A wave of adventurous filmmakers has led to a fresh cultural vibrancy in British cinema.
As filmmakers and audiences continue to make fewer distinctions between film, television and other digital media (such as games, online video, virtual reality), we need to ensure our funds remain relevant, responsive and adaptable. This is vital if we are to remain effective as the lead public funder of film and take advantage of creative and commercial opportunities in the changing audience landscape across film, television and digital content.
There are challenges. The combination of a cautious UK distribution sector and declining values from the international presales market, and limited public film funds, is placing greater pressure on our funds, particularly in the areas of supporting new filmmakers, experimental and documentary film, and ambitious, visionary cinema such as High-Rise, Under the Skin, and American Honey.
In the first year of this strategy we will work closely with PACT, UKCA and the FDA on a deeper investigation into the health of British independent film so that we can contribute towards improving conditions for its long-term future. We will continue to promote our Locked Box initiatives across development and production, which have already enabled many producers to make investment decisions with creative autonomy.
There is also a growing urgency to address barriers in the film industry around inclusion and opportunity that are limiting the industry’s creative potential and cultural relevance. Underrepresentation across the board needs to be addressed, along with the persistent imbalance of filmmakers and producers based in London and the South East, and the broader socio-economic factors inhibiting access for talent and audiences.
Given the relative limitations of our funds, we will target our resources where we can make most impact and deliver the greatest long-term benefit to the industry and audiences. In the next five years, we will focus our work in these key areas – across live-action fiction, animation and documentaries:
- Support during the early careers of a range of ambitious filmmakers
- Support for films with a strong cultural or progressive impact
- Projects that take risks in form and content, where the more commercial sector cannot
- Projects that recognise the quality of difference in perspective, talent and recruitment
- An increase in the number of active projects and filmmakers outside London and the South East
1. A new flexibility in our approach to funding around form and platform, to support a broader range of innovation, work, talent, and audiences
We will always respect the primacy of the platform for which the filmmaker has created their work, but we want to properly engage with changes in how filmmakers make, and audiences watch, films and to encourage filmmaking in different forms and for a variety of platforms.
What will we do?
We will update our eligibility criteria – specifically around length of work and the expectations of a theatrical release. We will do this by de-restricting our funds in ways that allow us to support certain non-theatrical, episodic, hour-long or other non-feature-length work, a greater variety of animation and digital work, and narrative filmmaking on other platforms, including immersive and interactive work.
We know this is an important evolution of our funding, presenting a radical new approach to how we fund. We will ensure it is thoroughly explored and tested with care.
2. Giving energy and creative confidence to early and risky work
With limited other public and commercial funding available to back new and ambitious voices, projects from first-time filmmakers and other more commercially risky work are stalling at the finance stage. Similarly, the expectation of a traditional theatrical release for these projects is setting many of them up for failure, when another route to audiences might make more sense for a project. Development time, financing costs and extensive delivery requirements are in many cases inflating budgets beyond their likely value.
What will we do?
We will establish a fast, full-financing model for debut and lower budget films, which can be delivered entirely through Lottery, or in partnerships.
This finance model will be available for ready projects where alternative sources of upfront financing are limited – to secure cast, crew and schedule – and which can be partly replaced if the producers attract other finance prior to production. It will also allow a revenue-sharing structure with producers, which encourages talent and crew participation.
We will also increase our support for a challenged independent distribution sector so that it can continue to partner with us with confidence, and in particular to introduce and establish new filmmakers. Our additional support for distributors will include a move to non-recoupable grants for higher risk projects such as first features and lower budget work; more flexible support for cross-platform work; a provision for overhead fees in supported budgets; opportunities for distributors to work with us as strategic partners; additional local distribution support through FAN; and a budgeted allocation of basic distribution support in debut and low budget productions funded by the Film Fund. We will also continue to chair the VPF (Virtual Print Fee) Task Group through the final stages of VPF recoupment and exit strategy.
