BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund opens as part of £54 million support for UK films and talent over 3 years

The support includes £36.6 million production and development funding, offering crucial support for the UK independent feature film sector through four new funds.

21 March 2023

Rye Lane (2023)

The new BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund opens today, with £36.6 million over three years for fiction feature films offering crucial support for the independent sector UK-wide. It will be available through four focused funds: Development; Creative Challenge – funding labs; Discovery – backing debuts; and Impact – for second features and beyond with funded decisions guided by the new fund priorities. 

The BFI Filmmaking Fund team will transition to a new structure as Lizzie Francke, editor-at-large, Fiona Morham, head of production, and Natascha Wharton, head of editorial, will be leaving the BFI later this year to pursue their own ventures. The team, which includes new senior production executives who have joined in the past year, will support delivery of the new fund and continue to provide dedicated expertise and guidance across the lifecycle of funded projects. This is with the aim of helping to ensure projects have the greatest possible impact with audiences and on filmmaker careers.

National Lottery good cause funding has supported film since 1994, and continues to play a crucial role in the UK independent film landscape. Through our support we aim to benefit people’s lives across the UK, serving the public, the filmmaking community and wider culture both at home and away. This guiding principle has seen the fund team back a rich and varied slate that celebrates a multitude of voices and achieves significant audience reach and cultural impact.  The UK has world-class indie filmmakers and the Filmmaking Fund launched today firmly seeks to support them and nurture those who will be part of shaping its future. In response to evidence, listening to the industry, and building on past achievements, we are setting out a strategy that is refocused and clear about our ambition to support projects to have the greatest possible impact with audiences and on the careers of filmmakers, which speak to communities underrepresented in UK film previously. We are all navigating a reality, post pandemic, of challenging conditions which require a pragmatic approach. Informed by my own 30-year experience across the sector and working closely with the filmmaking fund team, we are committed to doing as much as we can with the funding available in fair, focused, transparent and mindful ways.Mia Bays, director of the BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund

Screen Culture 2033, the BFI’s 10-year strategy, sets out a clear commitment to support UK independent film in recognition of its vital importance to UK cultural and economic life. £54 million over three years, representing almost 40% of the BFI’s National Lottery ‘good cause’ funding, is dedicated to filmmaking, supporting talent development, shorts, features and immersive. The new BFI Filmmaking Fund is an important pillar of that work. 

The new fund has been shaped following extensive consultation with industry, evaluation of the outgoing strategy, as well as research including the Economic Review of UK Independent Film. While recent successes of BFI supported films such as Aftersun, which secured considerable box office domestically and internationally as well as a host of high profile awards and nominations, and Rye Lane, just released in over 400 screens across the UK, demonstrate independent film can deliver significant audience engagement, the independent market is under increasing and acute pressures. The fund has been set up to allocate the available funding to have the greatest possible impact. 

Revised fund priorities see an increased focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, the introduction of audience impact and environmental sustainability, alongside talent development and progression, creative risk taking, and UK-wide reach. 

There is a shift in focus to back features that develop the reach of UK writers and/or directors and have significant UK cultural and audience impact. In addition to finance, projects will benefit from dedicated support from the Filmmaking Fund team throughout, including guidance on securing sales, distribution and beyond to help ensure films find and connect with the widest possible audience.

Ensuring a greater spread of funding, there is a new target for applications from production companies who have not received BFI National Lottery funding in the past. There will also be increased attention on the UK-wide benefit of funding in terms of where funded filmmaking teams are based, representation of place, location of production activity and the potential for local audience impact, with new fund specific targets introduced: 60% of teams and 55% of productions based outside London and the South East. 

New production and development funds for live action and animation features 

£29.4 million of production funding is now available via two new funding streams. The BFI Discovery Fund is dedicated to directorial debuts, as the BFI reconfirms its focus on supporting the careers of first-time feature filmmakers with features budgeted below £3.5 million. Aiming to support six features per year, funding will be available across three application rounds annually, designed to maximise the profile of the opportunity to the widest range of talent in order to back a broader range of stories. The first deadline for applications is Monday 24 April 2023, for fully-developed projects seeking to shoot this year. Applications will then reopen in July and again in November.

The BFI Impact Fund will aim to support five projects with production funding per year. A rolling fund, criteria focuses on scale and/or intensity of audience impact projects are seeking to make. For features from second-time filmmakers and beyond or debuts budgeted over £3.5 million. To specifically address underrepresentation in creative leadership roles, the BFI will seek to work with Impact Fund projects to enable them to provide genuine and meaningful opportunities for upskilling, mentoring and production shadowing. 

The £4.5m BFI Development Fund remains flexible and broad in terms of the costs it will cover at all stages of development. Acknowledging the difficultly faced by early career producers in establishing their careers, emerging producers can now request enhanced overhead support alongside their fee within the development budget. The fund aims to support around 60 to 70 projects per year.

