Ben’s Blog: My Feral Heart.

Posted June 27th, 2016 by Ben

As ever in times of change it is invaluable to hold tight to whatever facts exist. For a calm and clear eyed view of what Brexit might mean for the British film industry Stephen Follows is, as ever, utterly essential. Sadly his conclusions are more of a Ken Loach sigh of despair than a Guy Ritchie whoop of delight.

Most especially, for those of us on the creative fringe of the industry, the uncomfortable prospect is the effect of general economic uncertainty. My brother and I made our first feature with private money, with the support of generous individuals who felt comfortable taking on a risky creative investment. The sad truth is that this sort of money feels like it will be harder to find in the years to come.

MY FERAL HEART – Feature Film Trailer from James Rumsey on Vimeo.

Does any of this really matter? What are we in danger of losing? On Tuesday I have the great joy of introducing Jane Gull’s new film “My Feral Heart” at the East End Film Festival. It is a spell binding film, humane, compelling and built around an astonishing central performance from newcomer Steven Brandon. You should all come and watch it. You should also all go and see Rachel Tunnard’s “Adult Life Skills” which is currently on general release and available online. I will also Charles Henri-Belleville’s new film “Jet Trash” which garnered glowing reviews after premiering at Edinburgh.

I don’t know the ins and outs of how these films were funded, but I do know that these are three fantastic examples of new voices in British cinema. They aren’t cookie-cutter hero’s journey narratives that just happen to have been shot here, these are all films that express something uniquely British, something of the landscape and the people that inhabit it. To lose a generation of artists of this quality will be a quiet tragedy, not least because it is through their future work that we will really start to understand who this divided nation actually is.

  1. katy

    You sold this blog piece by saying it was your thoughts on Brexit and the film industry, which it isn’t. I have no problem with the promotion of low budget indie film, in fact I welcome it. But this isn’t what I was expecting when I clicked on your link.

  2. Matthew Butler Hart

    We know the people behind MFH, great film, but it was done through SEiS, as our next feature will be. The problem is that for filmmakers to survive on budgets that low you’d have to be making four a year just to pay rent. And as every filmmaker knows it’s rather tricky getting one made every three or four years! Us leaving the EU means Creative England and Screen Yorkshire, for example, will no longer get the money they did to put into British film. EU Media also put huge amounts of money into TV shows such as Game of Thrones, the Night Manager, and dozens of others. I would love to keep making films at this budget level as it gives you so much creative freedom, but the reality is it’s just not sustainable if you want a career out of it as a filmmaker.

  3. Ben

    I said it was my thoughts on what we stand to lose. It is exactly that. It also includes a link to Stephen Follows comprehensive analysis of the figures, adding to his work would be superfluous. Instead I wanted to ask a more existential question – is this a cause for concern, is there talent out there that could struggle as a result? My answer is very definitely yes.

  4. Ben

    Totally agree Matthew. As it happens SEIS rules are changing so that you can no longer use it for production (still works for development).

    I strongly believe that as filmmakers we need to get out of the mindset of hanging around hoping public funding comes our way… but the bottom line is that whether you want money from Creative England, the BFI, or private investors, there’s no good news in Brexit…

    Perhaps a future government with a freer hand in tax laws wanting to capitalise on an influx in American productions benefiting from the weak pound could still mean this isn’t just a cyanide pill… but you are definitely going to need a strong constitution to survive the next few years as a filmmaker.

