The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents

Memorandum by Lord Puttnam


  Over the next five to 10 years, digital distribution will increase very significantly in the UK and around the world. Currently 10% of UK cinema screens are equipped for digital presentation, succeeding the long-established industry standard of 35mm projection. Digital enables much greater flexibility of programming as well as an image on screen that does not deteriorate due to wear and tear.

  Currently it costs around £1,000 to strike a conventional film print; digital upload from a portable hard drive onto the cinema's projector costs considerably less, even allowing for bandwidth and/or technology licensing fees (which would be driven down over time in any event). Even on small releases (10-20 screens) this represents a significant saving. On large-scale releases (200+), even more so.

  However, while the UK's modern multiplex infrastructure has developed entirely over the last 20 years (the first multiplex opened in 1985), the town centre/independent cinema infrastructure dates back many decades—in some cases converted theatres built in the 19th century. These cinema buildings, well established parts of their local community, have not faced such a complete upheaval/change in technology since the 1920s.

  Most vulnerable are the smaller sites in rural/coastal locations—serving smaller communities which cannot afford the transition to digital. The industry's transitional model—the virtual print fee—is most effective for larger circuits.

  If there were to be Government support for covering or accelerating the cost and mechanics of switchover for these smaller cinemas there's the potential for a —civic trade off" by way of using cinemas either out of hours, or at specific times of the year, for more obviously public/civic/educational purposes.

  In particular, it would be possible to make imaginative use of 3D for community purposes—for example, showing the London Olympic 2012 events live in 3D.

  The demonstrations that I have seen of 3D, especially sport, have been extremely impressive and I think its popularity for certain kinds of films and for certain kinds of events, including sport, will very rapidly become apparent.


  One of the great successes of the present Government in recognising and promoting the UK's Creative Industries, has been the attention paid to maintaining and strengthening our talent and skill base, though enhanced education and training at just about every level.

  If I've one disappointment, it's that there appears to have been little in the way of a matching commitment from so many private sector employers across the Creative Industries.

  One of the very first acts of ITV, on being released from a slew of PSB obligations, was to all but walk away from its long and very honourable commitment to training. Presumably believing that in its newly found freedom it will have no need of programmes made possible by the combined talents and skills emerging annually from The National Film and Television School or the industry training body, Skillset.

  It could be that ITV has come to the conclusion that it won't be around long enough to require the services of the next generation of talent.

  That's bad enough for the talent, but it's a catastrophic indictment of the company's future from the perspective of its shareholders.

  An abundance of talent of every kind is the only certain way of ensuring a bright future for the whole of the sector; combine that with a consistent supply of world class skills, and you've held down costs whilst creating what would seem to me, an unbeatable combination.

  The National Film and Television School is one of the cornerstones of our training sector. We would be extraordinarily myopic and foolhardy were we to do anything which imperils its ability to be fit for purpose in a digital age.

  Maybe it's because all of this is so self-evident that it gets remarkably little attention; but I get the sense that many employers, who honestly should know better, seek to evade or avoid their very obvious responsibilities in this area.

28 May 2009

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