Chris Smith's UK Film Report Published
ITV and Sky told to step up
A week on from David Cameron's controversial comments apparently advocating the mainstreamification of the British film industry, Lord Smith's review has now been published, proving less inflammatory than we might have feared. The report champions "as wide a range of films as possible," Smith promised, "from the overtly commercial to the overtly arty and much in between."
The Prime Minister "understands, just as we do, that there is a whole range of movies and types of movie that we are supporting. He is very clear on that," he added. "We are not trying to dictate an artistic vision. We are trying to set in place a range of financial and legislative arrangements which will enable a broad range of movies to be made. We are not making a distinction in the review between something called mainstream and something called... something else."
The report's 56 recommendations include increased film education in schools; a scheme to get projection equipment into communities that don't have a local cinema; stronger investment in training and skills development, with a beady eye on new technologies; increased measures to combat piracy; and the inauguration of an annual celebration, such as a "British Film Week" to "provide audiences across the UK with access to the full spectrum of British film, giving them a greater insight into its breadth, depth and originality."
Outside that British Film Week however, the report doesn't have much to say about the distribution systems which can make independent British films difficult to catch in UK cinemas. So if you're outside London and you're not lucky enough to have a Watershed or a Cornerhouse or your own regional equivalent, you may still struggle to see a fraction of what's produced.
Call-Me-Dave's comments about the industry becoming more "dynamic and entrepreneurial", do have some roots in the report's recommendations for moving away from an "overall dependence on public funding" and rewarding commercial success. The report advocates the use of test screenings to gauge potential audience response before a film is finished, so that it can be adjusted accordingly (as is common Hollywood practice). And it suggests that a film's profits go to its producers, director and writers (rather than their having to return their lottery funding) for reinvestment in future projects.
"The principle of rewarding success is important because if [film-makers] have done it once, they're likely to do it again," said Smith. The government will not dictate to the BFI which films should receive its support, but the BFI "should bear the audience in mind."
Lord Smith's independent review panel also singled out broadcasters Sky and ITV for not doing enough in their support of British film. "They are doing very little, and we believe they should be doing more," Smith said. "We have suggested the government sits down with each of the broadcasters to see if an agreement can be reached to ensure greater investment in and acquisition of British films. We have also suggested that if agreement turns out to be impossible it is something the government might turn its attention to in the Communications Act which is proposed for some time in the next year or two. We hope that won't be necessary and broadcasters would want to step up to the plate voluntarily."
Both Sky and ITV protested this via statements, with Sky saying it plans to increase investment in "homegrown content" to £600m by 2014, and ITV trumpeting that it makes Downton Abbey.
Labour welcomed the report, with shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Harriet Harman saying it "offers an important opportunity for the Government to give the film industry the support it needs and deserves, and to welcome a new era for British film."
Shadow Culture Minister Dan Jarvis said, "The Government now needs to listen to Lord Smith’s review and create a climate in which our film industry can continue to flourish."
Ed Vaizy, the Conservative Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, who commissioned the report, says the government will make a formal response in a few months time.