Europe is producing too many films and EU incentive systems need a radical overhaul if a new “long-term sustainable roadmap” for film and audiovisual policies is to be put in place, according to the second annual report authored by Swedish industry heavyweight Tomas Eskilsson, head of Film i Väst Analysis.
‘All That is Solid Melts into Air, Public Film Funding at a Crossroads II’ will be launched in Venice on September 1. I is based on more than 300 interviews with key figures from across all areas of Europe’s film and audiovisual sector.
It may make uncomfortable reading for public film agencies. These agencies, the report argues, have now lost their previously “unthreatened position as guarantors of artistic and creative freedom and control. A large group of respondents believe that they have greater freedom and control when working on a film for a streaming giant.”
The report also questions the agencies work on talent development which “seems to lack deeper analysis of current needs and priorities”, according to many of the interviewees. It places too much focus on the development of talent who want to make artistically ambitious films – an area where Europe today has a large overproduction. The hunt to develop personal voices/auteurs becomes too dominant.”
The report is a follow-up to ‘Public Film Funding at a Crossroads’ published in 2022, but is yet more outspoken in its diagnosis of the ailments afflicting the European audiovisual sector.
Speaking to Screen, Eskilsson highlighted the extreme “market disturbance” caused by “the invasion” of the European market by the streaming giants. These streamers began commissioning local content, thereby taking away talent which would previously have been available in the independent sector.
“And if you, on the side of that, have a generous incentive that will drive the content boom quicker, the [production] bubble becomes even bigger.”
Eskilsson claimed many of those interviewed for the report were now calling for film and TV incentives to be scrapped altogether. While incentives create employment and build infrastructure, many respondents believed they were primarily supporting incoming international productions rather than helping local producers or nurturing local culture.
”They think that the incentive war is not productive long term,” he said.
“Let’s take Spain that has had the biggest increase in its incentive system. It’s extremely generous,” he continued. “You have these parts of Europe where you can combine a national system and you have the regional boosts…but it’s the tax authorities that run audiovisual policies in Spain. In the short term, that might turn out quite good for Spain. They also have a lot of money for training and skills development…but all the trade organisations we spoke with, without exception, were advocating for regulations of incentives.”
As part of their research, Eskilsson and his team met public funders and public service broadcasters across Europe. “They basically felt their position was under threat,” he said of how these bodies have seen their influence in their own local markets waning dramatically.
“Before, we were a very, very big fish in a small pond, today we are a small fish in a big lake,” a leading Swedish public TV drama commissioner told the researchers.
In the first report, many respondents had suggested that “OK, everything will go back to normal after the pandemic.
“Of course, it didn’t,” Eskilsson acknowledged.
“There is too much content around and too much that was going to be released in a traditional way,” he pinpointed a mounting problem. Even arthouse distributors told the researchers, “We cannot handle so many films in a good way.”
Sweden has “severe over-production” while the report argues that all the big countries in Europe (Germany, Spain, France and Italy) are also “struggling with over-production.”
The report suggests the regulated “window model” is exacerbating the problems caused by this overproduction. Films continue to be “stuck in the window structure” and obliged to start their public life in a window where they are given little space or attention.
“If we spend a lot of taxpayers’ money actually making it possible to make these films, I also think we have a responsibility to maximise the outcome of each supported movie,” Eskilsson commented. “The problem with overproduction is that the really interesting pieces become invisible…how should you make the content visible for the potential audience? I think that is a harder challenge than before.”
Another issue the report picks up on is the plight of independent producers – and how “independence” should be defined when so many production companies are now part of large conglomerates such as Banijay, Fremantle, Beta, Newen, and Mediawan.
“The traditional independent production company is becoming smaller and smaller and smaller – and is having a more and more volatile situation to cope with, often very long periods between one project and the next one; it has had a very tough time during the pandemic; small numbers of staff (so) if they don’t produce, they just fall apart,” Eskilsson described the situation confronting many independent film producers.
Meanwhile, the report questions what it calls the “slippage in [European] film and audiovisual policy between cultural and economic policy” and advocates that they become far more closely aligned.
Respondents also question what they consider to be excessive public support for serial drama.
Asked if he was pessimistic about the future of independent European film production, Eskilsson replied he was “100% sure that movie theatres will continue to exist…I am not pessimistic at all.”
The report is light on specific data but Eskilsson says this is deliberate.
“There will be enormous amounts of figures in the appendices but we ourselves don’t want have to have too many figures because they can be the absolute the opposite in three, four or five months after it is published and then the lifespan for the work becomes so short. We try only to use figures when it is really, really urgent to use them.
Eskilsson will be presenting the new report at a Venice Production Bridge Event on September 1.