BLIMEY! Government Warns UK Film Council To Stop Briefing Hollywood

Ed Vaizey, the UK arts minister, has written a stern letter to UKFC head John Woodward demanding to know whether the agency has been spending public money on campaigning for a reprieve. Vaizey wants to know whether the UKFC has been “briefing” the film industry – including Hollywood – to protest against its closure. Clint Eastwood has become the latest Hollywood star urging the government to reconsider its decision. “The prospect of losing a valuable resource such as the UKFC is of great concern to us,” Eastwood wrote. Steven Molen, DreamWorks’ head of physical production, has also written to Chancellor George Osborne. Fifty three British actors including James McAvoy, Emily Blunt and Bill Nighy have signed a public letter condemning the decision.

The government has been rattled by the strength of public support for the film agency. Nearly 50,000 people have joined the Save the UK Film Council Facebook page, while another 25,000 have signed a petition. Culture secretary wrote an article last weekend singling out the UKFC for paying eight executives more than £100,000 ($156,000) a year.

The DCMS has released a section of Vaizey’s letter to the Independent newspaper. “I am very concerned about what has come to light,” wrote Vaizey. “It looks as though sources at the Film Council have been overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests. As a result they may be damaging the film industry that they purport to represent. This is completely wrong and I will be seeking urgent reassurances that the Film Council will promote the interests of the film industry rather than its own from now on.”

The UKFC responds: “The future of the UK film industry is the only thing the UK Film Council is interested in. We will continue to do everything we can to reassure people that any change to us will not affect the UK’s film offer to the world.”

There’s been talk that the government’s sudden decision to close UKFC down is driving Hollywood away from shooting in Britain. The DCMS heard that the UKFC had been telling people Lakeshore Entertainment’s decision to shoot the fourth Underworld movie in Vancouver rather than in Britain was because of the UKFC closing. Not true, Lakeshore told the DCMS.

The argument runs that if the UK government can act so arbitrarily over the UKFC, what’s to stop it suddenly reneging on the 20% inward investment tax break? The government has repeated that film lottery funding will actually increase by £3 million a year, and that the tax credit is safe. Hollywood movies shooting in Britain this summer include Disney’s Pirates Of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men: First Class – both at Pinewood – and Captain America, filming at Shepperton. Further ahead, there’s talk of Catherine Hardwicke’s Hamlet, plus the next Alien and Batman movies shooting here.

Ironically, given that it faces closure in April 2012, the UKFC has just embarked on a major office refurbishment.

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