These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
During the debate Screen International reported that Paul Trijbits, who for several years was Head of the UKFC’s New Cinema Fund, cited a recent study by Oxford Economics which found that the total value of film to the UK economy was £4.5bn, but of that, independent British films only represent 1.3%.
There you have it. That’s just how bad things are for UK independent film-makers: 1.3%. That’s just how much of an American cultural colony we are. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if even French films have a bigger share than we do.
Oh yes – in France 10% of the turnover of every single broadcaster has to be spent on French film production and film acquisition.
Posts Tagged ‘British independent film’
These are not glorious times for the British Film Industry. That was the narrowly reached verdict of a debate chaired by Stewart Till at London’s Goldsmith College on 3 February.
Recently ScreenDaily.com hosted a round-table discussion about the state of British independent film production. The participants were all leading producers whose credits ranged from “Made in Dagenham” to “Fish Tank” and “Adulthood”.
To save time, here’s a summary of the key points:
*The UK tax-credit is designed to help the industrialised film business – the studio system. On a budget of $100m, they can take $20m out of the UK. And Britain has been effectively cut-off from European filmmaking ever since the Tories took Britain out of Eurimages – the EU co-production funding system – in 1996.
(note: The UK joined Eurimages in April 1993. The number of films awarded Eurimages funding and involving UK co-production companies was 12 in 1993, 21 in 1994 and 22 in 1995, and the total amounts awarded were £2.66 million, £5.45 million and £6.138 respectively; this being about three times what the government had contributed to the fund.)
*Everyone is suffering. Today no one is promoting independent cinema on the world stage, as Miramax did, and so it’s very hard to make any deals with US producers.
*The English language could be a disadvantage. France, Italy, Spain and Japan are protected by their language (and quotas – JW) but our cinema is so dominated by industrialised product that we don’t even have a chance.
*Digital screens put in by the UK Film Council at large expense, have been of no benefit to British filmmakers.
*The handful of established production companies (and directors) will continue to stagger along; but it’s a handful of people who are getting older and older. No younger and more innovative people seem to be managing to break into the industry; and without major changes it’s hard to see how they can.
The UK Film Council has just published its Statistical Yearbook for 2009. In order to save you from the hassle of wading through its obfuscatory pages, here’s some of the key data – from which you’ll get some idea of just how foreign dominated the UK market is
Ten distributors had 92.2% of the UK market – slightly down on last year. Of these one is French (Pathe) and one English (Entertainment). Almost all of Entertainment’s films involved their acquiring UK rights from major US distributors – Warners, Universal, and New Line in particular.
All together these ten companies had a total box office gross of £1billion (near as makes no difference). The other eighty-three (yes, 83) distributors shared £83.5 million.
Nine of the ‘other 83 companies’ were the largest distributors of foreign (i.e. non-English language – funny how ‘American’ is not classed as ‘foreign’) films, distributing between them a total of 62 films with a combined box-office gross of £17.2million. Foreign-language films are particularly attractive as, if of EU origin, they are heavily subsidised.
Of course foreign films featured widely in the portfolios of other distributors as well, but the UKFC doesn’t bother trying to give a clear picture (of anything, really); however it would be safe to assume at least £20million+ (i.e.25% of what the ‘other 83’ share).
This would appear to suggest that approximately 75 distributors had a bit less than 5% of the box office – a total of about £60 million gross. Subtract from that both what the cinema owners take and the distributors’ prints and advertising costs and you’re left with a net of, what? Less than £20million? And don’t forget, that’s not from 75 films, but from the total portfolios of 75 companies.
From all this it’s clear that, if your film wasn’t acquired by one of the American majors (or Pathe) the chances of it grossing even £100,000 (and you therefore seeing maybe £10,000) at the box office are remote.
But what we really want to know is, how much do films make on that all important DVD market? The UKFC provides us with virtually no data at all on this. All they do tell us is that a film with a box of gross of £100,000 would sell, on average, 20,000 copies – from which the filmmaker might see £50,000
The UKFC provides no data on the straight to DVD market – even though that’s where most UK films go. Nor do they provide any data for revenues from TV sales or any other markets. But it is safe to say that it must be really, really hard for a filmmaker to net just £100,000 – and that’s the measure of just how American dominated our film market is.
Monday Feb 22, The Storey Industries Centre, Lancaster.
Organised by Workshop Productions.
Workshop Productions pitched this event thus: “‘Reel Vision’ brings professionals and enthusiasts from across the region together online and face to face. Through ‘Reel Vision’ you will build links and partnerships, share information, skills and resources and become a real contributor towards the future shape of the North West Film Industry.”
