Category Archives: Film Policy
Creative England has been established as the that replaces the Regional Screen Agencies. The first action of the new body was to undertake a consultation process on its Strategic Priorities for Film. The results of this process were published as digest on June 13.
I want to comment on two things in this post: the findings of the consultation exercise and the graph produced in this document.
Creative England: Summary of Findings
The consultation process including written submissions, responses to an online questionnaire, as well as meetings around the country with
The first statement made is:
Of those who expressed an opinion, 65% either agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones. Only 15% disagreed or disagreed strongly. However a large number of respondents either answered ‘don’t know’ (19%) or skipped the question (48%).
The headline figure of 65% agreement with the strategic priorities was announced on the News page of Creative England, but on closer inspection we note that just over half of respondents actually answered this question. The low response rate suggests apathy at best. Creative England states that it received 476 responses but only 52% expressed an opinion regarding the strategic priorities of Creative England, which is 248. Of these, 65% supported the strategic priorities – in other words, of 476 respondents, only 161 or 34% ‘agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones.’
The breakdown of respondents (see below) reveals one disturbing fact: only 2% of those to reply to the consultation document were distributors. Given the fundamental role of this sector in the film industry, it is clearly woefully under-represented in this process. Sales, however, does tend to be ignored by policy makers. In April 2011, an article in Screen International reported that during the process by which the UK Film Council was abolished and responsibility was handed tot he BFI, Film Export UK was unable to secure a meeting with Ed Vaizey, the Cultural Industries minister:
Despite many attempts, representatives of Film Export UK have failed to win an audience with Vaizey and only recently managed to secure a meeting with the BFI which has assumed many of the UKFC’s responsibilities including oversight of development, production and distribution funding from the National Lottery.
The failure to develop distribution is the major problem in the UK film industry, and that will not change any time soon.For example, the digest includes the following statement:
Staff should be experienced beyond production, for example there needs to be expertise in diversity, procedural transparency and sector specialists in exhibition, education and film archives.
Distribution and sales are not mentioned.
Overall, the impression from this document is that eleven months after the announcement that the UK Film Council was to be abolished, six months after the announcement of its replacement, and three months after it ceased trading, we still do not have any concrete plan for regional film policy in the UK. The recurrent themes that run throughout the comments is that people want to know what will happen and how Creative England will work in practice. After almost a year, this uncertainty should have been resolved and the references to reassurance indiactes that this is not the case. For example, the comments express a vagueness, particularly regarding the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England:
Comments were made about the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England, but most comments merely pointed out this risk and sought reassurance that ‘something would be done’.
Well you would hope that ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ would be done.
One subject missing from the consultation document is that of research and statistics. Although one of the current themes is that ‘Decision making must be evidence based and clear,’ we have no detail on how this evidence will be collected. By the end of this month, the BFI will have assumed full responsibility for the functions that were once fulfilled by the Research and Statistics Unit of the UK Film Council, but we still lack details on how this will relate to the creative hubs of Creative England.
You can read the views of the British Screen Advisory Council on film statistics here.
Remember Creative England will not be up and running until 1 October 2011. Variety reports on the appointment of an interim director here.
An evil and misleading graph
There are many issues in the consultation process for Creative England that need to be resolved, but the thing that made me really angry was the graphic they used to illustrate the breakdown of respondents in the exercise. This graph is reproduced below.
Figure 1 An evil and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise
There are so many things wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start:
- There are far too many categories here to comfortably fit in a pie chart.
- Tilting a chart creates a false perspective, overemphasizing sectors that appear at the bottom and which seem to be larger than they are. The sector for filmmaker/film production freelancer would appear to be bigger than the sector for production company, when the opposite is true. Equally, the sector for education/youth organisation appears larger than exhibitor, even though it is smaller.
- Adding a third dimension to a chart rarely improves matters: it requires extra work from the reader while providing no extra information, and is potentially misleading.
- Similarly, exploding a pie chart may be useful to highlight a single sector relative to the rest of a chart, but exploding the whole chart adds no extra information and just makes the whole thing harder to follow.
- The labeling is dreadful: look at the label for Training, hidden away there under the arrow Archive.
If you are a researcher or student working in film studies, then all you need to do is to remember this simple rule:
NEVER – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – WILL YOU PRODUCE AN EXPLODED 3-D PIE CHART
If you want to see how bad pie charts can be, then a visit to Junk Charts is in order. Pie charts do have their uses – as William Playfair and Florence Nightingale so effectively demonstrated – but there are better ways of presenting the information in Figure 1 than an exploded 3-d pie chart. For example, a table listing the percentages of respondents in each sector in order of size from largest to smallest would have been much easier to understand and is probably the best option. Alternatively, a horizontal bar chart such as the one in Figure 2 could have been used. You could even do away with the horizontal axis and put the data labels at the end of each bar in order to show the percentage in each category.
Figure 2 Not an evil graph and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise
Let us hope that this poor use of statistical graphics is not a harbinger of decline in the standard of statistical analysis of the UK film industry now that Creative England has been set up. Of course, this will have to be a part of the next consultation.
This week some papers on the relationship between different national film industries and between different scales of the film industry within the same country. These papers emphasise cinemas that we get to hear about only infrequently in the UK (and very likely elsewhere).
As ever, the version of the paper linked to may not necessarily be the final version.
Barnard H and Tuomi K 2008 How Demand Sophistication (De-)limits Economic Upgrading: Comparing the Film Industries of South Africa and Nigeria (Nollywood), Industry and Innovation 15 (6): 647-668.
More sophisticated demand is typically seen as an enabler of economic upgrading. This study questions this linearity and extends demand theory through a case analysis of the film industry in two developing countries. When unsophisticated local demand results in well-matched supply- and demand-side elements, benefits do accrue. Low exposure to technically superior products in Nigeria allowed a fully fledged film value chain to develop, as consumers were willing to support lower quality output. Although the industry is too weak to seriously threaten incumbents from the developed world on the global stage, it has substantial impact in its home country. In contrast, if demand is far more sophisticated than supply, local industry will struggle to respond to broad-based demand signals and will achieve accelerated learning only in niche areas. South Africa has become a niche producer in the global film industry rather than film producer in its own right partly because the widespread demand for Hollywood-quality products could not be met by local supply capabilities.
Durmaz, B, Yigitcanlar T and V K 2008 Creative cities and the film industry: Antalya’s transition to a Eurasian film centre, The Open Urban Studies Journal 1: 1-10.
In the knowledge era, cites are competing to attract and retain creative industries and workers for securing their economic, social and urban growth as well as ensuring their creative city formation. During the last decade rapidly growing popularity of creative cities has encouraged many cities seeking creativity to specialise in specific sectors of the creative industries. In this context, the paper explores creativity strategies and the role of film industry in creative city formulation. Antalya, Turkey is investigated as an emerging film industry-oriented creative city due to recent industry developments, its natural and constructed assets and amenities along with its openness to creativity. This paper also examines some of the creative city examples, scrutinises potentials and constraints of Antalya and Turkish film industry, and provides discussion and recommendation for Antalya’s transition to a Eurasian film centre.
Edwards JR 2008 Building a Self-Sustaining, Indigenous Film Industry in Kenya, World Story Organization.
In August of 2008, the World Story Organization (WSO) met with the Kenya Film Commission to discuss the current state of the Kenyan film industry, specifically regarding local productions indigenous to Kenya (as opposed to external production companies that use Kenya
as a backdrop and setting). WSO, founded in April of 2008 as a non-profit organization, seeks to provide filmmaking and storytelling education for developing film industries around the world.
As part of its partnership with the Kenya Film Commission, WSO plans to deliver screenwriting and production workshops in Nairobi, Kenya in 2009. The hope is that these pilot courses will lay the foundation for a School of Excellence in Film Production in Kenya. This school would offer a one-year program in film production for Kenyans, by Kenyans. Currently no such film school program exists in all of East Africa.
The challenges that face building a self-sustaining, indigenous film industry in Kenya are varied and numerous. The purpose of this study is to address these challenges and define the role that the World Story Organization hopes to fill in accomplishing this goal.
Garcia, Jr. L and Masigan C 2001 An In-depth Study of the Film in the Phillipines.
The paper aims to define the industry and its structure, examine the laws that hinder or facilitate its growth as well as the existing associations and what they have done; look into the market potential of the film industry and its foreign market demand; examine supply capability; identify opportunities and threats confronting the industry; prepare an action plan to enhance competitiveness; and recommend a performance monitoring scheme.
Harabi N 2009 Creative industries: case studies from Arab countries, Learning Event on Developing Knowledge Economy Strategies to Improve Competitiveness in the MENA Region by the World Bank Institute, 17-21 May 2009, Alexandria Egypt.
The paper describes and explains empirically the economic performance of four key creative industries (the book publishing, music sound recording, film production and software industries) in five Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon). Using the Porter (Diamond) model as its theoretical background, a survey was conducted in the years 2002-03 among 242 experts, covering firm representatives, industry and government experts. The results were incorporated into five national case studies. This paper synthesizes the results of those national reports, giving a comparative account of the performance of the four creative industries in these Arab countries. The overall results of the study suggest that creative industries in Arab countries are substantially underdeveloped, and there remains a great potential that should systematically be mobilized. A discussion of how this can be achieved is offered, based upon a well-designed and implemented process of upgrading and innovation in companies, industries and clusters related to creative activities. Public policy can play in this process an important role, as shown in the example of promoting Shanghai creative industries, where the Municipal Government has played a key role.
Nogueira JC 2009 Film and Video Festivals in South America: A Contemporary Analysis of Flourishing Cultural Phenomena. Unpublished MA Thesis, Ohio University.
