Film chiefs attack Britain's 'spoilt stars'

New row erupts between Film Council and leading actors over financial backing for British cinema
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The Independent Online

The UK Film Council has launched an astonishing tirade against British stars such as Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton for criticising its funding policies, accusing them of behaving like "spoilt kids".

Paul Trijbits, head of the council's New Cinema Fund, spoke of his anger at the growing trend for high-profile actors and directors to "slag it off" whenever it dares to turn down finance for their pet projects.

Describing their opinions as "misguided", he warned that they were in danger of "doing more damage than good" by making British film-makers look like a bunch of "spoilt children".

His attack provoked an immediate retort from McGregor and Swinton, who repeated their criticism of the council's reluctance to back their latest film, Young Adam, the critically acclaimed tale of a struggling Fifties beat poet.

Ironically, the dispute comes as new research reveals the British film industry is thriving, and now employs more people than coal mining. The study, to be published this week by the Film Council, shows that its workforce has soared to a record 50,971 - 60 per cent higher than it was in 1994.

Last night, McGregor told The Independent on Sunday he objected to being called a "spoilt kid" when all he was trying to do was win support for British film-makers.

The heated exchange follows a spate of public attacks on the council by stars including the directors Terry Gilliam and Peter Mullan and the actor Dougray Scott, many of whose most recent projects were funded with its help. Among the most frequent criticisms is the claim that the three-year-old body favours commercial Hollywood-style movies over smaller-scale, home-grown projects.

Commenting on the latest wave of attacks, which began with McGregor's remarks about the council's treatment of Young Adam at the Cannes Film Festival, Mr Trijbits said: "Everybody's entitled to their opinions, however misguided, but this does look like a bunch of spoilt kids [who] have been given a drum set and they've got their hammers out and are whacking it.

"In most of these cases we are talking about people whose films did get made, and got made with substantial sums of public money. What's their problem?"

Mr Trijbits said that, as he had enough money to support only 12 to 15 of the 300-plus submissions the council receives each year, it was inevitable that established stars as well as upcoming talent would sometimes be left disappointed. Funding bodies have to make "difficult choices" about which projects to back, he said, just as actors and directors face dilemmas about which films to sign up for.

"We don't slag off directors and actors for the choices they make," he said, adding that the accusation commonly levelled at the council, that it favours formulaic "Brit comedies" and overtly commercial movies over quirkier, more low-key fare, was unfounded. Defending Gosford Park, the Oscar-winning period drama by US director Robert Altman which provoked McGregor's ire after it received £2m from the council, Mr Trijbits said: "Gosford Parkcould never be made by a Hollywood studio - it's too intelligent."

Mr Trijbits' comments were challenged by McGregor, who said the council waited until the last minute to provide Young Adam with a £500,000 rescue package. "It took an awful lot of arm-twisting to get them to back it," he said. "I'm glad they helped with the budget, but they should have helped sooner, and more."

Stressing that the fee he got for appearing in the film was 5 per cent of what he would earn for a Hollywood movie, he added: "I object to being referred to as a spoilt kid, because all I'm concerned about is making sure we're making interesting films in Britain."

Swinton said: "Neither Jeremy Thomas nor Ewan McGregor, who wields a light sabre intergalactically, were enough to entice the Film Council to help make this film.Their concerns were that the 'commerciality' of the film might not compute. We who did thought them misguided."

What the critics say:

Ewan McGregor (actor)

On the council's late decision to support Young Adam: "I felt I was banging my head against the wall. It seems a British film industry is the last thing they want."

Tilda Swinton (actress)

On the council's lack of financial support for the film: "We are uncomfortable with the idea of our film being claimed as a 'British' film when the bedrock of its funding was always from Scotland."

Alex Cox (director)

On council chairman Sir Alan Parker's championing of British-American co-productions: "Giving up on distinctly British films and making co-productions with the Americans ... has always failed."

Terry Gilliam (director)

On the amount of money the council spends on its own staff: "These are not good times, and I do not know how much money is going to make new films - but I wonder how much is being spent on all these employees of the Film Council."

What the council says:

Robert Jones (head of the Premiere Fund)

"One expects criticism, but what's disappointing is when that criticism comes from people you have supported. It's quite difficult to understand, particularly when the criticism is completely unfounded and misguided."

Paul Trijbits (head of the New Cinema Fund)

"This looks like a bunch of spoilt kids who have been given a drum set and they have got their hammers out and are whacking it."

James Morrison

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