Scottish film directors – easier to get in, harder to get on?

In a Guardian Culture Professionals Network post film industry veteran Terry Illot observes that “According to British Film Institute (BFI) data, of the nearly 1,200 directors who made British feature films in the 20 years to 2008, 74% made one, 15% made two, just under 6% achieved three, and 2.4% made between five and nine. A mere six directors were able to put together 10 or more films.”

Here in Edinburgh Napier’s Screen Media Research Centre we’ve been monitoring the equivalent data for Scotland for some time (see our 2010 post on the topic here) and looking at the latest there is some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that looking at the most recent 5 year period that we can track forward five years (that is 2004-2008) 24% of first time directors in Scotland went on to make a second film and 12% to make a third.  this is significantly better than the UK rate.

The bad news is that the when you go back and look at the five year periods from 1979 onwards the rate of progression from a first to a second feature has been steadily dropping as follows:

5 year grouping of transition from 1st to second film IN SCOTLAND
1sts who 2nd who 3rd % 2nd % 3rd
79-83 5 3 1 60% 20%
84-88 3 1 0 33% 0%
89-93 7 3 1 43% 14%
94-98 6 3 0 50% 0%
99-03 16 6 2 38% 13%
04–08 17 4 2 24% 12%

So we can see clearly see  that while its got ‘easier’ in some respects to make a first feature its got harder to make a second and subsequent film.  That reflects in part the Lottery fueled expansion of film funding in the 90s but also the reality that the size of the market has not changed significantly so with more talents on show with a substantially publicly subsidized first feature the competition to secure market finance for the all important second film is that much more intense.  You could argue that is as it should be i.e. more risk upfront and a winnowing out of the talent subsequently.

BFI and Government get ‘could do better’ progress report from Smith film policy review team

Follow up reports to Government commissioned reviews can often be rather bland and self-congratulatory but Chris Smith’s Film Policy  Review two year update has rather more teeth and doesn’t hold back from expressing frustration with the BFI, Government and industry’s lack of progress in a number of areas. (The original report can be found here and our 2012 post on it here)

Careful to acknowledge the funding cuts imposed on it by the UK Government and broadly positive about overall progress to date, Smith’s report nonetheless takes the BFI to task on the central plank of its BFI’s ‘Film Forever’ strategy, developing the audience for film and in particular for ‘specialized’ (i.e. UK independent and foreign language) cinema.  Its criticism is directed in part at the rather ‘top down’ way the BFI is working with partners in exhibition and lack of engagement with commercial distributors. The review expresses this is diplomatic terms ‘recognizing’ “the importance for the BFI of capturing and building on the experience and local knowledge in the regions and nations, as well as that of established organisations like the Independent Cinema Office, both in terms of avoiding duplication and spreading best practice” which is code for ‘consult more, command less’.

In relation to Film Education, another key aim of the Film Policy Review and the BFI’s strategy, the review update notes that, compared to England, the other nations and regions seem to have a more-joined up approach and that the designated delivery body, In To Film (until recently known as Film Nation UK or FNUK) on the one hands needs more room (from the BFI) to get on with the job but on the other recommends it “urgently engages with  schools and teachers to achieve capacity and scale for film education  interventions. The Panel stresses the related need for FNUK to engage more  fully with the government, and the Department for Education in particular, in  order to enable this

Although a seemingly arcane subject to most people outside film distribution the mechanics of the Virtual Print Fee mechanism, used to recover the cost of digitalising Britain’s cinemas, are of great significance for low budget filmmakers, distributors and smaller exhibitors.  The review update endorses a proposed alteration to the system which amongst other things would introduce a fee waiver for films released on 99 ‘prints’ or fewer, a considerable saving for distributors and thus venues and thus a help to the indie film-maker in getting their work to audiences.

The review update is pretty positive about the BFI’s roll out of its Development, Production and Distribution responsibilities which it acquired following the demise of the UK Film Council.  However Smith and co. are clearly frustrated at slow progress towards the Joint Venture Initiative between talent, producers and distributors heralded in the original recommendations, implying that PACT, DUK and WGGB are the principal source of the delay.