This research mapped 175 audiovisual festivals that took place in South America in 2008 and analyzed them regarding the types of events they are, the place and time of the year they take place, what kind of films/videos they exhibit and the number of years that they have been happening. The research also compared the data with the population of each country, their GDP and number of internet users. The research also performed case studies of successful events and events that have been discontinued and compared their analysis in order to identify reasons and elements that can turn an audiovisual festival into a success or a failure.
Rosnan H and Ismail MN 2010 The impact of cultural industries on national economies, Business Management Quarterly Review 1 (2): 33-42.
The main objective of this paper is to examine the impact of cultural industries in general and film industry in particular on national economy. Globally, cultural industries have contributed to economic development of many developed and developing countries. For example, in the United States, film industry (which fall under the category of cultural industries) contribution is greater than its aerospace industry. In the case of third world countries, film industry has been neglected in the academic literature despite its huge potential contribution to the economy. Based on the reviews of earlier studies, it was found that little attention has been given by scholars to study the impact of cultural industries and national economic development. Most studies on economic development focused on other industries deemed significant, especially manufacturing industry. Hence, this paper highlights the importance of cultural industries and its potential contribution to national economy. It also highlights some important points that need to be considered by national government in their effort to benefit from the development of their national film industry.
Wong C, Kim J-B, and Matthews JH 2010 Managing creativity and its paradoxes in the film industry, INBAM Conference: Creativity and Innovation in an International Context, 1-4 June 2010, Valencia, Spain.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the various types of paradoxes underlying the nature of creativity, which in turn affect the foundations of organizations and organization change in the 21st century. The film industry best illustrate the interaction of such paradoxes, creativity and organizational change. This paper examines how small and medium-sized firms in the emerging Singapore film industry stay competitive by managing or not managing these paradoxes.
Design/methodology/approach: The study reported in this paper explores the opinions, attitudes and experiences of key decision-makers in the Singaporean film industry.
Findings: This paper introduces the idea that an analysis of the various paradoxes driven by creativity in today’s society provides hints on a deeper understanding of organizational change and development in the 21″ century.
Practical implications: The findings indicate that managers need practical tools that will enable them to comprehend and better manage these emerging contradictions and fully understand the implications of paradoxical situations and organizational change.
Research limitations: The distinctive nature of the Singaporean firms means that certain factors examined may be more or less significant in the film industry in other countries.
Originality/value: The value of this paper lies in the knowledge that paradox considerations are becoming significant in understanding pluralism and the processes of organizational change.
Tomorrow is 1 April, and so today marks the day on which the contracts of the regional screen agencies run out. The regional screen agencies will be replaced by Creative England, but not until later this year. Tomorrow is also the day the BFI takes over from the UK Film Council.
The new website for Creative England is here, although there is very little in the way of actual information. The FAQS on the Creative England website are not informative. The first question – ‘Why does there need to be a new structure?’ – does not actually answer the question and provides only an overview of the government’s steps to abolish the UK Film Council. We are promised ‘a simpler, more efficient structure with an expanded remit to support the creative industries across England,’ but this is vague and commits the government to nothing. The rationale is actually given in the consultation document for 2011/12 in paragraphs 3.1.4 and 3.1.5, which emphasise that it is necessary to save money and that the presence of the nine RSAs had resulted in ‘duplication or unnecessary competition.’ The CE consultation document does not state what was duplicated or why this was a bad thing. Nor does it define what is meant by ‘unnecessary competition.’ Neither of these arguments is convincing at the present time because (i) we have not yet received any estimate of how much money will be saved by restructuring the RSAs and the costs of the restructuring the regional bodies have not been made clear, and (ii) the RSAs were organised to represent and support their regions and were responsible for implementing national film policy within geographically defined areas and were not – by definition – national bodies. The RSAs served their regions and had no remit beyond that – they provided the services that were necessary to their region irrespective of what services were provided elsewhere. The RSAs competed with one another to attract productions, and this took the form of developing the range and skills of the workforce, developing the range of facilities, supporting businesses so that they could compete not just at a regional level but also globally, and in many other ways. The introduction of the RSAs was a business-orientated decision (albeit with public funding) with competition at its heart – and in many respects has been successful in making the UK an attractive place for filmmakers to come to. What is ‘unnecessary’ about this? Does the (predominantly Conservative) government not think that competition is a good thing?
It is also clear from paragraph 3.1.8 of the consultation document that Creative England is not intended to be an institution to support the film industry, but will be expanded to cover the other creative industries as well:
… the broader ambition is to grow Creative England beyond the film agenda by developing an over-arching strategy for the development of the creative industries throughout the English regions.
This is a clear statement that, in England, only London will a have dedicated film body, while the rest of the UK will have three creative industries bodies that include film within their remit but are not specifically screen industry bodies. Given the domination of the UK film industry by London and the South East of England, the competitive relationship between the English regions was not with the capital but the other parts of the UK; and as the reform of the RSAs affects only England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be in a much stronger position to out-compete regions institutionally de-nuded regions such as Yorkshire and the East Midlands. I cannot find any assessment of the impact of restructuring on the relationships between the regions, and the relationship between the English regions and the non-English regions has not apparently been addressed.
If CE is to be a single body for all the creative industries, why has the Arts Council for England not been abolished along with the UK Film Council? What is the difference between ‘the arts’ and ‘creative industries’ that they should be treated differently?
For an interview with Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, published yesterday in The Yorkshire Post see here. As of today, Screen Yorkshire has made seven of its 21 members of staff redundant, with a further four switching from full-time to part-time. This low staffing level marks a return to the pre-2000 days of the screen commissions that was recognised as unable to effectively serve the film industry by the UK Film Council’s Film in England report (here). Screen Yorkshire will continue to operate at this staffing level for six months until Creative England formally commences operations in October 2011. This leaves a six month period in which the existing bodies must carry on the serve the indstry with reduced staff and funding before the new body becomes operational. The Creative England website states that
2011 will be a year of transition as the Regional Screen Agencies reform into Creative England. In the meantime, it will be ‘business as usual’ for the agencies.
This is a silly thing to say – especially since the business plan for Creative England will not be published until September 2011, and so we will not know its exact structure until that date.
Game Republic (their new site is here) will cease to receive funding from Yorkshire Forward via Screen Yorkshire, and will be funded by games developers and three universities (Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, and Leeds Metropolitan [see here and here]). University funding in the UK is also being cut back by the government as part of its deficit reduction programme, and there was considerable surprise when Leeds Met announced it was going to charge students up to £8,500 per year (here). This cannot be right – public funding for a body to support a media industry is being cut by the DCMS, but the same body will receive support from universities that have had their teaching budgets slashed. Universities obviously have an important economic role to play within a region, but supporting industry bodies whilst increasing tuition fees is not appropriate.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that the decision to reform the publicly funded institutions of the British film industry is wrong; only that you cannot be sure it is the right decision if it is as disorganised and as ill-informed as this. The decisions of the government may be right or wrong – but they are certainly bad decisions. You can access the report of the National Audit Office on the financial management of DCMS here, but it is worth quoting paragraph 2.55:
… the Department [of Culture, Media, and Sport] announced the closure of UK Film Council in July 2010, but it had not performed sufficient analysis of the financial implications of the decision. It announced the transfer of functions four months later, but still had no formal arrangements in place as to which Film Council staff would transfer to other bodies. It had also not calculated the expected costs of closure, although it had decided the transfer of functions would take place on 1 April 2011.
The Guardian (here) reported earlier this month that the wind-down cost of abolishing the UK Film Council is £11.3 million. We do not yet know how much cheaper the new BFI will be.
The Report of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on arts and heritage funding published on 22 March 2011 (here) was also very critical of the decision-making at DCMS, while recognising that there was scope for cost savings at the UK Film Council:
The abolition of the UK Film Council was handled very badly by the Government. We would not expect a decision with such significant implications for the film industry to be sprung on the UK Film Council with little discussion or consultation. It is extremely regrettable that a film-maker of the stature of Tim Bevan has, as a result, decided to take no further part in Government-sponsored initiatives.
If you want to read a really good debate on the government’s film policy and its recent decision-making then you should read the debate in the House of Lords from 7 March 2011 (column 1412 onwards). You can access Lords Hansard here, and by selecting the debates by date (on the left hand panel), then by ‘Debates and Oral Answers’ (below the calendar), and then by ‘Amendment 65A’ from the index you can read the full debate.
Over the past few weeks Jim Barratt has added two posts to his blog Bigger Picture Research, in which he asked the question ‘What Do We Need to Know?’ This discussion was prompted by the impending demise of the UK Film Council (UKFC) and the lack of clarity regarding the future collection and dissemination of statistics on the British film industry under the new British Film Institute (BFI).
The first post, which invited comments from those working in the film industry, can be accessed here.
The second post, which features the comments of academic contributors (including myself), can be accessed here.
While the contributors to these two posts occupy different roles in and around the film industry, there is a general consensus about the current state of affairs and what is hoped for the future.As Jim notes,
What do we need to know? That is the question I put to a number of film industry insiders, analysts, academics and interested observers over the last few weeks.
As worded, the question implies some degree of empirical evidence is necessary to the film business and the state apparatus that supports it, though I was quite prepared to hear from people who felt the contrary was true. Of course, nobody did. In fact, everyone I approached was clear that research and statistics are essential in one form or another, as a means to a variety of ends.
Some general points that appeared in both posts are:
- there is a need for data to be easily and cheaply accessible to producers, exhibitors, and academics
- there is a need for the film industry in the UK to be more open, and to not place data behind prohibitive paywalls or in the hands of private companies
- the role of public bodies in providing statistical summaries has been of great importance and (it is hoped) will continue to be so after the restructuring of the BFI
To follow up, this week’s post lists some possible sources of information that may be of use to researchers interested in film industries in general and the UK film industry in particular.
