Coming to a cinema near you, possibly

After an absurdly long time (ten years to be precise) I’m pleased to reveal that I’ve got a new film premiering at Filmhouse in Edinburgh next month (or two if you count executive producer credits which of course I don’t :) ) Advising the unquestionably Stellar Quines on the transfer of their hit play The List to the big screen gave me the opportunity to shoot a behind the scenes doc on the collaborative process between film director Morag McKinnon, theatre director Muriel Romanes and Maureen Beattie, star of the one woman play by Canadian dramatist Jennifer Tremblay, translated from the French by Shelly Tepperman. The collaboration was supported by an ‘innovation follow on’ award from the Scottish Funding Council which allowed me to advise Stellar Quines on the creative, commercial and practical aspects of turning theatre into cinema and connect them up with the right talent and skills to realise their ambitions. As it turned out the film director of The List is an Edinburgh Napier graduate, as was the film production manager Lili Sandelin, DIT Mihail Ursu and Karel Dolak the online editor of ‘Filming The List’. Former staff member Rob Walker recorded and mixed the sound for The List while current staff member Ross Buchanan mixed ‘Filming…’. So all in all the whole project has been a shining example of collaboration, both between theatre and film and between university and the arts. Tickets for the Filmhouse screening are on sale now and the films will be in Dundee at DCA on Tuesday 5th. Further dates and venues t.b.c.

More creative industries jobs in Scotland than we thought but most sectors declining

The DCMS have just released their nations/regions breakdowns of creative industries employment in the UK and the Scottish picture is, relatively speaking, somewhat disappointing even if the figures show the number of creative industries and creative economy jobs (more on that distinction later) in Scotland to be more than most recent Scottish estimates calculate.

Across the UK creative industries jobs (creative and support) grew 10% between 2011 and 2013, while in Scotland there was a slight drop from 103,000 to 102,000 according to the DCMS count.  In the wider ‘Creative Economy’ (which includes creative jobs in non-creative industries) every sub-sector bar two (Architecture and IT) recorded falls in employment with the total dropping from 166,000 in 2011 to 163,000 in 2013. The sectors recording the highest falls were Advertising and Marketing ( -2000 jobs) Crafts (-2000) and Design (-2000) with the highest riser being IT, software and computing services (+8000).  The presence of the latter in Creative Industries statistics is a continuing issues as many of these jobs are not in fact creative industries related at all and as this sector accounts for one third of the total jobs its increase of 7000 jobs over the two years masks the falls elsewhere.

Whereas every other area in the UK shows an increase in creative industries employment as a proportion of total employment between 2011 and 2013 averaging 0.5% and up to 1.2% in the East of England, only Northern Ireland and Scotland record a drop, albeit a statistically insignificant 0.1%.

Scotland’s 102,000 creative industries jobs (NB jobs in the creative industries only, the creative ‘economy – see below) account for 6.3% Scottish employment total compared to the 8.5% UK average (a total of 1.7m jobs).  However setting aside London (16.2%) and the South East (10.1%) that’s on a par with most of the rest of the UK barring the East of England (8.3%) and the South West (7.6%).

With 163,000 of the 2.6m UK Creative Economy jobs (NB ‘Creative Economy’ counts creative jobs in non-creative Industries) Scotland’s share has fallen more (-0.6%) than anywhere other than the East of England (-0.8%).

That these figures are very different from those used in recent discussion of Scotland’s creative industries comes as no surprise to those of us with an unhealthy interest in comparative methodologies but is a real problem in trying to get to any sort of coherent policy discussion about what needs to be done to support both overall growth and the specific needs of individual sectors.

The first ever film mashup?

Readers with long memories will recall this 2012 post on how Jean Renoir started film crowd funding.  Well the ever fascinating media historian Bert Hogenkamp has uncovered another bit of ‘nothing new under the sun’ in his contribution to the BFI/McMillan ‘The Documentary Film Book‘.  This time it’s an early example of what we would think of as a video ‘mashup’ by renowned activist documentarian Joris Ivens.ivens mashup

Don’t let our creative talent go to waste

[If you missed it or have difficulty accessing it on the Scotsman site here's my Tuesday opinion piece on Creative Education with added LINKS TO SOURCES. This article is one of various to be debated at a late June RSA Fellows’ Media, Creative Industries, Culture & Heritage Network event “Visions, Irrespective” [of the Referendum].]

If Scotland post-referendum is to fully realize the cultural, economic and social potential of the arts and creative industries we will have to work harder to encourage young people’s creativity both inside and outside education.

