Chief Bar Steward
Cast & Crew
I've just had the go-ahead to make this public, it's a letter that screenwriter Jonathan Gems (Batman, Mars Attacks) sent to one of Jeremy Hunt's aides. It's a worthy and eye-opening read. An antidote to all of these misguided "save the UKFC" cries and petitions on the web. Many thanks for this Jonathan, you are a true gent!
Dear Oscar Tapp-Scotting
Thank you for your email. I and others welcomed the abolition of the UKFC not so much because it was a way for the government to save money but because the UKFC actively suppressed British Cinema.
You must be aware that, apart from a portion of UKFC funds going into 'educational projects' (i.e.wasted), and a small cosmetic portion going to a few rare and already-financed British films, most of the funding went to Hollywood film companies to induce them to shoot their films at British production houses.
The British film community felt coruscating spasms of pain every time a government official bragged about the 'success' of the so-called British film industry when what was being referred to were successful American films that had been partly made at British production houses. We all remember seeing Tony Blair, for example, in the House of Commons, claiming that the success of the Harry Potter films (Warner Bros) were due to "his" policies and represented a success for British films when, in reality, they demonstrated the humiliating failure of British films.
In a newspaper interview the patriotic J.K. Rowling announced she would not 'go Hollywood' but would sell the rights to her Harry Potter series to a British film company. She didn't know there were no British film companies capable of financing and releasing the Harry Potter films. Later, she had to sell her rights to Hollywood or not see the films made. She had no choice.
Another recent ignominy was the drubbing received by Channel 4 when it made the excellent low budget film "Slumdog Millionaire" only to be forced to give it away to foreign studios in order to see it released. All the profits went to these foreign studios, not Britain.
And this is an old story. The film "1984" (which I co-wrote) starring John Hurt and Richard Burton has been seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. This was a British film financed by Richard Branson (Virgin Films) that was released in only one cinema in the UK. Why only one? Because Britain's cinemas are controlled by Hollywood and the Hollywood cartel was threatened by Richard's intention to start a British studio, so made sure to strangle it at birth.
In most years, about 99% of the films shown in UK cinemas are foreign films. (About 95% are American; 3% from other countries and 2% indigenous.) There is no nation in Europe whose film culture has been so thoroughly wiped out as ours has been.
Back in 1970, Britain still had its own cinema. We had three major studios: Associated British Pictures, British Lion, and The Rank Organisation. Between them, they produced and released between 30 and 40 films a year. In those days, we had home-grown stars like Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Dirk Bogarde, Alec Guinness, Vanessa Redgrave and Norman Wisdom - and a plethora of character actors. For example, John LeMesurier (best known for Dad's Army) appeared in over 100 British films.
Today, to become a star, a British actor must go to Hollywood. To write movies, a British writer must go to Hollywood. To direct movies, a British director must go to Hollywood. Okay, there are a tiny few exceptions - such as directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. But their films were made by British TV companies until they stopped funding films in the early 90's since when their films have been made by French and Spanish studios.
By helping to fund American films, the UKFC suppressed any chance of a revival of British Cinema, which is why it's good news it has been abolished.
We have tremendous talent for filmmaking in this country. But most of that talent has left (or wants to leave) this country because there is no real film industry here. Sometimes people are confused because American-financed production companies (such as Working Title) have offices in London and purport to make 'British films'. In truth, Working Title, and other such production companies, are part of the Hollywood industry. Their business is done in LA and their films are owned and controlled by Hollywood studios.
Why did British Cinema disappear 40 years ago? Simple. Protections were removed. Without protection British Cinema could not compete with Hollywood so it disappeared.
Britain is the only country in Europe that does not protect its film industry.
In the past, when Norman St John Stevas - Arts Minister in Margaret Thatcher's government - lobbied to bring back protections, he was told 'no' on Free Market grounds.
This was puzzling because the American film market has never been free. It has always been closed to foreigners. No French, German, Spanish or Scandinavian film company is allowed to release a film in America. No British film company is allowed to release a film in America. And yet we allow America 100% access to our domestic market. Hardly fair, is it?
When we finished "1984", we could not release it in America but were allowed to sell it (at a loss) to a Hollywood studio. Richard Branson lost £3 million but the film went on to make a fortune for MGM.
Write and pass a bill reserving, say,15% of the UK film market for UK films. This is what's done in other countries.
How it works is the government decrees that (say) 15% of all the films shown to the public in cinemas are indigenous. Cinema owners - to retain their licenses - must show that, each year, 15% of their screen time has been devoted to British films. This is not a lot to ask. Hollywood will still control 80% of the UK market.
The French government reserves 12.5% of France's film market for French films. Although done for cultural reasons, it has created a very lucrative industry that releases over 100 movies a year - in spite of the fact that roughly 80% of the screen time of French cinemas is devoted to Hollywood movies.
When, in 2003, the Spanish government reserved 20% of its domestic market for Spanish films, there was (unsurprisingly) a boom in Spanish filmmaking and now there are three robust Spanish movie studios not only releasing Spanish films in Spain but also selling them world-wide and earning foreign currency.
I urge Jeremy Hunt to take up the standard and champion British films. The restitution of protections will revive British Cinema, give us back our own indigenous cinema and improve our balance of payments. Not only would this be of ineffable value culturally but would, I think, be a vote-winner.
There is no rationale for not protecting British films. After all, terrestrial British television is protected. The percentage of foreign material permitted on the BBC and ITV channels is limited to 40%
Please promote this policy to Jeremy Hunt. And I'm sure David Cameron would see the sense in it.
Once again, many thanks for delivering us from the treasonous UKFC. (Hm...UKFC - looks like an anagram, doesn't it?)