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Film committee hears from Ollie Madden and Eva Yates about the need for tax relief for independent films.

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Source: Parliament.tv

Ollie Madden, Eva Yates

The pressure is on for the long-gestating indie tax relief to come into play in the UK, as the second day of public evidence sessions from industry representatives to the cross-party Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee unfurled.

Three witness sessions took place this morning (February 21) in parliament, with One Life and Slow Horses director James Hawes; Sixteen Films producer Rebecca O’Brien; and Film4 director Ollie Madden together with BBC Film director Eva Yates.

Presently, the credit rate for films, high-end TV and video games stands at 34% (equating to 25.5% in actual relief) for all qualifying projects, regardless of budget but with an 80% cap on qualifying spend.

However, with the rise in inward investment in the UK and rising costs across the board making it harder for independent films to get up and running as they battle with the US studios and streamers for UK crew, cast and shoot space, the call for urgent additional support for independent feature making is becoming more insistent.

“Some additional fiscal support for this particular sector is essential. We could really die without it,” said O’Brien.

In its written submission, Pact proposed an increased credit of 30-40% for films with a production budget of PS1m-PS15m.

When asked what they would request from the chancellor in the upcoming March 6 budget if trapped in a lift with Jeremy Hunt, Hawes said: “It’s got to be about tax credits and tiered tax credits, the mix of enabling high-end TV and film, as well as British domestic film, in a way to punch its weight.”

O’Brien echoed the need for enhanced support for UK indies. She discussed the making of her latest feature, Harvest, for which she has had to patchwork together support from partners across the world to close the financing. She said that if we had a tax credit enhanced, I would not have had to delay my fee. It would be a lot easier to finish the film with confidence. It’s been a real struggle.”

Harvest is a UK-France-Germany-Greece-US co-production, that shot in Scotland, drawing on various national tax reliefs, national funds and private investment to make it work.

“Show confidence in the independent sector by supporting us with an increased tax credit. It would be great,” said the producer I, Daniel Blake . “If I had had an additional 15% going into the market, it gives me more confidence… It gives me broad shoulders, it makes me a force to be reckoned with… rather than bringing in this embroidered carpet of different patches.”

Madden also threw his support behind the issue. “Producers sell their film rights in advance to get it made. This can be beneficial, but the downside is that you may not be able sell the film for the price you would be able to if you had already made it and proven its value. The tax credit relief could be changed to allow more producers to retain their rights, especially the North American ones, and see a greater upside and value for their IP

after the film is made.” [intellectual property]Source: Parliament.tv

James Hawes

James Hawes

The dominance of inward investment was made all the more apparent with much work drying up in the UK when the Hollywood strikes took hold last summer. Hawes called the impact of the strike “huge”. We were six-weeks into this American film shoot here

when we were shut down on July 14. In the interim, not a penny of money was spent. No editing was permitted, and everyone was shut down. I heard that 75% of the industry was out of work during this period. I heard figures of 75% out of work in the industry during that period.”

He noted that junior level crew have left the industry because of the strikes and that the UK has to put in place a system to better support their largely freelance workforce in crisis. He noted that France, Ireland, South Korea and other [The Amateur] countries have been able to sell their culture overseas, and have systems in place to support their creatives during periods of unemployment.

Hawes revealed that his popular Apple TV+ show [these]Slow horses was rejected by UK broadcasters because a “balance’ needed to be struck between the inward investment and local industry.

One life, starring Anthony Hopkins. is his debut feature after a long-established career in TV, and has grossed almost PS10m at the UK-Ireland box office for Warner Bros. AI fears

Concerns over how to navigate the thorny issue of artificial intelligence was another major topic in today’s sessions.“If you asked me this a week ago, I would have given you a more tempered answer,” said Hawes, referring to the recent introduction of Sora from OpenAI, a text-to-video model, in answer to a question about the threat levels AI present to filmmaking.

While it is “incredibly enabling”, Hawes said the “genie is out of the bottle” and the government and industry needs to be “angrily defending our creatives”.

Hawes had conducted some research into how long it would take technology to be able to make a show like recently-axed BBC soap

Doctors

using AI, learning it would be possible in three to five years. He argued the government needs to set up regulation “now”, and to look to the US that is way ahead in terms of the protections for which UK unions are now lobbying and implementing.

“AI and generative AI can be an incredible tool. Madden noted that it is already used extensively, especially in post-production films. It has brought down costs quite significantly. “We support all the work that the unions are doing in America to ensure these protections.” I believe absolutely in the fundamental depiction of sentient humans that AI is going to struggle to replicate.”“We want to make sure we’re protecting people’s IP, we’re making sure what we’re not doing is presenting misinformation, those things all need to be factored in. Right now there isn’t a process to declare if something has AI in it, so that’s a process we’re discussing,” noted Yates.Talent pipeline

Source: Parliament.tv

Rebecca O’Brien

Much off and on-screen talent in the UK learn their craft on TV soap operas, including Hawes, whose early credits included stints on

The Bill

Rebecca O'Brien

and

Holby City,

both of which have since been cancelled, as has Doctors, while Casualty has drastically reduced the number of episodes it puts out a year.He expressed worries over where the next generation of directing talent will come from, with such a reduction in opportunities on the soaps.O’Brien echoed this sentiment. She said that the previous method of developing skills was through hard work on soap operas. Hawes said that they do not “work within a freelancing structure” and try to “put people into jobs which don’t exist”, whereas O’Brien added that if apprenticeships were better for freelancers it would allow them to stay longer on the independent “nursery hills”. Producers at a “crisis point”Hawes backed legislative changes to protect the producers’ IP and to revise current terms of trade that are adhered to by UK TV broadcasters to include streamers. He spoke of his own experiences making the BBC show

Merlin

. He negotiated with the production company a contract that offered a percent of the show’s global profits. “I still thank Merlin, and the dragon, regularly. It has helped me make some courageous decisions,” he said.

O’Brien brought up the subject of fee deferrals as a major weak point for the UK sector. “Director, producers had to defer their fees and we won’t be able to see that until investors have recouped the fees.” “I’m not certain there are other industries where the CEO and COO are paid a quarter of what they were budgeted for,” said Madden.

“They struggle to make their next film, and don’t even stay in the industry.”

“There’s a big retention issue. It’s a big problem that experienced people are leaving the film industry. “I know there is concerted effort around this… We know there are mental health issues across the industry.”O’Brien also lamented the loss of the Creative Europe Media funding that handed out slate funding to production companies. “We lost it. This gave me around PS150,000 for the development of about five screenplays. BBC Film has PS11m, which hasn’t increased in around a decade. BBC Film has PS11m, which hasn’t increased for around a decade.Madden wants to see bolstered support for mid-level producers: “More mid-career development – there has been a huge, quite rightly, focus on early career development and apprenticeships, but we feel there is an opportunity for more training for practitioners who are in the middle of their careers.”

“I cannot stress enough how important producers are in the indie film sector,” said Yates.

“What they do is incredibly difficult. The work that producers do is incredibly difficult.

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