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Oscars 2011: UK Film Council's final hurrah?

Will Gompertz | 08:18 UK time, Monday, 28 February 2011

John Woodward is probably not a name you are familiar with. And given events at last night's Oscars, it's likely to be one he'd take a moment or two to recognise. Wherever he was last night, the chances are the ex-boss of the UK Film Council was toasting the success of his soon-to-be-abolished old employer.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter in the King's Speech


Woodward established the UK Film Council a little over a decade ago. By his own admission it was always a bit of a fudge, and at the time the government decided to abolish it, Woodward was actively looking at ways he could merge his institution with the BFI. But it wasn't to be and the axe fell.

Jeremy Hunt told me recently he thought he made the decision too quickly but in hindsight he was pleased he had done so. I wonder if he will be saying the same thing next year. That is not to pre-judge how well the BFI might now pick up the gauntlet and support the British film industry, just that the culture secretary is a shrewd businessman and he knows as well as anyone just how difficult it is to build a successful company.

And there can be little argument that Woodward had built the UK Film Council into a successful outfit. After a slow start their nose for a good bet had become rather refined. Not only did they make a crucial investment into the King's Speech to allow it to go into production, but they helped facilitate the tax breaks that brought Hollywood production money to the UK. That led to another Oscar success last night. Double Negative, the Soho-based visual effects company, rightly won the best special effects award for the stunning computer graphics on Inception.

Those hard-won tax breaks have meant last year saw record foreign investment into the UK film production business, with over £1bn spent making, or partially making, movies here. The UK cinema had a bumper year too, with innovations such as the digital screens not only bringing movie lovers to the big screen, but opera, theatre and ballet buffs too. The digital screens were another UK Film Council-backed project.


  • Comment number 1.

    My guess is that all the income from The Kings Speech will vanish into HM Treasury never to emerge again. Never trust a Mandarin - ever!

    Jeremy Hunt must be 'told' to prevent this from happening.

  • Comment number 2.

    Long before the UKFilm Council was formed, there was a British Film Commission started by the Conservatives and headed by Sir Sydney Samuelson CBE who was the first British Film Commissioner. It then became part of the UK Film Council when it was formed by the Labour Govt in 2000 and which, with its 90 odd staff, was responsible for distributing lottery money to help fund British films. The British Film Commissioner's office was and is responsible for inward investment and coupled with the terrific talent, expertise, experience of film making and reputations of the British Film Service industry it has been responsible for the £1bn or more last year to which you refer. I doubt that The King's Speech would have foundered if the UK Film Council had not invested in it, but it does seem to be the the most profitable, (if not the only or perhaps one of only the very few) British Films in more than ten years of investing in them that has made a profit and a substantial one at that. Sir Sydney Samuelson CBE, Steve Norris and now Colin Browne, the Three British Film Commissioners (our salesmen if you like) and their small department of 4 or 5 people are the real UK Film Council heroes of the huge inward investment the Film Industry brings to the UK. There are other inaccuracies in your piece due no doubt that the real story is too long and complicated for a blog.

  • Comment number 3.

    Following British successes in sport David Cameron was quick to jump in the bandwagon of success association by offering his congratulations. Now he is quiet on the British Oscar success. I wonder why? Could it have something the Govt scrapping of funding to the UK Film Council?

  • Comment number 4.

    I expect the other nominees will be too decent to appeal the awards to The King’s Speech on the grounds that it benefited unfairly from government support, although they have every right to feel hard done by.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well, the great hope now is that a score of intelligent private investors will appear out of the blue, eager to finance new and coming British Film success stories, and a few years from now we will be grateful to the little guy from Australia who came to our shores to cure stutterers, and one of them bigger than others. Or not...

  • Comment number 6.

    "And there can be little argument that Woodward had built the UK Film Council into a successful outfit"

    Actually there is one almighty argument about this. Many people in the film industry felt UK Film Council was a "jobs for the boys" scheme, only ever invested in films made by producers/directors in a particular clique and as for the salaries UKFC paid themselves... I think the only phrase which is likely to get past the moderators would be something like... way beyond acceptable for a civil servant.

