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Rising costs pose threat to independent film-making in UK, says BFI | Film industry

There are serious questions about the long-term viability of independent film-making in Britain, the British Film Institute (BFI) has said.

Making Oscar-winning films such as The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire has become all the more difficult, with “significant challenges” putting the sector on a downward trend, research shows.

Vibrant independent productions nurture creative risk-taking and emerging talent, but increasing production costs and falling investments are taking their toll, limiting the ability to compete with well-financed, studio-backed productions.

The BFI’s report, An Economic Review of UK Independent Film, says independent film-makers face “significant inflation” in production costs for studio space, as well as for cast and crew, and that they have been disproportionately affected by crew shortages.

Some have experienced disruption caused by specialists departing mid-production for more attractive options, leaving producers to hire individuals who are under-qualified.

The research highlights that while major Hollywood studios are drawn to the UK by generous tax incentives, the UK independent sector is facing “stagnating revenue”, with increased sales from digital media not fully replacing falling revenue from traditional sources such as DVD.

It has become all the more challenging for investors to recoup money and generate returns, therefore making them more risk-averse towards independent films, the report says. It calls for an increase in film tax relief for UK independent films.

Andy Paterson, who produced The Railway Man, the acclaimed second world war film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, said: “The government needs to see really hard data that takes this away from being anecdotal and reveals the true scale of the crisis. This is the BFI delivering that data to make sure this can’t be ignored.”

Inward investment spend in the UK from major international productions exceeded £4.7bn in 2021. Paterson said: “So much money is being made by this country on the back of servicing American films and series and we must put some of it back to make sure that we have a future.

“We contributed around £800m to those shows in 2020-21 through the tax credit, but every £1 spent there delivers a massive £8.30 of benefit to the UK economy – more than £6bn. The total production spend of BBC Films, by comparison, is £11m. The reason that everybody comes here to shoot is because we have the cast, the crew and skills, but it’s the independent sector where that talent is nurtured.”

He added: “Originality equals risk. The point about independent films is that they tell stories you haven’t seen before and create new stars. But trying to sell an independent film with new talent is the hardest marketing task you can take on, which is why you need support.”

The research, which was undertaken by independent company Alma Economics, also singles out streamers: “The extent to which streamers currently contribute positively to the UK independent film sector is ambiguous.”

Observing that, in Germany, streamers are obliged to contribute financially towards the national film funding institution, designed primarily to support independent films, the report suggests “a voluntary arrangement” in which streaming services commit a certain proportion of their budget to making lower budget films in the UK.

Ben Roberts, the BFI’s chief executive, described the report as “the most intensive and rounded study of the economics of the sector to date”.

In its foreword, he writes: “There is no question of the cultural importance of independent film to audiences, its continuing attraction to storytellers with unique visions, and its essential role in developing talent.

“But we have heard increasingly widespread concerns that the business model for UK independent film has come under severely-increased financial pressure, and the findings from this review make it clear that the sustainability of independent film is under considerable threat.”


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