Country Focus: UK
UK - The Regional Film Funds (March 2005)
by Annika Pham
The Regional Film Funds
As the central and main public funding body for film in the UK, The UK Film Council plays an important role in supporting regional film activity. It invests £7.5M Lottery money a year via the Regional Investment Fund for England (RIFE) into nine self-governing English screen agencies. But there are also three national screen agencies for Wales (Sgrin Cymru Wales), Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission - NIFTC ) and Scotland (Scottish Screen).
Although not part of the UK but member of the British Commonwealth and situated in the heart of the British Isles, the Isle of Man Film Commission is another important ‘regional’ funding alternative for UK feature film producers and foreign co-producers or co-investors.
The nine English regional screen agencies allocate mostly lottery funds on behalf of the UK Film Council, but their support is often quite small (apart from the rising North West Vision from the North West of England) and tends to complement bigger UK wide support schemes managed by the UK Film Council.
Sgrin Cymry Wales in Cardiff is the most low-key of the national screen agencies in terms of production support. It concentrates mostly on nurturing new talent and awards around £1.3m Lottery money for development and production of feature films in the region.
The NIFTC in Belfast and Scottish Screen are much more aggressive in promoting their local film industry and in attracting UK and foreign film producers. Both provide a mix of National Lottery funds and government grant-in-aid of around £3m per year each.
As for the Isle of Man Film Commission, it invests as much as £23m into feature films and TV drama via its Media Development Fund and is more commercially-oriented.
Those 13 regional film funds or agencies have therefore different means at their disposal and their activities vary depending on the local culture and economic circumstances, but their goals are basically identical: to attract film and television productions in their region to boost their local economy and promote their local talent.
North West Vision, star of the English screen agencies
The nine English regional screen agencies were set up between 2001 and 2003 following a radical review of film infrastructure and activity across England undertaken by the UK Film Council in late 2000. Since then, each agency has developed at its own pace, and among the most dynamic ones is North West Vision (NWV), headed by Steve Morrisson, former Chief executive of Granada and currently CEO of the Chrysalis TV group.
NWV was created in April 2002 and is now the only English screen agency established as a private company. It is supported by the UK Film Council, the North West Development Agency, regional local authorities as well as the European Regional Development Fund. 2003 was a turning point for NWV: it secured £6m from the UK Film Council, Liverpool City Council, Granada TV and the private sector to develop and strengthen the film, TV and media industry around Liverpool via the Merseyside Film & TV Fund. The Fund is open to companies based in the region as well joint ventures with outside companies. It awards grants from £10,000 to £250,000 for company development, project development and production investment.
NWV supervises two other funds: the Regional Attractive Fund for TV production and the Lottery Fund.
THE NORTHERN ISLAND FILM AND TELEVISION COMMISSION (NIFTC)
With Kenneth Branagh as honorary president, the NIFTC is one of the most dynamic regional screen agencies. Set up in 1997 as a company limited by guarantee based in Belfast, NIFTC’s mission is to accelerate the development of a dynamic sustainable film and TV industry in N.I. by integrating industrial, educational and cultural policies and actions. According to the NIFTC’s Chief Executive Richard Williams, the agency’s feature film and drama production budget is around £2.5m a year plus £750,000 for smaller projects and development.
The NIFTC has fast become an important partner in the financing of Irish films, often teaming up with the Irish Film Board (IFB) as well as foreign co-producers or co-financiers. In 2004, the NIFTC supported two UK/Irish co-productions: Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto [+see also:
film profile] and Pearse Elliott The Mightly Celt shown in Berlin’s Kinderfilmfest 2005, as well as The Secret Life of Words [+see also:
interview: Isabel Coixet
film profile], an English language film produced by Pedro Almodovar’s El Deseo starring Tim Robbins.
In 2003, the agency invested in the UK/Irish co-production: Terry Loane’s Mickebo & Me produced by New Moon Pictures in Ireland and Working Title in the UK with funding from Universal Pictures, Studio Canal + and the IFB. Released theatrically in Ireland last March, the film is a good example of the kind of project the NIFTC wants to attract as it contributed as much as £1.5m to the local economy and used 76 Northern Irish crew.
Apart from the diverse range of locations, the professional cast and crew and the lower costs of shooting compared to the UK, Northern Ireland is very attractive to European producers as those using the Pan-European Cinematographic Co-production Convention can access the tax incentives both in the UK and Ireland (see attached interview with Richard Williams for more details).
