You may or may not be aware but lottery funding is used for many things such as the refurbishing of an old crumbling theatre or an athletics track renovation and many other good causes that benefit the public in one way or another. One other area where lotto funds have been used is within the film industry where they have partially or fully financed quite a few films. They’ve not all hit the big time in the popularity stakes but nevertheless, a few did do well in some movie theatres around the world.
Others did dismally such as ‘The Secret Laughter of Women’ starring Colin Firth that had received a lottery grant of nearly £1 million but its box office takings came to a poor £2,832 in the UK. The British magazine ‘Total Film’ described it as “A fairytale relationship that follows a disappointingly predictable trajectory, with Firth giving an anaemic performance in a poorly written role.”
The Observer newspaper released government figures that revealed it wasn’t an isolated incident and suggested that a lottery grant may be a blight on a film’s chances of audience popularity rather than a boost to its performance. There have been around 130 movies made that have received lottery support since the lottery funds became available in 1996 and only 9 of them can be said to have had some sort of success. Others have reached the final hurdle but are waiting for their distribution arrangements to materialise while some have been permanently put on hold.
The most disappointing though are the ones where big sums of money went into films that got big cinema releases but were not the greatest for one reason or another. For instance, the British romantic comedy ‘Fanny and Elvis’ starring Ray Winstone and Kerry Fox that had a grant of over £1 million or the Kevin Spacey crime comedy ‘Ordinary Decent Criminal’ that also had a £1 million pound grant.
They are regarded as silver screen turkeys and one of the suspected reasons for the mediocre quality is the cosy clique of financiers, who are in charge of handing out the lottery grant money, and the producers who were keen to support the consistently threatened homegrown production business propped up with a nice lump of cash from the lottery grants. Another weak area is the fact that large amounts of money have gone to projects that were a mere suggestion by a friend.
Independent film distributor Metrodome’s Rupert Preston suggests lottery funding is a force of mediocrity and not excellence which it should be. He also says that it’s a bit of a business irrelevance. He says “Good films, like our own ‘Human Traffic’ for example, tend to emerge anyway, without any lottery help. We did ask for a grant for that one but we were told no because it was all about nasty drugs.”
He also suggested that the more commercial bets like the romantic comedy ‘This Year’s Love’ starring Dougray Scott can get done without having to call upon public funding either. Preston said “It’s is a scandal, to be frank. Many of the lottery-funded films don't even get a distributor. All this money is spent and then no one actually sees them, whether they are any good or not. A vast amount of money has been spent; I would say around £30 million for each of the three big film franchises that were set up to hand out production cash, and then another £70 million at least which has gone directly into production itself.”
The bulk of lottery money was granted through the now-defunct film panel at the Arts Council who were a collection of film finance experts and appointed producers that had connections with many of the production deals they funded. For example, Colin Levanthal of Hal Productions was an Arts Council panel member and his joint venture with BBC Films and Harvey Goldstein’s Miramax for his film ‘Mansfield Park’ also benefitted from lottery funding to the tune of a £1 million grant. Some critics welcomed the grant and others asked why a commercial project with so many big backers should receive funding from the public purse.
The doyenne of British film finance, Premila Hoon, was also an Arts Council panel member and was organising film investments made by Guinness Mahon who put money into a couple of quite successful projects, ‘Shooting Fish’ and ‘Wilde’ that also received quite large lottery grants. Both Colin Levanthal and Hoon made clear their financial interests at the time.
John Battsek, the producer of the Oscar-nominated film documentary ‘One Day in September’ was critical of the structure of the funding saying “It is helping from the wrong end. It is first-time, independent producers who have the hardest time breaking through. These are the people that would like to keep the British business going and who are prepared to risk money on a good script. The scripts themselves, to be honest, will always come through if they are good enough although it might also be worth making grants to young screenwriters.”
Battsek, (whose brother Daniel runs the British distribution for Disney), says that the common complaint about the distribution is exaggerated as the wider deals will come to any of the best movies. He said “On the other hand, it is hellish becoming a producer unless you already have a private income. If you are in the established producers' loop you can just continue to make films without any of them being any good. I don't actually like to think about that.”
It seems like it all may be about to change as the British public film funding is in the throes of the biggest reshuffle ever. After the government advisory committee report, the Film Council will combine the various public and commercial public funding routes. They will be chaired by film director Alan Parker who previously chaired the government advisory panel and Stewart Till his former business associate will be his vice-chair and council member. There are other council members including Colin Leventhal that will transfer directly from the now-defunct Arts Council film panel.
The Film Council’s Tina MacFarling confirmed that most of the strategies for the organisation of funding may have changed but she still defended the lottery awards history. She said “When this money was given to the industry it was not thought it should be given directly to film projects, it was just for capital projects. This was because they wanted to create some sort of continuity, so that producers did not have to keep starting afresh.”
Mark Smith of Film Digest, an industry analyst, feels the problems with these interconnecting deals are that they are intractable. He said “It is a very, very small industry in this country. The companies making these films employ four or five people only, so everyone always knows everyone else. Having said that, there is no shortage of people who want to break into it and can't.”
