The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 (17 & 18 Geo. V) was an act of the United Kingdom Parliament designed to stimulate the declining British film industry. It received Royal Assent on 20 December 1927, and it came into force on 1 April 1928.
It introduced a requirement for British cinemas to show a quota of British films, for a duration of 10 years. The Act's supporters believed that it would promote the emergence of a vertically integrated film industry, with production, distribution and exhibition infrastructure being controlled by the same companies. The vertically integrated American film industry had rapid growth in the years immediately following the end of World War I. The idea, then, was to try to counter Hollywood's perceived economic and cultural dominance by promoting similar business practices among British studios, distributors, and cinema chains.
By creating an artificial market for British films, the increased economic activity in the production sector was hoped to lead to the eventual growth of a self-sustaining industry. The quota was initially set at 7.5% for exhibitors but was raised to 20% in 1935. The films included ones shot in British dominions, such as Canada and Australia.
A British film was defined in the following ways:
- The film must be made by a British or British-controlled company.
- Studio scenes must be photographed within a film studio in the British Empire.
- The author of the scenario or the original work on which the screenplay was based must be a British subject.
- At least 75% of the salaries must be paid to British subjects, excluding the costs of two persons, at least one of whom must be an actor. (That caveat refers to the fact that a British film could engage a highly paid international star, producer, or director but still be regarded as a British film.)
The act is generally not considered a success. On the one hand, it occasioned the creation of speculative investment, in lavishly-budgeted features, that could not have hoped to recoup their production costs on the domestic market (such as the output of Alexander Korda's London Films, a boom-and-bust, which was satirised in Jeffrey Dell's 1939 novel Nobody Ordered Wolves); at the other end of the spectrum, it was criticised for the emergence of the opportunistic "quota quickie", which purposed a quick financial return occasioned by modest production investment.
The quota quickies were mostly low-cost, low-quality, quickly-accomplished films commissioned by American distributors active in the UK or by British cinema owners purely to satisfy the quota requirements. In recent years, an alternative view has arisen among film historians such as Lawrence Napper, who have argued that the quota quickie has been too casually dismissed and is of particular cultural and historical value because it recorded performances unique to British popular culture (such as music hall and variety acts), which would not have been filmed under normal economic circumstances.
The act was modified by the Cinematograph Films Act 1938, removing films shot by nations in the British Empire from the quota and further acts, and it was eventually repealed by the Films Act 1960.
- Jill Nelmes, An Introduction to Film Studies (Routledge, 2003), p. 325
- Summary of film-related legislation on the UK parliament's website
- Nobody Ordered Wolves, Jeffrey Dell, London & Toronto, William Heinemann, 1939.
- Michael Chanan, 'State Protection of a Beleaguered Industry' in British Cinema History, James Curran & Vincent Porter (eds.), London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1983, pp. 59–73.
- The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in Britain, 1930–39, Jeffrey Richards, London, Routledge, 1984.
- Cinema and State: The Film Industry and the Government, 1927–1984, Margaret Dickinson & Sarah Street, London, British Film Institute, 1985.
- Dissolving Views: Key Writings on British Cinema, Andrew Higson (ed.), London, Cassell, 1996.
- 'The British Film Industry's Production Sector Difficulties in the Late 1930s', John Sedgwick, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, vol. 17, no. 1 (1997), pp. 49–66.
- The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema 1929–1939, Jeffrey Richards, Manchester, I.B. Tauris (2001).
- Lawrence Napper, 'A Despicable Tradition? Quota Quickies in the 1930s' in The British Cinema Book (2nd edition), Robert Murphy (ed.), London, BFI Publishing, 2001, pp. 37–47.
- Steve Chibnall, Quota Quickies: The Birth of the British ‘B’ Film (London: British Film Institute, 2007) [reviewed ]