Review of the Two Year Review of the UK Film Policy Review

Film Policy Review Squared

Two years ago Lord Chris Smith convened a panel of industry experts to examine UK film policy and the work of the BFI. The result was a report that ran to 111 pages in length and out of kindness to you dear reader I read it all and condensed the findings into 10 key sections. You can re-read my summary by clicking here.

To give you some context the report was published in January 2012 shortly after the UK Film Council had been abolished and the BFI suddenly found themselves responsible for distributing National Lottery funds and became responsible for not just the cultural well-being of the British film industry but the commercial side too. The report gave the BFI some guidance as to what was expected of them as they ventured into new territory. The BFI was used to being an archivist, not a producer, and needed all the help it could get.

Two years on and the panel has reconvened and I am pleased to say that the findings are largely positive, the lovely BFI have done well in their new role with some areas for improvement. The full pdf of their new report can be downloaded here but I have once again summarised it all for you below.

1: Audience Development
“Public policy should be used to maximise audience access to films of every kind.”
As a result of the panel’s recommendations the BFI have launched the Film Audience Network and the BFI Player. Thumbs up from the panel. However the BFI failed to properly connect with the commercial side of the exhibition sector, including small and large cinema operators, which has lost them lots of potential support. Large cinemas account for 75% of screens and should not be ignored when it comes to developing audiences. Could this be a case of snobbery on the BFI’s part? In 2017 the BFI are expected to get more independent films into both multiplex and art-house cinemas. Finally I can recommend the smaller films without annoying everyone.

2: Film Education
“Film education can assist in growing the audiences of today and tomorrow, ensuring that more people have an improved understanding and appreciation of the value of different kinds of film.”
The BFI have established a new film education organisation, Film Nation UK (FNUK) to encourage 5 – 19 year olds to learn about film. Another thumbs up. The aim now is for the FNUK to gain independence from the BFI and be self-sustaining after 2017. FNUK needs to engage better with schools and teachers and to do so needs to work closer with the Department for Education. “FNUK can enable film to be recognised far more widely as a cultural peer of literature, drama and music, in terms of both artistic and educational value.” Also need to ensure that there is a clear path for young people to get involved in film as a career.

3: The Virtual Print Fee
This was established as a cost to distributors every time a film is played at a new cinema and has been used to fund the cost of digitising UK cinemas. This was a success in the sense that the UK has become a fully digitised sector, including a total of 300 digital independent cinema screens. On the downside this has meant higher distribution costs for smaller films which might have in the past used the same 35mm print at various cinemas as part of a slow, rather than saturated release. This fee is actually slowing the distribution of independent films. The panel are proposing to only charge for the number of concurrent digital “prints” in use or simply waive the fee on films released on a number of screens below a specified threshold (99).

4: Development, Production, Distribution
The panel gives a sympathetic shrug to the BFI for having to tackle new responsibilities and deal with a large cut to government funding. Despite this the BFI have implemented some of the reports recommendations including the Vision Awards, the recycling of development funds, a new animation development partnership, and supporting the development of family films. Lots of admin in this section so skipping along… Lots of complicated money stuff… Way over my head…

5: Broadcasters
“The Panel is frustrated there has been little progress on its recommendations concerning broadcasting”
The government gets a ticking off here as they endorsed the panel’s proposals to get BSkyB, ITV, and Channel 5 to do more to support the UK film industry but have failed to use their relationship with the broadcasters to prioritise the issue. “In particular, by the end of 2015, the Panel would like to see BSkyB investing at least £20m, ITV £10m, and Channel 5 £5m per annum in original feature film production, as well as acquiring a greater number of British and specialised films.” We all know that the BBC and Film 4 are major players in the film world so it makes sense to expect the same from our other big entertainment brands.

6: International Strategy
“UK films earned a combined worldwide gross of $5.3 billion in 2012 – a 15% share of the global box office – with the twenty-third James Bond film, Skyfall, earning over $1.1 billion alone. The 2012 gross for UK films was less than 2011’s high of $5.6 billion, but more than any other year recorded.” The Film Tax Relief has kept a steady supply of films being made and the relief will be extended to high-end TV productions from April 2014 which is lovely. More needs to be done to promote the UK industry as a solid investment to international investors, particularly major US studios. Despite UK films success worldwide there is a lack of structured support for delivering UK films to the global audience. All sorts of companies and agencies need to work together to explore partnerships. BBC Worldwide in particular look to be a key avenue for getting UK films out to international sales.

7: Skills & Talent Development
“The future success of the UK film industry, and the vitality of its film culture, depends on the ability to nurture new talent and skills.”
Skills and talent development are two distinct strands but need joined up planning to make the best use of funds. BFI and Creative Skillset have worked together on a funding strategy for 2013-17 and the BFI and Creative England have launched a new Talent Network. All these agencies need to collaborate going forward and, along with the government, must support the BFI’s new Diversity Strategy to ensure opportunities in the industry are available to women, ethnic minorities, and socially deprived populations. As a straight white male I need to check my privilege.

8: Research & Knowledge
More research is needed into the UK film acquisition market and to the impact the Virtual Print Fees are having on independent distributors versus traditional print fees. All the new initiatives need to be rigorously measured and evaluated. The BFI Film Research & Statistics Fund (a very exciting set of words to a film and data geek like me) has been put out to tender which pleases the panel as it offers some separation between the research and those being researched but the relationship between the research and policy needs to remain strong.

9: The BFI as Lead Agency for Film
“The BFI seems to have been less confident in seizing the leadership of the commercial needs of British film than it has been in sustaining its traditional expertise in cultural, educational and archival work.” There is still work to be done for the BFI to truly represent all parts of the UK film industry. As the BFI matures into its role as lead agency for film in the UK it needs to act as a strong industry leader whilst also allowing partners enough freedom to deliver.

