Major overhaul for U.K. Film Council

Announces plans to slash jobs, scale back funding

LONDON -- The U.K. Film Council aims to be meaner, leaner but more producer friendly from April next year after the government-backed funder announced plans Tuesday to slash jobs and scale down funding in certain areas while avoiding heavy cuts to production funding.

The organization said it plans to cut 22 jobs from its staff from a current total of 94, shave £25 million ($41.9 million) over the next three years from April 2010 and reduce its Los Angeles outpost to two people from five.

The cost-savings come amid what U.K. Film Council chairman Tim Bevan, whose day job is as Working Title Films co-chief, describes as the most challenging times ever for the film industry.

The economic downturn and the funneling of funding from the public sector to the London Olympics are in part shaping the changes the Council is making. It means the Council has £8 million ($13.4 million) annually less expenditure from next April.

But the Council is keen to emphasize that it hopes to continue to support production funding and by reducing its overhead aims to push more cash into filmmaking rather than movie administration.

While the overhead reduction is done and dusted and the cuts will be made from April next year, the Council is now entering a three-month consultation period on its plan for the organization from 2010.

The main changes include scrapping the three current production cash pools and putting them into one uberfund with a board of four taste-testers who will make a committee decision on what to back.

It means the proposed £15 million ($25.2 million) annual production will have £2 million ($3.4 million) less a year to inject that the combined budgets of the existing Premiere, New Cinema and Development funds.

But the Council said for the first time ever that it would give producers an equity position on its cash for all movies chosen. It also said that should such a position begin to recoup, the money would be pumped back into the production fund. U.K. Film Council chief executive John Woodward said he hopes that means the fund will grow over the coming years if projects are successful.

There will be a focus on first and second time U.K director projects for the fund, but both Bevan and Woodward said it would not mean projects from established British talent such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach or Stephen Frears would be ruled out from funding.

The Council also emphasized the importance of inward investment to the British film industry and a renewed commitment to attracting activity here by the U.S. studios and other filmmakers. Scaling back the L.A. outpost and refocusing its day-to-day operations on persuading talent to come here to shoot is a stated ambition.

Proposed savings open to debate include chopping the skills training budget to £3.25 million ($5.5 million) annually from £6 million last year, cutting 20% off the regional screen agencies and halving the annual P&A funding to £2 million ($3.4 million) from £4 million last year.

Bevan and Woodward said the hope is to streamline the organization and ensure it equips the industry here to cope with the digital age and the developing business models.

For this, the Council also announced proposals to create a fund "to promote digital innovation." Woodward said the proposed £5 million ($8.4 million) would help sales, distribution and retail movie industry players with R&D and seed set up.

Bevan said he hopes the Council will be able to build on the last decade of work since the organization's inception. "But it's now more important than ever to ensure we invest as much money as possible in film production, in creative and cultural excellence, and in helping U.K. film make a successful transition into the digital age -- and that's exactly what we're proposing to do," Bevan said.