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U.K. gov’t champions mainstream pix

Proposals suggest faster recoupment for producers

Prime Minister David Cameron has called for the British Film Institute to invest more lottery money into mainstream films with the potential for commercial success.

He made the comments ahead of a trip to Pinewood Studios on Wednesday, where he visited the set of “Skyfall,” the 23rd James Bond movie.

His remarks anticipated the long-awaited publication next Monday of Chris Smith’s review of government film policy.

According to a Downing Street press release, the Smith report will recommend that “lottery funding is rebalanced to support more mainstream films that could become a commercial success, as well as culturally rewarding films.”

It will also advise that the government should continue “to support and appropriately fund the British Film Commission,” the promo org that attracts Hollywood productions to the U.K.

And it will suggest that the BFI, which has taken over the responsibility from the defunct U.K. Film Council for investing lottery money into Blighty’s film biz, should develop an export strategy to increase the sector’s profits.

Cameron said the creative industries contribute £4 billion ($6.3 billion) a year to the economy and make an incalculable contribution to culture.

“I think we should aim even higher, building on the incredible success of recent years,” he added. “Our role, and that of the BFI, should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping U.K. producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.

“I am confident that Lord Smith’s Review will form an ambitious blueprint, and look forward to his recommendations next week.”

Industry insiders say the review will unveil a slew of suggestions to improve the biz, including creating a mechanism that will give producers a bigger share of recoupment of projects backed by the BFI. It will recommend that the U.K. tax credit should be recognized as the producer’s equity stake, which should recoup on equal terms with any BFI investment, instead of behind it as currently.

Additionally, sources indicate that the review will also propose a new joint venture fund to align producers more closely with U.K. distributors. This would allow producers to access lottery funding to share the cost with distributors of pre-buying U.K. rights to their own projects. This would reduce the distributor’s risk, while the producer would become the co-owner of the U.K. rights with a more direct interest in the film’s box office success.

These proposals are likely to be widely welcomed in Blighty.

The timing of Cameron’s comments, a few days ahead of the publication of the Smith review, caused some bafflement. His words were widely misinterpreted in the media to suggest that the government only wants the BFI to back mainstream commercial filmmaking, which provoked an angry response from director Ken Loach.

Speaking to the BBC, Loach said, “This is a travesty. If everybody knew what would be successful before it was made, there would be no problem. What you need to do is fund a lot of different, varied projects, and then you’ll get a really vibrant industry.”

Writing in The Times, “Gosford Park” and “Downton Abbey” scribe Julian Fellowes remarked that “historically…a disproportionate amount of public money was directed at a type of art house production.

“Some were excellent, but they were aimed almost entirely at minority markets. This cannot continue, we must have a more balanced approach with greater support for mainstream films because the key to building a dynamic industry will always lie in a film’s relationship with the audience.”

Iain Smith, chair of the British Film Commission, welcomed Cameron’s comments.

“Following another busy and potentially record breaking year for inward investment, it is reassuring to hear the government understand the role big-budget, international movies shooting in the U.K. play in building a world-class skilled workforce, while boosting the U.K. economy.”

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