LONDON — Stan McCoy, the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s president and managing director in Europe, called on the U.K. on Friday to maintain its engagement with Europe despite its decision to leave the European Union, otherwise known as “Brexit.”
McCoy, participating in a panel discussion at the BFI London Film Festival on the consequences of Brexit, focused on the importance of the E.U.’s Digital Single Market strategy, which seeks to sweep away territorial copyright barriers within the 28-nation trading bloc.
“We need to make sure that the [British] government takes very seriously its role in the European Union’s Digital Single Market discussions through the remainder of its membership, because in or out, the European Union remains the No. 1 export market for film and TV,” he said.
McCoy noted that U.S. studios had invested around £5 billion ($6.19 billion) in movie production in the U.K. in the past five years, according to British Film Institute data, and said he was “fundamentally optimistic” about the prospects for the continuation of U.S. investment in the U.K.
“Whatever the circumstances, I think the U.S. studios and all their business partners in the U.K. will be looking to capitalize on that investment and make sure the U.K. remains a thriving movie-making market.”
McCoy doubted that Britain’s E.U. membership had been the primary driver of investment in U.K. production. Hollywood films that shot in the U.K. last year included “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
He said that movie production drew on talent in front of and behind the camera from many different countries, and that U.S. studios “need a collaborative and mobile workforce.” This underscored a point made by Alex Hope, managing director of leading VFX company Double Negative, that film companies needed to be able to recruit “the brightest and the best” people from around the world. He said that 29% of his staff were from Europe, and that E.U. rules allowing “freedom of movement,” which permit E.U. citizens to work anywhere in Europe, benefited his company.
“We need freedom of movement or it will restrict the growth of our industry,” Hope said. “If we want to grow, we need talent coming in.”
Isabel Davis, head of international at the British Film Institute, emphasized that the U.K. government had reiterated its support for the 25% tax incentive on film and high-end TV drama production, which Peter Dinges, director general of Germany’s national funding agency, the FFA, identified as a major advantage of the U.K. film industry.
Producer Gail Egan of Potboiler Films, whose recent films include “Our Kind of Traitor,” and Dimitra Tsingou, chief operating officer of international sales company Protagonist Pictures, both shared similar concerns about the U.K. independent sector following Brexit.
They emphasized that it was important that U.K. films continue to be defined as European movies, and that the U.K. maintains its membership of the E.U.’s Creative Europe program, previously known as the Media Program. Being considered as European allows U.K. films to qualify as part of the 50% quota for European content that European broadcasters have to air, and so inflates their market value. Creative Europe membership allows U.K. films to access development funding from the E.U., and distribution subsidies in E.U. countries. Egan said: “We made a little film earlier this year. We could not have made it if it didn’t qualify as European. That was the only way the [European] distributors were able to give us the money to make the film.”
It had been “business as usual” so far, Tsingou said, but next month’s American Film Market will be the first film market since the Brexit decision, and may provide an indication of how that decision is likely to affect the market value of British projects going forward.
Egan echoed Hope’s interest in maintaining “freedom of movement” across Europe, without reverting to a visa-based system. She cited the example of a film she produced two years ago which included crew members from across Europe; the camera department alone had a gaffer from Sweden, a grip from Germany and a director of photography from Denmark. She added that moving film equipment across borders also presented challenges. On the same production moving equipment into Switzerland, which isn’t part of the E.U., gave the producers a headache.