Actors join campaign for U.K. Film Council

50-plus actors sign open letter to The Daily Telegraph

LONDON -- Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Ian Holm are just some of the 50-plus actors who have put their names Thursday to a letter calling for the government to save the U.K. Film Council.

The open letter penned to The Daily Telegraph, the national newspaper long regarded as having Conservative views, condemns the Tory-led coalition government's recent decision to axe the government-backed agency (HR 7/26).

Signatories also including Timothy Spall, Pete Postlethwaite and Sophie Okonedo added their names to the letter warning that the decision to pull the plug threatens to seriously damage the entire British film industry.

"Everyone, including those in the film industry, knows that times are tough. But the UKFC doesn't waste money, it makes it," the letter reads. "Thanks to its [UKFC] efforts, our film industry -- worth £4.5 billion ($7.16 billion) a year -- has rarely been stronger."

Since Monday's terse statement from the government saying it is scrapping the UKFC, all hell has broken loose with hefty lobbying against the UKFC shutdown from certain quarters.

Industry leaders, including UKFC chairman Tim Bevan whose day job is also as co-chief of Working Title Films, fear that if the agency is axed, movie-makers will go elsewhere to shoot and a healthy sector of the arts, employing myriad skilled crew members will end up unemployed.

"It is our camera crews, lighting experts, set builders and a whole host of other skilled people who give our film industry such an edge," the actor-penned plea states. "Their expertise and experience, which the UKFC has done so much to foster, is the main reason why so many top Hollywood directors choose to make films here in Britain."

A UKFC insider told THR that a series of top secret meetings have since taken place between the U.K.'s culture minister Jeremy Hunt and Bevan et al as the government reels from the backlash against its decision.

"It [the closure] is down to the numbers,'" the UKFC insider said. "But when the minister was made aware that uncertainty over what was going to be left of the functions of the UKFC had immediately resulted in the withdrawal of one $100 million-budgeted movie from shooting here, he wanted us to help let the industry know all is not lost. Bloody arrogant was the response that came to mind."

U.K.-based producer Iain Smith, whose credits as Blighty producer include "The A Team," "Children Of Men," "The Mission" and "Local Hero," said Hunt's abolition of the UKFC put "the infrastructure of the screen industries in grave peril," in a letter to the Telegraph earlier in the week.

"It is a matter of competing by having an insider presence, an ear close to the ground in Mumbai, L.A. or wherever; being able to intelligently persuade producers who are spoiled for choice in a world full of generous subsidies and tax incentives," said Smith. "It needs film industry nous: with respect to Mr Hunt, this is not work that can be adequately achieved from within a government department."

Smith and others argue that the hard reality is the broader industry relies on inward investment and the UKFC had at least been a destination for overseas film producers to source tax credits and promote services.

The main UKFC problem, as far as government is concerned, was the cost of its overheads in a climate dominated by the need for "front line cost-savings" and ongoing attempts to reduce the U.K.'s deficit.

Last year the council took in income of £63.3 million ($100.6 million), including £32 million ($50.9 million) from the lottery and £30 million ($47.7 million) grant-in-aid. Some £3 million ($4.8 million) a year will be saved by the government by chopping it.

But not everyone wants to save the under-fire agency and several producers, retaining anonymity offered by the web, reacted with unfettered glee.

Actor and indie film producer Billy Murray chipped in, opting against anonymity, and backed Hunt's decision.

"Finally a little common sense from a government regarding the British film industry. I have never formally applied to the Film Council for funding because their agenda has not been to encourage commercial, international film-making, but rather to foster self-serving movies made by and aimed at the 'chosen few'," Murray said. "The government's decision puts the film industry back on an even keel -- as a real and viable business that needs to survive commercial realities, rather than a game for well-connected hobbyists relying on undeserved soft money."

For the record, Murray has produced half a dozen movies including "Rise of the Footsoldier" and "Doghouse" and has his upcoming vampires versus gangsters horror thriller "Dead Cert" unspooling at Film4 FrightFest at the end of this month.
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