This is amazing. All the artsy Brits in my Twitter stream have been moaning about the UK Film Council getting the axe, but then the author Ian Rankin mentioned this article as a “sharp and persuasive critique”.
The real scandals, however, came out of the UKFC distribution fund. This doled out more than £4 million a year in grants to help to release finished films (to pay for posters, advertising and so forth) and Pete Buckingham, the head of the fund, has given public money to some unlikely choices. In 2007, the impoverished rock band the Rolling Stones and the unknown director Martin Scorsese collaborated to make the forgettable Shine a Light — essentially a piece of marketing to plug the Stones’ album. The Film Council handed over £154,000 to promote Mick and Keith despite the Stones being worth more than £100 million. …
But the distribution fund’s greatest balls-up was the Digital Screen Network. In 2004 the Film Council announced that it was going to invest £14 million to install digital projectors in more than 200 cinemas. At first glance this was manna from heaven for low-budget film-makers. The costs of physically distributing our movies on celluloid film were crippling. Digital distribution could bypass all these costs, as hard drives could be made and shipped for a tiny fraction of the costs of film prints. But rather than make the technology “open source” (meaning that anyone can render a Quicktime on a hard drive and screen it) the Film Council decided to listen to the anti-pirating lobby, and set up an expensive encoding network. This meant that to get our film to cinema we had to go to just one company that had the monopoly on managing the Digital Screen Network. Getting a film out this way takes ten days and costs £5,000, even though you can encode a film at cinema quality on your Macbook free. The derisory £5,000 that the UKFC gives to every indie film suddenly doesn’t seem so generous.
The real disaster, however, came with the council’s placement of the digital projector in cinemas. In the majority of cases the theatre owners put them in their largest screen, which made perfect sense to them because they could maximise revenues. But when independent films were being released, they would get placed in the smaller screens, with no digital projector, so we still had to spend money on prints. Meanwhile in Screen One, the publicly funded digital technology was screening Toy Story 2, which no doubt delighted the Hollywood studios that have had their costs subsidised.