For the UK film industry, Brexit has sparked controversial debate over whether the film industry will be aversely affected or not, and what can be done to protect the increasingly lucrid sector. Here at Filmstrip we’ve worked out all the need-to-know detail
To many who work across the UK film sector, Brexit spells troubling news. Independent producers and directors alike, including award winning, I, Daniel Blake director, Ken Loach, have expressed numerous concerns that Brexit, if handled improperly, could spell disaster for the UK film industry. Films like, The Pianist, Land and Freedom and The Ghost Writer, that were supported by European partners, may well find themselves left in funding dead zones, while budding European workers who have contributed to the UK for years feel forced to leave to seek more welcoming pastures.Having cultivated a creative sector that is, according to the Department for Culture Media and Sports (D.C.M.S), now valued at over £90 billion a year, the UK stands to lose much from the negotiations. But, all is not lost. Here at Filmstrip we have broken down exactly what Brexit will affect and more importantly, what can be protected or even potentially gained.
Freedom of Movement
The first and arguably most important issue for the UK film industry is the possible restrictions to freedom of movement. For productions that often shoot in European locations, the ability to easily move without the need for work visas to any of the 27 member states is invaluable. Not only that, but sourcing people from across Europe has given the UK its notable status as a global hub for the world’s best talent.
Tony Lennon is the lead research officer for BECTU, the largest UK union for film and TV workers. He believes the UK would be eroding its position as a world leader should it restrict access for foreign nationals:
“The film industry in London depends on freedom of movement. The reason we have world class talent and are dragging in all this foreign direct investment, isn’t just because we are kind to producers with tax breaks. It’s because we’ve got world class talent which is world based. By interchanging ideas and cultural symbols we make the industry better. You take that away and make people feel unwelcome; you’ve got serious problems.”
Politically, maintaining freedom of movement is looking less and less likely. Theresa May has been adamant that she will not tolerate open borders, no matter the consequence. The result of restricted movement may well be a return to visas or the dreaded carnets, which would increase costs and hassle for productions.
” By interchanging ideas and cultural symbols we make the industry better. You take that away and make people feel unwelcome; you’ve got serious problems”
Nick Toon, Vice President for UK public policy for Time Warner International in London, believes the situation isn’t as bad as it looks, arguing that even if visas were reinstated, it wouldn’t be as crippling as it is being made out:
“We have large numbers of people from South Africa, US, or Australia who work as part of our crew. They don’t just get left behind, we bring them with us but they use work permits and visas. Those problems aren’t insoluble; the question is how many, how costly and how flexible?”
Nick believes the UK government, if it does choose to use a visa system, will be in a preferential place to dictate new rates that can positively allow people to move between shoot locations and bring in talent. The costs associated may well impact smaller independent filmmakers, but he sees the industry as a flexible one that can bend to the needs of its productions.
“Not everything in film is chosen just for cost, it’s often because a certain location might bring real authenticity and a director wants to shoot there, so the idea of visas shutting down a production will likely not be the case.”
Funding and tax incentives
Brexit means the UK will no longer be part of Creative Europe; a body that between 2007-13, has provided over €100 million towards various aspects of the UK film industry. According to a study by Oxford Economics, the UK film industry continues to generate significant value for the UK economy, generating a turnover of £9.1bn in 2014. As a result of the potential loss of membership of Creative Europe, filmmakers won’t be able to benefit directly from the support given to developing film, such as helping to pay for first and second drafts of a script or having their films distributed in European cinemas.
“For small timers like myself, being told I can’t access those funds is worrying, I’m not sure where we will turn”
Rebecca O’Brien from Sixteen Films, has been a co-producer of UK independent films for over 25 years and has worked on various European co-productions over her career. She is concerned that independent and smaller production companies may struggle without the mechanisms for funding she herself has utilised:
“Ours is an incredibly fluid industry. In my co-productions I often work with other nations like Germany, and I’ll bring them over here. You can presell to different territories, and if I spend a certain amount of money in their country I can get a tax concession, and that helps me put my patchwork quilt of money together. That’s been the way we have raised money to make our films over the years.”
Rose McGinley-Redon is an amateur filmmaker. She recently started her own indie film company, Between Worlds Productions, and had planned to use Creative Europe funding for her future projects: “For small timers like myself, being told I can’t access those funds is worrying, I’m not sure where we will turn. I’ve seen contracts disappear just because no-one knows what’s happening.”
According to the Creative Industries Federation, a body that has brought creative leaders from across the country together to lobby the government, co-productions will still be possible since they are covered under the Treaty of Rome, which isn’t a European incentive. It is likely however that with the uncertainty the UK is experiencing, that co-productions may be harder to come by, although financial tax expert David Harvey says, “the drop in the pound will offset much of the problems by bringing in short term investment, at least until things stabilise.” It is the hope of producers like Rebecca O’Brien however, that the UK will be able to remain a part of Creative Europe.
Definition of audio visual content and the Digital Single Market
Currently the UK is an appealing place to produce content, because it also provides access to all of Europe for distribution. That’s because UK produced content is defined as European. This is important because TV channels that buy from the UK in Europe fill European quotas, so the worry is if content is no longer defined as European, that the UK will have more difficulty in selling content to those countries.
This potential pitfall however may already have a solution. “Any content that is produced by any country that is a signatory of the Trans-Frontier Television Convention, which is a council of Europe document, not a European document, which includes countries like Russia and Turkey, qualifies as European,” says Nick Toon.
“There is a big push from Europe to change the rules around our ability to license content on an exclusive basis territory by territory”
As things stand then, even though the UK will leave the European Union, content should still be European, but Nick advises caution to make sure it remains so. More worryingly, there are currently debates over the UK’s position in the proposed Digital Single Market, which seeks to reform online content distribution including, audio visual and communications and copyright laws. These talks will dictate the future of the UK’s digital access in Europe.
“There is a big push from Europe to change the rules around our ability to license content on an exclusive basis territory by territory. That is fundamentally important in raising the finance to fund our content. And so the UK needs to really make our case and stand up for us in those talks while we still can.”
The creative sector often relies on freelance, short contract work, and thanks to European directives some rights have been put in place, such as holiday pay that starts from day one and the right to national minimum wage. For many across the film sector the previous laws, such as the 13 week qualifying period for holiday pay disenfranchised them.
Nicola Countouris, a labour lawyer and executive member of the Institute of Employment Rights, believes the smaller players may be left out if the government fails to properly transfer legal protections:
“The government have said they are going to enshrine the corpus of that EU law, but there is pressure from Brexit campaigns that said the worst features of EU was all the regulations about health and safety and worker’s rights. Things like holiday pay still need judgements from the European Court of Justice, and since we will be separate from that, the smaller players will likely suffer.”
Looking to the future
It’s not just the sheer complexity of decoupling the UK from the EU that has the UK film industry concerned, but more so that the government is still very much divided over what kind of Brexit we will get. Soft or hard? Stay in the Single Market or strike out? For the time being, Brexit is still under negotiation and organisations like the Creative Industries Federation and BECTU are campaigning hard, publishing detailed studies such as the Brexit Report and lobbying the government to ensure MPs understand the complexities of the UK film industry and in turn work to reduce the negative impacts that could come about. There is no doubt the majority of the creative industry would prefer if Brexit didn’t happen, but what is certain is that the best outcome for UK film and the creative industry as a whole will require strong and decisive action to be taken.