BFI opens Creative Challenge Fund

The new fund seeks UK partners to deliver targeted project development labs, awarding up to £150,000 per programme.

24 October 2023

The new BFI National Lottery Creative Challenge Fund opens today seeking applications from UK screen organisations and production companies to create and run targeted project development labs for features or immersive projects. Awarding up to £150,000 to each development programme, this is the first of five rounds of the fund, which will have a different ‘challenge’ set each time. This round is calling for applicants who can deliver labs for genre-focused project development for new and/or emerging filmmakers. The deadline for applications is midday on 5 December 2023.

Through the new fund, the BFI is seeking to energise the development offer for UK independent filmmaking. By funding a range of organisations to run programmes, it aims to stimulate a healthier, more diverse and broader development ecosystem for UK talent. The BFI is calling for applicants across the UK who can create labs designed to maximise the chances of projects securing further development finance and then production funding from a range of sources following completion of the programme.

Applicants to the fund can be flexible in their approach – offering short, intense labs or programmes that run over a number of months – and can include a range of tools and mechanisms such as script editors and mentors as well as actors, filming, editing, testing and market expertise. Facilitators are also asked to ensure participants are paid for their time attending the programmes.

The ‘challenge’ for this first round seeks to address the comparative lack of genre projects coming through to public funders. This is contributing to a lack of genre diversity in UK independent projects that receive public funding or come into the international and domestic commercial marketplace. This round of funding will support programmes for talent working on their first or second long form projects, encouraging new genre projects or taking existing projects in a genre direction. The development programmes must be designed to provide filmmakers with environments, tools and expertise that offer targeted development support that is both creative and strategic.

Mia Bays, director of the BFI Filmmaking Fund, said: “Developing any kind of film project in the independent sector is tricky – both in terms of access to funding as well as consistent and galvanising editorial and production-focused support. We wanted to diversify the offer, inviting the wider industry to help build a stronger lab and project development ecosystem that can effectively and meaningfully propel strong projects and talented filmmakers forward. We know that open access development support is limited in the UK, so we are investing a chunk of our National Lottery funding to further open up the range of project support available, while also enabling the wealth of experienced industry organisations across the UK to deliver programmes for which they and the recipients get paid. Approaching each funding round with a different ‘challenge’ enables us to be flexible and make interventions where we see gaps and opportunities, but also to work with partners who have specific expertise or a reach with particular filmmaking communities. We chose a genre and early career focus for the first round because we wanted to give impetus and resources to a wider range of genre-focused work.”

With four further rounds of the Creative Challenge Fund until March 2026, the BFI expects to support a total of over 20 separate project development programmes across the UK. Each ‘challenge’ is identified by the BFI based on data, market analysis, and insights gathered with industry partners, as well as consideration of the applications being made to the Filmmaking Fund. By offering targeted creative development programmes, the fund aims to positively impact a number of areas that are currently underserved, while also encouraging growth of the UK independent industry.

The Creative Challenge Fund can support labs for fiction and documentary features (live action or animation) and narrative immersive film work. Each lab could focus on one form or multiple. Set up to complement the Filmmaking Fund’s current Development fund, the fund is running as a pilot, and will continue to iterate and evolve to meet industry need.

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