How Brexit Casts Doubt Over the Future of Co-Productions

Courtesy of Joss Barratt
'I, Daniel Blake'

A plummeting British pound and a loss of crucial subsidies are leading dealmakers to predict collaborations between the U.K. and Europe will become a thing of the past: "We are already feeling the pinch."

A year on from I, Daniel Blake earning Ken Loach his second Palme d’Or (and second reason to celebrate with a cup of tea), filmmakers are now heavily concerned that the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU will prevent co-productions — titles just like I, Daniel Blake — from being made.

Back in 2016, few in Cannes expected Brits to actually vote for Brexit. But 12 months later and with the exit now formally “triggered” and set for April 2019, the industry is sizing up the potential damage. “We are already feeling the pinch of Brexit,” said Pascal Borno of Conquistador Entertainment. “Since Brexit, the pound has plummeted and [British] buyers are pulling back on pre-buys because they are afraid if the pound keeps dropping, it will get down to par [with the dollar], which, if you do the math, is half of what it was two years ago.”

On the European side of the pond, the impact will likely be most keenly felt in production and distribution. “At the moment, if you do a U.K. co-production, you get the status of being a European production, and that really helps get distribution in other European countries,” says Claudia Bluemhuber of Silver Reel, a financing and production company that has a number of co-pros in Cannes, including World War II biopic Churchill and Glenn Close starrer The Wife.

Having such a “European passport” enables films to, for example, bypass France’s international quota system, making them automatically more desirable for the likes of CanalPlus for TV broadcast. The EU’s Creative Europe program also provides subsidies for incentives for European distributors and broadcasters to pick up European films, offering a lifeline of cash for indie production and sales companies.

With this gone, Mike Goodridge of Protagonist Pictures says European buyers will simply “switch to French, German or Belgian movies … British films are good, but they aren’t that good.”

Likewise, the fund supports U.K. distributors when it comes to releasing European titles. “Last year, we released Matteo Garrone’s [Cannes 2015 entry] Tale of Tales through Curzon,” says Recorded Picture Company’s Peter Watson (who refers to Brexit as “the B word”). “They did a very good job and received crucial support from Creative Europe that enabled them to do an incredible campaign. There are many other examples.”

Should the so-called “hard Brexit” (a more severe severing of ties being pushed by ardent Brexiteers) be enforced, co-pro treaties between the U.K. and Europe could be scrapped altogether. Daniel Battsek, who flew back from the U.S. to take the helm at Film4 soon after the Brexit vote, points to the banner’s competition title, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here (U.K./France/U.S.), but says it doesn’t generally have a huge number of European co-pros. That said, he’s confident a necessary financial equilibrium will be found.

“The film industry is good at finding ways and means of ploughing whatever course it needs to plough to keep doing what it’s doing,” he says. “I’m fairly optimistic that whatever the downside, there will be an alternative to it.”

This story first appeared in the May 21 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.