review.

Two committees were set up: one to look at fiscal incentives for film investment and the other to investigate structural modifications to the industry that would, in effect, give Brit producers easier access to the boxoffice dollar.

The fiscal committee has long since completed its work, recommending a multi-pronged Films Expansion Scheme. The structural modifications committee was expected to take longer to come up with its proposals.

Self-determination

Key aspect of the proposals is that it is up to the companies themselves to decide how best to fulfill their quotas. Response of theatrical distribs and broadcasters is said to be broadly favorable. Vidbiz execs plead pending European Commission legislation on copyright as an excuse for reserving judgment. Exhibitors are hostile but will meet Jan. 29.

The stick in the DTI’s hand is that change will come in any event, and that it is in the best interest of all sectors of the industry to co-operate in the process so as to get the best deal for themselves that they can. The carrot is that, if the proposals work, everyone will benefit from a stable production environment. Suspicion is, however, that without Thatcher’s support, the political will to revive Brit film production has gone. Not only does the U.K. have a new prime minister, but a new secretary of state at DTI and a new films minister.

Producers say the DTI is show ing little enthusiasm for its task. There are even doubts that it will back the fiscal proposals. Without DTI endorsement these have no chance of being included in the Chancellor’s forthcoming budget.

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