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Why Brexit is bad news for British film exports

The UK is likely to lose millions in funding from the EU’s MEDIA programme because of Brexit. Huw D Jones examines what this means for British film exports.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) in last June’s referendum has provoked a particularly strong outcry amongst UK film professionals.

A survey run by industry analyst Stephen Follows, for example, found that 82% were against Brexit, while only 5% were in favour, compared with 52% of the British electorate.

Industry professionals have expressed particular concern about the likely end of funding from the EU’s Creative Europe MEDIA sub-programme, which between 2007-13 provided over €100 million towards various aspects of the UK film industry.

According to Variety, “This will hit funding for film in particular, including training, project development, co-production, festivals and the theatrical distribution of EU films in Britain and the theatrical distribution of British films in Europe”.

The Guardian even suggests that without MEDIA support, “British films could disappear from European cinemas”.

MEDIA distribution support

According to figures from the European Audiovisual Observatory’s LUMIERE database, the UK produced 763 films in the period 2007-13 – of which just over half (408 films) were theatrically released in mainland Europe.

Of these British film exports, just over a third (149 films) received distribution support from the MEDIA programme, amounting to €44.6 million in total funding for UK films.

Amongst the most well-known British releases to receive MEDIA funding were The Iron Lady (€1.5m), Slumdog Millionaire (€1.3m), Quartet (€1.3m) and Looking for Eric (€1.3m).

But do such films actually perform better in European cinemas than those British film exports which have received no MEDIA distribution support?

Figure 1 (MEDIA's impact on UK film admissions in EU8)

Figure 1. Scatterplot of the relationship between cinema admissions and MEDIA distribution support for British films released in the EU8, 2007-13. Sources: LUMIERE / MEDIA

Figures analysed by the MeCETES project suggest that while there is a positive correlation between cinema admissions and the MEDIA funding for British film exports in six of the eight European markets analysed, none are statistically significant (see the results of our linear regression analysis for more details).

In other words, British film exports with MEDIA distribution support essentially perform no better or worse than those without (figure 1).

However, it is important to keep in mind that these figures include British films, such as the hugely successful James Bond or Harry Potter franchises, which are financed by US studios and distributed by their local European subsidiaries.

Such films are not eligible for MEDIA support – which is only available to distribution companies which are owned, directly or by majority participation, by nationals of EU member states or countries in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Figure 2 (MEDIA's impact on UK film admissions in EU8

Figure 2. Scatterplot of the relationship between cinema admissions and MEDIA distribution support for British films released by independent European distributors in EU8, 2007-13. Sources: LUMIERE / MEDIA

If the focus is only on British films released by those independent European distributors which are eligible for MEDIA funding, a slightly different picture emerges (figure 2).

In six of the eight European markets analysed – Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Poland – there is a statistically significant positive correlation between cinema admissions and the MEDIA support for British film exports (see our linear regression analysis).

That is to say, the more funding a film receives, the higher its admissions are likely to be.

In the remaining two territories – Bulgaria and Denmark – there is still no significant relationship, though in Bulgaria’s case this is probably due to a lack of accurate admissions data.

Only Denmark shows no significant relationship between MEDIA funding and the admissions for British film exports.

The box office impact of MEDIA support

Table 1(MEDIA's impact on UK film admissions in EU8)

Table 1. R2 values and linear regression coefficients b values (with confidence intervals) showing the predicted admissions for British film exports released by independent European distributions with €50,000 MEDIA distribution support.

The impact of MEDIA funding varies from country to country (as indicated by b coefficient values in table 1).

In Germany, a British film with a €50,000 MEDIA award is predicted to secure 149,400 more admissions than one with no distribution support – a 237% increase.

In Italy, the effect is more modest – a British film with a €50,000 MEDIA award is predicted to secure only 35,950 more admissions – a 26% increase.

Many British film exports actually perform much better or worse than our statistical model indicates.

The King's Speech German

The King’s Speech (Die Rede Des Koenigs) was a hit in Germany after receiving only €50,000 in MEDIA distribution support.

Oscar-winning period drama The King’s Speech, for example, secured 2.4 million admissions in Germany with the support of only €50,000 from MEDIA – equivalent to 49 admissions for every €1 subsidy.

By contrast, Arthurian action adventure The Last Legion, which incidentally also starred Colin Firth, took only 75,647 admissions despite receiving an award which was ten times larger (€502,000) – or about 0.15 admissions for every €1 subsidy.

This is because the correlation between admissions and MEDIA funding is not perfect (as indicated by the R2 values in table 1).

Only between 4% (Italy) and 25% (Germany) of the variations in admissions can be explained by the amount of MEDIA support a film has received, suggesting there are still many other factors which explain why some British film exports perform better than others.

It is also very difficult to calculate what the extra admissions generated by MEDIA support would mean in financial terms for British filmmakers.

The economic return to the production company will depend on the how the box office revenue is divided between the cinema and the distributor, and also what deal the distributor has agreed with the producer, not to mention other variables, such as ticket prices and local taxes.

Last legion german

Meanwhile, The Last Legion (Die Letzte Legion) flopped in Germany, despite receiving €502,000 in MEDIA distribution support.

But at the very least, MEDIA-funded British film exports are generally seen by more European cinemagoers than those without any distribution support.

Policy implications

It is unlikely that without MEDIA funding British films would disappear from European cinemas.

But for those British film exports which are not distributed by powerful Hollywood studios (which includes the vast majority of independent British films), the withdrawal of MEDIA distribution support is likely to mean lower admissions at the European box office.

That not only means less potential revenue for independent British filmmakers, but also less opportunity for continental Europeans to encounter British cultures, identities, values and creativity.

As the negotiations for Brexit begin to get underway, UK film policymakers need to start thinking about whether Britain should seek to remain part of the EU Creative Europe MEDIA programme (like other non-EU countries Norway and Iceland) or whether the UK government should provide its own system of support for British film exports (using some of the money it would have spent on EU membership).

Either way, distribution support is certain to remain vital if independent British films are to continue to reach European audiences.

The MeCETES project will be holding an industry debate on the consequences for Brexit for the UK film and television industries at the European Screens conference, University of York, 5-7 September, 2016. Info: www.mecetes.co.uk/european-screens
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