1 January 2004

If you’ve been following the UK film industry for a while, it’s not been hard to feel that Hollywood has taken over. The UK film industry is a lot smaller now than it was back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. But considering that the industry was all-but dead before Channel 4 came along in 1982, it’s surprising just how far we’ve come.

Unquestionably, Channel 4 helped bring British cinema back from being submerged by Hollywood. Channel 4 funded a lot of relatively low budget productions through the years, with a lot of films making a little profit all round, and some, such as My Beautiful Laundrette, coming out as surprise successes. Both the BBC and Sky moved into film production later, based upon the success of FilmFour.

Indeed, FilmFour seemed to have reached the pinnacle when in 1998, it was separated from Channel 4’s other broadcasting operations and made to stand alone as an independent production house. It seemed that the British film industry was on a roll. The new renaissance of the British film industry seemed complete.

But recently, things have gone downhill. Sky Pictures was closed in 2001 and FilmFour’s sudden reintegration into Channel 4 combine into two psychologically large blows for the industry. Although Sky Pictures wasn’t a large contributor, the idea of a broadcaster moving out of film production not that long after moving in was a real blow.

Channel 4’s decision to bring FilmFour back inside Channel 4 and to cut the production budget down to £10 million, the same amount as is budgeted for BBC Films, is a definite major blow for the industry.

Psychologically, this will do more damage than it will cause in real economic terms, as Hollywood has been using British facilities for production and postproduction.

An example of this is the recent filming of the 20th James Bond movie, which was shot partially in Newquay and near St Austell in Cornwall.

Many other UK locations and studios including Pinewood and Shepperton have been used by Hollywood studios in producing their latest blockbusters.

Although UK filmmakers might find the FilmFour development a real problem, it will not do a huge amount of economic damage.

There are, however, signs that the UK film industry will continue prospering despite the FilmFour decision. In Cornwall, a new studio facility is slowly coming into being, as a consortium tries to pull together £6 million worth of funding from various sources.

There is also a new film fund in Cornwall for filmmakers make low budget movies and shorts. Add to that the release recently of a new film in both Cornish and English that gained national exposure and a premiere at the Palace of Westminster and you can see that the UK film industry at the grass roots level is developing nicely.

Television and cinema have a link in the UK that stretches back to the Associated British Picture Corporation being asked by the ITA to cover the weekend franchises in the Midlands and the North in 1955, around the time ITV started.

With the arrival of Channel 4 and its remit for British cinema in 1982, a reversal was begun where television companies started to move into film, rather than vice versa.

Whilst the closure of sales and distribution arms of FilmFour will hurt British cinema, and the budget reduction will unquestionably be painful, there is perhaps enough momentum building for these moves not to matter too much.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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