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BFI Boss on U.K.’s ‘Transformative’ New Indie Film Tax Credit: ‘My Phone Is Full of Euphoric Producers’

Wednesday’s announcement that the British government would be introducing the new Independent Film Tax Credit sparked a response that was nothing short of jubilant across the entire sector.

The incentive — a 53% expenditure credit that equates to a tax relief of approximately 40% for U.K. productions with a budget of up to £15 million ($19.2 million) — was labeled by BFI chief executive Ben Roberts as “the most significant policy intervention since the 1990s.” Elsewhere, the likes of Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas, Barbara Broccoli, Andrew Haigh, Gurinder Chadha, Mike Leigh, Steve McQueen, Ridley Scott, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Glazer, Gareth Edwards Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner were among the chorus of filmmaking heavyweights celebrating the news.

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Speaking to Variety a day later, Roberts underlines the impact the credit could have on the independent sector, which — while inward investment has boomed over the last decade — has found itself at a point of crisis, with many projects either being forced to relocate oversees or falling apart altogether.

“My phone is just full of euphoric producers and filmmakers who were saying, in really meaningful terms, that they were looking at their finance plans and rethinking their ability to set up a film in the U.K. this year,” he explains. “There’s a lot of energy. It will mean the difference between films happening and not happening.”

But what Roberts describes as the “mic drop” moment was the speed of implementation of the new scheme. Whereas it could have gone into a consultation process — as VFX was before it was announced on Wednesday that an 80% cap on total eligible expenditure was being removed (incentivizing productions shooting in the U.K. to then stay for the VFX) — the new film tax credit will come into effect on April 1.

“Technically speaking, anything that’s put into production from April 1 will be able to claim against tangible costs,” Roberts says.

Earlier this year, the BFI unveiled its annual report for 2023 which, once again, showed that the U.K.’s beleaguered independent sector had been further squeezed. After experiencing a drop of 31% in 2022, spend on independent U.K. film in 2023 fell a further 11% to just £150.2 million.

But the near-immediate implementation of the new tax credit could potentially see an upswing by the time the 2024 report lands next year.

“It’ll be really interesting to see how quickly it manifests itself,” notes Roberts.

It was actually the 2022 BFI report, “An Economic Review of U.K. Independent Film,” that began the process that eventually led up to the new tax incentive changes. The report, which Roberts says the BFI “probably knew was going to tell a really bad story” before it was commissioned, painted an unexpectedly grim picture of the sector, which it claimed was strained to the point of market failure due to flatlining production budgets, rising costs and declining revenues.

Crucially, the report gave data to underline this, which the BFI’s policy and research teams crunched to create various scenarios and eventually build a model it could advocate for alongside trade body PACT. That model was then endorsed and championed by some of the U.K.’s best-known filmmakers across numerous meetings — informal and formal — with the government, including an event held at 10 Downing Street with the Prime Minister in December, and was finally confirmed on Wednesday.

As Robert notes: “It genuinely felt like we needed to have a transformative intervention to set us up for the indefinite future.”

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