Research on the British film industry

This week a collection of works on the British film industry from an economic perspective. It is easy to find articles by economists on the Hollywood film industry, but there appears to much less available if you want to look at the film industry in the UK. What analysis of filmmaking in the UK there is rarely makes it into film studies publications, and so hopefully this list will get people to cross over and to take ideas and data from one arena into the other. It is worth taking a moment to reflect for a moment that so much research is focused on the analysis of film production, which does not make much sense in a distribution-led industry. This is also a problem for film policy in the UK, which focuses almost exclusively on production measures (tax incentives, subsidies for filmmakers) without addressing the issue of distribution. But then for policy makers, like film scholars, production is sexy and distribution isn’t.

As ever, the version available on line may be a pre-print of a finished article so make sure you check before citing anything.

First, Robin MacPherson at Napier University has recently made his latest research available here. (This can also apparently be accessed through Napier’s research respository, but it didn’t work when I tried it).

MacPherson R 2010 Is bigger better? Film success in small countries – the case of Scotland, Ireland and Denmark.


Small European countries with low levels of film production might be expected to suffer from diseconomies of scale and other structural disadvantages that would tend to produce a lower ratio of ‘hits’ to ‘flops’ than larger countries. Analysis of Scottish, Irish and Danish data suggests that, despite significantly different levels of production, the distribution of ‘hits’ is in fact very similar and consistent with the Paretian distribution of audiences and revenues in major markets such as the United States and others. The skewed distribution of cinema audiences in Scotland, Ireland and Denmark appears to confirm the ‘scale independent’ importance of a small number of unpredictable highperforming ‘outliers’ in determining total and average audience/revenues. Analysis of overall production levels and aggregate audience share for domestic films in several small countries reveals a correlation that emerges once production exceeds a critical level. A predictive model of how revenues are distributed as production levels increase is tested. The implications of a consistent pattern of film success for film funding policy in small countries are discussed and avenues for further research suggested.

Blair H 2003 Winning and losing in flexible labour markets: the formation and operation of networks of interdependence in the UK film industry, Sociology 37 (4): 677-694.

Elliot C and Simmons R 2008 Determinants of UK box office success: the impact of quality signals, Review of Industrial Organisation, 33 (2): 93-111.

This paper analyses the roles of various quality signals in the demand for cinema attendance in the United Kingdom. Estimation of a three-stage least squares model with data for 527 films released in the United Kingdom shows that the impacts of advertising and critical reviews on box office revenues vary both in channels and magnitudes of impact. Our model treats total advertising as endogenous, alongside the number of opening screens and total box office revenues, while critical reviews are considered exogenous. Our results show that total advertising affects total box office revenue while responding endogenously to critical reviews.

Gornostaeva G 2008 The film and television industry in London’s suburbs: lifestyle of the rich or losers’ retreat?, Creative Industries Journal 1 (1): 47-71.

Nachum L and Keeble D 1999 A Marshallian approach to the eclectic paradigm of foreign investment: the clustering of film TNCS in central London, ESRC Centre for Business Research, Working Paper 119. (This seems to take a long time to download, and being impatient I right-clicked and and downloaded the file using ‘Save link as …’ This may also be the case for other papers from the ESRC centre at Cambridge).

Nachum L and Keeble D 2000 Foreign and indigenous firms in the media cluster of central London, ESRC Centre for Business Research, Working Paper 154.

Pratt AC 2007 ‘Imagination can be a damned curse in this country:’ material geographies of filmmaking and the rural, in R Fish (ed.) Cinematic Countrysides. Manchester: Manchester University Press: 127-46.

Pratten S and Deakin S 1999 Competitiveness policy and economic organisation: the case of the British film industry, ESRC Centre for Business Research, Working Paper 127.

Tirtaine C 2007 Évolution des relations entre État et cinéma au Royaume-Uni (1979-2005), Revue LISA/LISA e-journal 5 (1): (NB: this article is in French).

A government can adopt two different stances regarding its domestic film industry. It may choose to support and protect it because of its cultural remit – or it may treat it like any other industry and adopt a laissez-faire attitude and let market forces determine its fate. The latter stance was adopted by the Thatcher government, which abolished the support system and protectionist measures from which British film had benefited for decades and granted it only few subsidies. The government severed almost all the existing links between the film industry and the State. These non-interventionist policies undoubtedly contributed to the dramatic drop in the number of British films produced and the chronic difficulties which the film industry experienced in the 1980s. The relationships between the government and the film industry have since changed considerably. The creation of the Film Council and the existence of a Film Minister within the government have definitely contributed to reinstating a dialogue between the industry and the government. State support in favour of film has increased dramatically in the past decade, with the introduction of tax incentives and new subsidies, which mostly derive from National Lottery revenues. The State’s investment in film is thus mainly indirect and it is clear that the government, by supporting British cinema, has in mind not only its contribution to the country’s culture but also to its economy. By changing the legal definition of a British film in order to entice into the UK foreign investors who want to benefit from attractive tax incentives, the government triggered an increase in the number of co-productions and foreign films shot in the UK – at the risk of undermining the identity of British cinema, and thus, the country’s culture.

Finally, to turn to Hollywood W.D. Walls’ list of publications of his research, much of it co-authoured with Andy De Vany and most of it freely available, can be accessed here, and is an example of an economic approach to distribution that is sadly lacking when we turn to British cinema.

About Nick Redfern

I am an independent academic with over 15 years experience teaching film in higher education in the UK. I have taught film analysis, film industries, film theories, film history, science fiction at Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Central Lancashire, and Leeds Trinity University, where I was programme leader for film from 2016 to 2020. My research interests include computational film analysis, horror cinema, sound design, science fiction, film trailers, British cinema, and regional film cultures.

Posted on June 24, 2010, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Policy, Film Studies, Geography, Motion Picture Distribution, Motion Picture Exhibition, Motion Picture Production, Scottish Cinema and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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