Additional project development support will be available through the £2.7 million BFI National Lottery Creative Challenge Fund, a fourth new fund opening later in 2023, which will fund labs and development programmes in order to decentralise project development and ensure support is accessible UK-wide. Awarding funding to production companies and/or screen organisations across the UK who will develop and run time-specific programmes to support a range of projects, helping filmmakers move their work forward in dynamic ways beyond script-based work, such as working with actors, filming scenes, read-throughs etc.

Equity, access and inclusion 

As one of the three core principles set out in the BFI’s Screen Culture 2033 to guide all of its work, the BFI continues to be committed to supporting a more equitable and inclusive industry. All projects supported through the BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund will need to achieve the new BFI Diversity Standards for film. To address access barriers for filmmakers, cast and crew with support requirements relating to a disability or physical or mental health diagnosis, applicants will be encouraged to include relevant costs in their budgets. If a project is already requesting the maximum available amount, teams can request additional access costs if needed.

The BFI will continue to use its role as a financier to actively address underrepresentation in supported feature films, requiring commitments to inclusion and fostering a positive working culture. All projects can request additional BFI National Lottery funding to access support in two specific areas: to fund a Wellbeing Facilitator, dedicated to championing and facilitating a positive working culture on a production and acts as an independent point of contact for everyone on set throughout the lifecycle of a production; and to support talented crew from underrepresented groups to progress their careers by taking on more senior roles (including heads of department) through BFI Step Up. Building on the success of Step Up, the fund will aim to facilitate even more people to make a meaningful career progression on a BFI production.

Other BFI National Lottery support for filmmakers 

The BFI continues to prioritise dedicated support for UK documentary filmmaking and has previously announced it awarded £6m of National Lottery funding to Doc Society to run the BFI Doc Society Fund for the next three years. The fund will be revised to ensure it addresses the aims and objectives set out in the BFI’s new strategy, and will continue to support features, shorts and talent development. The next Features fund is opening mid-April, with shorts opening in May.

The Filmmaking Fund has invested in a slate of immersive works through a pilot XR production fund since 2017, funding projects such as In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats (Darren Emerson), Goliath: Playing with Reality (Barry Gene Murphy and May Abdalla) and Laika (Asif Kapadia). This pilot is being evaluated and details of the offer for XR work will be announced later this year. Funding for short immersive projects will continue to be available from BFI NETWORK and BFI Doc Society Fund. 

To support emerging talent, £7.8 million through BFI NETWORK will fund live action and animation shorts and early feature development and professional development. Again, funds have been revised to address the new strategy and will open across the UK from April 2023. 

The Filmmaking Fund also aims to run annual programmes for higher budget short form work across the three years, which will be shaped following an evaluation of current programmes. The BFI is currently piloting a new higher budget short programmes: Future Takes, in partnership with Film4, which is currently closed for applications. The pilot will be reviewed later in 2023 in order to shape future iterations of the fund to provide opportunities to emerging filmmaking talent to build sustainable careers and provide effective stepping stones towards first features or long-form commissions.

In addition, the two previous rounds of the Short Form Animation Fund which launched in 2019 and has supported award-winning work such as The Debutante (winner of best SXSW Animated Short), BAFTA nominated Your Mountain Is Waiting and Scale which screened at Critics Week in Cannes, will also be evaluated to feed into future support for animation. 

UK Global Screen Fund 

The BFI Filmmaker Fund will accept applications for international co-productions provided they meet the eligibility criteria and the fund priorities. However, minority co-productions should consider applying to the UK Global Screen Fund (UKGSF). Financed by the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport and administered by the BFI, the UKGSF offers a range of funding designed to boost international development, production and distribution for the UK’s independent screen sector. Its International Co-production strand supports UK producers working as partners on UK minority international co-productions.  

Other BFI support of the UK independent filmmaking sector 

The BFI’s commitment to UK independent film extends beyond the funding and support available through the BFI National Lottery Filmmaking Fund. As the UK’s lead body for film, and detailed in its 10-year strategy, the BFI works to create the conditions for a thriving screen sector in the UK, and fundamentally believes a successful UK independent film industry is vital to that. It therefore is a major element of its screen culture programming across the board, including through BFI venues, UK-wide, BFI Player and BFI Festivals. 

As well as a focus of the BFI’s policy work, which is informed by research such as the Economic Review of UK Independent Film, other key elements of the BFI National Lottery funding plan that will also support the UK independent industry are the £27.6 million funding for Audiences and research commissioned by the Research & Statistics Fund. Funding of £14 million funding for Education is focused on supporting aspiring talent to find ways to further and nurture those ambitious regardless of their background or where they live, and the £14.7 million invested in Skills is addressing skills and workforce gaps impacting the independent sector as one of its priorities. 

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