Should films about Britishness get tax breaks? Yes, because anything that makes other countries better able to compete with Hollywood is a good thingby Mark Cousins / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
The new rules for tax relief on filmmaking in Britain that came into effect on 1st January have already caused what in Scotland is called a “stooshie.” It started on 5th December 2006, when the department of culture, media and sport (DCMS) published its “final framework of the cultural test for British film,” a point system that scores new movies for Britishness. The new system will make it harder for films like the Star Wars prequels, which have no British storyline or cultural relevance but were partly filmed here, to help themselves to some of the £120m in tax breaks doled out to filmmakers. This tougher line, insisted upon by the European commission, has caused grumbles. According to the Times, Hollywood responded with a speedy threat to snub Britain as a place to make films.
On the face of it, the new ruling seems sensible. Most people would accept that movies like My Beautiful Laundrette, Billy Elliot and The Queen captured something essential about the character of Britain, and so should benefit from state support. Conversely, why should our taxes subsidise Hollywood films? Nor are the new guidelines too strict. The Harry Potter films, though made with mostly American money, will still get tax breaks because they are set in Britain, adapted from British novels and full of British thesps. Ditto the Bond films.
But to argue this way ignores the benefit of inward investment. Making Star Wars or Batman Begins or United 93 here not only contributes to the economy, but maintains skills and ensures that technicians are at the top of their game for the next British film that needs them. The new guidelines jeopardise such contributions, so Hollywood’s threatened snub should be taken seriously.
The solution to the stooshie is obvious: split the cultural and enterprise agendas. Instead of one set of DCMS-treasury guidelines that scores both the cultural and economic contribution a film will make to Britain, have DCMS rules about culture on the one hand, and an inward investment support mechanism on the other. Two sets of rules, because films create culture and money. Only occasionally does the same film do both, which strengthens the argument for twin tracks.
More interesting, though, is the psychology of America’s response to the new rules. If I were a studio honcho and the dollar was this weak against the pound, I’d be alert to, and riled by,…