Mike Newell, the Bafta-winning director of films including Four Weddings And A Funeral and Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, has called for the appointment of a “UK film czar” to represent the independent film sector’s interests with government.
“You need people to make [the industry] cohere,” said Newell. “The whole trade at the moment has exploded into little inter-competing and not particularly friendly to one another [groups]. That person needs to be a czar, who needs to be able to massage all of these disparate interests.”
He was echoed by veteran sales executive Michael Ryan.
“We need a figurehead to negotiate, suggest [to] or threaten government you are going to lose this bloody industry unless you give it some tax advantages or help,” said Ryan. “[The government] probably won’t listen unless you’ve got a figurehead.”
He pointed to Chariots Of Fire producer David Puttnam as an example of someone who used to be able to talk on behalf of the UK film industry to government.
“Those producers became czars because they were very, very good at what they did and then they had some power to negotiate,” he said.
Newell and Ryan were speaking at a panel called ‘Financing Independent Film’ at the Kingston International Film Festival on Friday June 23. They were discussing the “extreme difficulty” UK independent films currently face in raising finance given the “dearth of private equity” available to producers. They were joined by Michelle Jenkins from Film London; Stephanie Charmail from Shorts TV; Keith Kehoe, investment director at Great Point Media; leading media accountant Sam Ampah from Alliotts; and Fiona Gillies, producer and co-founder My Smash Media.
In a pre-recorded address, Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission and Film London. concentrated on the UK’s production, skills landscape and “its fantastic eco-system.” But he also acknowledged the challenges.
“It’s a complicated time. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that,” Wootton commented. He cited recent Sundance successes such as Polite Society and Rye Lane as evidence “we are still making some extraordinarily brilliant films…for a country our size, we are punching massively above our weight and we have a situation where essentially we are probably one of the biggest content hubs on planet earth.”
Wootton trumpeted the work of the UK’s Skills Task Force and the BFI’s “skills clusters”.
“What I can tell you from talking to my friends in Europe, North America and elsewhere, we [in the UK] are doing more, at the pace that we are building studios or training people, than anywhere else in the world,” Wootton said. “That doesn’t mean we need to be complacent about it but does mean we need to see the context that there are a lot of positive things happening.”