Compendium: Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe
Compendium is a website produced by the Council of Europe and the European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research, which has been running in various forms since the late-1990s. It monitors cultural policies in 42 European nations, from Armenia and Azerbaijan to Ireland and the Holy See, and provides summaries of the cultural policies in each country, statistics on specific cultural activities, and a themed section which looks at different aspects of cultural policy (cultural diversity, the status of artists, etc). One part of the website is designed specifically to make it easier to compare different European countries alongside one another. It also has sections on statistical methodology and the use of statistics in cultural policy making.
With regard to the cinema in particular it is possible to find the following information:
- Number of screens, cinema admissions and cinema admissions per capita (2001 – 2007)
- Feature film production I: fiction and documentaries (2001-2007)
- Feature film production II: fiction only (2001-2007)
- Market share of feature films (2001-2007)
- Compare ticket prices for Avatar across Europe – it was cheaper to see Avatar in Armenia (€2 – 2.5) than in the UK (€5.89), but it was more expensive in Azerbaijan (€7.3).
Drawbacks with Compendium include the fact that it lacks up to date information for some measures – for example, there is no information on the market share of feature films after 2007. A further problem is that some of the information available from Compendium is produced by other bodies such as the European Audiovisual Observatory (here), which will typically be more up to date and more detailed. An advantage is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of Euros to get the information as you with the EAO Yearbook.
What is available is from Compendium is attractively presented, well organised and searchable, and the ability to make simple comparisons is very useful – you just wish it would do more.
Compendium can be accessed here.
New Zealand Film Commission, Statistics New Zealand, and the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association
There are obviously lots of national bodies collecting data about their respective film industries, and it would be redundant to go through each and everyone, but it is useful to take New Zealand as an example (and Australia below) and to look at some the practices there that I would like to see imported into the UK.
The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) The NZFC provides a list of all the feature films produced in New Zealand from 1939 to 2009. There is also a complete list of projects funded by the NZFC and the level of investment from the commission from 1990 to 2009. However, the NZFC does not provide statistics on the film industry in New Zealand in general, and responsibility for this lies with the national statistics agency. The Statistics New Zealand site for film can be accessed here. Statistics New Zealand fulfils a role similar to that of the UKFC in providing data on the film industry, where as the data collected by the NZFC is limited to its own activities. What I really like about the Statistics New Zealand survey is that it gives you detail on how and where money as spent. You can find out what proportion of post-production revenue was received by contractors working on editing, captioning and subtitling relative to digital effects; and what proportion of production investment was spent in Wellington, Auckland, the rest if New Zealand, and beyond. There is even a report specifically given over to the regional data for the film and television sectors. It also gives details on the methodology behind the survey, which has been lacking from the UKFC.
One issue that was not addressed by the discussion on Bigger Picture Research was the role of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in providing either data, summaries, or methodological support for bodies such as the UKFC and BFI. Indeed, as far as I have been able to tell, there has been very little attention paid to the framework for collecting, analysing and distributing statistics on the UK film industry, even though the ONS has precisely this sort of expertise. There is a lesson to be leant here from the role played by Statistics New Zealand. However, this should not lead to the situation in New Zealand where little information is produced or distributed directly from the national film body (NZFC or BFI) – rather, it is a case of utilising the expertise that already exists. The UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics can be accessed here, and is another source (along with the methodological resources at Compendium and the ONS) that can serve as a basis for determining why, what, and how data on the film industry in the UK is collected.
In my contribution to Bigger Picture Research, I criticised the trade bodies in the UK for failing to take the provision of relevant data seriously. If you want to see how it could be done, then the website of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association is a good place to start. Rather than simply telling us how the top 10 films performed at the box office, you can find data on all the films submitted to the NZ box office. All of this information can be downloaded freely as Excel files, and the available data goes back to 2006. Other parts of the website are less well-developed, but there is no excuse for British trade bodies for not doing the same in the UK. The Motion Picture Distributors’ Association can be accessed here.
Screen Australia’s Support for Researchers
Screen Australia actively supports and encourages researchers ‘to build knowledge about, and audiences for, contemporary Australian screen content through the development and publication of high-quality information, insight and analysis.’
Screen Australia make a substantial commitment to this area: in 2011 there is up to AS$150,000 available in funding for researchers. Not all the assistance given will be financial: Screen Australia will help you to do the research by providing access to data. They actively encourage data-sharing.
Last year’s awards went to academics and to companies from the film industry, thereby bridging that divide. They also invested heavily in publications and new technologies to further the development and circulation of information on the film industry. The projects supported are intended to further the policy aims of Screen Australia by finding out what they need to know and making that information available, and this puts research right at the heart of what Screen Australia is trying to do. In contrast, in the UK researchers are often excluded from data collection and analysis because it is either too expensive or in the hands of civil servants or private companies.
Details on Screen Australia’s programme can be accessed here.
The new BFI will be responsible for both education and industry in the film sector in the UK, and I think that it would be a very good thing if these two areas of responsibility could be linked together in a manner similar to that of Screen Australia. This makes excellent economic sense for the film industry: if you give your data away for free, then you will find that economists, sociologists, film scholars, and bloggers with nothing better to do will analyse it for you simply because that is what they do. This is much cheaper than commissioning reports from companies that put their results behind ridiculously expensive paywalls. If the industry gave away its data for free then it would receive in return a massive subsidy for research via universities and research councils around the world. Anything the new BFI can do to facilitate this – by encouraging the industry to make data available and by supporting researchers as they do in Australia – should be at the forefront of its thinking. The attitude of openness is one that could certainly be encouraged in the UK film industry.
Given that research grants in the UK are required to show that they have some economic benefit, there are numerous opportunities for scholars to apply to the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, or any of the other bodies that support researchers in the UK and around the world that can make a direct contribution to the UK film industry. It would certainly go a long way to enabling film studies to shake off its negative image in the UK if we could get people to realise just what an important part of the UK economy the screen industries are. If we only had the data we need …
(Note that I have often referred to the availability of data as a problem rather than the availability of statistics – statistics are summaries of data [e.g. the mean and the standard deviation are statistics that describe a data set]. We need statistics to understand data, but without the data we can do nothing).
The Creative Industries in South Africa
Finally, a report on the cultural industries in South Africa – which can be accessed here – that is interesting for two reasons. First, it is difficult enough to find anything about film industries in Africa, and this report provides detail on the film industry in South Africa in the early 2000s and is therefore interesting in its own right. Second, it is interesting to note that the South African government was looking to other countries – Canada and the UK are cited prominently – for inspiration in assessing the state and impact of the cultural industries. The cultural mapping projects of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) are cited as notable examples of how this may be achieved.
The way in which the coalition government has gone about the reform of the UK Film Council and the BFI lends itself easily to pessimism that could easily have been avoided if this process had been done properly in the open. The points made on Bigger Picture Research are all valid, but we should understand them within the broader context of a framework for researching the cultural industries that has developed over the past decade and a half. It is worth noting that progress in data gathering and analysis (of which the UK Film Council has been a part) has been made since 1997, and that other countries around the world have looked to the UK for ways of doing this themselves. The UK Film Council made great strides in the provision of information, especially when compared to the utter lack of a cultural policies framework in the 1980s and 1990s. It is unthinkable that all this progress would be lost – but the reform of the BFI is an opportunity to go further and do more, and it is disconcerting that there has been so little debate on this topic. But if you do want to contribute then get over to Bigger Picture Research, where you will find much to stimulate your mind.
Back in 2009 I looked at the regional distribution of feature film production in the UK (here and here), but it is short films that account for a significant proportion of production (if not of actual cash). There are some parts of the UK where feature films are few and far between (mainly rural areas, but Herefordshire Shropshire in particular) and where short films are substantially more important. This post uses data from the Internet Movie Database to describe (roughly) the geographical distribution of British short film production in the UK from 2007 to 2009.
Getting data on short film production is difficult – there is no definitive register of short films produced in the UK and the UK Film Council does not track this type production. (In fact the UK Film Council does not track feature film production with budgets below £500,000). There is also no data collected on the geography of film production in the UK. To estimate the geographical distribution of short film production, I used the advanced search function of the Internet Movie Database to search for UK short films released or completed from 2007 to 2009 inclusive that were produced in specific geographical locations (e.g Essex, Yorkshire, Scotland, etc.) and then sorting these by government standard region (North West, East Midlands, Scotland, etc).
The presentation of the data is based on the same assumptions that I used in the earlier posts:
- Where a film is produced in more than one region, then this counts as one connection to each region. As a film may be produced in more than one region, the total number of connections exceeds the total number of films.
- A film has a single connection to region only, even if numerous locations within that region were used.
- Production at a studio is classed as production activity in a region (e.g., production at Shepperton takes place in Surrey and so is classed as South East England).
Documentaries and music videos are not included, but animations are included.
Collecting data in this way has its limitations. First, it is not known how many films were produced but not listed on the Internet Movie Database, and so we cannot know the overall level of production. The figures presented here are therefore estimates only, and allow us look at the relative differences between different regions rather than the absolute differences. Second, we can only estimate the distribution of production and not the level of production – we do not know how much has been spent in each region. In other words, we can estimate the range but not the depth of short film production in the UK.
Given these caveats, I still think that this is a worthwhile exercise as I have not come across a similar survey of production for short films. (I am aware of the futility of this exercise given the proposed reorganisation of the film industry at the regional level).
These search criteria produced a data set of 1143 films, which accounted for a total of 1222 connections. These films range in duration from 1 minute to 40 minutes, and in budget (where stated) from £10 to £200,000.