3. An emphasis on UK-wide talent development through a wider BFI NETWORK
Delivered through a network of funded partners, we established the BFI NETWORK to provide specific focus and support for talent development, and increase the number of filmmakers and projects supported outside London.
Considering the need for greater diversity in decision-making roles, we are growing the NETWORK to provide a tiered talent programme with a greater number of quality access points for funding and support, and we are working with more partners UK-wide and creating stronger regional talent bases.
What will we do?
The NETWORK will offer more outreach and clearer progression paths for rising filmmakers, from early shorts through to feature development.
In England, there will be a new role for the FAN Hubs: housing NETWORK talent executives to identify and support filmmakers making early shorts or developing ideas for longer-form work. They will build talent and partner relationships at a regional level, ranging from the BFI Film Academies to our Vision Award producers, and will be able to take a broader approach to talent, form and platform in a new partnership we are developing with Arts Council England. We will work with the national screen agencies on programmes which best mirror this approach.
The NETWORK website has the potential to help us reach talent that might otherwise be limited by financial and geographical barriers, and we will introduce a new commissioning fund for short-form work, to help us engage with a breadth of filmmakers, writers and animators who are already making and showing us their work.
Other UK-wide support will include funds to set up and run an internationally recognised, world-class talent lab that welcomes and nurtures the best new voices and ideas; a year-round online partnership with BAFTA to support networking and professional development across the UK and online; and key moments in the NETWORK calendar – such as NETWORK@LFF and the NETWORK Weekender – for developing writers, directors and producers to come together, network with peers and learn from professionals. We will continue to help Creative England on iFeatures, an intensive development model for low-budget first features, as part of our talent development programme.
We will resume the direct development of first features within the Film Fund, across script and proof of concepts.
In order for us to help sustain more talent outside of London in the future, we know we need more screen businesses to develop, as part of a wider ecology of creative centres throughout the country and across the fields of film, television, games, animation and the platforms and technologies that support them.
We will work with Creative England, drawing on its expertise in supporting enterprise, to model options for how best to expand support for innovative high-risk projects in screen businesses with a pilot Enterprise Fund.
4. Supporting the growth of independent film production beyond London, through the introduction of BFI Regional Production funds
A combination of declining access to finance and limited opportunities through the European structural funds, and the greater pressure on our funds across a broad range of material, suggests to us that a new model of Lottery investment is needed in order that we can focus on helping to develop the best work from filmmakers early in their career and increasing the level of production activity outside London.
What will we do?
By 2022, we want to have established a small number of BFI Regional Production funds, which will invest matched Lottery production funding with clear requirements around supporting regional talent, skills and infrastructure outside London.
We expect that these funds – a 25 per cent target of our overall production funding by 2022 – will sit within emerging creative clusters where there is already a developing film, television and wider screen industry, and investments will be made with a combined cultural and commercial approach. All our funds will continue to support development and production across the UK.
We will also be seeking one or more partners, with access to finance and distribution strategies, who can help us deliver our investments and support for documentary films, to open up this important area of filmmaking to other voices.
Across the world, screen industries are evolving at speed as exciting new markets emerge. The international sales and distribution sector is in the midst of huge disruption and change. The market value of international presales is in decline and emerging platforms such as Netflix are challenging the familiar models. In the UK we must keep pace with the competition, growing our skills base, supporting our homegrown filmmakers and film businesses, and building more international collaborations through cultural diplomacy.
Whilst the global markets evolve around us, we must also bring our industry together to deliver the best possible outcomes from the UK’s negotiation to leave the EU, working with Government to ensure the right conditions are in place for future growth.
1. Ensuring a globally competitive UK film industry
Following the decision of the UK to leave the EU, the BFI has been active in bringing together the screen sectors, analysing development in the UK and internationally, and talking to Government. We expect, in this next period, to be working closely with ministers across DCMS, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to ensure that the screen industries are proactively represented at every level of negotiating the new world order.
What will we do?
