Working Party: Contributions Could Kickstart U.K. Film Production

Britain’s films minister, Lord Hesketh, soon will be asked to consider ideas that suggest distributors, exhibitors, homevid companies and broadcasters make significant and regular contributions to U.K. film production.

This is the contentious vision of the film-industry working party formed last year at the behest of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The producer-dominated group was asked to review the causes of the prolonged downturn in production and to recommend reforms.

The committee, working under the aegis of the Dept. of Trade & Industry, hopes to meet with Hesketh in the next two weeks.

Its interim findings, carefully phrased as ideas rather than recommendations, follow consultation with trade groups repping the major entertainment sectors.

Response from some of those bodies varied from hostile to lukewarm, but it’s emerged that the working party barely has given an inch, as its agenda for the Hesketh meeting differs little from the proposals it floated before Christmas (VARIETY, Dec. 17).

Among the more controversial notions being advanced:

* Terrestrial broadcasters collectively should invest in a minimum of 40 new British films and undertake to acquire a further 40 titles annually. (That seems a pipedream, since last year the U.K. cranked out fewer than 40 films.)

* Theatrical and homevid distribs, exhibs and BSkyB should invest a percentage of annual revenues in British films.

* A voluntary levy on blank videotapes should be introduced to raise coin for a central production fund.

* Cinemas should guarantee regular slots to British product, commit a portion of screen advertising revenue to producers/distribs, and contribute more coin to marketing and promotion of U.K. films.

* The government should investigate allegedly monopolistic practices in exhibition and distribution, divert a percentage of auction payments by Channel 3 franchise holders to a central production fund, and stimulate investment in indie cinemas.

While the levels of contributions have not been specified, one source close to the working party stressed: “We want to establish the principle, then we can discuss how much.”

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