Figure 1 presents the total number of productions in each region, and as we would expect it is dominated by London, which accounts for 47% of the total number of connections. The South East accounts for 12% of the total. If we take the three regions in south-eastern England together (ie London, the South East, and East), account for 64% of the total number of connections. The South West is third with 8% and Scotland fourth at 6%. The North East has the lowest level of production, and this reflects the low level of feature film production identified in the earlier post. Northern Ireland, the East Midlands, and the West Midlands also show low levels of production in both short and feature film production.
Figure 1 Number of UK short films produced in each region, 2007 to 2009
Table 1 presents a breakdown of the number of UK short films to shoot in each region by year. London shows the greatest variation over this time period. The dominance of London accounts for the large change in the year on year totals. The number of short films produced in Wales doubles from 2007 to 2008, with a further small increase. Production in the South West also shows a large increase followed by a substantial decrease. Levels of production are relatively stable over the period 2007 to 2009 for the other regions.
Table 1 UK short film production by region and year
The changes in the relative performance of the different regions can be more clearly seen by looking at the year by year ranks of each region, and these are presented in Table 2. We can see that, in general, the rank of a region is stable over the time period covered. There are two notable changes in Table 2: Wales moves up the ranking from 10.5 in 2007 to 5 in 2009, and this reflects the sharp increase in the number of productions noted in Table 1; and the North West has slipped from 3 to 7, but as there is no large drop off in the number of films produced this may be due to the variation in the number of films produced in this and other regions. The large variation in the number of productions in the South West has not substantially changed its ranking.
Table 2 Yearly ranks of region for UK short film production
There is very little interaction between the regions, and of the films included in the survey only 65 were produced in more than one region and 7 were produced in three regions. Where these interactions did occur, they were predominantly between London and another region. The South East (29) and East (10) were the regions with greatest number of connections to London – but this is unsurprising as these are the regions that border London.
On Tuesday 18 January 2011, Screen Yorkshire, the regional screen agency for the Yorkshire and Humber region, announced that it was entering into ‘a consultation process with a number of staff regarding the future of their posts as part of an ongoing review of the future of the organisation.’ The actual announcement can be read here.
Screen Yorkshire’s announcement followed from the previous night’s (17 January 2011) BBC Look North (Yorkshire) which led with the story that the agency had run out of money and was making staff redundant following the government’s decision to abolish the UK Film Council, the regional screen agencies, and the regional development agencies. A contract with Yorkshire Forward worth £10.2 million to promote the screen industries will end in March 2011. Since Screen Yorkshire is a regional screen agency jointly funded by the UK Film Council and Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, this was inevitable. The government has proposed that as part of its restructuring of the industry that three major production hubs should be established in the UK as part of ‘Creative England,’ and the one for the North (covering the North East, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humber) is to be located at Manchester.
BBC Look North (Yorkshire) announces that Screen Yorkshire has run out of funding (17/01/11)
According to reports, the ‘restructuring’ will see up to 15 of the agency’s 19 members of staff made redundant.
Screen Yorkshire’s situation is not unique:
- Last December, North West Vision+Media announced that 25 posts were under review out of a total staffing of 35, and that it’s funding beyond March 2011 is also unclear. However, this is less of a problem due to the government’s decision to locate a Creative England hub in Manchester. Staff at Vision+Media are already working four-day weeks following 20% pay cuts in November 2010.
- Screen East went into liquidation last year with debts of £4 million, and this is a region that is close to London and includes Leavesden Studios (where the Star Wars prequels were shot).
Screen Yorkshire has announced that it will continue to deliver its existing contracts over the next year, but it seems likely that it will not be able to function properly as a regional screen agency from April 1 until the creation of the ‘Creative England’ hub for the North. The due diligence process for replacing the UK Film Council with the ‘new BFI’ has not been completed, and no plans for ‘Creative England’ have been released by the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. Although one round of consultations has apparently been completed on the ‘new BFI’ and Creative England, the next round has not yet begun, while the reality of the recession is overtaking the regional screen agencies. This is not an orderly transition from one policy regime to another, and the fact that we are seeing regional screen agencies running out of funding before the final decisions about the future of film institutions have been taken only reinforces the image of film policy at the DCMS under Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey as incoherent, poorly planned, and incompetently executed.
The future of bodies such as Screen Yorkshire may be in providing regional support outside of the major CE hubs, but this is a return to the days of the old screen commissions of the 1990s when bodies such as the Yorkshire Screen Commission, based in Sheffield, were the only source of contact for producers from both within and without. These commissions had low levels of staffing and were largely cut off from the other bodies responsible for film policy. The introduction of the regional screen agencies was, in part, supposed to remedy precisely this problem. As I have discussed elsewhere, part of the introduction of the regional screen agencies was a process of bureaucratization and professionalization that saw specialized staff hired to fulfil specific roles on a full-time basis in an organized manner. (See Redfern N 2005 Film in the English regions, International Journal of Regional and Local Studies 1 (2): 52-64). Under the government’s announced restructuring of film policy, Yorkshire will have no dedicated film body, with production/funding/distribution funding distributed from Manchester and Film London responsible for promoting locations. If Screen Yorkshire can survive in some form to fulfil this role then that will at least preserve some useful knowledge and key relationships at the regional level. If it cannot, then that bureaucratization and professionalization will be undone.
The impact will not only be felt in the film and television industries, but will also have severe consequences for video games developers in the region. Game Republic is a part of Screen Yorkshire, and the loss of funding to the regional screen agency will lead to the closure of the network unless funding can be secured from private sources.
This story has been followed up by FT.com (here), The Guardian (here and here), The Telegraph and Argus (here), Yorkshire Evening Post (here), The New Statesman (here), The Stage (here), The Drum (here), and Develop (here).
Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture and Creative Industries, announced on Monday the government’s pans for reforming the UK Film Council, the British Film Institute, and the Regional Screen Agencies. The full text of the speech can be accessed at the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) website here. Today, I will go through this speech piece by piece to give it some context and identify some problems and questions that need to be addressed.
Throughout I will include links to online papers of research on the British film industry as they are relevant to my discussion. Not every link will be to the full paper, and some papers will not be the final published version. Some general papers that are useful to read include:
Dickenson M and Harvey S 2005 Film policy in the United Kingdom: New Labour at the movies, Political Quarterly 76 (3): 420-429.
Magor M and Schlesinger P 2009 ‘For this relief much thanks:’ Taxation, film policy and the UK government, Screen 50 (3): 299-317. DOI:10.1093/screen/hjp017.
Redfern N 2007 Defining British cinema: transnational and territorial film policy in the UK, Journal of British Cinema and Television 4 (1): 150-164. DOI 10.3366/JBCTV.2007.4.1.150.
Other useful research articles can be accessed from my earlier collection of papers on the British film industry here.
The New BFI
It has been widely reported in the British press that the BFI has been given control of film policy and that the UK Film Council has been disbanded. This is not the case. What we call the BFI will cease to exist. What will replace it will be some new institution called the BFI that is the UK Film Council in all but name plus the old BFI. The BFI is dead. Long live the BFI.
The section that introduces the government’s major decision in restructuring the UK’s film institutions begins with the following assertion:
We need a new strategic body to oversee the future development of film in this country.
There is no justification given for this statement – it is simply asserted. The decision to disband the UK Film Council was (we were informed) part of a general cost-cutting exercise to reduce the size of the UK’s public debt. That was why the BFI lost £45 million of funding for the BFI Film Centre in June 2010. Now the game has changed, and the restructuring of the UK’s film institutions is part of a strategic plan (which no-one has seen) that is apparently so necessary it cannot wait. Is this decision the product of an economic or political process? It appeared to be one and now it’s the other – when did that change? If we need to cut costs in a recession then fair enough; but if we need a new approach to film policy then this is neither the responsible nor the democratic way to do it.
In fact, this plan is neither new nor cost-saving.
There is quite simply nothing original in the government’s decision to merge the UK Film Council and the BFI. Last year, the Labour government proposed giving control of the BFI to the UK Film Council. The DCMS press release for the proposed merger dated 20 August 2009 can be read in full here, but it is worth considering this quote from that press release in the context of Monday’s speech.
The overall remit of the BFI and UKFC will not be reduced. The proposal is for a streamlined organisation, which can spend more of its money on film and services and less on infrastructure, and in turn offer better support for Britain’s film culture and promotion of its film industry. Its remit would span securing investment across the sector, steering the industry through the transition to digital, championing the cultural importance of the UK’s film heritage and guaranteeing that the full diversity of film culture is available to all.
The announcement on Monday made it clear that the current government intends to do exactly the same thing, only they are going to call it the BFI instead of the UK Film Council. Nonetheless, Vaizey describes his speech as ‘an exciting new vision for the British film industry.’ Under Labour’s scheme the BFI would have retained a separate identity as a provider of educational and heritage services due to the fact that it is a registered charity and was established with a royal charter. The Conservative plan will simply create a single body responsible film policy, production investment, training, information gathering, heritage, and education.
This means the end of the BFI as we know it, and will require a new royal charter for the BFI along with a review of its status as a registered charity. This was acknowledged by Amanda Nevill, Director of the BFI, in 2009 when the merger of the UK Film Council and the BFI was originally proposed, as you can read in her letter here. A new royal charter will not be difficult to implement – they are renewed and updated as the law changes and (as far as I can recall) the current charter dates from 2000. The charitable status will probably prove to be more difficult to deal with: the ‘new BFI’ will now be responsible for directly providing funding to private corporations for commercial benefit, which is an interesting definition of ‘charity.’ Of course, this was always the case for Lottery funding for the film industry (which hardly meets the definition of ‘good cause’), but the UK Film Council was an arm’s-length government body and not a registered charity. I assume that the ‘new BFI’ will have similar status as a government-backed body and not as a charity.