NIFTC feature film production funds and regulations
The NIFTC has a wide variety of support schemes including two main production funds: the Northern Ireland Film Production Fund (NIFPF) launched in 2003, and the Lottery Funding.
Funding criteria are for projects to be of cultural relevance to Northern Ireland, to use at least 50% of its shooting time in Northern Ireland and to have at least 65% of its budget already in place.
The terms of the NIFTC investments are negotiated case by case, but the NIFTC is an equity investor so they do anticipate recouping alongside other similar investors.
The NIFPF is for the production of feature films and TV Dramas. Applicants can apply for between £150,000 and £600,000 or 25% of the project’s total budget.
Lottery funding for feature film production is of a maximum of £150,000 per project. Another recent lottery funding called Made In Northern Ireland is available to lower budget feature films that can get from £4,500 up to a maximum of £50,000 per project.
Established in 1997, Scottish Screen is the national agency for the development of all aspects of the moving image in Scotland. It is funded by the Scottish Executive and distributes National Funding to the local screen industry. Its annual budget for the development and production of short films, feature films and theatrical documentaries is around £3m.
Scotland’s unique locations, experienced English speaking crews and co-production and co-financing opportunities attract a wide variety of foreign producers. For instance the Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie’s first feature The Last Great Wilderness (2002) was co-produced with the Danish major Zentropa who also produced in Scotland Lone Scherfig’s Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself [+see also:
film profile] (2002), with the UK, Sweden and France.
Other European co-productions that received Scottish Screen support include the UK/Irish co-productions The Magdalene Sisters [+see also:
film profile] (2002) by the Scottish Peter Mullan, Blind Flight (2004) starring Ian Hart, the UK/French co-production Young Adam, David Mackenzie’s second feature film shown in Cannes 2003, and Ken Loach’s films Sweet Sixteen [+see also:
film profile] and Ae Fond Kiss [+see also:
The Hollywood film The Jacket [+see also:
film profile] by John Maybury starring Adrian Brody and Kiera Knightly was also supported by Scottish Screen last year. The film was produced by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight in association with Peter Gruber with co-financing from the German fund VIP Medienfonds. The film was released in the UK mid-May by Warner Bros.
In total three feature films were made with Scottish Screen support in 2004: On a Clear Day starring Peter Mullan and Brenda Blethyn, The Jacket and Festival by Annie Griffin, and seven others received support including Nick Roeg’s Master of Lies, Vadim Jean’s Burns, and Flesh & Blood by Glasgow-born Gillies Mac Kinnon.
Scottish Screen’s feature film production funds and regulations
Scottish Screen’s lottery investments are repayable loans. The maximum award for feature film is £500,000 or 25% of the total budget.
According to Claire Chapman Head of production, the agency has both a cultural and commercial remit. So the projects supported “have to benefit the indigenous film industry in Scotland in some way or another”.
The projects should be set at least partly in Scotland and have a strong Scottish identity. Partnership funding should be in place, and market support from distributors and/or sales agents and broadcasters should be documented.
Scottish Screen has three other feature film schemes for lower budget films:
The Stand Alone Feature Film Funding is for feature films, documentaries and animation films intended for theatrical release and support ranges from £25,000 to £500,000.
New Found Films launched in 2003 takes place every second year and supports two feature length dramas about contemporary Scotland with budgets of around £300,000. it is co-financed by Scottish TV and Grampian TV.
The New feature Film Project was launched at Cannes 2004 in association with BBC Films and BBC Scotland. It intends to produce three £1.3m films over three years.
THE ISLE OF MAN FILM COMMISSION
Since 1995, Isle of Man Film Commission funded by the Department of Trade and Industry of the self-governed Isle of Man, has funded 67 feature films and TV dramas, making the island one of the most coveted co-financier of medium to big budget UK films.
Martha Fiennes’ Chromophobia the only UK film selected in official selection in Cannes this year, The Libertine [+see also:
film profile] starring Johnny Depp, screening in Cannes, or the comedy Keeping Mum [+see also:
film profile] starring Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott-Thomas -currently in post-production- were among the 12 projects supported by the Commission in 2004-2005 through its Media Development Fund (MDF).
The MDF awards approximately £23m a year for feature film and TV Dramas, and in 2004 70% of the fund’s budget went to feature film. The Fund provides up to 25% of a film’s budget as equity investment, with no upper or lower limits.