However the review update reserves its strongest admonition for the Government and its failure to make headway in getting the Broadcasters to do more to support the industry, expressing disappointment that “there has been no progress on the Film Policy Review recommendations concerning Memoranda of Understanding between broadcasters and an investigation into the UK film acquisition market”  and rather archly ‘reminding’ Maria Miller and co “that it accepted and agreed these recommendations, and strongly urges the government to prioritise their implementation as a key strategic component of an effective UK national film policy.”

On Skills and Talent development the update observes that despite considerable new investment and progress on many fronts the BFI isn’t listening to or working in quite as joined up a way as it might with the variety of delivery and strategic bodies across the length and breadth of the UK. Smith recommends that “the BFI, Creative England and Creative Skillset work more collaboratively … and that the BFI facilitates ongoing discussions with leading delivery agencies in UK skills and talent development across the UK’s regions and nations, to enable a more cohesive strategy for the sector. The Panel suggests this could be done most effectively via a steering group,  made up of strategic partners and led by the BFI.”

Summing up the progress of the BFI as Lead Agency for Film the review update reprises its core motif of ‘doing well, could do better, especially by being more collaborative’ and, noting that the BFI is due for a Triennial Review this year concludes:  “As it matures in its role as lead agency for film in the UK, we would encourage it to find an optimum balance between providing strong industry leadership and truly collaborative partnership working that allows partners the necessary licence to deliver against their remit.”

Given the considerable disquiet  in the exhibition and education sector about the BFI’s tendency to be somewhat over-directive in its approach to partnership working one suspects there will be not a few people saying ‘amen’ to that.

Seasons greetings and a gift idea for documentary lovers

The absence of posts for a while is partially explained by the fact I’ve been rather busy recently getting back into film-making and exploring online distribution, the first tangible output of which is (drum roll….) ‘Treefellers’, the documentary about the British Honduras Forestry Unit which I, Sana Bilgrami and a team of talented folk made back in 2004 and which is (cymbal crash) finally available to stream online.  Yes for only £1.99 (or equivalent in your local currency) you can find out what happened when 900 lumberjacks from British Honduras crossed the U-Boat infested Atlantic to join the Home Front in Scotland and a good portion of them decided to stay on and make their lives here.  STREAM THE FILM FOR £1.99 HERE AND thanks to Distrify’s clever affiliate programme you can share in the (hoped for) success of this venture and earn 10% of the rental from people you refer.  So have a happy Xmas and spread the word…oh and watch our for the sequel, Tree Fellers Revisited, in 2014 – find out more by visiting https://www.facebook.com/TreeFellersRevisited

The fight against affordable healthcare continues

Goodness knows we’re not so miserable now

Scottish filmmakers have routinely been accused of indulging in ‘miserablism’, a critique levied in recent times by a wide range of people from film-makers themselves and policy pundits in Scotland to journalism students in London and critics in New York (and back in 2000 to boot).  It is is a charge which has some basis if portraying poverty, drug abuse or crime necessarily equates to ‘miserablism’ (though this is a crude equation in itself) but does it overstate the case and ignore the diversity of Scottish film? Indeed does the seeming dominance of such stories perhaps tell us more about the relative success, in the UK/Global cinematic division of labour, of Scottish films with a hard edge rather than necessarily reflecting their share of what is produced?  The boffins here at screen facts central have turned the handle to see what the numbers tell us and they may come as a surprise to some of our less evidence-based commentators though perhaps not David Archibald whose piece on recent Scottish Films persuaded the FT subs to go against the usual headline grain.

The graph below (based on films that had or were intended for theatrical release) shows that while ‘Drama’ remains the top genre throughout the period from 1990 to now, comedy has significantly increased its presence from 10% in the 1990s to 29% in the current decade so far.  Allowing for the fact that some films designated (using IMDB categories) as romance could be labelled comedy and vice versa if we aggregate those two comedy/romance really took off in the 2000s moving from 13% in the 90s to 22% in the 2000s and 29% now.