Though no-one seems quite able to agree the precise scope and definition of the creative industries, one thing is indisputable – individual talent and creativity is central to their growth and sustainability. The UK creative industries as a whole grew at a rate three times that of any other major economic sector between 2008 and 2012.  But such a prodigious growth rate won’t be achieved in Scotland without more attention being paid to how we identify, nurture and retain the content producers of the future. Indeed, over that same four year period Scotland’s creative industries have stood still or declined in terms of turnover, gross value added and employment.

Politicians of all stripes continue to assert the importance of creativity – from Jack McConnell’s St Andrews Day speech in 2003 “placing culture at the heart of Government” to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop’s belief that “an independent Scotland will be a place where our arts, our creativity and our heritage is collectively celebrated, valued, nurtured and supported across the public, private and third sector”. But are we doing enough to make that vision a reality, particularly in and around our schools and institutions of further and higher education?

The introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence has been an important step towards an environment in which creativity is valued both for its intrinsic value and its growing significance to our economic future while the recent Government and multi-agency ‘Scotland’s Creative Learning Plan’ is a vital step forward but needs real additional investment to achieve its commendable vision.

A good gauge of how seriously an education system, and learners, take a subject is which qualifications are studied. In Scotland, around 9% of Higher entries in 2012 were in ‘creative industries’ subjects (advertising, marketing, drama, media, music photography, visual arts), the same proportion as in 2008. Over the same period in England and Wales A-level entries in creative industries subjects rose from 13 to 14.5% of the total – a significantly higher proportion.  If Scotland is to avoid falling further behind in educating the people who will fuel our creative economy as well as sustain our arts and cultural life, then we need to address our School provision with more determination – and resources.

What happens outside school is equally important and here too there are signs of progress, but still a great deal more to do.  The recently launched National Youth Arts Strategy and the development of regional youth arts hubs will do much to spread Government resources more evenly around the country.  But disciplines which bridge arts and the wider creative industries – such as design or architecture – are still too easily overlooked in strategies focused on visual and performing arts.  Many hope that when the V&A Dundee eventually opens it will stimulate greater interest amongst young people in design as a career.  However, without a truly Scotland-wide commitment to providing young people with access to inspiring design and designers in their local area, we risk failing to mobilise their imaginations and aspirations.

Similarly, Government investment in the Youth Music Initiative has helped mitigate the long term decline in local authority support for instrumental tuition.  But we could do a lot more, nationally, to develop the interface between musical talent, technical and commercial skills – for example ensuring young artists, producers and audio specialists have opportunities to come together to develop, record and market their work.  There is great work of this kind going on, for example between Shetland College and the multi-arts centre Mareel, but many parts of Scotland lack this kind of joined up provision.

Across the country our Further and Higher Education Institutions offer a wealth of opportunities for young creative talent. And talent we undoubtedly have, as my own university’s arts and creative industries degree show, and those of other universities and colleges, will publicly showcase this spring. Nonetheless, the sector remains relatively poorly resourced, while the system which feeds them is still something of a postcode lottery.  The long awaited Skills Development Scotland Investment Plan for the Creative Industries should help focus energies in the skills sector.  Rightly so. Because both for their intrinsic value and their potential to contribute much more to Scotland’s economy, creative talent can and should be placed much more firmly on the education agenda.

Independent Screens

(this is the slightly longer original version of the piece published today in The Sunday Herald http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/how-we-can-put-scottish-talent-into-a-starring-role.24235648)

There are many reasons why film and television in an independent Scotland could be bigger, better and benefit audiences, the economy and our wealth of creative talents much more than it currently does. For the best part of a century our screen culture and industry have depended on the resources and perspectives of London decision-makers. At times this relationship has indeed been beneficial but mainly it has been debilitating. It is true that at some key moments in our screen history, for want of a stronger domestic infrastructure, we have profited from enlightened regimes at the BBC, the British Film Institute (BFI) or Channel 4 who have given Scottish stories and talent support and screen time. Without them Bill Douglas, Bill Forsyth, John McKenzie, Lynne Ramsay or Paul Wright might never have reached our screens.

But we shouldn’t have to rely on those occasionally benign decisions which expose precisely the highly dependent nature of the relationship. Despite thirty-five years of effort since Bill Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling burst onto the screen, we still lack the size and shape of screen industry that can consistently develop, employ and retain talent in front of or behind the camera without first looking to SoHo or W1A for approval.

As a result, unlike our literature, music or theatre we still import virtually all of our screen culture, more than any comparable western European country. Indeed it seems that we have almost lost the capacity to imagine any other arrangement, tending to assume that Scottish must mean pawky, parochial or poor quality. Lacking a sense of what a distinct Scottish audience might want, from say its screen dramatists, it’s little surprise that producers focus hard on meeting the expectations of financiers, distributors, BFI and TV executives for whom Scotland will always be small part of a bigger picture with no enduring claim on their time or resources.

