Local Heroes: Is UK film saving the economy?
Boasting, showing-off and succumbing to hyperbole are traits that will not, on the whole, endear you to people. Self-aggrandisement is rarely acceptable.
Unless, of course, you run a British, state-funded organisation in 2010. In which case, you blow your trumpet so hard that the foundations of the House of Commons shudder in a way that would have made Guy Fawkes light up.
Fear does not tend to respect decorum; nor does the film business. Its UK chapter, the Film Council, launched a paper this morning [1.36MB PDF] extolling the success of the British film industry. It is an immodest document, proclaiming with gusto the enormous economic importance of the British film business. And why not? That's part of the Council's job.
The central purpose of the report appears to be a plea to the government to retain its Film Tax Relief incentive. It argues that this is a jolly good thing and warns that to remove it in any of the forthcoming budget cuts would signal The End for the British film industry.
The report says that such a move could reduce current production income in the UK by 75%. Foreign film-makers come to the UK for the skills of our production professionals and for the generous tax incentives. Take them away and Woody Allen and co would look, cut and run. Right now, according to the report, it is 40% cheaper to make a movie in Britain than it is in the USA - due to tax relief and a weak pound.
Government interventions on behalf of the British film business date back at least to 1927 and Parliament's introduction of the Cinematograph Films Act that mandated a minimum allotment of screen time to British films. It began at 5% in 1927 and was to rise to 20% by 1936. The extremely-low-budget films that were made to fulfil the criteria were known as Quota Quickies, which you can read about more here.
Ultimately, though, the "Quickies" didn't satisfy film-makers or audiences and so the government-backed strategy to create a British studio system to match and mirror the burgeoning American movie-making model was abandoned - thankfully not before it had given birth to Michael Powell's talents.
The current system of government support through tax breaks appears to be working well for all parties. Unlike the old Quota Quickies, today's investment is predicated on selling the UK as a production base and not as a producing centre of home-made films, which is a frustration for some British film-makers who are struggling to finance their projects.
This morning's report has been compiled by the consultancy Oxford Economics, supported with funding from the UK Film Council and other interested parties; it does not provide an impartial overview. Some figures have been attributed with the scantest of evidence. Here for example is a passage about the British film industry's contribution to tourism:
"Limited robust statistical data qualifying the value of this impact [on tourism], the available evidence suggests around a tenth of the value of foreign tourism to the UK may be attributable to the impact of UK films. On this basis we estimate that around £1.9bn of visitor spend a year might be attributable to UK films."
Not only are there more caveats employed in these assumptions than you'd find in an LA pre-nuptial agreement, but they are based on movies such as Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice. Both are more famous as books and had been trading successfully for many years as tourist candy. Now if they had cited Fish Tank or Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, that would have been worth a mention.
Nevertheless, the £1.9bn is shamelessly banked, and contributes to a headline total that exclaims the annual contribution of the British film industry to the UK economy as £4.5bn. That's if you count every single available pound that could possibly be attributed to the UK film business, such as the sales to foreigners of deerstalkers and pipes.
Elsewhere in the document are rather more robust figures. The British film business directly employs 36,000 people (up 7% from 2006), enjoying a reasonably high average wage of £33,700, in three cases out of every four working in London or the South East. A stand-out statistic was the existential conclusion that a British-made and British-themed film will enjoy 30% better box-office takings than had it been made elsewhere. Er...?
The report would have benefited from more comparative data, outlining how British state funding of the UK film business compares against the support given by the French, German and American governments to their film industries, both financially and strategically.
And distribution is barely mentioned - which seems too big an issue to be completely ignored. For example, what percentage of British-made films, with or without UK Film Council support, receive a full theatrical - that is, a cinema - release?
It's one thing making a movie but quite another finding a distributor. Is the UK Film Council investing enough in helping pay for the high cost of film prints and marketing costs that are central to having a movie successfully released?
This report tells us what is going well and outlines a couple of apparent threats such as illegal downloading and copyright threat, but it's actually more of a PR document than a genuine overview - which is a shame.