British Film Industry Forced to go Mainstream?

David Cameron has backed a review which is likely to call for more Lottery funding to be given to films which have mainstream appeal and the potential for commercial success.

UK arts minister, Ed Vaizey, stated that the British film industry is “still not as profitable as it should be for British film-makers” back in May, and now it is thought that the review headed by Lord Smith will seek to resolve this by placing more lottery funding in support of mainstream films.

The PM plans to pop over to Pinewood Studios, where he is expected to readdress the distribution of the National Lottery funding within the UK film industry.

Art-house and independent productions, which tend to generate smaller audiences, could see their national lottery funding cut in an attempt to rival Hollywood by funding commercially and internationally successful blockbusters. Since the UK Film Council was also scrapped last year, this could make it extremely difficult for smaller films and emerging talent.

Several of those within the industry have been quick to criticise Cameron’s plans, including the Palme D’Or winning ‘kitchen sink’ director, Ken Loach.

Speaking with the BBC, Loach has stated that he believes variety within the film industry to be essential. He also criticised the government review for not addressing issues such as “the near monopoly of the multiplexes, [which] show a very narrow range of films”. Instead of readjusting the distribution of film funding, Loach also suggested that “we need far more independent cinemas that are programmed by the people who care about the films, rather than the popcorn.”

In addition, Loach made reference to France’s approach to their country’s film industry, which places an emphasis on showcasing a huge variety of films from around the world in their numerous independent cinemas. The French film industry is also the closest in Europe to being self-sufficient, needing an average of just 10-20% of their revenue to be generated via international sales, in order to make a profit.

On the other hand, it is perhaps worth considering that just three British films backed by Lottery funds over the last five years were able to repay their funding in full by July 2011. James Marsh’s Oscar-winning Man on Wire was the only documentary to do so, while critically panned comedy, St. Trinian’s, and award-winning historical drama, The King’s Speech, have also fully repaid their initial funding.

Cameron’s upcoming announcement could see unknown or inexperienced filmmakers denied funding in favour of those with proven success rates. Perhaps, then, it is also worth considering that Lottery funded films such as 2009’s Nowhere Boy, the directorial début from artist Sam Taylor-Wood, was able to repay a substantial 87% of its funding – despite having little international success. Comparatively, Oliver Parker’s Dorian Gray, which was released the same year, made £15m worldwide, but is reported to have been unable to pay back any of the UK Film Council’s original investment.

Whilst we will have to wait to hear Cameron’s final decision on who will continue to receive Lottery funding, it is worth bearing in mind that British film-making is currently a £40billion industry, much of which is privately funded.

We’ll keep you posted!

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