The need to restructure was sold to the British public as a need to cut costs and improve accountability in a time of economic hardship, but it would appear that the money saved by this reorganisation is only £3 million. There was nothing in the speech about how much it is going to cost to implement these reforms. Furthermore, this money will be invested in film production (as it would have been under Labour) and will not be used to reduce the expense of quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations (QUANGOS) to the British taxpayer. Greg Dyke, the current Chairman of the BFI, was quoted in The Guardian as saying
We [the BFI] can certainly do it significantly cheaper … how much cheaper we don’t know yet. The UK Film Council carried quite a large overhead.
Surely the rationale for this restructuring is that it would be cheaper and it was known that it would be cheaper.* If the BFI don’t know how much cheaper it is going to be, what then is the basis for the projected saving of £3 million? Why wasn’t a proper audit conducted prior to the decision to abolish the UK Film Council? It is also important to remember that the BFI that will apparently be much cheaper is not the BFI as it exists now, but will be the ‘new BFI’ (i.e. the UK Film Council and the BFI merged together) and no-one knows how much overhead that will carry. If the decision has been made on the basis of the current BFI that will cease to exist next year, then this is stupidity of the highest order. With the transfer of the (potential) £3 million from administration costs to production investment the actual saving to the taxpayer in the short-term is zero, and this does not include the cost of the restructuring. Overall, this is an old plan originally proposed last year that has no basis in fact (as admitted by Dyke), and has been conducted at an indecent pace. In March 2010 (when the Labour government was pursuing its plan for restructuring), the saving was estimated by the Hollywood Reporter to be £10 million per year by 2012/2013 (here). Perhaps the new government’s plan will save this much by then – given that it is essentially the same plan as that of the previous government we should not be surprised if they make similar predictions and produce similar results. But has anyone seen any evidence that the current government’s decision to create a new BFI would be substantially cheaper than the Labour plan to hand control of the BFI to the UK Film Council? As the due diligence process is now beginning after the decision has been taken, does any evidence of substantial savings exist at all? If it does, why hasn’t it been made available to taxpayers?
Perhaps I’m being too hard. Perhaps there is something truly original in this speech that will fundamentally transform the British film industry. At one point Vaizey praises the BFI for its ability to reach many different audiences:
It has the breadth and depth to support excellence and high quality film, while also developing audiences for British films, through its distribution and exhibition arm, which already services more than 600 venues, from remote screenings in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to the Imax in London.
Is the new BFI going to function as a state-funded distributor for British films as this sentence implies? Probably not – even though this would make a far larger difference to the British cinema.
The nine English regional screen agencies (RSAs) are to be disbanded and replaced with a single organisation – Creative England – that will be organised around three production hubs based in the north, the midlands, and the south (though we don’t have any detail on where they will be).
The name ‘Creative England’ is vague and does not feature the words ‘film,’ ‘cinema,’ ‘media,’ ‘screen,’ ‘television,’ or ‘moving image.’ This body will replace not only the RSAs, but also their umbrella organisation Screen England. Why could this name not be retained so that the emphasis on the film/television/media/video game industries could be made explicit? ‘Creative England’ is precisely the sort of title that one would give to a general body responsible for the arts and/or creative industries in England if the decision were made to remove the Arts Council of England (ACE) from existence. Is the government creating a specifically film orientated set of institutions to replace the RSAs? Or is Creative England going to be a much larger organisation for all the creative industries? This is exactly what happened with Creative Scotland, which was created from the merger of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council, and focusses on the ‘arts, screen, and creative industries.’ The creation of Creative England would suggest that this will happen in the English regions (not including London, of course) – there will be one body that includes the screen industries but which is also responsible for areas of the arts and creative industries. This will inevitably harm the film industry outside London, and is a very bad thing indeed.
There are some parts of the country where levels of film production is very low – the North, the West Midlands, and the East Midlands. The South West, the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber fare rather better. For data on the distribution of feature film production in the UK you can read my earlier posts here and here. The reduction of film production in England to four hubs – London, plus three others – will inevitably impoverish some parts of the UK. This will hit those parts of the UK where heavy industry has declined and in which new digital and media-based businesses have been expected to reinvigorate the local economy. A recent article in The Sunday Times by Rod Liddle looked at the example of Middlesbrough, and noted just such a development. These places will lose their regionally specific support, making economic recovery and regeneration that much harder. There does not appear to be any plan for maintaining local agglomeration effects with only a single hub between a group of regions.
Why does the south of England get another hub in addition to London? Presumably this hub will have to be based in the South West – the government region in the south furthest from London – as the East, South East, and London will be amply covered by Film London. This will create a situation where the midlands and the north of England (not to mention Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) are outgunned, and simply reintroduces the core-periphery model that the RSAs were intended to counterbalance.
On the role of networks and the presence of the BBC in a production market I recommend Gail Davies’ Ph.D. thesis from University College London: Davies G 1998 Networks of Nature: Stories of Natural History Filmmaking from the BBC, University College, London: unpublished Ph.D. thesis.
On clustering, cultural industries, and film and television in the UK see Turok I 2003 Cities, clusters, and creative industries: the case of film and television in Scotland, European Planning Studies 11 (5): 549-565.
The ‘new BFI’ will have to be an improvement on the old BFI in its relationship with the regions. The BFI was strongly criticised in the UK Film Council’s report Film in England in 2001 (read the report here). The main areas of criticism were that too great a proportion of funding was spent on activities in London at the expense of the regions, that the support for education programmes outside London was inconsistent and direct funding had been minimal, the failure to put into place a coherent planning framework for the regions, and the perception that the regions were simply delivery mechanisms for BFI products and services. The failure of the BFI was the reason the UK Film Council and the Regional Screen Agencies were created. The BFI is simply not a body with a record of success in building and sustaining film policy in the UK and nothing has changed in the past decade to suggest that it will become such an institution – but then this won’t matter next year because the BFI that failed in the past will no longer exist. If the ‘old’ BFI attitude re-emerges then in ten years time we will simply have another restructuring that takes us back to where we are now.
This decision also raises the question of the government’s general economic policy with regard to the regions of the UK. The development of regional film policy in the UK since 2000 did not emerge in isolation, but was part of a wider Labour programme of economic development for the arts and the wider economy that sought to develop business clusters and agglomeration effects. It was largely inspired by the work of Michael Porter, as can be seen in this annex to a report from the Department of Trade and Industry from 2001. Regional film policy under New Labour should be interpreted in the context of this broader economic policy framework for the regions. What is the new policy framework for the regions and the film industry in the regions under the coalition government? Again, you have to wonder about the logic of this decision in the absence of a clear answer to this question.
It would appear that the government intends to have no regional film policy.
On the subject of regional film policy in the UK, you can access Jack Newsinger’s Ph.D. thesis at Nottingham University: Newsinger J 2009 From the Grassroots: Regional Film Policy and Practice in England, University of Nottingham, unpublished Ph.D. thesis.
Film London will not be included as a part of Creative England, and will take on an international rather than a regional role. Film London is to be handed responsibility for promoting the UK to international producers as a whole. In and of itself not a major change in policy, though it is disappointing that this could not be given a name to reflect the whole nation. From the perspective of the English regions little will probably change – they are already dominated by London and will remain so. Of more concern is what will happen to Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In my essay I noted that Scotland and Northern Ireland had some connections with the global film industry independent of London. By making Film London responsible for promoting the UK as whole, this will force filmmakers in these regions to go through London where previously they may have been able to work directly with producers from outside the UK. It will be necessary to follow-up my research in five years time to see if there has been any loss of autonomy. Again, this will only entrench a core-periphery model that we were supposed to have seen consigned to the past.
I looked the relationship between the regions and London in my paper ‘Connecting the regional and the global in the UK film industry,’ a draft version of which can be accessed here. My essay was published in Transnational Cinemas last week, and as of Monday’s speech is now out of date! Redfern N 2010 Connecting the regional and the global in the UK film industry, Transnational Cinemas 1 (2) 2010: 145-160. DOI: 10.1386/trac.1.2.145_1.
Supporting British Film
In his speech, Vaizey also took the time to commend Odeon cinemas who have introduced a new scheme to promote British films to audiences. Odeon Premiere Card holders will be rewarded with extra points if they go to see a British film. The Odeon website will promote British films, and will recommend a ‘British film of the Month.’ Odeon will consider giving guaranteed support to a ‘British film of the month.’
Can there be anything more depressing than the fact that support for the British films on cinema screens has been reduced to a loyalty card? The Eady Levy may not have worked, but at least it was not an insult to the intelligence. Odeon’s other commitments are pathetic. Would Odeon – or any other exhibitor – screen any film that it did not promote on its website? They would have a truly unique approach to marketing if they did. Odeon has not even committed to screening one British film a month – they are only considering it. They have not defined what British means in this context – Vaizey cites Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 1 as a successful British film, but surely Odeon’s commitment to promoting British cannot be limited to such studio films they would have shown anyway. We are promised a wider choice of British film, but they don’t define what they mean by this either. (There are no details on the Odeon website). Nonetheless, Vaizey praises Odeon in his speech for supporting British film ‘as much as they can.’ It’s just that this turns out to be not very much at all.
The UK and Hollywood
The contradictory nature of UK film policy in this speech can be identified in the statements regarding the British national cinema and Hollywood. On the one hand we have the ever-elusive goal of what Vaizey refers to as a ‘sustainable, independent British film industry;’ while on the other we have the rejection of the opinion that the growth of the British film industry must come at the expense of US production in the UK. Vaizey refers to ‘some people’ – he does not say who – who belive these aims are contradictory.
