Could Brexit break the British film industry? – words Alan Woods
Two of the most successful independent films of 2015 were British-made. BBC Films’ The Lady in the Van and Film4 Productions’ Carol each grossed around $40 million on budgets of $6 million and $11 million respectively. The Lady in the Van was critically acclaimed, and Carol was the best-reviewed film of the year according to Metacritic.
These combined British TV shows like The Night Manager and Downton Abbey, and studio-backed UK films like The Martian and Spectre, paint a picture of one of the world’s leading film and TV industries.
But the sad truth for the post-Brexit future is that these films’ and series’ successes relied heavily on the UK’s relationship with the EU—a relationship the British public decided to end on June 23rd, 2016.
So without EU membership, will the British film industry flounder? Is an independent UK good for independent UK films? Here are the ways UK TV and cinema will be affected by Brexit.
British independent films will get less funding
Though small compared to Hollywood blockbusters, typical UK independent film budgets of $5-$20 million are still large amounts. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK film industry received €100,000,000 from MEDIA, the EU organisation that funds not only productions, but everything from training, festivals and distribution.
This contribution, which has continued through 2015 and will do so until the UK officially leaves the EU, is invaluable to the industry. The crew members who made The Lady in the Van and Macbeth, another 2015 British critical success, learned their trade from EU-funded skills initiatives.
MEDIA also helps uncommercial UK productions such as 2015’s The Lobster which is set in a world where single adults are turned into animals if they do not find a partner in 45 days. This film’s European distributors were likely helped by MEDIA’s €14 million Selective scheme, which gives financial incentives to artistic films that may not be destined for box office success. The Lobster did manage to triple its €4 million budget, but its real success was with the critics, who hailed it an artistic triumph. They may never have seen it without the EU.
As well as funding movies behind the scenes, the EU dedicates a lot of money to the UK’s independent cinemas. As part of its project to promote cohesion of the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund often gives money to local independent cinemas as these venues are more likely to play European films. After Brexit, these cinemas will have to look elsewhere for funding.
The UK and the EU will see less of each other’s films
At the moment, British cinemas screen very few foreign language films. This could be due to difficulties in translation. Translating comedy, for example, can be very complicated (though the international success of French comedy The Intouchables is a notable exception). With MEDIA funding encouraging EU countries to distribute films to other member-states, the UK may be less likely to receive EU movies from distributors in the post-Brexit future.
More significantly, UK films and television programs will be far less visible on EU screens. Most European television stations have quotas on the amount on non-EU content they can show. The EU’s Television Without Frontiers directive necessitates that 50% of shows broadcast on EU stations must be EU-made. France goes further, enforcing a 60% EU content quota on televisions and five weeks per quarter to be dedicated to French-language films in cinemas.
With UK productions no longer counting as EU-made, and many national directives prioritising their own languages, British films will have to break far more than the language barrier to be seen in Europe.
How could the industry survive?
Though Independent Film and Television Alliance chairman Mike Ryan said Brexit will be “devastating” for the British film industry, all is not lost. Pan-European co-productions like The Lobster, which was made by Greek, Irish, French, Dutch and British production companies, will still be able to go ahead as European film collaborations are covered by the Council of Europe, a non-EU body to which the UK will still belong post-Brexit.
The falling value of the pound also has a silver lining: it will be cheaper for Hollywood productions to shoot in the UK. Though this will do nothing to help independent productions. Though the loss of MEDIA funding from the EU will no doubt hurt independent filmmakers, other avenues such as the National Lottery Good Causes fund will continue to provide funding and opportunities.
Despite these caveats, the future of the British film industry definitely looks darker than it did on June 22nd. Organisations, companies and professionals in the industry could make all the difference going forward. If they band together and lobby the British government to replace EU funding, some of the losses of Brexit could be alleviated.
Let’s hope they do, or the successes of British cinema like Billy Elliot, The King’s Speech or Trainspotting may never be matched, and The Lady in the Van, as a financially successful British-made, British-set film, written by one of the nation’s best writers and starring one of the nation’s best actors, may be the last of its kind.