Why I'm Pro-Brexit: It will Open Up British Film to Global Equity

Mothers and Daughters Still 3 - H 2016
Courtesy of Screen Media Films

British director Paul Duddridge, director of 'Mothers and Daughters,' on why the U.K. industry will be better off outside the EU.

On the morning after the Brexit vote I started getting calls from Americans, private equity partners I've been working with to create a digital film fund (more on that later). Their response was the same: “Great, how do we get in [to the U.K. film business]?” Then I read the British press and it was filled with British filmmakers saying: “Oh God, we're f—ed.” Well that's not the feedback I'm getting, and that's not how I see it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm very pro-European. My new film is up for best picture at the Milan Film Festival. But I think Brexit is a great opportunity for British filmmakers if it means the British industry will look directly to American and international investors, as opposed to thinking the only way to get films made is through some kind of bureaucratic subsidy route.

The problem now, under the pre-Brexit EU subsidy system, is that all the EU funding rules are based on an old filmmaking model. But technology has changed. The whole process of filmmaking and distribution is so much cheaper now. Projects that might have seemed niche a few years ago are quite viable now.

If you can make a movie for between $500,000 and $3 million, there's probably a global audience for it that can generate a return. That's why private equity is rushing back in.

In a lecture about film financing, director Kevin Smith noted that under the old model, you make a $4 million movie and it has to make something like $49 million before anyone sees a profit. But because the distribution model has begun to change — and in the next 4-5 years it will be unrecognizable — you can take a $2 million movie and make $2.5 million from it. This change has coincided with the whole Brexit campaign. America has already stepped up to this new digital world. Brexit might be the push for U.K. filmmakers to do the same.

Ricky Gervais, who recently released the film Special Correspondents on Netflix, said this is going to be the new age of the auteur, and I think he's right.

Now saying this will get me in trouble, but the arts in Britain have a long and noble tradition of being supported by the state or lottery funding. It can be a Kafkaesque, labyrinthine kind of system. And what you find is that the people who are good at getting lottery funding get things made. There is a certain type of artist that finds it easier to navigate the world of the subsidy system, and they can often be the most vocal.

There are people putting up things on YouTube that are way ahead of what their subsidized brethren are doing. There is a lot of creativity and a lot of storytelling out there. But the subsidy system means you get people who know how to game the system, creating projects they know will be subsidy-friendly.

But what I'm arguing is that the money isn't going to go away after Brexit; it's just a change of revenue stream. It isn't the government or the EU that creates that money, it is private equity. It is either private equity via taxation being passed onto the filmmaker or directly from private equity to the filmmaker. Instead of getting your funding via some subsidy body you could get it directly from Amazon or HBO or Netflix because they are on the ground looking for these projects.

That's my optimistic hope. What I think the British film industry lobby should now be doing is to go in and play hardball with the the next U.K. government and insist on conditions that will make Britain as attractive a location as somewhere like Mexico or Louisiana, with their tax incentives.

Instead of complaining about a change, moaning about a train that has left the station, they should be using that leverage and the attention they are attracting to insist that the U.K. is a utopia for filmmakers. This is an English-language, European location. It has thrived in the commercial world for big movies forever. The U.K. could do all the small movies as well now. I think it is a huge opportunity for the U.K. to realize its full potential. We used to have the Ealing Studios; there used to be a thriving industry producing low-budget movies.

I was planning to launch my $100 million digital film fund next year, but after the Brexit thing happened, I emailed my investors and said we should launch right now, in London. I was expecting a lot of caution, but the feedback was “Let's do it!” They could see the opportunity. They were gung-ho. So, with our first $30 million tranche of funds we are starting to back movies — including British movies and European movies — right now. We have three projects already greenlighted, including a Welsh film (I'm Welsh, as it happens) called Black Mountain Poets starring Dolly Wells and Alice Lowe, which we are looking to remake.

This is completely apolitical on my part. I'm just trying to take out a layer of bureaucracy. Even if Brexit doesn't actually happen — there are some that now say the U.K. won't go through with it — this is a huge opportunity for European filmmakers to make a shift in the business culture toward investors and the digital world.

Film is not some basket case that needs to be spoon-fed and subsidized because it can't make it on its own. British films made something like $2 billion last year. This is a huge sector made up of a large number of small businesses. They can stand on their own. Brexit might be just the push they need to do so.

As told to Scott Roxborough.

Paul Duddridge is the director of Mothers and Daughters starring Selma Blair, Christina Ricci, Courteney Cox and Sharon Stone, currently on release in the U.S. through Screen Media Films.