With the Brexit hangover continuing to loom large over the UK film industry, attendees at a BFI London Film Festival industry panel on Friday were urged to remember that the UK’s cultural and creative relationship with Europe, and the world, is “much bigger” than its membership with the European Union.
At a panel dubbed Business As Usual: The UK After the EU Referendum, chaired by the BFI’s head of international Isabel Davis, a number of top industry execs weighed in on what the inevitable affect of Britain exiting the EU would mean going forward and what solutions lay ahead to ensure Europe’s film production ecosystem thrives. (This week Prime Minister Theresa May said she would be triggering Article 50, the official process of exiting the EU, in March 2017).
According to BFI data, US studios have put about £5B ($6.2B) into making movies in the UK in the last five years. The Motion Picture Association of America’s president and managing director in Europe, Stan McCoy, says this figure is a great vote of confidence in the successes that have been generated out of the UK market.
“Whatever the circumstances, I think the US studios and all of their business partners in the UK will be looking to capitalize on that investment and make sure the UK remains a thriving moviemaking market,” he said. “I’m fundamentally optimistic that if you go back over the reasons as to why all that existing investment has taken place, I doubt that much of it was primarily because it [the UK] was in the EU.”
He encouraged the UK government to take “very seriously” it’s role in the EU’s Digital Single Market discussions through the remainder of its membership. “In or out, the European Union remains the number one export market for film and TV,” McCoy said.
Indeed the UK government has already pledged the safety of the UK’s robust 25% tax credit, which has been a large driver for Hollywood franchises such as Star Wars and Fast and the Furious to send their films to shoot in the country.
Peter Dinges, director general of of Germany’s national film funding institution Filmforderungsanstalt (FFA), called on the UK industry to “stay cool” and “stay pragmatic.”
“A decision has been made according to the democratic principles and we have to respect this,” he said. “In the future, we have to find a special relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe and this special relationship will certainly have to be tailor-made for the UK’s needs and the needs of it’s industries.”
He pointed to Norway, a country which is part of the European economical community and common market but not a EU member state, as an example of a position the UK could take in the future.
Concerns were raised on the issue of freedom of movement of labor within the continent and what restrictions that could have on the UK creative sectors going forward.
Alex Hope, managing director of VFX company Double Negative, said allowing workers from around the EU to enter the country was crucial for the UK to continue its global position as a leader in the post-production sector.
“We need the brightest and best to come here and work within our industry and VFX relies fundamentally on the amazing talents of the artists working within it,” he said, pointing out that 29% of Double Negative’s staff are from EU countries. “It’s a small global talent pool because it’s a new industry and we want the brightest and best to come here and work in this industry and to train here and build scale for future proofing our business.”
Potboiler Productions’ Gail Egan (The Constant Gardener) said that film production was already laden pressures such as scheduling and attracting talent and that “if you are completely hemmed in by who you can hire because of their nationality, apart from making us deeply parochial as a country, it would make it very difficult [to make films].”
Dinges encouraged the industry to explore alternative options to maintain free trade in the business, pointing to the German Film Law, which puts Switzerland (also a non-EU country) on an equal playing field. “Maybe other countries have the possibility to bring UK citizens in in similar positions but this has to be negotiated country-by-country,” he said. “It’s an effort and a lot of work.”
Questions were raised on the role the EU’s MEDIA program, which has invested €2.4B ($2.7B) into film, television and video content across development, promotion and distribution within the continent and beyond, would play going forward.
“Most of our buyers have had access to MEDIA funding,” said Dimitra Tsingou, COO of international sales outfit Protagonist Pictures. “It works and it’s a great support.” She and Egan stressed the importance of UK films being able to qualify as European going forward in a post-Brexit world with Egan emphasizing that pre-selling a UK project to European distributors would become much more difficult if they didn’t.
But Dinges said a lot could be learned from the situation in the long run and encouraged an ongoing dialogue between UK and Europe professionals. “It’s very important that you [the UK] stay in the boat and that we build up a future for Europe.”