I feel like I’ve just read someone’s school report. Still, nice to see a good level of transparency and accountability.

I’ve saved my favourite excerpt for the very end, it is from the section on Education: “The Panel believes that by putting the needs of schools at the centre of its approach  FNUK can enable film to be recognised far more widely as a cultural peer of literature, drama and music, in terms of both artistic and educational value.”

Isn’t that a lovely sentiment? I think I was just moved by a governmental policy review. How unsettling.

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s British

Lord Chris Smith has handed in his homework in the form of a review of UK film policy. Despite David Cameron getting everyone in a right bother last week, it turns out that the review itself is balanced and considered and at no point looks to focus on the profitability of the films which receive public funding. Instead there is a focus on investment in training, distribution and restoration alongside simple film production. David Cameron gave us all the wrong impression, something which hardly fights against his status of prick. PLEASE NOTE: Mild Concern most definitely has a political bias.

The report is lengthy and gives in total 56 different suggestions for ensuring the future success of the UK film industry. The short version is that the BFI have a lot of work to do to, I’d hate to have been in their offices as they read through 56 items they will need to start addressing ASAP. You can read the entire report in a rather jazzy PDF or just read my summary of the recommendations below. I’ll try not to drone on.

Make Films for Everyone
Looking back to last Wednesday’s rant it seemed as if Julian Fellowes was speaking out against art house films, but a look at the review shows that the idea is instead to fund a wide variety of films. The review suggests funding a broad and rich range of British films, ensure a plurality of taste in funding, and specifically funding to support the “unique challenges” of animation and independent family films that parents can enjoy with their children. We get to keep our Tyrannosaurs but must support other film genres too.

Get Films to Everyone
Funding is not just for production, but for distribution too. Far too often I recommend a great independent film forgetting that in London we are lucky to have access to all releases while other areas don’t get a glimpse of treasures like Submarine. Suggested methods of ensuring everyone gets access to independent British cinema include coordinating local cinemas and film societies across the country, “enhancing social cohesion”, using new digital technology and broadband to get films to all areas and having smaller exhibitors exchange best practises. There is even a suggestion of funding screening equipment in community halls for rural areas, no one will be left out.

Promote the British Film Brand in UK and Abroad
The BFI is to spend plenty of time and money building the “British Film Brand”, possibly through an annual “British Film Week”. Another suggestion is for a UK wide film festival offering from the BFI to promote independent films, spreading the success of the London Festival to other areas. The BFI is also recommended to set out an international strategy for UK film, develop international co-production and BBC Worldwide is to continue to invest in and promote British films on a global level.

The Children Are Our Future
Lots of suggestions for the BFI to invest in educating young people in all aspects of film; every school should offer film education including making, seeing and learning about British films. Prepare to watch Kes everyone. A strategy is needed to ensure that production skills being taught are the “Gold Standard” and the three Skillset Film Academies are in need of review. The BBC and their like are to continue to invest in talent development and be the leading gateway to the industry for new talent. There should be a career ladder for any film-maker beyond their first film and any company receiving lottery funding should have a scheme in place to invest in developing new talent. Education should stretch beyond film-making and cover new media and entrepreneurship in the film industry. Talent should also be nurtured outside of the London area.

Let’s Get Digital, Digital. I Wanna Get Digital. Let’s Get into Digital
The review stresses the importance of moving to digital for a variety of reasons, and while the plight of the projectionist is sad it does seem to make sense. Digital distribution of independent British films will make it cheaper to transport for exhibition and allow access to more film for smaller venues. The report also recommends the BFI working with online distributors to help promote and invest in UK films.

There Be Pirates
The review loses me slightly in its recommendation of pushing forward the Digital Economy Act (something I’ve ranted about before, twice). Piracy may well be bad but censoring the internet is not the answer; Wikipedia will go offline for a day tomorrow to protest a similar move in America. Other suggestions to combat piracy are pro-copyright education in schools, for the Government to tackle file sharing sites and to make it a criminal offence to record films shown in cinemas.

Not All About Return on Investment
Far from being the money hungry beast David Cameron led us to believe this report might be, it instead suggests that the BFI relax recuperation targets for its investments. The report also recommends that any money returned to the lottery fund due to a film’s success be available to that film’s writer, director and producers and the funds be directly made accessible to whichever company made the successful film so that they can go on and try to repeat that success.

Protect British Heritage
The final suggestions from the report look at protecting the heritage of British cinema, looking to ensure the long-term safety of and access to the UK’s significant collection of films. It’s all about preservation and presentation. This includes the BFI forming new partnerships to get funding from outside investors to help digitise and exhibit classic British films and the BBC to maintain funding for archiving UK television.

Outside Investment is Key
While mostly advising the BFI on how to spend our money, the report also stresses the importance of the BFI drumming up outside support. This includes a call for all the major UK broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB) to openly set out their financial commitments to British films, and suggest that the BFI incentivise private investment in UK film and encourage sponsorship and philanthropy for film culture.

It’s All About Balance
Recommendation number 17 pretty much sums up the report by stating that, “The Panel recommends that BFI funding for film should be broadly balanced between filmmaking and distribution activities (development, production, P&A) and activities related to film culture (audience development, film education and training, film export, lifelong learning, archive and heritage, activity in the Nations and Regions, economic cultural and policy research); and further recommends that within the two broad categories as much flexibility should be available to the BFI as possible to respond to the needs of audiences, the film industry, and film culture.”

It looks mostly good to me, any emphasis on improving distribution is key, and it looks like there isn’t too much emphasis on profits over art. Good on you Lord Chris Smith, and shame on you David Cameron for getting me worked up over nothing.