The fact that this made no reference to what’s been going on for quite some time across the region didn’t bode that well – and the tone of the pitch didn’t either. But, of course, I welcome any initiative by anyone, no matter how ham-fisted their first attempt may be. Hopefully their next event will be better.
So here’s what was wrong with the first one.
They’d put together a panel chaired by someone with no real idea at all. On it was Tara Cook, Head of Production at North West Vision & Media. Why did the Regional Screen Agencies dream up titles like ‘Head of Production’ to describe people with an annual total of £120,000 to spend implementing the Film Council’s largely pointless short film and script development schemes. Still, at least Tara had the decency to tell the audience that they didn’t have any money, that NWV&M was about to lose 25% of it’s total budget, that a lot of people didn’t like them – at all, but they were trying to change (repeated several times during the evening), that they didn’t really have any pull so there wasn’t really any point to them even giving the ‘seal of approval’ to anything, and so on. She did say that they were planning to do some distribution workshops, but when I raised the point that distribution has to reach screens and the problem of exhibition had to be addressed first, it didn’t seem as if that was anything they could do anything about. Oh yes, she also lamented the fact that not very many people have been taking advantage of the ‘surgeries’ that she’s been running across the region – but as someone who did attend one confirmed to me that ‘she seemed to be a nice person who couldn’t do anything’. By the time she got to outlining her vision of the future for film in the region it had degenerated into empty rhetoric and platitudes – no reference to what’s going on and how it could develop.
So that was one chair wasted.
Also on the panel was Iain Bennett, Sector Leader for Digital and Creative Industries at the North West Regional Development Agency. Now these organisation are all part of a top down micro-managed example of New Labourism at it’s worst. Quango’s like the UK Film Council formulate policy in conjunction with civil servants and Junior Ministers at the DCMS, and these then get devolved to regional agencies (accompanied by the consuming of many buffets) – so they started off as being flawed and by the time they get here the world’ moved on. People like Iain Bennett then parrot the buzz phrases – “Our aim is to attract world class companies to the region” etc. When challenged over how the UK film industry is almost totally dominated by the Americans he replied with a phrase I now read several times before – “We don’t want any French solutions here”. France has a pretty successful film industry and this is not just the product of French policy, but of EU policies which are also bringing success to Spain, Germany, Denmark and so on. I want to see those policies implemented in the part of the EU. The Americans don’t, so the Film Council doesn’t, so the government doesn’t, and so they all unthinkingly bray about ‘we don’t want anything French…’ whilst accompanying their ‘cleverness’ with patronising laughter
He does have an explanation as to why things are as they are – British films are not good enough; and he’s backed up on this by Tara. Obviously this means that a film like ‘Precious’ is on general release because it is just so much better than anything by Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Steven Frears, Shane Meadows, etc. By now I was starting to get just a little bit annoyed
So, two chairs wasted, what about the other two?
Mark Strange was there. For anyone who doesn’t know Mark, well the guy should be a local hero. He’s an expert martial artist, as an actor he’s been in eight films – and he produced three of them. He’s done a lot of work in Honk Kong, but he’s also closely associated with Intense Productions in Lancaster. I’ve known Mark for quite some time and I know how hard he and his associates have worked in getting to where they are. To begin with, as with all of us, they had no choice other than to do everything themselves. Since then they’ve struck several distribution deals, and been represented by both American and British sales agents.
But it needs someone like John Robb, or Stephen Murphy, in the chair in order to draw out the details. As it was Mark did his standard PR schtick, which would have been OK on Radio Lancashire, and that was it.
In the last chair was David Guest, Workshop Productions’ ‘General Manager’. They’re very pro-active, doing corporate and educational projects as well as launching a short film distribution arm. The trouble with that is, no one makes any money from shorts. Maybe David and co. have cracked the magic formula; only time and the sales figure will tell. He also delivered the bombshell that they’d raised something like £2million for a feature, and purely through the efforts of an accountant. Again, though, the thing with this is, they don’t seem to have the principal cast lined up, they’re looking for a director, there’s no big wadge of Film Council money providing a safety net, they don’t seem to have any pre-sales, or a distribution deal in place, and they’re talking about a budget that’s at the top end of what major US independent producers currently would consider spending – and that’s with all the advantages of both being known and the American market. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. But, then again, when I made the suggestion that, if the were to organise such an event again it would be better if the panel was made up of filmmakers, David replied that ‘The problem with filmmakers is that they do tend to go on a bit’. What? I thought, isn’t David supposed to be a filmmaker? Or has he been spending too much time in the company of ‘Business Advisors’ and turned into a suit?
