Evening Standard on BFI salary costs

From the Evening Standard today:

Seven bosses on £100,000-plus at body replacing axed Film Council

Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent


The British Film Institute has seven staff on pay packages of more than £100,000 — despite excessive salaries being one of the Government’s reasons for axing the UK Film Council.

This week ministers named the BFI as the future one-stop shop for British movies and handed it key duties, such as Lottery distribution, currently carried out by the Film Council.

But accounts for the year to March show the BFI, which is a charity, had as many highly-rewarded staff as the body it is replacing.

High overheads and waste at the Film Council were cited as reasons for it to go. Justifying its abolition this summer, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had said: “It is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organisation like the UK Film Council where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000.”

In fact, two had already left. One of those remaining includes British Film Commissioner Colin Brown, who has helped to bring in £780 million of investment from foreign producers this year.

Another still in her post is Tanya Seghatchian, head of the film fund, who decides which British movies to back with £15 million of Lottery cash. Ms Seghatchian, who was on a salary of about £165,000, took a 25 per cent pay cut earlier in the year.

The BFI has three staff whose basic pay is over the £100,000 mark. They are led by director Amanda Nevill, on £137,000.

However, total packages including pensions, add a further four un-named BFI executives to the top pay bracket, making seven in total. This is more than at the Film Council, where there is a big gap between the most highly rewarded executives and the bulk of staff.

Ms Nevill’s salary is boosted by pension contributions of £20,431, according to the records from the Charity Commission.

A BFI spokesman said none of its senior managers were on anything like the highest salaries of the Film Council, where chief executive John Woodward was on a pay and pension deal of nearly £236,000 before he left a month ago.

BFI chairman Greg Dyke has already said the institute believes there will be opportunities to reduce overheads when it assumes its new duties in April. It has a staff of 463.

Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis claimed high salaries were never the real reason for Mr Hunt’s decision anyway.

“The truth is Jeremy Hunt axed the Film Council… to get a cheap headline,” he said.

“New administrative arrangements are no substitute for a vision to ensure Britain’s dynamic film industry is at the heart of a growth strategy for our creative industries.”

Seven bosses on £100,000-plus at body replacing axed Film Council | News


British cinema’s Groundhog Day

From the Guardian film blog 29 November 2010:

Ed Vaizey restarts the film funding merry-go-round

The BFI’s assumption of the UK Film Council’s responsibilities continues a decades-long saga of chopping and changing in the British film industry

This morning’s announcement by Ed Vaizey confirms the rumours that have been circulating from pretty much the moment that the UK Film Council was abolished: the British Film Institute will be picking up the reins of lottery-fund distribution to the film industry. What’s remarkable is that, after over two decades of chopping and changing, we are back where we were in the late 1980s: the BFI is the only game in town.

It’s especially extraordinary given the kind of rhetoric that accompanied the establishment of the UK Film Council in 2000. When John Woodward was appointed the UK Film Council’s chief executive in 2000, an interview he gave to the Guardian was perceived to be a not-especially-coded attack on the kind of – largely experimental – film the BFI’s production board had sponsored since the early 70s: “The Film Council will help to finance popular films that the British public will go and see in the multiplexes on Friday night. Films that entertain people and make them feel good … It’s pointless to go on handing out thousands of small amounts of money to small films that will struggle to find a distributor and be seen in cinemas … Nowadays, it no longer makes sense to marginalise public support by confining it to a small group of independent producers and directors, who will make films that no one will want or be able to see.”

And the UK Film Council’s first chairman, Alan Parker, was a well-known loather of the Peter Greenaway tendency: I can still remember him, when he was promoting Angela’s Ashes in 2003 on stage at the National Film Theatre, complaining about the adulatory reviews Greenaway got in the mid-80s.

The UK Film Council – in public at least – deliberately set its face against the unconventional, the arthouse, the “difficult”. Interestingly, the council has made enemies in the same way as the BFI production board did – until, of course, its activities were curtailed with the UK Film Council’s creation. The difference, of course, is that the UK Film Council has had access to millions, while the BFI only had thousands – originally given as a grace and favour fund direct from the Lord President of the Privy Council. Writing about the films of Bill Douglas, Mamoun Hassan, one of the BFI’s early, influential commissioners, gave us an interesting insight into how its oppositional stance was built into its foundation: “It represented the beginnings of an alternative cinema in Britain. Denis Forman, then chairman of the BFI, pointed out to the government that the BFI was doing what the National Film Finance Corporation, the quango responsible for film funding, was not interested in.”

The NFFC, a body set up to secure loans for film productions, was the funding establishment of its time, but as long ago as 1976, the Wilson government thought that setting up a single British Film Authority – the UK Film Council of its time – was the way forward. It never happened: the Conservatives in the 1980s weren’t interested.

Looking back, it’s bizarre how state intervention in film funding has been dominated by personal and political agendas. The UK Film Council, a creation of the post-lottery age, was motivated originally by a desire to overturn the dominance of the art film in British funding. The Wilsonian unitary film authority was anathema to Thatcherite laissez-faire; something that appears to be playing out again in the present day. When the lottery funding first materialised, in the mid-90s, it was directly administered, piecemeal, by the Arts Council, who were supposed to give money to projects not able to secure funding elsewhere; hence “lottery film” soon became shorthand for something pretty third rate, and quickly became a target for the likes of Alexander Walker at the Evening Standard. (It has to be said that film-makers, always able to talk a good game, ran rings around bureaucrats normally used to dealing with experimental theatre companies or brass bands.)

The government went to the opposite extreme: the “franchise” system, in which large blocks of cash were given to proven outfits, was supposed to ensure quality product, but that didn’t work either. Over the last decade, the UK Film Council was rather obviously the best organised, and most serious, attempt to make proper use of the lottery windfall. But now the swing is back the other way: an organisation with serious cultural and archival interest will now take over.

Interestingly, the UK Film Council’s record shows that a disbursement body can’t just follow a single line: it may have aimed for pure commerce, but also put money into films that the old BFI production board itself might have funded – My Summer of Love, Bullet Boy, Red Road, even a Peter Greeenaway film, Nightwatching. (Of course films like Sex Lives of the Potato Men – an outrageous financial and artistic blunder – balanced the account.) And over the decade of its existence, the council was forced to reorganise itself a number of times, to deal with anomalies and problems its development process created. Will the 2010s be an exact parallel of the 1980s, with the BFI desperately shoring up a film industry left to swing by the Conservatives?

The BFI, having been systematically stripped by the UK Film Council of its production role, will now have to build one practically from scratch – the fourth time in 15 years that the lottery largesse has forced a wholesale reworking of the state’s film funding process. We really are back where we started.

Ed Vaizey restarts the film funding merry-go-round | Andrew Pulver | Film | guardian.co.uk