I do not see this as necessarily being a problem. I think that it is important to maintain a distinction between ‘British national cinema,’ which is that part of our film culture and film industry that is specifically British (however you wish to go about defining that); and the ‘UK film industry,’ which is the totality of film production, distribution, and exhibition activity within the United kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland including British national cinema. (See my 2007 paper on defining British cinema for how this can work – the link is at the head of this post). It is possible for film policy to seek to develop both ‘British national cinema’ and the ‘UK film industry.’ Indeed, it is desirable that it should do so. Attempts to create a ‘sustainable, independent British cinema’ are not inimical to the goal of positioning the UK film industry in the world as a production hub, and it is foolish to argue otherwise. Almost certainly, one will not survive with the other.
There is nothing remotely controversial about Vaizey’s statement that the film industries of the UK and the US are intimately connected and this connection should be maintained. It would suicide to behave in any other manner. It’s just that if he wants to create a ‘sustainable, independent British film industry’ while maintaining American investment, then he has to say how this is going to be achieved. It would help if he defined what was meant by ‘sustainable,’ ‘independent,’ and ‘British’ in this context. A film industry that relies of government subsidy, that requires government intervention to create and fund a body to lobby for a film industry that could not do this for itself, and that is overwhelmingly dependent on investment from another country doe not sound very sustainable, independent, or British. This is of course the great problem of British film policy that every government has so far failed to deal with, and so it is unfair to berate this government as being especially incapable. But there is nothing innovative in this ‘exciting new vision for the British film industry’ that suggests they will be any more successful than anyone else.
Tax Incentives and subsidies
The one good thing to be made clear by this speech is that the tax incentive for production will be maintained and (one hopes) not subject to the sort of endless interfering witnessed prior to 2006. This financial measure is by far the most important for film production in the UK to be competitive in a global market, and the fact that it will continue uninterrupted is more important than rearranging the management structure of the BFI.
Increased investment from the BBC and Channel 4 are also referenced, but as the BBC’s funding from the licence fee is cut and the television advertising market is in the toilet this is not a long-term strategy. (There was an interesting piece in the Guardian on Monday about declining DVD sales and what this will mean for BBC Worldwide – read it here). Vaizey notes that Sky does not invest significantly in film production and hopes that this will change in the future. This is as close to criticism of a Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlet as a Conservative MP has ever come.
We are also told that the Lottery money available for investment in British film will rise from £27 million per year to £43 million by 2014. This is apparently is evidence of the government’s ‘commitment to film’ but turns out to be the money that would have been available anyway had it not been diverted to pay for the 2012 Olympic games. Vaizey is very keen to stress the ‘commitment to film,’ as the Conservatives have a poor record of dealing with the industry going back to the 1980s; but he is taking credit for this ‘increase’ in funding without actually doing anything. This does, of course, raise a number of questions about what sort of state the British film industry would be in had the money not been spent on the Olympics , and no doubt we will have some research to provide the answers in due course.
What is missing from the speech?
Originality, logic, daring, creativity, policy, basic accountancy, a detailed description of what will actually happen – take your pick.
Three issues do stand out.
First, the statement issued by Tim Cagney (here), Managing Director of the UK Film Council, included the following paragraph:
A number of important areas of film activity which are currently funded by the UK Film Council – including film exports, research, statistics and market intelligence, work on intellectual property and combating film theft, co-production support and diversity initiatives – have not been mentioned in the DCMS announcement today.
As the ‘new BFI’ will essentially be the UK Film Council in all but name with responsibility for the National Film Archive and BFI Southbank, I assume that these functions will be transferred to the new body (though I wouldn’t be too hopeful for the diversity initiatives). These areas are, however, much easier to dispose of than core activities such as distributing lottery funding and will be at some risk for cost-cutting. I’m not convinced that research and market intelligence are within the government’s remit – the former lies within the scope of academia and both are also the province of the film sector itself. We should not see a downturn in either, although accessing relevant material may become harder and/or more expensive. If public money (i.e. tax incentives and Lottery funding) is to be spent on the film industry, then statistics must be collected so that public can understand and assess how its money is spent.
Although there is some discussion of the UK film industry’s place in the world, this is framed entirely in terms of its relationship to the United States. Europe and India are not mentioned at all. As I showed in my post on UK film production and the world last month (here), the number of US films with budgets of £500,000 of greater to be produced in the UK has been relatively stable over the period 2003 to 2009, whereas there has been a substantial decline in the number of connections to other important production partners (i.e. France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Italy, Ireland) following the introduction of the cultural test in 2005. The US is the most important source of production investment in the UK and the UK film industry has benefitted from the favourable exchange rate of the past couple of years; but as the economic situation changes, this advantage will disappear and without a diverse production base the UK will not be able to make up the loss from the UK with production investment from elsewhere. Over the past few years the British film industry has become increasingly one-dimensional, and this will not change unless a broader international perspective is taken. Confusing the ‘global film industry’ with the ‘American film industry’ is a foolish approach to film policy.
Perhaps most importantly, there is no mention of distribution in this speech. There is money for production, and Odeon cinemagoers will get a loyalty card so that takes care of exhibition; but the film industry is distribution-led and the UK does not have a distribution policy. It has not had one since the quota was (rightly) abolished in the 1985, and we have no prospect of one in the future. The section on the UK and Hollywood did not address the fundamental problem with making British films successful – the distribution market is dominated by global media empires (but which have as US bias) that put rubbish like The Bucket List and Rocky Balboa on hundreds of screens but have no incentive to distribute British films. Certainly there are a lot of very poor British films – the worst film ever made is 24 Hours in London – but there is way too much American crap backed powerful distributors clogging up too many multiplex screens that could be put to far better use. There is no point producing British films if they do not get an opportunity to earn any money through well-funded marketing campaigns and sufficiently wide releases. If the object of government policy is to create a sustainable, independent British film industry then this must include distribution.
So what did we learn on Monday?
- The government does not have any original ideas for film policy, and has simply implemented Labour’s plan from last year with a different name.
- There is a lack of detail about the justification for the reform of the UK’s film institutions.
- The UK Film Council and the BFI will not exist by this time next year. An institution called the ‘British Film Institute’ will exist, but it will be completely different to the one we have now.
- The savings to be made by reconstituting the BFI in the manner proposed are small (if any) and will not be passed on to the taxpayer, despite the fact that this was the ostensible purpose behind the abolition of the UK Film Council.
- The government is apparently abandoning film policy at the regional level.
- The English regions will probably end up with no dedicated film body, and will be subject to a general arts and creative industries funding body. Only London it seems will retain a dedicated film body, and this will serve the whole country even though the ‘new BFI’ will be the national body.
- The core-periphery model of the film industry is to be entrenched in favour of London (and to a lesser extent the south of England in general) at the expense of the rest of the country.
- There are no serious policies for getting British films onto British cinema screens.
- ‘International’ is apparently the same as ‘America,’ and other important global relationships are not mentioned.
- Film policy in the UK remains focussed on production in a distribution-led industry.
The goal of a sustainable, independent British film industry will remain as elusive as ever.
* In tribute to Leslie Nielsen, I should as this point ask that you don’t call me Shirley.
In this post I use data from the UK Film Council Research and Statistics Unit to look at the types of films produced in the UK from 2003 to 2009, and the connections between UK film production and other parts of the world. Data was collected for a total of 996 films. Documentaries were excluded from the sample. Note also that this data only includes films with a budget of £500,000 or greater, and so only provides a partial picture of UK film production.
The UK Film Council groups films into five categories: co-productions (COP), incoming co-productions (ICP), domestic features (DOM), inward productions (INW), and films that come to the UK to source visual effects (VFX). Here I only use the first four categories because data for VFX has only been collected since 2007; and I combine COP and ICP into a single category, as the frequency of the latter is low for 2003 to 2006 and zero for 2007 to 2009. The percentage of each category of film is presented in Figure 1, which also includes the data table.
Figure 1 Film production in the UK by type of film, 2003 to 2009
From Figure 1 we can see that there are two clear trends. First, the percentage of co-productions has fallen by two-thirds from 60% to 20%. Second, the percentage of domestic productions has increased by a factor of three, from approximately 20% to 60%. This change occurs in two steps, with an initial step occuring at 2005, with the final change in 2007. This coincides with the initial proposal of the cultural test for British films in 2005 and its final implementation in 2007, and cannot therefore be attributed to the global financial downturn that began in 2007/2008. The percentage of inward features appears to be immune from this change, with the notable exception of 2005 which shows a small increase.
From looking at the actual counts in Table 1 It is clear from this data that there has been an increase in domestic productions with the introduction of the cultural test, but that this has not replaced the number of films lost from the decline of co-productions, and that overall the number of films produced in the UK has decreased. This data does not of course tell us anything about the level of production spending in the UK, and this is obviously a crucial factor in considering the health of the film industry in the UK.
Table 1 Frequency of British films produced by category, 2003 to 2009
Nonetheless, this data should give cause for concern because it indicates that film production in the UK has become increasingly one-dimensional. A healthy film industry is one that can absorb shocks to the system as patterns of production in the global film industry change – but if film production becomes too concentrated into a single class of films this increases the vulnerability of the industry to a crisis. We might say that the cultural test has been successful in stimulating the British film industry, but that this has come at the expense of the film industry in the UK. (Here I make a distinction between all film production activity that takes place in the UK – the UK film industry – and that part of this production activity that is defined as culturally British – in other words, the ‘British national cinema’). A sudden drop in funding for culturally British films would plunge the UK film industry into a crisis of production, which would not be able to make up the short fall from productions originating in other parts of the world. The tax incentives available for film production in the UK are therefore of great importance, and without them we would likely return to the low numbers of production last seen in the 1980s.
