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.