Throughout the Chair had restricted participation to ‘questions’ from the floor; contributions were never called for, and so the (several) filmmakers there, along with representatives of the Campaign to Reform the Video Recordings Act, didn’t get the chance to say anything. But the ‘vision’ of the future presented by the panel had been so uninspiring and so out of touch that I intervened, saying that the foundations of the future were already being laid by the New Wave of filmmaking sweeping across the region, and by festivals such as Salford, Kino, the Pennine, and so on. This got me a round of applause as well as several drinks and plenty of good conversation with local filmmakers and actors at the bar afterwards. As for the panel, they formed a circle, rather like how wagon trains do for their own protection in westerns, in a defensible corner, presenting their backs to the rest of the room – that is except for Mark Strange – he’d gone home already.
Recently two completely different things have been being conflated in these bulletins: productions for which a market exists (e.g. advertising, corporate, training, factual for large niche interest groups, wedding, etc) and which should thus be realistically budgeted; and productions with no access to any markets (short and long narrative fiction, ‘art’) which, if left to their own devices, could, and would, only be made on a spare time ‘hobby’ basis by people with other sources of income (state benefits, bar work, part time teaching, pension).
Access is the key word in the above. Clearly there is a fair amount of interest here in short films, as instanced by the fact that ‘short film nights’ have become a regular feature in many towns and cities. But that isn’t a market because, in its present form, it generates effectively no income.
Now I know that many rather bristle at being referred to by words such as ‘amateur’, or ‘hobbyist’, but that’s what we are.
Right now there is only one market for short fiction: the UKFC – either directly or by proxy through the tiny amounts it gives to its RSAs, or to whatever are the currently fashionable minority groups – largely as a meaningless exercise in social engineering.
Short film schemes are part of the UKFC’s ‘talent spotting’ – a notion that someone somewhere might make something that Lenny Crookes (New Cinema Fund)thinks is worth watching, who can then be developed by the UKFC. This, of course, is seen as a joke; commissioned work is seriously under-funded and, on completion, put on a shelf to gather dust – they cannot be put anywhere else as they have no access to any markets.
Once in a blue moon someone in London does, as a result of courting nepotism, make it through to UKFC-financed feature film development (the UKFC has recently announced that, in future 25% will go to the regions, which is around about a 4-fold increase). The prospect of the resulting film breaking even is less than one in twenty, regardless of its quality or merit, as it will have no meaningful access to any markets. What’s more the highly-paid arts administrators see it as their duty to ‘train’ the producers of these films in the intricacies of film finance by making their awards dependent on ‘match-funding’. But no one is going to invest in any UK independent feature film by first or second time producers and directors who are Shooting People members. All it adds up to is ‘we’ll give you far less than your film would cost to make, but we’ll only actually give you half of that – the rest you’ll just have to get from deferrals and in kind’.
Does the UKFC do anything to create a sustainable market for British filmmaking?
Do they call for the establishing of theatrical exhibition quotas, which would simply bring the UK into line with most other countries?
Do they call for similar quotas to those regulating most other forms of terrestrial TV programming to be extended to films?
Do they call for broadcasters to restore whatever little support they once gave through regular UK short film seasons?
Do they call for the introduction of an “unrated 18″ certificate, again in line with many other countries?
Do they complain to the monopolies and mergers commission about the whole raft of restrictive practices which disadvantage UK filmmaking?
Do they actively promote a UK film festival culture in which a hugely multi-award winning short like Chris Jones ‘Gone Fishing’, would be screened at more than only two ‘British’ festivals?
But, more importantly, do you? Are you an active member of any organisations which campaigns on your behalf on any of these issues? Do you ever even write to your MP or the press?
Or are you nothing more than an ‘amateur’ or a ‘hobbyist’?
writer/producer Diary of a Bad Lad – http://www.bad-lad.com
The campaign to reform the VRA http://reformthevrauk.blogspot.com/
North-West New Wave – which is dedicated to raising the profile of new underground independent filmmaking, and which has already established itself as a major thread at both the Salford and Pennine Film FestivaLS.
Regular speaker/workshop leader for Manchester-based ‘Future Artists’ which is seriously dedicated to developing and communicating about new models for independent film production, distribution and exhibition.
And a 61 year old with ME and a heart condition…
Greetings brothers and sisters. Here’s the lesson…
Filmmakers, you can make your film, whatever the length, available as a download exclusively from your own site, and you will.
Curators, if you negotiate the permissions you can make compilations of short films, whatever the length, available as a download exclusively from your own site.
And the way to do it is through Amazon.com’s (not co.uk)back room. For really tiny fees you can upload your film/compilation to an Amazon server. You then put the appropriate link on your site and that’s it.