    Not saying everything about the UKFC was a failure, they deserve credit for the digital cinema push and film producer tax credit but even the latter is now looking uncompetitive compared to other countries.

    The UKFC will not be missed

  • Comment number 7.

    #2. Actually it probably would have foundered. The UK broadcasters who would normally invest or buy TV rights in advance (BBC and C4) both passed on the film, and the film council (specifically its old Premiere Fund) stepped up as the main equity investor. Aside from that, though inward investment is important economically, you overstate its importance from a cultural standpoint.

    #4 As i understand it the film council invested in the film on commercial terms (taking a rumoured 35% producer's equity), so it was not a hand out. being the film council it wasn't government support, but the people's lottery money invested by 'film' folk and free of state interference. since Jeremy Hunt's career-boosting efforts, this may not be the case any more.

  • Comment number 8.

    It'd be a shame if films of this calibre are no longer to be made in the UK with the reorganisation of the way government invests in film. I suspect 'free enterprise' is only interested in 'dead certs' and would have little interest on the artistic merits of any film they make. Would 'The Kings Speech' have been made under the new rules? It seems a tad wacky as a 'dead cert'. Maybe the writer might have been told it was not commercial but might make a nice miniseries for beeb 1's Sunday evenings.

  • Comment number 9.

    Honestly, I guffaw when I hear anyone referred to as a 'shrewd businessman' We are in constant denial of the fact that there are some things that must be taken out of the realms of 'profitable returns on one's investment' and just simply funded for the sake of it. Play is play - not work in a frock; for heaven's sake.....

  • Comment number 10.

    With these Oscars and many other film successes over the years, I hope the Oxbridge PPE numpties and their ilk stop denigrating the value of UK degrees in media and film studies. The British film and media industry makes a huge contribution to society and the UK government's coffer by actually creating products that sell internationally—a rare commodity in the UK today. The people who work (and study) in the film and media business should be nurtured as a key asset that can generate huge profits—more than can be said for many of the PPEs skulking in the corridors of banking and government, pretending to be economists, civil servants and politicians.

  • Comment number 11.

    In the United States nearly every state has given film makers incentives to make films in its state. These are usually tax breaks, but can include availabily to access state buildings, state-owned lands and landmarks. Frances Ford Coppola made 'Rumble Fish' and 'Tne Outsiders' there;Steven Spielberg had full use of the Norman branch of the National Severe Storms Lab as well as the University of Oklahoma:and even if the reboot of 'True Grit' was made in Texas, at least one can't see the Grand Tetons in Wyoming as in the original of it. By the way, Texas is often referred to as ' Baja Oklahoma!

  • Comment number 12.

    Yes the Government can help with tax breaks and councils can help with incentives to use locations, but the UK Film Industry has to be an Industry.

    It has to make money and re-invest that money in successful, well produced and well marketed movies. The Kings Speech, Bend it Like Beckham and many more have started the ball rolling and showed audiences that Brit films aren't all art house snorathons. Now UK studios need to lead the way.

    We have all the component parts, The world class actors, directors, visual effects studios, locations etc - now let's piece them together and make a film that brings in audiences, not another historical epic filled with scenic shots.

  • Comment number 13.

    Sorry to be picky Will, but could you try not to forget basic principles?
    Para 1: Please rewrite - I cannot parse sentence two so as to make sense in the context of sentences one and three.
    Para 3: Who is Jeremy Hunt (no context given in the first sentence)? It's only by the end of the paragraph that I deduce he may be the Culture Secretary(? I've never heard of him!).
    Para 4: (minor whinge) Why do you need to start your paragraph with a conjunction? "There can be little argument that Woodward had built the UK Film Council..." is just as punchy?
    Apart from the technique, I applaud the sentiments though!


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