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British Indie Filmmakers Bolstered by U.K. Tax Credit

Oscar winner David Parfitt says Gov't backing of production regime until 2015 provides a healthy stability to sector.

LONDON --  Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt said he thinks it “equally hard now” to be operating as a British indie film producer  as it ever was in his 20-year plus career.

But Parfitt, speaking on a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Independent British Films” added he felt he might end up being “the panel’s optimist.”

Added Parfitt: “It is a positive time for filmmakers. The stability of the tax credit in the U.K. has been fantastic for us. And we know it’s guaranteed until 2015.”

STORY: British Film, TV Production Industry Still Dominated by Middle Class

Fellow panelist Marc Samuelson, a producer, financier and distributor said the UK film industry was delivering “a mixed bag of results” for British movie-making endeavors.

But Samuelson was at pains to point out to the industry-heavy audience BAFTA’s central London HQ Monday night that the US market should be far more lucrative than it currently is for Brits.

“The American market should provide a bigger chunk of the finance plan than it does,” Samuelson said. “But it isn’t and there is a small number of companies acquiring rights to British films for not very much money.”

Samuelson, whose production resume boasts Stormbreaker and Me and Orson Welles, did agree with Partfitt that the tax credit had been a great fillip to business plans.

“I’d say the thing we do [the British film industry] really well is survive,” Samuelson said when questioned by panel chairman Stewart Till, the former United International Pictures president and current CEO of TV development, production and distribution banner Sonar Entertainment.

“This is my third recession and there are so many companies that simply adapt to survive. Independent producers are incredibly agile entrepreneurs and what we are bad at is insisting that absolutely everybody involved with a film focuses on who the film is for and never loses sight of it,” Samuelson said.

Parfitt, who won an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love, acknowledged the role the Hollywood studios and US backers play for British producers looking for greenlights.

“I’ve never rejected Hollywood and always do the rounds with the studios when I have a project I think they’d be interested in,” he said.

But the panel acknowledged there is an ongoing reduction in the number of slots on studio distribution slates for British producers to vie for and the shrinking of U.S. specialty arms out of the picture adds to the uphill struggle indie filmmakers face.

Director and producer Oliver Parker’s answer about whether or not British filmmakers should embrace Hollywood and its powerful distribution machines, drew observers to note the classical dichotomy facing the U.K. industry.

Parker, who recently directed Johnny English Reborn for Working Title Films, the Universal-owned British production powerhouse, said: “As long as we feel we are not being shoved around [as filmmakers] by a structure that isn’t our own, then it works.”

And filmmaker Mat Whitecross, who made Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll with Andy Serkis as legendary British musician Ian Dury, said he’d “love to go and make a movie in Hollywood” but bemoaned the necessity of going there simply to garner experience in making films with bigger budgets.

All agreed that UK broadcasters should play a bigger part in funding British film production with Directors UK chairman Charles Sturridge, one of the evening’s co-hosts, making an impassioned plea from the floor to “make the U.K. broadcasters do more” to fund British drama productions.

The panel discussion and subsequent Q&A session was co-hosted by Directors UK the fee collecting and lobbying group for British movie and television directors birthed in 2008,and the U.K.’s Production Guild and sponsored by Fujifilm.