Do a ‘Radiohead’ – open a PayPal business account, create a ‘donate now’ button (which takes as long as it takes to read the very simple instructions) and then copy and paste the code to where you want it to be on the page you’re constructing. Give your visitors some suggestions – price of a coffee, ginsters pie, Tesco jeans, – use your imagination. They go to the donate page, make one, or not, and download your movie from a very reliable service.
Now you go out and start telling the world that they can download your movie exclusively from you and pay what they like.
Now it’s time for me to come round with the plate… No, there is no link to ‘download Diary of a Bad Lad now’ – why? because we haven’t finished setting up yet and the information was too important to keep to ourselves.
But ask yourself, “How much is this information potentially worth to me?” Is it worth the price of a totally extras laden just released exclusively from our sites Diary of a Bad Lad DVD for an introductory special offer price of just 9.95 including P&P?
Sure I could tell you how amazing the film is (“…shows just what UK independent filmmakers could and should be making../” Ben Blaine), you can google the reviews so far – just avoid the ‘blogcritics’ one, it’s by some rural American college teacher who says he couldn’t get into it and then proceeded to spit feathers and spoilers all over the page…
But if you are of little faith you can watch it for free on http://www.dailymotion.com/renderyardchannel all over this weekend. I’ll even go so far as to say if you then want to buy it and you post a review anywhere on the net, tell me and I’ll let you have two copies for the price of one and you’ve solved a Christmas present for someone.
BTW the trailer has had over 110,000 views now on dailymotion – and we’ll be getting some advertising revenue. You cannot do this on your own, this is all down to Mark Reid at renderyard.com
Mark is a total live wire and a total inspiration who might do the same for you with no strings attached (other than he thinks your film is worth it).
See, not just one piece of valuable information but a bonus bit too.
OK, lesson over, details and links follow. Best, Jonxxx
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Chris Jones – he of the Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook, some well-regarded low-budget features, and no slouch when it comes to promotion – has recently published some film fest data on his multi-award-winning named-cast 35mm short, “Gone Fishing”. Any film which has picked up thirty-six (yes, 36) awards to date and which came within a gnat’s kneecap of getting an Academy award nomination, is not something to be ignored; except when it comes to the UK. Out of all the many UK festivals Chris submitted to – and remember that he is someone with a bit of a reputation – the film was accepted by a grand total of …two.
So, if that’s what happens when you’re Chris Jones, what chance is there for the rest of us?
Don’t just be annoyed, do something…. And one thing you can do is to sing the praises of the Cornish Film Festival – a fantastic event with a near total focus on Cornish filmmaking; and of the Salford Film Festival which this year made the burgeoning North West New Wave of underground shorts and features one its main strands. What’s more this festival is now working with these filmmakers with the aim of taking the ‘best of the fest’ out across the region.
Make a film on little or no money and you don’t qualify for a tax-break. Make it independently of the UKFC and you won’t get any awards either. But here’s a simple way in which around £3,000 could given to anyone producing a feature film, or a collection of shorts on DVD. And it wouldn’t involve any form-filling at all.
All it requires is for the Video Recordings Act (1984) to be ammended so that it allows films to be released as ‘unrated-18′ – just like they can be in quite a few other countries besides the USA. At a stroke independent filmmakers would no longer have to pay the BBFC to classify films for theatrical release. And then for a DVD certificate. And then to classify all the extras which, when it comes to audio commentaries, the BBFC claims that these represent different versions of the film and charge accordingly. The bill could come well end up coming to more than the film cost to make.
And then there are all the organisations that have been springing up in towns and cities across the country devoted to screenings short films in anywhere from upstairs rooms in pubs to arts centres. These could be bringing out their own compilations on DVD if it wasn’t for the costs of paying the BBFC.
So, if the RSA’s really want to support British independent filmmaking and new forms of exhibition as well, they should be pointing out to the government the significant and lasting benefits of such an ammendment.
There you are. It wouldn’t even cost a penny!
We all know the ‘old model’ is dead and that what we need to be doing is making our films available from our websites and telling people about them through things like Facebook. But, if you’re anything like me you probably don’t have any real idea about spreading the message. You discover that there are all sorts of ‘gurus’ out there promising you the ‘secrets’ if you subscribe to their service, buy their expensive courses, and so on. But I’ve just found http://www.undergroundtraininglab.com/635/tap-into-facebook/#more-635 , and these good people have posted a video of one of their seminars. OK, it’s American and as it progresses it becomes a bit ‘hard sell’ at times, but it’s just made me feel a lot more confident. If we’re going to make a success of our own distribution we need to share stuff like this.