  5. James Rumsey

    Hello! Ben, thank you for highlighting our film (My Feral Heart), along with the other fantastic two films as ‘examples’ of what ‘could’ be lost due to the EU ref result. It could have been any number of films that you chose of course, so thank you again and I look forward to meeting you later today. I want to try and add a more cautious and less panicked voice to the lamentable EU ref outcome in regards to the film industry. I am not an expert. Let me say that. But the echo chamber of rumour and conjecture needs to be calmed. I can only go on what I was told at panels in Edinburgh last week but wish to share it. We were told, by the UK’s Creative Europe rep that Creative Europe’s MEDIA fund, while funded by the EU, is not exclusively for countries that are in the EU. That was the answer to the question asked at a panel last week: ‘If the UK votes to leave the EU does that mean we can’t get Creative Europe funding?’. We were told that there are half a dozen or so European countries that are not part of the EU that are benefiting from it already. Please noone get annoyed at me saying that, I am only relaying what I was told to balance out the pessimistic fervour that is rife currently. I also went to co-production focused events in Edinburgh. While the EU ref outcome is not good news for co-pros in terms of freedom of labour across borders, a LEAVE outcome was not seen as the end of the world by far more experienced producers than I. The thought is that treaties are not based solely on the UK being part of the EU and the biggest hurdle to co-pros with British producers is not whether we are in or our of the EU but the uniquely complex legal paperwork that accompanies any co-pro with the UK – not an EU driven hurdle. I also met Sally Johnson, CEO of Screen Yorkshire at a talk in London a month ago. Screen Yorkshire had its funding wiped out by the Tories when Cameron got in. Due to the impressive and inspiring work of Sally and her team they built Screen Yorkshire back up – yes, using European investment, but hard money, from private sources. They have since invested in an impressive and diverse slate that has made that money work. While leaving the EU was not something Sally welcomed she was optimistic that their relationships with investors in Europe (not the EU, there is a distinction) would remain solid and that they were enjoying decent profits from their activities which meant that Screen Yorkshire would be fine. Finally, yes My Feral Heart was funded by part SEIS, but not solely. Half the money came as an equity deal wrapped up as a sales advance for the film. Matt (hello Matt!) is dead right. The budget – not the finance source – that we shot My Feral Heart for is not sustainable as a ‘living’. That is neither the fault of SEIS as a model or available finance with or without the UK being part of the EU. We wanted to make the film expediently. Had we been prepared to wait for BFI applications or Creative Media applications we may have financed the film differently but we would be talking about shooting the film now instead of looking at a theatrical release strategy. So what’s my point, I guess its that what is clear is that there is a lot of diplomatic negotiating before we really know what the landscape of Brexit really looks like. Love your projects, love your work, and carry on in spite of what has happened. There are too many half-truths or unknowns being hailed as ‘future fact’ that simply aren’t helpful. It will be different. That’s all we know. How different remains to be seen. The saddest news is that SEIS is not going to be allowed for production… I hadn’t heard that Ben. I’ll be quizzing you further on that over a drink in the bar tonight sir!

  6. Glyn Carter

    Ben – as more filmmakers learn about SEIS, if the rules are changing (have changed), where can we go for chapter and verse on this?

    thanks for your thoughts

    Mine on Brexit – it will impact, but not as much as we fear, just as staying in wouldn’t have been any panacaea. That’s the direct effect. The indirect effect of another economic downturn (triple-dip?) will be to make life even harder for new indie producers, with less money around among investors, crowdfunders, audiences, governments, platforms and theatres…

  7. Ben

    I heard about the changes through my producer, who I think heard from our accountant. If you’re getting involved in SEIS you should definitely only do so with a good accountant on your side, it’s a great scheme but the regulations are many and tortuous. In the meantime I’d have thought this would be a good place to start:

  8. Glyn Carter

    Ben – I have SEIS advance approval for a film production SPV, so I’m not totally new to this. I contacted the HMRC small business centre to check, and have been told that the SEIS scheme is unchanged.

    The EIS has changed to meet a new “growth and development” condition. Not sure what this is, but I do know they don’t use the word development in the way film-makers do (with the word “hell” attached, for example).

    I’d suggest you check back through your producer and their accountant in case this is Chinese whispers. Your blog is widely read, and deservedly so, so I think you have to be careful with such info!

    best, Glyn

  9. Ben

    Interesting. My understanding is that the 2015 budget changed the rules to “require that all investments are made with the intention to grow and develop a business” and that this has been interpreted as ruling out a production SPV (but not a development one).

    I’d definitely urge you to triple check your status – but if the interpretation I’m hearing is definitely wrong please do let me know!

    Good luck!

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