The low ticket sales in British cinemas for most of these films don’t really reflect the actual total income according to Mark Smith, quite recently British films have made more money in France than in the UK. Those figures don’t include the eventual returns for TV screenings and video and DVD sales.
The low ticket sales in Britain simply show that the British public did not come to see these lottery-funded films for some reason. Why? Mark suggests that the old rule of thumb for the industry where if you made say 10 films, one of them would possibly pay for the other 9 has now been rather distorted. Money from the public purse has brought forward dodgy projects and made the odds even longer in such a risky business. Smith’s associate David Hancock confirmed that all across Europe public film funding is being slowly withdrawn. Hancock said “I would like to see the method of repaying public investors improved here, too. The problem is that they are often the last in the chain to recoup when a film goes into profit.”
There have of course been a few box office hits such as Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film ‘Topsy Turvy’ which had a lottery grant as did ‘Hideous Kinky’, ‘Plunkett and Maclean’, ‘The Ideal Husband’, ‘Hilary and Jackie’, and ‘The Land Girls’.
There have also been real critical successes as well with films like ‘Ratcatcher’ by Sara Sugarman that would not have been made without the lottery’s funding.
Below is a list of some British films funded with lottery money over the last six years.
This list includes films that are already made, those currently in production and the amount of lottery funding put into each movie.
Films by DNA
- 28 Days Later (£3,225,000)
- Heartlands (£1,430,000)
- Parole Officer (£2,000,000)
- Final Curtain (£1,996,176)
- Strictly Sinatra (£1,994,910)
- Beautiful Creatures (£2,000,000)
Films by The Film Consortium
- Hideous Kinky (£1,229,527)
- The Lost Son (£2,097,999)
- Hold Back The Night (£636,559)
- Janice Beard 45 WPM (£962,500)
- Fanny & Elvis (£1,377,973)
- Room To Rent £425,000
- Large (£715,000)
- Gabriel & Me (£1,301,243)
- Christmas Carol The Movie (£1,607,526)
- 51st State (£2,000,000)
- 24 Hour Party People (£2,747,842)
- Dust (£2,091,910)
- In This World (£662,604)
- Dr Sleep (£1,375,000)
- The Intended (£1,150,000)
- Bugs! (£1,000,000)
- Bright Young Things (£3,000,000)
- Republic of Love (£1,022,222)
- Country of My Skull (£2,425,000)
- Deadline Beirut £373,403
Films by Pathe
- An Ideal Husband (£1,000,000)
- Ratcatcher (£615,000)
- Darkest Light (£708,000)
- Loves Labour Lost (£1,044,968)
- There's only one Jimmy Grimble (£1,710,000)
- It was an Accident (£1,557,601)
- The Claim (£2,000,000)
- The Hole (£1,500,000)
- The One & Only (£1,500,000)
- Thunderpants (£2,053,824)
- Abduction Club (£1,200,000)
- Suzie Gold (£510,000)
- Girl with a Pearl Earring (£2,000,000)
- Max (£1,971,830)
- Natural History (£900,000)
- Churchill the Hollywood Years (£1,100,000)
- Magic Roundabout (£2,000,000)
Lottery-funded movies are in the spotlight again. Films funded by the National Lottery over the years have won an amazing fourteen Oscars and thirty-two BAFTA Awards with twelve lottery-funded feature films recently being screened at the London Film Festival. The British Film Institute has used National Lottery funding to support and help develop UK filmmakers and their films and help to increase the audiences who can enjoy them. ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Billy Elliot’, ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘The King’s Speech’ were all made with the help of the National Lottery’s funding.
The British Film Institute Fund mission is giving support to distinctive emerging film makers including films of cultural significance, projects that include risk- taking and those that include a quality of difference. They constantly push towards a more representative and inclusive film culture where diversity is increasingly at the heart of the British Film Institute Film Fund decisions.
Production funding of films by the British Film Institute include:
The Girl with All the Gifts
An original and smart take on the post-apocalyptic zombie film. Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Sennia Nanua and Paddy Considine.
Lean on Pete
A 15-year-old Charley goes on a dangerous journey in search of his long lost aunt and a possible home, his only companion, the stolen racehorse ‘Lean on Pete’. Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Charley Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Travis Fimmel and Chloë Sevigny.
An American crime movie that steps up the action with an arms deal that goes spectacularly and explosively wrong. Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Jack Reynor and Sam Riley.
A United Kingdom
A powerful romantic drama that tells the remarkable and true story of the 1948 marriage between the African King of Bechuanaland and a white British office clerk from London. Their relationship was opposed by all and sundry, but love conquers all. Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and David Oyelowo (Selma).
I, Daniel Blake
The winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or in Cannes. Almost 50 years after Ken Loach’s movie ‘Cathy Come Home’, the director returns to look into issues of deprivation in a modern Britain.
Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Dave Johns and Hayley Squires.
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