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Make money not arthouse films: British PM tells industry

January 12, 2012

In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros. Pictures, from left, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe are shown in a scene from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.” Six months after the multi-billion-dollar grossing “Harry Potter” series came to an end, the British film industry is mulling where its future lies. -AP File Photo

LONDON: After a period of critical and commercial success, Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the British film industry to focus on making more mainstream movies to allow them to compete with Hollywood.

Six months after the multi-billion-dollar grossing “Harry Potter” series came to an end, and almost a year after the low-budget film “The King's Speech” swept the Oscars, the British film industry is mulling where its future lies.

Cameron welcomed the “incredible success” of recent years as he visited the Pinewood Studios on Wednesday, where the “James Bond” films, Margaret Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady” and the latest “Sherlock Holmes” were shot.

The prime minister said the industry currently contributes 4.2 billion pounds (5.0 billion euros, $6.5 billion) a year to the economy and an “incalculable contribution to our culture” – but insisted it should “aim even higher”.

“Our role, and that of the BFI (British Film Institute), should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions,” Cameron said.

His comments come ahead of the publication of a government-commissioned review next week, which is expected to recommend that public grants be directed at films and directors who are commercially and not just culturally successful.

It will also recommend that the BFI develop an export strategy to look at selling British productions overseas.

Julian Fellowes, a film director and Oscar-winning writer of “Gosford Park”who sat on the review panel, said British-made films have in the past been too niche, and it was vital that those who fund them learn from recent successes.

“Historically, one could argue, a disproportionate amount of public money was directed at a type of arthouse production,” he wrote in the The Times, adding: “We need to make films that people want to see.”

British studios are already major players in the movie industry, including Leavesden, north of London, where the “Harry Potter” films were made.

Warner Bros. bought the studio in 2010 and has turned part of it into a visitor attraction.

London-based visual effects companies have also provided expertise on Hollywood hits such as “Avatar”, and account for 20 per cent of the global market.

But British independent films secured just 1.6 per cent of the global box office in 2010, proving that hit movies such as “The King's Speech” are the exception rather than the rule.

Veteran British film director Ken Loach warned however that it was tricky to pick projects that were going to be commercially successful – and said Britain must aim for variety.

“If everybody knew what would be successful before it was made, there would be no problem,” the director of “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” told BBC television.

“What you have to do is fund a lot of different, varied projects and then some will be successful, some will be original, some will be creative and you will get a very vibrant industry.”

He added that home-grown demand was being stifled by major cinema chains – just three operators run more than 60 per cent of the screens – which often show the same high-budget films at the expense of independent productions.

“Unless you can really see a wide variety of films, you don't have a vibrant film industry and we get a very narrow menu,” he said.

With British films representing just 24 per cent of national box office receipts in 2010, film critic Mark Kermode agreed this was a major issue.

“If you really want to address the problem of the British film industry, address the problems of cinemas, support independent local cinemas, support cinemas that show films other than just the mainstream Hollywood product, which is effectively keeping British films out of cinemas,” he told AFP.