Scottish Film genre 1990 to 2013

THE X FACTOR

The graph tells most of the story but one aspect it doesn’t is the apparent big increase in the proportion of 18 certificate films which by definition exclude a large chunk of potential audience members by virtue of their more graphic depictions of violence and/or explicit sex.  The relevant figures are

1990s  29 films  of which 31% (9) 18cert

2000s 50 films  of which 18% (9) 18cert

2010-13 21 films of which 33% (70) 18 cert

Of course we are only four years into the decade so things may look different in a few years’ time but for now perhaps the commentariat will be little less prone to reaching for the miserablism tag.  We shall see!

Any tech is only as good as the good it helps you do

The first day of global film school association CILECT’s conference on the challenge of digital is nearly over and is ending where cinema began – with the camera. Over the day we’ve heard from sound design, editing, producing and cinematography teachers on how digital technology has and hasn’t changed what they teach, what students learn and what students do. The eternal virtues of good storytelling, compelling images, sounds and montage have been in a dialogue with the exploration and resolution of unstable business models, fragmenting audiences, big data and audience interaction beyond the wildest imagination of Edison or Eisenstein. On the other hand many of the ‘new’ things are also reboots of early cinema, from the audience choice of peep show emporiums to the first crowd funded movie way back in 1938 ( see this post from 2012) and the early business model where film was rented by the foot. How to persuade people to risk their money on what can easily be an expensive hobby is an unchanging aspect of making films, whether its cast and crew deffering fees in the hope of being a ‘profit participant’ or the audience investing in a film before its made, technology cannot remove risk from the creative process even if it can make it easy to involve more people in the risky decisions.

Tomorrow it’s screenwriting, direction and production design’s turn. No doubt previsualisation, the virtualisation of design through cgi and many other aspects of the digital revolution in live action moviemaking will feature but sometimes it’s the simplest things which are the most eloquent – the cinematography tutor from a small Philippines film school who loves celluloid but loves the fact that shooting on a canon 5d DSLR means his students don’t need the expensive lots they don’t have to get rich images. “So if one of them wants to shoot in a prison isolation cell with a single actor, they can”.

Across the digital frontier in Buenos Aires

In a rather cool and wet Buenos Aires delegates representing film schools in 37 countries (or rather 38 counting Scotland separately from the rest of the UK) are preparing for three days of presentations, workshops and debate on “The impact of the digital age in the CILECT schools curricula”. Cilect is the global association of film and television schools, formed in 1955 at the height of the Cold War in the spirit of cross-border, cross-ideology cooperation. Some 58 years on its numbers have swelled to over 160 audiovisual educational institutions in over 60 countries from Australia to Argentina and Canada to Cameroon. Its various regional chapters including the European GEECT, are sizeable entities in their own right.

With a global congress focussing on broader strategic, funding and organisational issues every even numbered year, this ‘odd’ year’s conference is more concerned with practical matters. The topics to be covered include ‘Producing, commercialisation and distribution curricula: new formats’; ‘technological changes to the cinematography curriculum and ‘new strategies in teaching screenwriting and directing’. CILECT has been at the forefront of the changing film school curriculum, helping members to navigate innovations in camera, sound and postproduction technologies well before they entered the mainstream of education or indeed consumer consciousness. Amongst the pioneering initiatives it has sponsored is The Global Rivers Project which back in 2008 brought film schools in South America, Europe, Asia and the USA together ‘virtually’ to explore HD workflows in a collaborative documentary project using online collaboration to co-produce a truly global film.

Between the talk sessions there is the prize ceremony and this year, in an unexpected coup the UK’s National Film and Television School (yes they haven’t yet caught up with there being four nations, currently) will be picking up all three top prizes – something that has never happened before. Check in later this week for more.


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