- Increase the BFI’s in-house expertise on international trade, in order to effectively advise Government and support industry in the development of future trade deals
- Deliver a research programme that continually assesses and benchmarks the international competitiveness of the UK’s regulatory and funding environment for production
- Strongly support Government in the development and delivery of a new industrial strategy for the creative industries, ensuring the high growth potential of the screen industries is recognised as a vital element for increasing UK productivity
- Deliver the best possible outcome for the screen sectors through the negotiation for the UK to leave the EU
- Sustain strong partnership working within Europe to benefit UK screen sectors through working with our European Film Agency counterparts on active EU policy negotiations and making the case for the UK’s continued membership of Creative Europe
- Put in place a new advocacy plan for the European Parliament, in order to ensure key MEPs understand the value that the UK screen sectors bring to the rest of Europe
2. Ensuring inward investment remains a huge success story for the UK economy
Inward investment is a fundamental part of the UK film economy and continues to grow due to the success of the UK film and high-end television tax reliefs, the emerging games and animation reliefs, a highly skilled workforce, world-class talent and infrastructure.
Moving forward, our inward investment strategies need to reflect the entire suite of the screen tax reliefs, and the UK-wide opportunities for economic growth that this suite provides. The challenge of such unprecedented high levels of international production is to grow sufficient capacity of infrastructure and skills. A number of new studio spaces are in development around the UK, and the BFI’s Creative Clusters Challenge fund will support the longer-term development of a number of internationally recognised creative screen clusters, in addition to London, and ensure future capacity for new international film and television production.
What will we do?
- Increase the BFI’s international fund to better support the anticipated requirements of a post-referendum world, including a strengthened British Film Commission
- Commission a review of UK production infrastructure, including studio space, to establish priorities for investment
- Commission a review of screen production services, leading to a new UK-wide strategy which makes the most of the UK’s infrastructure and makes it as easy as possible to attract production
3. Increasing international promotion and export of UK film, talent, skills and culture
Export of UK film, talent, skills and culture is vital to the future of our industry and as a key member of the Creative Industries Council, we are determined to play our part in supporting the Government’s ambitious export targets for the creative industries.
Our support to industry for exporting activity is well received, but we want to do more to help industry capitalise on opportunities in the future, which means making our funding more flexible and reactive.
We believe a strong network of partnerships will be key to promoting the value of the UK’s world-class film talent. We know that our international cultural exchange activities reap strong rewards for the UK, such as the UK’s co-production treaty with China. We will develop our relationships with our partners, such as the British Council and BAFTA, to support the development of markets for the UK in key territories.
What will we do?
- Review the qualifying spend and contribution limits of our existing and highly valued Film Export Fund, to provide a better level of support to companies who are promoting and selling UK film internationally
- Offer selective support to independent UK producers who do not have the resources to pursue international financing and co-production partnerships, in particular when windows of opportunity, such as an awards nomination or festival invite, occur
- Ensure that UK organisations and Government work together to maximise resources and impact at key international screen markets
- Work with Film Export UK to gather and interpret the data necessary to develop better-targeted export strategies
- In the US, we will work with Government departments and the Great campaign, BFC LA, British Council, BAFTA LA/NY and the British Consul to maximise talent promotion opportunities
- In China, to further activate the co-production treaty potential, we will work with UK Government departments, the Government of the People’s Republic of China, British Council, and local Chinese partners to deliver an audience development initiative, aimed at younger Chinese audiences with an international outlook
- We will seek to ensure that the BFI’s cultural programme is central to all major UK diplomacy missions, increasing understanding of British film culture worldwide through international touring programmes
- We will further develop and grow the BFI London Film Festival as a showcase and launch platform for great British and world filmmaking, as a meeting place for filmmakers and industry leaders in film, television and the moving image, and as a high-profile platform for new thought, leadership, debate and discussion
- While the BFI concentrates on diversity, we welcome the lead from BAFTA to take over leadership on environmental sustainability, ensuring increased adoption of the internationally leading environmental objectives across the UK film industry