The queue for film finance is so long and the local pot so limited that the average age of a first time feature director in Scotland remains stubbornly close to forty. It can take ten years to get a film like Sunset Song (even with Terrence Davies attached as Director) or a TV series like Katie Morag from development to production (both first supported with development finance by Scottish Screen in 2000).

Meantime Scotland’s share of network TV production has edged up from 3% by value in 2003 to just over 4% in 2012 – far from the 9% that our population share would suggest is a reasonable expectation of our public service broadcasters. Under pressure to deliver more for the ‘nations and regions’ valiant producers turn creative cartwheels to plausibly relocate a secondary school from Rochdale to Greenock while we wait patiently for a Scottish originated volume drama to be commissioned for the network – any network.

What would make things better in an independent Scotland?

Since no country’s screen industry has succeeded internationally without a strong and growing home audience we could work harder to grow domestic demand. Not by forcing audiences to watch home-grown movies through import tariffs or blocking Eastenders but rather by ensuring we have the capacity to offer real choice in the living room, in the cinema or on tablet PCs. That will take time. A Scottish Broadcasting Channel that, like most European public broadcasters, was mandated to support domestic film production (with investment and screening slots) alongside commissioned TV drama would be a powerful aid to growing production, jobs and facilities. Of course it would have to compete, as in Ireland, with UK networks – just as UK networks now have to compete with Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. But it would also be a crucial platform to develop Scottish talent and companies for whom these new distribution channels are real opportunities. In the same way people often overlook the fact that Grand Theft Auto originates in Scotland, not many people realize that international TV hit The Tudors was developed in Ireland, giving several new Irish directors their big break as well as employing legions of crew and facilities.

 

I’ve written elsewhere about how Scotland’s film success is patchy and stop-start compared to other countries because we operate well under the critical mass required to produce hits with any sort of consistency. If we invested the levels of public finance per head that other similar sized European countries do we could transform the environment for Scottish film and TV. Where we spend around one pound a year per person on funding film, Ireland spends two and Denmark ten, resulting in a far bigger share of the domestic market than Scotland has. Add control of tax reliefs and incentives and the full range of studio facilities to attract more inward productions like US series Outlander filming in Cumbernauld and we can see how Scotland could reach Irish levels of production and perhaps, in the longer term, Danish.

 

An independent Scotland in the EU would qualify for country of ‘smaller audiovisual capacity’ status which would bring the same advantage when applying for Creative Europe MEDIA funding as every other small country in the EU enjoys. And like those countries if we joined EURIMAGES, the European Cinema Support Fund, our producers would have access to coproduction funds which the UK, as a non-member, does not.

Fiscal and regulatory measures to stimulate production are only part of the picture. Alongside a commitment to grow production levels, investment in skills and talent development is crucial. For too long we have waved goodbye to talents in front of and behind the camera that, once established in London, New York or LA then have precious little opportunity to pay return visits. Conversely when high value productions arrive from elsewhere they quickly max out the available expertise or worse, because of unfamiliarity with our abundant talent and skills, bring up their favoured cast and crew anyway.

Our screen ecology suffers from a long term depression of demand. In contrast Denmark’s equivalent of BBC Scotland, home to The Killing and Borgen, employs 40 people in its Drama Department. Its Head of Drama Piv Bernth cites their close relationship with the Danish Film School as “one of the secrets of our success – With The Killing 3 for instance, we had five young student cinematographers for three weeks on the set.” A revitalised film and TV industry in Scotland could offer similar opportunities, providing many more rungs in the career ladder, not just the step up to a plane south but an open return ticket too.

None of this means severing our links with industry, institutions or audiences south of the border. Rather it means reframing those relationships so that we can enter into creative and commercial partnerships on a more equal basis, bringing more to the table and having more say on how audiences here are served and industry supported. For example the Irish Film Board gets along very well with the British Film Institute and they regularly co-finance films in much the same way that Creative Scotland and the BFI do.

Of course there are risks: for instance we might not grow our domestic TV production base fast enough to compensate for the loss of ‘lift and shift’ procurement that is currently propping up the BBC’s commissioning record in Scotland. There might be additional transaction costs that could work against co-production or co-investment. We might discover it’s too late, culturally, to reverse audience expectations of wall-to-wall imported screen content. Or we might just not bother to take our screen culture and industry seriously enough to give it the investment it requires. But none of these things are inevitable. As the recent Creative Scotland Film Sector Review shows, we have the potential, the talent and the skills to make a difference. If we have the will there is a way in an independent Scotland.

 

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.


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