David Cameron has plans for the currently vibrant British film industry. Big plans. As he explained yesterday, he supports the findings of a review that wants lottery funding targeted more carefully. Building on the "incredible success of recent years", cash should only go to those independent projects with mainstream potential.
First things first. The "incredible success" of the British film industry is largely down to the UK Film Council, which the Coalition abolished as soon as it came to power. Second, most of the films Cameron praised – especially Slumdog Millionaire – were, if anything, sure-fire risks when first mooted. Back in 2007, Danny Boyle was still resisting calls for a Trainspotting 2. And had just watched his awkward but interesting sci-fi thriller Sunshine fail to do well at the box office. I remember interviewing him about his next project – tiny budget, set in India, no white stars. He said he wanted it to be a hit and I nodded back enthusiastically. Inside, I was thinking, "Yeah, right. You're doomed."
Film-makers can surprise us, but so can audiences. They don't always want more of the same. OK, true, mostly they do. There will always be a market for Mr Bean. Mr Bean Does A Fart? Yes, kids will go and see that movie. And should The Inbetweeners jet off on a few more holidays – Bangkok, anyone? – they will also take many viewers with them. And, of course, if someone were to kidnap JK Rowling, force her to write another book and then film it, money might well roll in.
I don't have a problem with cash cows. I like variety (which means I also want small, edgy dramas that may not instantly win over audiences – or even Oscar judges). And I have no objection to putting some public money into all-but-guaranteed hits.
But this is the truly amazing bit about Cameron's plans. When films made with our money make money, profits won't go back into the public purse, as they did before (the UK Film Council offered loans, with rules attached, and expected to be repaid). That will change. Profits now will go straight to producers. The British industry, is, apparently, "still not as profitable as it should be for British film-makers".
The Tories, as we know, are obsessed with deregulation – taking away all those annoying little attempts to hold people "accountable". They want to "reward success". But producers are automatically rewarded by the industry when one of their films does well. They don't need the extra cash.
Who does need it? Er, the public. If anyone's noticed, there's a bit of a recession going on. OK then, in the future, British lottery punters should be exempt from admission charges if the films they want to see were even partially financed with lottery money. If the Government is going to treat film-making like battery farming, then we should all, at the very least, get the odd free egg.
Charlotte O'Sullivan writes about film for 'The Evening Standard'