It is perhaps instructive to think of the cultural industries in ecological terms: they are a system in which the companies are subject to forces of competition, predation, and extinction, and a change in one part of the system can have very significant consequences throughout the system as a whole. Biodiversity is one of the measures of the health of an ecological system, and economic diversity should also be thought of as a measure of the health of the cultural industries. The above data suggests that the economic diversity of the UK film industry has declined over the past seven years, as film production has become over-dependent on a single class of films. Disrupting the delicate equilibrium of this system could have significant consequences.
- If a government were to announce it was disbanding the government body responsible for developing and implementing film policy and for distributing funding for film production in the UK without announcing what would take its place, thereby reducing the ability of producers to attract funding because of the uncertainty such a decision would introduce, could also have a negative impact on the level of film production.
- A determination to reduce immigration from non-EU countries, for example, would not only reduce the number of scientists coming to the UK but could also have a negative impact on the film industry as filmmakers from outside the UK decide to make their films in more welcoming countries.
The first of these has already happened, and threatens to disrupt levels of investment in film production in the UK. The second will be introduced next year, and may further reduce the diversity of film production in the UK. Either one of these could create problems, but both together indicate a lack of foresight on the part of the coalition government.
Part of the drop in co-productions has been attributed to the fact that some films that would previously have been classed as co-productions are now able to qualify as ‘British’ under the terms of the cultural test, and thereby enjoy the full benefit of being a ‘qualifying British film.’ This argument has been put forward by John Graydon, who was involved in structuring the UK’s film tax credit system, and who notes that this represents the success of incentivising film production in the UK (Mansfield 2009). While this may certainly be a fair assessment of the status of some films, it cannot account for the full-scale of the decline in co-productions and does not explain why there has been an overall decline in the total number of productions for each year.
We can also evaluate the diversity of the UK film industry by looking at how the UK is connected to the rest of the world. In Table 2, we have the number of films that have a connection to one or more other countries that were produced in the UK, and we see the same pattern of decline noted above. This table includes films from all the UK Film Council categories.
Table 2 Films produced int he UK connected to at least one other country, 2003 to 2009
These 642 films account for a total of 870 connections to 49 different countries. The number of connections exceeds the number of films because a film may have connections to more than one country. (No film has more than five non-UK co-production partners listed, and most films are productions that involve a UK producer and a producer from one other country). A year by year breakdown by country is presented in Table 3 (NB: this table is quite large).
Table 3 Number of connections to co-producing countries for films produced in the UK, 2003 to 2009
The USA is consistently the most important source of connections to the UK with France a distant second, but where the US has remained at the top of the pile the frequency of connections to France has fallen sharply. Interestingly, India is listed as the third largest source of connections beating Germany into fourth place. ike France, Germany has gone from being a major production to partner to an occasional source of connections after 2004. This is also true of Canada, which has no connections listed for 2009 at all, as well as Spain, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Denmark. The category ‘Europe’ is not defined by the UK Film Council.
If we look at the diversity of countries connected to the UK in this way and the number of connections, we find that European countries are the most numerous at 33, accounting for a total of 528 connections (I include Turkey as a European country here). North america accounts for only 3 countries but the USA accounts for 173 connections and Canada 60 so clearly. Next comes ASia, which accounts for only four countries but a total of 75 connections. It should be noted, however, that almost all of these are accounted for by India. Notable absentees from the list of co-production partners in Table 3 are China, Japan, and South Korea. Africa is represented by four countries totalling 15 connections, of which South Africa account for two-thirds. Oceania is represented by Australia and New Zealand, providing a total of 15 connections; while the only South American countries included are Argentina and Brazil, accounting for only 3 films. Figures 2 and 3 make this information somewhat easier to appreciate.
Figure 2 Countries with connections to UK film production by region, 2003 to 2009
Often when we talk about globalisation in the film industry we imply something that happens all over the world, but this is clearly not the case for connections between the UK film industry and elsewhere. The places to which film production in the UK is connected can be sorted into three major groups: first, there are the countries geographically closest to the UK – i.e. Europe; second, there are the countries that are historically closest to the UK – i.e. former colonies such as India, Canada, Australia, and South Africa; and, third, there is the United States, which is the dominant global power in the film industry. We can therefore say that some of the ways in which the UK film industry is globalised are through proximity, legacy, and domination by a superior market. When we turn our attention to countries that are far from the UK, that do not have a close historical/cultural relationship, and which are not major world cinema powers – in other words South America and the Far East – we find there are very few connections, if any. In this respect the UK is not that different from Poland, Malaysia, Chile, or Morocco that I have looked at elsewhere on this blog (see here and here).
Given that it is countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China that are tipped to become major global economies in the 21st century, it is imperative that the diversity of feature film production in the UK can be expanded to include links to these countries. India aside, one of the greatest challenges facing policy makers in the UK is how to go about establishing connections to these distant places in the absence of a strong historical relationship. It is difficult to see how this will be achieved whilst restricting immigration from non-EU countries.
The proposed reduction in immigration will hit Indian and American filmmakers hardest, and yet beyond Europe these are the only significant sources of inward investment and co-production partnerships for the UK film industry. Without them, the UK will become increasingly more dependent upon the EU. And yet, as I made clear above, the introduction of the cultural test for British films has dramatically reduced the number of co-productions between UK producers and their European counterparts. A further loss of diversity will only increase the vulnerability of the UK film industry to crises it has been historically ill-prepared to deal with.
Mansfield M 2009 A Report on the British Film Industry for Shadow DCMS. This report can be accessed here.
Since 1992, one of the main instruments by which policymakers have sought to create a sustainable British film industry is the use of tax relief to support film production. (See here for an overview of the recent history of UK film tax relief). These measures have largely been successful, and the dismal days of early to mid-1980s are now a history lesson to all who wish to learn how not to organise a film industry. The tax reliefs in support of production are important – without them the production of British films would be severely curtailed very quickly – but they are not enough.
One of the first things taught to film studies is students is that the film industry is comprised (primarily) of three sectors: production, distribution, and exhibition. Only when we take these three components together can we speak of the ‘film industry.’ Individually, they are but sectors of a single industry. However, film policy in the UK fails to recognise this. The production sector has become synonymous with the industry as a whole, and so policymakers introduce measures in support of production and claim to be helping the whole industry. When HM Revenue and Customs reformed tax relief back in 2004 it chose not to extend any relief to distribution and to focus on production only. Consequently, the objective of the government in stimulating British film production was achieved, but the aim of creating a sustainable British film industry remains elusive to this day.
Of course, it’s easy to focus on production. It’s creative and fun, glamorous and sexy. You get to travel to many interesting places and meet interesting places. You might get your picture taken with Keira Knightly. Everybody wants to be a movie star, or a director, or a cinematographer. Nobody ever says they want to be a distributor. But the film industry – like all other media industries – is distribution-led and not production-led.
What is needed is some sort of support for the distribution of British films that will make them more attractive in the market, that will increase the likelihood they will find a distributor, and that will get them onto screens where audiences can watch them. This situation is complicated by the recession and the government’s decision to make swingeing cut backs in every area of public spending, including the film industry. It is necessary, therefore, to come up with a plan that will extend tax relief to the distribution of British films without adding to the overall cost of the industry to the Exchequer.
This can be achieved by a simple transfer of a proportion of the tax relief available to producers to distributors. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this figure is 5% of the production expenditure eligible for tax relief. For example, if a qualifying British film can claim a tax relief of £5 million, then the production company would get £4.75 million as it would have before, and the remaining £250,000 would be transferred to the distributor by attaching a certificate to the film. In purchasing the film for release, the distributor would also get this tax certificate to be reclaimed against the cost of releasing the film.
The advantages of such a plan are clear:
- As a British film would now come with a tax certificate it is more likely to find a buyer. (Or, from another point of view, a tax certificate would come with a free film). British films would become more attractive to distributors and more British films would therefore be released. Many British films are produced but not all are released and some only have very limited releases. A tax incentive for distributors would encourage them to release the films they purchase, and this could be further encouraged by setting a time limit on the relief available to distributors so that if they have not used it within 3 years of purchasing the films it expires.
- There is no point in having a tax credit of, say, £250,000 and not spending it all, and the availability of the tax credit will encourage distributors to spend more as it is cheaper for them to promote a British film. The increase in prints and advertising expenditure will see more copies of films available for release and be better supported by a greater level of publicity. Too many British films have no chance of finding an audience because only a handful of prints are made, and the audience simply does not know that the film exists or where it might playing. As the UK Film Council estimated the average advertising spend per film in the UK 2009 at £300,000 this could make a big difference. Obviously, this would also benefit the advertising industry.
- Distributors will be much more concerned with getting British films onto screens, and exhibitors will be more enthusiastic about taking on British films knowing that they have greater advertising support. History tells us that quotas for putting British films on British screens do not work in the long-term, but incentivizing the distribution of British films can get screen time for British films and could be economically sustainable.
- Obviously, the distribution companies that will be best placed to exploit this system will be the major Hollywood distributors – that is why they are the majors; but it will force them to distribute British films rather than low-end American dross as there is now no incentive to release potentially low-earning non-British films in the UK. (There are a lot of crappy British films, but if we are going to have a sustainable film industry in the UK then we need to be screening crappy British films rather than crappy American ones). However, smaller British distributors can benefit too – the tax relief will help with cash flow and make it cheaper for them to release films; and by increasing the level of publicity and screen time for their films they stand a better chance of making some money and achieving some level of financial stability.
