BFI's Brexit breakdown

Neal Romanek
October 27th 2016 at 1:01PM : By Neal Romanek

During the 2016 London Film Festival, the BFI convened a discussion panel of industry leaders to explore the effects of the British exit from the EU and brainstorm strategies for what do do about it

How will Brexit affect the British and European media industry? A discussion panel hosted by the BFI tried to answer the question no one wants to think about.

Guests included Peter Dinges of the German Federal Film Board (FFA), Gael Egan producer at Potboiler Films, Alex Hope, MD of VFX house Double Negative, Stan McCoy, the MPAA’s president and MD for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Dimitra Tsingou, COO of Protagonist Pictures. The panel was moderated by Isabel Davis, head of international at the BFI Film Fund.

BFI CEO Amanda Nevill, in her welcoming statements, drew a picture of a BFI working at full tilt to deal with the potential upheaval of the Brexit vote. “On the morning of Brexit, by 7:30, I had received two really important emails. From Peter Dinges from German and from the CNC in France.

Of course, the BFI is built to promote and preserve British film culture, but its secondary purpose is to act as the industry’s liaison to government. TV Tech Europe was told there were representatives of the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport in attendance, taking the industry’s temperature on Brexit and assessing what the industry might require for a successful outcome. And with the UK film industry 5-7% of British GDP, one hopes the government is listening closely.

“Film, as the greatest storytelling medium, is probably the strongest card we have to play about changing the perception of Britain in the world.” Nevill also pointed out that London’s view of Europe often differs with that of the larger UK. “I think London is often an offshore island where the people of the world can congregate and find common ground.”

One thing we’re facing is the issue of ‘what are things going to look like in three years time?’ Certainty is one of those things that every industry needs

European split

The first concerns raised by the panel were about the practical impact Brexit will have on UK production. Double Negative’s Alex Hope pointed out that 29% of his company’s staff is European.

“What we don’t want is to have freedom of movement suddenly turn off. It will restrict the growth and the potential of people in this country. “

Peter Dingus carefully oversees the health of the German film and TV industry and has never seen foreign immigration as problem. “In Germany, we have nine borders. We try to profit from this situation. One of the ideas is to build up our tax relief system. We make sure foreign countries know how to build up our industry.

He continued: “I agree without the freedom of movement we will have serious damage to the industry without Europe.”

Creative Europe is an organisation that has been essential to growth and development in the creative industries all across Europe. With UK’s future relationship with the organisation in question, UK production companies are worrying about the potential impacts, including funding.

“We made a three million pound film this year, and we had to make one million in presales,” said Potboiler Films’ Gael Egan. “We could not have done it if we couldn’t guarantee to our European partners that we were going to make a European film.”

While some have tried to assuage anxieties by pointing out that a British exit from Europe won’t take place perhaps for several more years, producer Egan said the effects are being felt now.

“One thing you have to bear in mind is how long it takes us to make a film. We’re planning a film now that’s going to be made next year or the following year, in an uncertain world. One thing we’re facing is the issue of ‘what are things going to look like in three years time?’ Certainty is one of those things that every industry needs.”

If we focus too much on economics, then we will lose the main thing, the audience

Current fluctuations

The instability of the pound which has occurred since the Brexit vote is also raising concerns.

“We have found some difficulties with currency fluctuations,” said Protagonist Pictures’ Dimitra Tsingou. “That has had an impact which will need to be addressed.”

The MPAA’s Stan McCoy was the voice of US interest in British production. He said that US investors will continue to see an opportunity to make money in the UK: “We’re excited about the great movies being made in the UK. US studios have put about five billion pounds into making movies in the UK in the last 5 years. We see that as an investment and a vote of confidence. Whatever the circumstances, the US studios will be looking to capitalise on that investment and looking to see that the UK is a moneymaking market.”

McCoy added: “I’m fundamentally an optimist. If you look at the reasons why all that investment was put in the UK, the fact that the UK was in the EU was not at the top of the list.”

It’s not just the economy, stupid

Peter Dinges of Germany underscored a conviction that film and TV have an inherent value that extends beyond economics:

“We shouldn’t focus only on economic issues. If you talk markets, markets, markets, you shouldn’t forget the thing that is unifying us. Our values - democracy, freedom, peace. We should keep this in mind. Film is a mighty tool. it has a lot of influence on opinion building. We have to make films that travel across borders. We have to share opinions with each other. If we focus too much on economics, then we will lose the main thing, the audience. We shouldn’t fall back behind this idea. We should remember that Europe is bigger than the European Union.”

Gael Egan agreed: “One of the causes of Brexit was a huge dissatisfaction and unhappiness of the UK populations. We should be looking at why, and see if we can make a difference with the stories we tell. We are constantly - and rightly - accused of not being a diverse industry.”

What was clear from the discussion was that just as Brexit itself has no single clear result, so there are no single clear solutions in dealing with its fallout. As Isabel David said in her closing remarks, “This feels like a conversation we should be having on a regular basis.”