The British government since last September has asked both organizations to merge and save money. But now they’re at an impasse how to go about it. The standoff also puts the two co-chairman of Working Title in opposite camps. Tim Bevan, one half of Working Title, is chairman of the UK Film Council. Eric Fellner, his co-chairman, sits on the BFI board. Normally British film behind-the-scenes is a genteel biz. No more.
It was assumed that the UK Film Council would takeover the British Film Institute. That has the BFI arguing that what’s been proposed by the UK Film Council so far is unworkable given its royal charter and charitable status. Instead, the British Film Institute, the UK film culture organization, has proposed its own takeover plan for the UK Film Council. That way, the BFI would see its venerable status protected atop of the merged organisation. But UK Film Council insiders say their proposed merger is still very much on track, claiming none of the issues involved are insurmountable, and problems such as the royal charter and charitable status are being worked through. The two British film organisations have until the end of March to come together.
If they can’t achieve a merger by then, an incoming Conservative administration could bang their heads together, one political insider told me, warning that the BFI will find itself worse off if the March deadline is missed. The British government first announced the merger last September because of the country’s huge public deficit. As a result, many arts organisations’s budgets are being slashed.
Ministers have scratched their heads as to why the UK has two separate organisations for film in the first place. They want to see significant savings by merging BFI/UKFC personnel, accounting and communications departments. UK Film Council has an annual £60 million budget but is facing an annual £4.4 million budget cut due to money being diverted to the London 2012 Olympics.The UKFC will cut its running costs by 20% over the next 5 years. The BFI’s annual budget is £16 million a year – a figure which has remained unchanged for five years.
But the BFI board, contrary to expectations, hasn’t gone along with the UK Film Council’s proposed re-organisation. One BFI insider told me, “We all agree that there needs to be a fundamental re-organisation. We’re just not prepared to be subsumed by a quango [an organization or agency that is financed by a government but that acts independently of it].”
BFI chairman Greg Dyke – former boss of the BBC – is unlikely to want to run the merged organisation, however. Others complain that the consultation process has been a waste of time and carp that the merger was a foregone conclusion even before it was announced.