Berlin: British Film Industry Braces for Brexit as Deadline Looms

Credit: Getty / Ian Forsyth

As the March 29 cutoff to leave the European Union approaches, U.K. producers prepare for a new reality that could impact everything from co-prods to the free movement of talent.

Anyone wondering what happened to the British Film Institute’s annual Berlinale party this year can lay the blame squarely at the feet of Brexit. With less than 50 days to go until the U.K.’s all-too conscious uncoupling from the European Union, the BFI decided to instead focus its energies on working sessions and meetings with anxious producers and continental partners.

The British and European film industries are intricately intertwined, with cross-border financing and co-productions commonplace and much of the business founded on the idea of easy movement — of funding, talent and content — across continental borders. For producers looking on in dismay with the Brexit deadline looming — with things as they are, the U.K. could crash out of the EU on March 29 — the main areas of concern are “funding, freedom of movement and co-productions,” says director of external affairs Harriet Finney, who spent Sunday having “back to back Brexit surgery meetings.”

On the funding side, a no-deal Brexit — meaning the U.K. leaves Europe without an alternative trading deal with the EU in place — would immediately cut out access to the Creative Europe cultural body, but Finney is hoping the U.K. government would step in and use its emergency “no deal pot” to ensure finances still flow. 

With freedom of movement, she says there has been “more clarity” and “positive statements” from the U.K. government, but claims the co-production business could be hard hit if British talent post Brexit no longer qualified as European and could not access continental subsidies and tax incentives. “If no deal (happens) we become a third country entirely,” says Finney.

“What would be a disaster is if British talent and British money stopped qualifying culturally as European, because qualifying has brought a lot of business to Europe,” adds HanWay’s md Gabrielle Stewart, who says the “first thing” a post-Brexit U.K. should do is rejoin Euroimages, the France-based Council of Europe fund for co-production of European cinema.

One tactic for Finney is to approach each individual European jurisdiction and “ask extremely nicely” if, in the event of a no deal, they would change the wording in their legislation for cultural tests to say both EEA (European Economic Areas) and U.K. workers. To show that the U.K. is determined to do everything possible work with European partners, the BFI has already ensured that its cultural test and the elements across story, crew and cast are open to EEA countries and talent, 

Also helping the BFI’s cause, a symbolic move was made on the very first day of the Berlinale when the British government became an official signatory of the Council of Europe Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production, making it easier for British producers to establish co-productions with European partners.

“We pressed them really hard to sign it before Berlin, so we could go and say that, yes, we might be leaving the EU, but we’re very definitely not leaving Europe,” says Finney.

Dasha Bezjak contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 11 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.