UK film companies call for government help as 70th Cannes Film Festival opens
7 min read
18 May 2017
The Cannes Film Festival isn’t just about the red carpet; next door, in the Marche du Film, movies are changing hands for hundreds of millions – but UK production companies are struggling.
There are nearly 7,000 independent film production companies in the UK and last year they collectively spent just shy of £1.6bn making films.
This sounds like the start of a good news story heralding a new era of glory days for the British film industry.
But, as the 70th Cannes Film Festival opens its red carpeted walkways to thousands of participants, celebrities and a frenzy of paparazzi, British producers are looking to whoever is in Number 10 after 8 June to play a hero role.
According to industry body PACT, worldwide sales of UK produced films have slumped by 50 per cent since 2007 – a year which saw the introduction of the Film Tax Relief, with its central aim of boosting the industry’s coffers.
Although the tax credit has indeed given the UK film industry a much-needed fillip, this has been to the benefit of mainly Hollywood producers using the UK as a location for filming and not home-grown UK production companies, says PACT.
The Film Tax Relief allows a film producer to claim a cash rebate of 25 per cent from HMRC of qualifying expenditure on a film made in the UK, up to 80 per cent of the total film budget with no budget limit.
Now PACT is pushing for the Tax Credit to be increased to 40 per cent on films with budgets of between two and £10m, with a review of the cap on spend.
PACT’s chief executive, John McVay, said: “PACT is concerned that there may be structural problems arising in the market that need to be understood and carefully considered by public agencies and government, and where appropriate interventions to address potential market failure may be needed.
“Given the many strengths that the UK film industry has, and with ongoing support, PACT sees this as an opportunity to position the indigenous UK film industry to take fuller advantage of the opportunities that the global markets present.”
The call from PACT comes at a crucial time for UK film companies, with Brexit on the horizon and funding from the European Media Fund likely to cease after the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Other routes to finance remain challenging and, while it may not be a top agenda item for intervention by a new prime minister, film production – along with the other components to the creative industries – delivers a mighty £84.1bn to the UK economy every year, and so is a subject that will require attention.
But despite PACT’s reported worldwide slump in sales, UK producers remain very well represented and enthusiastic at the annual industry gathering in Cannes, now in full swing until 28 May.
Last year, the Ken Loach directed film “I, Daniel Blake” won the coveted Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival.
This year, the hot British tip in competition is “You Were Never Really Here” directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix – a film that was financed with the help of the National Lottery and funding from the BFI Film Fund.
Aside from the Festival, with its screenings and celebrity appearances on the red carpet, the real business is done at Cannes in the Film Market – Marche du Film – where 12,000 registered participants gather to buy, sell, network and do deals.
Last year, more than 5,000 companies were represented within the Film Market, with China sending the most delegates from one country – 494.
Independent UK producer and former Sony Pictures Entertainment executive Victor Glynn is a Cannes Film Festival veteran – his first visit was 35 years ago.
“Cannes is the most wonderful place to renew old acquaintances, make new friends, discover new projects and exciting talent and find serious buyers who are interested in films and not just ‘product’,” he said.
Glynn, who raised finance for UK film director Mike Leigh’s first film at one of his early festival visits, believes the UK film industry can rise to current challenges.
He said: “Like most other creative industries, the film industry was taken aback at the Brexit result, but you have to accept it and move on.
“As a nation, we have always been reluctant bedfellows with some of the EU funding and financing schemes. We were not signatories to a lot of the funds for quite a time and so we have managed without them before.
“It is a challenge and will undoubtedly affect film distribution in some areas – but our European colleagues need us as much as we need them.”
This year, Glynn is meeting buyers about a number of films he is involved with, including the UK-produced and financed “That Good Night” starring the late John Hurt.
“It is John Hurt’s last leading role and he is wonderful in it. While there is a lot of interest in the film, I’m anticipating many more discussions about it here at Cannes,” he said.
And Glynn’s advice for companies visiting Cannes Film Festival and the Film Market for the first time?
“Provided you have done your research well, target those people specifically who seem to be on your creative wavelength and in your budget range,” he explained.
“The buyers here are hungry for films and you have a huge advantage with the language and the talent we have in the UK and indeed Ireland.”