Special Collections

Our Special Collections include the papers of individuals and organisations, stills, posters, costume and production designs, animation cels and promotional material, and many other unpublished items including scripts, storyboards and autographed letters.


Our Special Collections includes:

  • filmmakers’ written archives (the papers of both individuals and organisations)
  • design archives (costume design, production design and animation drawings)
  • one of the largest public collections of scripts, photographs, posters, press books and publicity materials

How to view Special Collections material

The majority of the Special Collections research service is located in the BFI National Archive in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

To access the collection, you’ll need to book an appointment. Appointment times are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10am to 4pm.

There is a different process for viewing the moving image collections.

The research service is in high demand, so we advise you to book in advance. The average wait time for an appointment is around 4 weeks, but at busy times it can be longer.

To book an appointment, you’ll need to provide:

  • preferred dates for your visit
  • a list of all items you wish to view and their reference numbers – you can find this information in our online catalogue – we’ve written some guidance to help you search the online collection, you can download this below

You should be specific as possible when requesting your materials or this could delay your visit.

If you’d like some help or if you have any questions about the guidance or catalogue, email us at  speccoll@bfi.org.uk.

After you book your appointment

Once you’ve booked your appointment, you’ll be sent a confirmation document, which lays out details of the location and terms and conditions of the archive.

You’ll also be sent a link to a Research Register form.

At your appointment 

At your appointment, you’ll be greeted by a member of the Special Collections team. They’ll inform you of: 

  • general housekeeping 
  • handling guidance – including any specific advice for your requested materials 
  • the process of taking photos of materials – including limitations of use and the paper form you’ll need to fill out

Handling materials 

We ask that all researchers read through our handling guide (you can download this below) before attending a research appointment. A member of the team will also make you aware of these at your appointment.

Viewing materials at BFI Reuben Library

You can view some Special Collections materials at the BFI Reuben Library, including digitised stills on Image Viewer, and some pressbooks on microfiche. You do not need to book an appointment to view these, but you may want to book a research session to ensure access to the library.

You should contact the library to find out if a particular pressbook is available to view on microfiche.

Digitised stills

The stills collection has been digitised. For supply of digitised stills please visit our stills sales and archive footage sales pages.

Requesting digitisation 

The rest of Special Collections is not digitised and we do not have a digitisation on-demand service.

However, we’re always happy to consider requests on a case-by-case basis. All material is subject to a series of collection checks to assess condition, accessibility, and suitability for scanning, as well as the availability of a relevant digitisation specialist in your timeframe.

We charge a nominal fee to cover these direct costs.

For digitisation requests, provide a list of the specific Special Collections items that you are requesting, along with their reference numbers (which can be retrieved from our online catalogue), and page numbers where relevant. To assess requests which are for publication, we also require the following information:  

  • title
  • author
  • publisher
  • release date
  • print run (including digital)
  • territory
  • media
  • language
  • image placement
  • image size (for example, half-page, full page)

Due to the specific handling and digitisation requirements for these items, it is advisable to get in touch as early as possible with your request. Our average timeframe for digitisation is 3 weeks. 

Where we are able to supply images of material in the collection, please note that we do not own the copyright for most of the items in our care, so you will need to secure separate permissions from the rights holder if you wish to reproduce in any way. 

We’ll require to see proof of permission from the rights holder prior to approving a digitisation request.

Donate to the collection

If you have materials that you believe may be of interest, and would like to consider donating these to the BFI National Archive, please send us a list of your items, along with:

  • the volume of material
  • any photos you have of the materials
  • useful information, such as condition
  • how you acquired them

All potential acquisitions are considered at a monthly meeting of our Special Collections curators and archivists.  

There is a different process if you’d like to donate moving images to the archive.