Projects must be filmed at least 50% on the island, producers must spend at least 20% of the below the line budget with local service providers, prove that the project is otherwise fully funded, and have a completion bond in place.
Emphasis is put on the commercial potential of the project, and sales and distribution aspects of the application will be considered as a vital element in the selection process.
Chief executive: Richard Williams
Annual budget for feature film and TV Drama: £3.25m
Max amount awarded to a feature film: £600,000
Feature films supported in 2004: 3
Head of Production: Claire Chapman
Annual budget for dev and production of films: £3m
Max amount awarded to a feature film: £500,000
Number of films supported in 2004: 7
ISLE OF MAN FILM COMMISSION
Head of fund: Hilary Dugdale
Annual budget for feature film & TV drama: around £23m
Max amount awarded to a feature film: no max
Feature films supported in 2004: 10
Interview with Hilary Dugdale, Head of Isle of Man Film Commission
Cineuropa: When did you start investing in feature film, what is your total annual budget and how much do you invest in feature film each year?
Hilary Dugdale : When we first started with film support on the Isle of Man in 1995, it was mainly in the shape of a 20% tax credit scheme. In 1997 we created the Film and Television Fund and since 2002 we have the Media Development Fund (MDF). The MDF has a rolling stand-alone fund of around £23 million each year from the local government and although there is not set budget for film support each year, over the last couple of years, the fund has supported around 70% of feature films against 30% of TV Dramas. We invest 25% of each film’s budget as equity investment with a recoupable position negotiable down the line. There is no cap on our investment, but the biggest film we’ve invested in so far is the £21 million film Thomas and The Tank Engine (1999). So far, we’ve done really well with our recoupments. We’re now completely self-standing, and we reinvest our profits into the fund. In 2004, we invested in 10 feature films.
What are the key criteria for you to invest in a film?
Filmmakers have to shoot 50% of the first unit principal photography on the island, and have to spend 20% of the of the below the line budget with local service providers. Beyond that, we evaluate the script and where the production investment comes from. The sales prospect of the film is also a key criteria. I take the creative decision on which film to support, and my colleague Steve Christian the business decision.
What are the advantages for filmmakers to shoot on the Isle of Man?
First of all, the fact that we provide equity investment and cover up to 25% of the film’s budget. But the diversity of the locations, the film friendly local government and population are other assets, as well as the purpose-built 11,200sq.ft sound stage. Our infrastructure here is continuously improving.
What are your goals for the upcoming years?
Our goal is to continue to support between 10/12 productions each year. Each film leaves around three quarter of a million pound into the local economy, and a crew of around 100 people on a film stays at least one month here, which is very fruitful for the local economy. Our plan for the future is also to dip slowly into animation. We’ve been very fortunate with the films we’ve supported so far, not only financially but also critically: On a Clear Day opened the Sundance Film festival last year, and now Chromophobia is selected in Official selection in Cannes out of competition this year. During Cannes, another of our films will also have a special screening at the market: The Libertine [+see also:
film profile] starring Johnny Depp and John Malkovich.
Interview with Richard Williams, Chief executive, Northern Ireland Film and TV Commission
Cineuropa: What are the key criteria for you to invest in a feature film?
Richard Williams: Like most people, we’re interested in the script, the finance plan, the track record of the team and the overall benefit to Northern Ireland. We’re very interested in projects that are genuinely set in Northern Ireland or have been written by someone based here but we are also keen to support films that can utilize our creative talent base and exploit our many location resources. Projects should come to us with the majority of their finance in place (65% or higher) and be able to shoot the majority of the film in Northern Ireland.
What are the advantages for non-Irish producers/directors to shoot in Northern Ireland?
Firstly the NIFTC’s financial incentives are open to producers from all over the world. Secondly as part of the United Kingdom all expenditure in Northern Ireland counts towards the UK’s Sale and Leaseback. In some cases it may also be possible to structure the film so that it can take advantage of two tax incentives. Using the Pan European Cinematographic Co-production Convention (ratified in August 2000), producers can arrange co-productions that take advantage of tax incentives in two or more European states. Productions need to spend a minimum of 20% of their budget in one European state and a maximum of 80% in another. Through this Convention producers are able to combine both United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland tax incentives for the financing of films intending to shoot all or partly in Northern Ireland. On a more practical note we have a diverse range of locations, an experienced crew and facilities base and English is the first language. The cost of living is lower than many other areas of the UK and Ireland and this keeps the production costs to a reasonable level.
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