As the credits roll for UK Film Council, what now for region's screen hopefuls?

WHEN the new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was casting his gaze over Britain's arts scene, he knew – and those in the creative industries knew – that economies would have to be made.

The severity of the latest round of cuts, however, announced last week, have come as a surprise to put it mildly.

"Are people in the film industry a little like headless chickens right now? That's a fair assessment," says Hugo Heppell, the head of

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production at Screen Yorkshire, which has invested in movies including The Damned United, Red Riding and Brideshead Revisited.

Hunt's latest swing of the axe, witnessed last week, claimed as its most high profile victim the UK Film Council.

Unless a part of the UK film industry, you might not be aware of the UKFC. You will, however, have seen the results of its work.

Since it was created in 2000, the UKFC has invested more than 160m of Lottery funding into more than 900 films which have entertained over 200 million people and helped generate more than 700m at the box office worldwide.

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As the lead Government agency for film, it supports the industry and nurtures new talent.

Or to put it more simply, the Film Council has helped you to watch Bend it Like Beckham, The Constant Gardener, This is England, Vera Drake, In the Loop, The Last King of Scotland, Nowhere Boy... the list goes on.

The Culture Secretary says that: "abolishing the UK Film Council and establishing a direct and less bureaucratic relationship with the British Film Institute... would support front-line services while ensuring greater value for money. Government and Lottery support for film will continue."

Looking behind the rhetoric, while the UKFC is going to disappear, the money the UK puts into the film industry through the Lottery will continue, according to Hunt. So what's the problem?

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In a nutshell, industry experts say that the money might be there but nobody knows how to get their hands on it. Without the funding getting to the right places, it follows that the industry will suffer.

"The problem is very simple: we have no idea what is going to replace the Film Council," says Heppell.

"It was beyond a surprise to hear the news last week. I think in the industry we were expecting to see cuts, but to just announce its abolition in such a cavalier fashion without any strategy for what will replace it, was simply incredible."

Screen Yorkshire is the regional screen agency, offering support and funding to the local film, as well as games, television and interactive media. It also works to attract both big-screen and small-screen location filming to the region from companies outside it. Receiving funding from the UKFC and Yorkshire Forward, and with both those agencies suffering cuts, the future for SY is uncertain.

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As the head of production at SY, Heppell has been a key player in making movies happen in the region. With filming recently finished on the television sequel of This is England and filming about to start on Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, Heppell says commitments made to films about to happen will be fulfilled, but the future is less clear.

The agency, for example, was hoping to entice Red, the production company behind Queer as Folk and Mark of Cain, to Leeds to film a new "urban youth" series called Bedlam. Unable to guarantee funding, the production has been lost to another region.

Heppell says: "Last week's decision to axe the Film Council also shows a complete lack of understanding of the delicate nature of the film industry. No one is saying we should be immune from cuts, but this drastic abolishing of the Film Council, without a mechanism in place to take on its important work, puts in jeopardy productions that are due to happen in the UK and productions that might be coming to the UK to be made here – which would have brought millions into the economy."

One of the problems the film industry – and all other parts of the creative sector – now face is making a case for their existence. Few people understand what a film producer does, let alone the intricacies of the industry in which they work. If people don't understand it, why

should they care that it finds itself in jeopardy?

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Piers Tempest is an independent producer, based in Skipton, who has an office in London. As a producer he is the man who pulls the money together and makes a movie actually happen – the "fixer".

Having worked in the industry for over a decade, he produced the $10m Toni Collette movie Like Minds, and is currently overseeing the post-production of Killing Bono, a British comedy starring Pete


He has worked with both Screen Yorkshire and the UKFC on a number of occasions – bringing productions to his home county is something about which he cares passionately.

"The more productions we have happening here in Yorkshire, the more the ancillary economic benefits," says Tempest.

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"Hotels, pubs, anywhere that is used as a location sees people bringing their money and spending it here. There are production crews who get work out of having productions in the county and when you have a hit like Calendar Girls, the tourism economy receives a huge boost."

His own take on the Film Council cut is pragmatic.

"The fact is, cuts have to be made and there is no reason why the film industry shouldn't share its part of the burden. In my opinion, the Film Council was too big, its remit too large and it needed to be restructured. That said, it is vital that the industry has a nexus, a centre and a mechanism through which the brand of British film can be exported globally.

"Given that the Lottery money available to film will still be there, then people with the right skills need to be in place to disperse that money."

Some say the film industry, along with theatre, arts and music, ought to be self-funding. When the public purse is being tightened and schools, hospitals and the emergency services need their share of the ever-decreasing pot, why on earth would we want our money spent on the whim of artistic types?

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Those within the industry think the argument is self-evident. No, we don't have to spend money on the UKFC. But few would argue that Atonement, Happy-Go-Lucky, An Education haven't had a positive impact on the country's cultural cachet. These films would not have been made without the Film Council.

Paul Greengrass, director of the Bourne franchise, Christopher Nolan, in charge of the new Batman series and Inception and Andrea Arnold, who is about to start filming a new movie version of Wuthering Heights, all received help at the start of their careers from the UK Film Council.

Someone at an earlier stage of her career who sees the importance of the UKFC is Bradford-based producer Sarah Senior. Her company, Shoot, has filmed two short movies, both made with funding from Screen Yorkshire as part of its Digital Shorts Scheme – funded by cash from the Film Council.

Senior says: "I heard the news from another producer. We knew something was going to happen, but people expected a re-shaping, not this mass axing.

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"From my point of view, the most important thing the Film Council does is – or was – supporting the work of new film-makers and helping people to make their first step into the industry."

The first short film Senior produced, This Way Up, was filmed in Yorkshire using a Yorkshire-based director, writer and actors, and is now being screened at festivals around the world.

There are similarly high hopes for a second short made this year, again with Yorkshire crew and talent.

Senior, however, provides a ray of hope. When she decided to base her production company in Bradford, people thought she was crazy. She was adamant that she would not move to London and was determined to prove that a small, independent company such as hers was viable in the North.

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Given this latest setback, does she still feel the same way?

"It's always feasible," she says. "It's a challenging industry to be in and it's a really challenging time, but as film-makers we are

resourceful. We'll find a way to get our work made."