In this uncertain and unnerving year, there seems to be little light at the end of the tunnel, particularly for people working in the UK’s film industry.
This week, Cineworld confirmed its plans to place all of its own cinemas and those of its Picturehouse brand in an unprecedented winter hibernation — meaning the loss of all its staff. This equates to around 45,000 people losing their jobs, many of whom are on precarious zero hours contracts.
There are rumours the Odeon is scaling back its opening hours nationwide too, perhaps moving to a weekend-only model.
So where does this leave film and cinemas? Rishi Sunak has recently pledged government support for “viable” jobs — but how can one prove to the chancellor that an industry, a venue, or an individual’s job is “viable”? Who decides, and what’s the measurement?
Big questions for Sunak. So while we are still waiting to see what the future entertainment landscape looks like, here are a few policies that could help cinemas and our film industry in the short to medium term.
See A Film Out To Help Out
Could the government introduce an Eat Out To Help Out (EOTHO) style scheme for UK cinemas? For example, could it commit to paying 50 per cent of all cinema tickets Monday to Wednesday, for a limited time in February and March 2021?
This two-month window would be something for film producers, distributors and exhibitors to aim for. It would inspire at least some confidence in attendance during a crucial time, encouraging people to see the quality films released throughout the awards season that sets the cultural agenda for the year.
Learning lessons from the summer’s EOTHO scheme, the film equivalent should be introduced in four or five months time — when, hopefully, the virus and infection rates are under control.
This idea would help jump-start the wider economy during the darker post-Christmas winter months. And building confidence in the film and culture sector would help ancillary sectors, such as restaurants and bars, too.
Post-Pandemic Production Loan scheme
It’s important to remember that film is an industry. As well as the creative people writing, directing and acting in movies, film creates employment in a massively wide range of sectors — from carpenters to drivers, electricians to sound engineers, costume designers, make-up artists, and beyond.
To help kickstart our economy in 2021, the government could introduce Post-Pandemic Production Loans: a government-backed bounce-back loan style scheme aimed at film producers with a strong track record and an industry-rated number of production credits to their name.
These loans (with interest pegged to inflation) could be used to spur film production in the UK later in 2021. With our outstanding production facilities here, incredible film talent and the pound’s current value, once the virus is under control the UK could again be positioned as the leading international hub for film production.
Use film as a catalyst to start “levelling up”
We are told that we’re all in the pandemic together, but it’s clear that the virus is having a disproportionate effect on certain places and communities.
But on a positive note, the UK is blessed with a strong and resilient regional film culture. So the government should invest more in our brilliant regional hubs (such as Screen Yorkshire, Film Hub North, Tees Valley Screen, and Film Hub Midlands) to support filmmakers, exhibitors and cinema communities — using film as a lever to help level up the wider economy. This could create more high quality training for school leavers and those in further education, delivering more jobs and developing opportunities for people to be part of something again.
Targeted grants, loans and specific support to filmmaking hubs, festivals and community cinemas could really help the places and people that need support the most: delivering good, paid employment and creative opportunities for people to come together both online and in the real world again.
Out there, outdoors, and thinking outside the box
Cinemas, film exhibitors and distributors shouldn’t be working in isolation from the wider economy. In 2021, policies could be introduced to encourage venues, the events industry, and cinemas to work together in new and creative ways.
More outdoor screenings? Could sports venues, parks and heritage venues do more to host new films? Who else could help deliver more creative, Covid-secure, immersive film events in unexpected venues?
And perhaps government policies could be delivered to encourage the hospitality industry to make new creative connections with cinemas — discounts for people eating out at a restaurant in their “bubble” then seeing a film together. That could help make going out more Covid-secure. and jump-start the economy too.
British Film Will Help Out
Finally, to return to the See A Film Out To Help Out scheme, maybe it should be super-targeted instead? After Brexit, could the government specifically support British film during 2021 and 2022, perhaps paying 50 per cent of all cinema tickets for all truly British made films?
This circular-economy style idea would boost the number of people seeing British films, and would be a win for cinemas too as more people choose to see the latest releases on the big screen instead of on streaming services at home. Crucially, it would build industry confidence, encouraging a wave of investment in the UK’s film industry and bringing much needed jobs to studios and filmmaking hubs around the UK.
If done right, this idea could help create a sense of national belonging too — using film as a way to explore national identity and meaning as we both go through Brexit and recover from the pandemic.
The shock of cinemas shutting up has really hit home, but we shouldn’t lose hope. It has just been revealed that filming The Crown in the UK this summer helped the country to avoid recession, demonstrating just how significantly film and TV productions contribute to our GDP.
With the right investment, specific support and big ideas, our resilient film industry can once again prove itself to be a beacon of light in these dark times.
Main image credit: Getty