UPDATE: Reactions to the UK government closing down the £60 million-a-year ($94 million) state film agency have formed into two distinct camps.
Many producers I’ve spoken to say the UK Film Council never did anything for them and will not be missed. Sure, they’ve had dribs and drabs of funding but they’ve been excluded from what they perceive as the charmed inner circle. The UKFC’s headcount is still 75 despite the recent 20% slash in its overhead. “A handful dealt with film financing,” one producer tells me. “It was never clear what the rest did.”
Indeed, it may be that the UKFC closure increases the amount of cash available for production. The agency had been spending 23% of the £38.5 million lottery funding it was receiving on overhead. This compares with 13-14% at other UK screen agencies Scottish Screen and Film Agency For Wales. UKFC had worked up a plan to get its lottery overhead down to under 5% before the plug was pulled.
And the amount paid UKFC executives is another bugbear. The government recently disclosed that four of the organisation’s executives had been earning more than £150,000 a year. Tanya Seghatchian, the new film fund head, had an annual salary of £165,000 – although this has since been reduced — the argument being that the state must match what executives could earn in the private sector. But it’s not as if the industry’s crying out for development executives, say producers – let alone paying three times the market rate for the privilege.
Other producers have called me shocked at the cack-handed way the government has gone about this. What the Film Council needed was reform, not closure, they say. I revealed earlier this week by Arts Minister Ed Vaizey had hoped to smooth the way for the Film Council abolition by making it part of his summer film review. Instead, his boss Jeremy Hunt decided to jump the gun and make Monday’s announcement. This wasn’t what Vaizey wanted.
UKFC supporters – of which there are many; an online petition to save the organisation now has 25,000 signatures – argue that people may be gloating over this week’s bonfire of the quangos [an organization or agency that is financed by a government but that acts independently of it], but the industry will miss the UKFC when it’s gone. The UKFC has been the glue keeping the industry together. “It was good to have an organisation arguing the industry’s case at the big table,” one producer told me. “And the industry’s been lucky to have somebody representing it as politically adroit as John Woodward.”
I’ve been told that despite Hunt appearing to row back from scrapping the UKFC when he spoke in the House of Commons on Monday, the closure is irrevocable.