Television in turmoil: How Brexit could see the industry suffer

ponders the risks to film and television associated with leaving the European Union

A still from The Iron Lady, a film which received considerable EU funding

A still from The Iron Lady, a film which received considerable EU funding

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the past month, you will be well aware that on 23 June, 52 per cent of the British electorate opted to leave the European Union. Regardless of the numerous, clamouring voices coming from either side of the vote, some arguments substantial, many notably less so, Brexit looks set to have a pretty dire impact on UK film and television. Industry heads have, by and large, been in favour of remaining, with Michael Ryan, Chairman of the Independent Film & Television Alliance maintaining that “[leaving] is likely to be devastating for us,” with primary concerns being cuts to creative funding, increased complexities for international productions, and decreased appeal of British content.

From 2007-13, the MEDIA scheme, which distributes funding to creative projects based within the EU, contributed over €100 million to British film and television. Once we have officially departed from the Union, we will obviously no longer be eligible for said funding, taking a wrecking ball to the budget available to UK producers and directors. MEDIA have provided considerable amounts of money to numerous critically acclaimed British works, including Fish Tank (€737,813), The King’s Speech (€1,025,717), and, most ironically, The Iron Lady (€1,531,922), a biopic of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most Eurosceptic politicians in British history. Without said funding, British filmmakers are looking at much lower budget productions in the future. It must be said that low budget is obviously not synonymous with poor quality – consider The Act of Killing, a harrowing, British-Danish-Norwegian-produced documentary wherein former Indonesian death-squad leaders re-enact their genocidal killings in a cinematic genre of their choice. This film was made for only an estimated $1,000,000, which in cinematic terms is a relatively low budget, but went on to win the 2013 European Film Award for Best Documentary and the Asia Pacific Screen Award. That said, a low budget piece is typically impressive in spite of its funding, rather than because of it, and the total loss of MEDIA funding is likely to have a devastating impact. For every low budget film worth watching, there are ten more which struggle to make the cut.

The Act of Killing, it is worth noting, is a multinational film, with Danish and Norwegian contributors as well as British. But outside of the EU, British/European co-creations may well become more problematic to produce. Official co-productions are only possible between states which have signed a treaty designating co-production rules – the European treaty is called the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production, and we’ve been signed up to it since 1992. The convention isn’t just for EU members, but “member States and other States Parties to the European Cultural Convention”. However, the United Kingdom is signed up to it as an EU member, so would need to either resign as a non-EU member state, or leave, and write up a new treaty with every state it could potentially work with. Not necessarily an impairment, we will most likely remain part of the convention, simply signed up via a different means, or else different legislation with the same effect will be put into place.

That said, free movement of labour between the UK and EU member states is still likely to change in some way. In spite of recent claims that leaving the EU will not curb immigration to the UK, new visa requirements and work permits will undoubtedly have to come into place, which would affect both British people filming in Europe and European people filming in the UK. Considering that the supposed immigration epidemic was one of the key concerns of many a leave voter, it seems hard to believe that there will not be some kind of motion put into place to reduce the numbers of foreign nationals coming to live and work in the UK. With that in mind however, it must be noted that passport controls are under the dominion not of the EU but the Schengen Agreement, and only 22 of the 28 member states of the EU are signed up, alongside Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, who are not EU member states at all. Therefore, a departure from the EU and an exit from Schengen are not mutually exclusive, and being part of the agreement makes free movement of labour significantly more practical even outside of the EU. This means international cast and crew may not be too harshly affected, especially considering film shoots tend to span only a number of weeks, and they thus would only be part-time rather than full-time working residents of the UK, and be subject to more lenient laws concerning movement and taxation.

Despite this, it’s questionable whether international filmmakers may even be inclined to work with Britain on creative projects in the future. We have, in effect, given the middle finger to the rest of Europe, culturally, politically, and economically, which does not exactly encourage harmoniously working together. British content is also likely to be a lot less appealing to international broadcasters. A number of EU states have quotas about the amount of European content exhibitors must show – a minimum of 51 per cent of French broadcasting’s must be of European origin. There is a good chance that, with Britain outside of the EU, our programmings will no longer count as being of European origin, meaning we will not fill this and other quotas, and thus not be selected for broadcast.

The British film industry is most likely going to suffer in some way, shape, or form now that we are leaving the EU. A combination of holes in funding, codified complications, and a general sense of international unease have all banded together, and look set to make life for British cinematographers much more convoluted. That said, there are still ways and means around the various setbacks, and one can only hope that the industry manages to hold itself together in Brexit’s wake.

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