The evil graph of Creative England

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.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on June 23, 2011, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Policy, Film Studies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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