- In the short-term, film production companies may find it difficult to cope with the fact that they are no longer receiving the full tax relief they would have previously obtained, but as they would have a better chance of selling their film and a better chance of seeing that film actually screened, it is possible that they might actually make some money in the long-term. As the distribution of British films would be incentivized, the purchase price of British films may go up.
- There may be a small benefit to co-productions because having a qualifying British film would come with the relief for distribution. It would be desirable, therefore, to have a British co-production partner.
- This plan does not require creating a new tax relief, and so it does not require any additional cost to HM Treasury. If the total cost of UK film tax relief from production spend was £200 million, then the total cost would still be £200 million, only £10 million would be in the hands of distributors instead of producers. In fact, in the short-term it spread the tax relief over a number of years as the films are released and the relief claimed.
The main problem to be avoided is that distributors could use this as a means of subsidising the purchase of films by putting the producer in the position of paying to have their film purchased (i.e. the distributor gains the relief at the expense of the producer), but this can achieved by paying a cash rebate on distribution costs only and only after they have been incurred and by not letting distributors claim on the cost of acquiring a film.
It seems ridiculous that nearly 20 years after the first tax credits were introduced to support the British film industry that we still do not have any support for distributors in a distribution-led industry. The only way to give British films an advantage in the market place is to make them more attractive to distributors and the availability of a tax relief is one method of doing this that could have a positive impact on all sectors of the industry rather than just the one that involves Keira Knightly.
The decision to dispose of the UK Film Council (UKFC) has been announced by the government this week, and has produced a great deal of gnashing and wailing (and some celebrating). Overall, there has disappointment at the decision – largely because it came of out of the blue, apparently with no consultation of the industry or the public. Perhaps most seriously, there does not appear to be an alternative in place before the announcement. This will create uncertainty in the film industry, leading to a drop in investment in production simply because producers will not be able to make decisions for the next couple of years.
The demise of the UKFC has been widely reported as a disaster – in the Guardian, Sunday Times, Herald Scotland, and The Scotsman – or a good thing – in The Daily Telegrpah (which has nothing to do with film policy and was always predictable) and yesterday in The Times; but the fact is that an industry that has perennially struggled to make an impact has lost its most public voice with no incoming body to take its place.
We may find ourselves back in the dark days of the 1980s when we had a Conservative government that simply was not interested in the film industry and what it could do, and which lead to a directionless and fairly dismal period in the history of British cinema.
This is a very shortsighted and ill-informed decision by the government.
But that does not make it wrong, per se.
The first thing we might wish to know is why does an industry that has a turnover of millions of pounds need a tax-payer funded body to lobby for it.
If anything, the existence of the UKFC pointed to the fundamental weakness in the British film industry – namely, that it just cannot get its act together. The demise of the UKFC might be a good thing if it prompts BAFTA, the Film Distributors Association, the Cinema Exhibitors Assocaition, PACT, Skillset, BECTU and the other unions, the regional screen agencies, and the thousands of production, distribution, and exhibition companies in the UK to work together to create a single body to promote the film industry. It would be a good thing – but of course it will never happen. Why? because there is a malaise about the film industry in the UK where very little seems possible simply because nobody can be really bothered. Will we get an industry body to promote and protect its interests? No – because everybody will the pass the buck until at some later date the government will step in. This will obviously be hailed as just what is needed to get the industry going, rather than be understood as evidence that – yet again – the industry fails to organise itself.
The British film industry needed – and needs – a body like the UK Film Council. But the fact that this body only came into existence with the support of the government is proof of the desperate state of the industry.
Consider the example of the role of the Research and Statistics Unit (RSU) at the UK Film Council.
As a consumer of the outputs of the RSU this is obviously of interest to this blog, and without the UKFC in place to disseminate information about the film industry some of the topics covered would be very difficult to do otherwise.
Nonetheless, I am not particularly a big fan of the RSU because it seemed so limited its actions. As far as I could tell, it took information produced by other bodies and produced some nice-looking graphs based on this data. Often, it took a considerable amount of time to do this – why did it take until Wednesday (at the earliest) to get the weekend box office data on-line? Despite the grand title of ‘Research and Statistics Unit,’ I am not aware of any actual research conducted by the RSU. The RSU did not do much in the way of analysis – the Statistical Yearbooks, for example, present a great deal of information but you could not say that it analysed this data to arrive at any conclusions about the economics of the British film industry.
Do not get me wrong – collecting, collating, and disseminating were (and are) important functions, and the RSU was an improvement on what had gone before. The Statistical Yearbooks are much better than the old BFI Film and Television Handbooks. But it all seems to lack ambition.
We have to ask some important questions about the future of the RSU:
1. What will happen to the outputs of the RSU that are currently available?
The RSU website provides a range of information from box office grosses, to the Statistical Yearbooks, to production data, and so on. Going back to the summer of 2001, we can find much information that could be used far better by film scholars but which may soon disappear. What provision has the government made to ensure that this data remains available after the UKFC has been shut down? Perhaps this information could be transferred to the BFI’s website where it can be made freely available. (This is after all public data). When the Thatcher government (rightly) disposed of the Eady Levy they simply stopped collecting any data on the film industry, so that we have gaps in the data from May 1985 to December 1986. This cannot be allowed to happen again or we will lose a whole decade from the historical record.
This does, of course, raise issues about the purpose of archives in a digital age. I have worries that editions of the Statistical Yearbook will continue to be available in the British Library, the Library of the House of Commons, the DCMS (and its successors), and maybe even university libraries. But what about the production data posted on the RSU website? Or the box office data? Who will archive this information?
2. Who will take over from the UK Film Council in collecting and disseminating information on the British film industry?
One solution that I am sure many will propose is the BFI, which has performed a similar role in the past. However, I think this is a poor solution to the problem for three reasons: (1) the BFI did not necessarily do a good job on gathering and disseminating industry data in the past, and the RSU improved on it here; (2) the BFI is not an institution geared towards the industry – its focus is educational and should remain so; and, (3) the film industry, as noted above, is perfectly capable of collecting and distrbuting data itself and should not be taxpayer-funded.
Above I suggested that the BFI host the box-office data currently availble from the UKFC and I think this is broadly compatible with its educational mission – that by preserving this information it is fulfilling one of its key educational functions.
The obvious answer is for an industry directed body to gather and make available data on the UK film industry. Indeed, the industry cannot afford to not do this – making a case to government for continuing tax-relief and/or subsidies will require detailed argument that can empirically justify these policies.
But it is precisely here that the industry falls down. I have complained elsewhere on this blog about the standard of statistical information at the websites of the Film Distributors Association (FDA – here) and the Cinema Exhibitors Association (CEA – here). These are supposedly major industry organisations that have a specific role in promoting cinema-going in the UK, but the so-called ‘data banks’ of both are pathetic. There is very little usable information and it lacks any depth. The availability of historical data is particularly poor – in some cases going back only as far as 2004. The choice of data is esoteric – the FDA website lists the top 6 films on UK television in 2008, but does not give any data for any other years and why only the top 6? Much of what is available is out of date – the FDA will tell you about cinema-going in Europe in 2006, but nothing else. If you want to see just how pathetic this data is then look here.
The CEA website is generally better than that of the FDA, and is broadly speaking much more up-to-date, but if you want to know about the box office performance of films then it is worse than the RSU. Latest weekend box office figures are only available for the top 15 films. Why only the top 15? Even the RSU made available data for British films on release outside the top 15 and other openers. Why can we not have a complete list of the box office data for every film on general release in the UK? Why can we not have much more varied and detailed data? Why can we not have the daily box office data?
Why has the film industry failed to produce high quality and reliable information? The answer is simple – the RSU took on that role for it so no one had to try. Here the existence of the UK Film Council clearly had a negative impact on the industry.
Of course, an objection to be raised here is that it is expensive to collect and disseminate industry information. And, dear god, is it expensive – the latest report on cinema-going in the UK and Ireland published by Dodona Research in April 2010 will cost you £775. (See here for Dodona’s website). An annual subscription to Screen Digest is £575 (+VAT). (Do not even consider buying any of Screen Digest’s research reports if you don’t have a very large overdraft facility).
If we left it up to the industry then would we not be left in the situation where the valuable data collected remains behind a paywall where no one can get at it? Would this not impoverish our knowledge to the extent that we might as well not bother studying the film industry of the UK – we cannot afford the data even if it exists, so why try?
The answer to this objection is to look here at the website of Box Office Mojo (which is owned by the Internet Movie Database) . This website makes detailed analysis of the American film industry available for free. There is a range of data available and there is great depth to the data. There is analysis, and the data is broken down into useful categories (genres, stars, franchises, etc). There is great historical coverage. The vast majority of this data is not behind a paywall, though if you do register you get access to many useful features and it will only cost you only $89 per year.
Why do we not have something similar in the UK?
Partly because the RSU usurped the industry in fulfilling this role – why would you set up a website like Box Office Mojo funded by advertisers and subscribers, if the government will do it anyway?
But a major part is also the attitude of the British to information. In the UK, information must be controlled; and it has been paid for, then information is treated in a very proprietory manner. In contrast, Americans take a much more militant attitude to free speech and are very firmly of the opinion that information should be in the public realm.
With the demise of the UK Film Council and the RSU, we may see the industry improve its performance in this area as no one is there to do the work for it. It is even possible that a private company – like Box Office Mojo – steps into to fulfil this role now that it could make a profit in the absence of the RSU. The problem of the public availability of this information will not be solved until there is a fundamental change in the attitude of the industry in the UK to how it goes about doing this.
The first of these changes is possible but unlikely. The second will take a miracle.