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more musings from 60 degrees north

just added new post at my 60 degrees north blog

60 degrees Prof…

…is my new blog from Shetland and other parts of the Highlands and Islands, you’ll find it here https://60degreesprof.wordpress.com

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 17.36.45

Change is in the air

The producer’s cut has been rather quiet of late which is in no small part due to my impending move to Shetland to take up the new UHIChair in Creative Industries with the University of the Highlands and Islands. After thirteen years at Edinburgh Napier, ten of them as Director of Screen Academy Scotland our national film school, come August I’ll be possibly the country’s most northerly professor. Meantime I’m off shortly to the Philippines to take part in Digitaldigital divide Divide and aim to at least tweet and maybe post some longer reflections here.

The crisis in Scottish film is older than most people who work in it

This is the original (slightly longer) version of my comment piece in today’s (12/3/15) Scotsman.

In recent months the words ‘Scottish film’ and ‘crisis’ have been seen and heard together increasingly frequently, especially in evidence to the Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s Enquiry into ‘how Scotland ‘can grow sustainable TV, and film and games industries’. A feeling of crisis is nothing new however. As far back as 1958 Scotland’s Sir Alexander King then Scotland’s film exhibition baron (when we could boast such a figure) quipped that ‘For the last few months we have been having our annual crisis.’ (Glasgow Herald, 22/11/58). As then the barriers to growing Scottish film today are deep rooted and intertwined with both commercial pressures and public policy.

The UK film financing, production and distribution industry has for the better part of a century concentrated in and around London , inhibiting the representation of the rest of the UK on screen, in jobs and in business. Only grim determination by filmmakers aided by sporadic public policy saw the beginnings of an industry in Scotland with sponsored documentaries in the 1950s leading to the first tentative public investment in feature film in the 1980s. In 1995 the introduction of £3-4m Lottery funding annually boosted output to half a dozen home grown features a year. It may surprise readers to know that statistically a similar proportion of those turned out to be hits as in much bigger film nations – from Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to Sunshine on Leith and Filth. BUT at just six films a year the hits come on average only once every three to four years. And six films is not enough to build a production sector or support even a single distributor. Not enough work to keep actors and crew employed. Not enough business to sustain specialist suppliers from lighting-hire and props-makers to special effects and sound dubbing studios.

The problem is, as the experience of every other European country confirms, that you cannot increase either quality (measured by awards, critical reception, long term impact) or commercial returns without increasing output. That requires investment directly into the films, in the companies that produce them and, as importantly, into the people who conceive and execute them.

Of course there television drama like Shetland and incoming productions like World War Z or Skyfall are critical to maintaining the ecology of the sector. Except we don’t see much, and determine almost none, of the former as broadcasters’ taste, commissioning power and crucial professional relationships remain overwhelmingly London-centric. And while in the wake of increased UK tax incentives for film and high end TV we have benefited hugely from the recent arrival of e.g. Sony/Starz’ TV epic Outlander (more or less doubling production spend in Scotland for two years), we still have little in the way of local incentives to reliably attract other high-spending series or films beyond our natural assets and skilled crews. Here the long standing absence of a suitable sized studio continues to loom large.

Indeed the Scotsman first called for a Scottish film studio back in 1935 (5/3/35) and it’s as true now as then that a studio could generate a great deal more work for cast, crew and related businesses. But local producers will see little of that benefit unless we are able to offer location incentives dependent on both spend requirements and the involvement of a local co-producer. This would give Scottish companies crucial leverage in hiring and spending decisions, helping to extract more value from incoming productions, create opportunities for local talent, build expertise and relationships at all levels and raise the profile of Scottish companies internationally.

However that in turn would require Scottish producers to have the kind of stability which depends on consistent levels of domestic production, both in feature film and high-end TV drama. So until we address the equally deep-seated problem of UK broadcasters’ marginalization of Scotland as primarily a source of net license fee income or advertising revenue without a corresponding requirement to source the full range and value of production locally, our film companies will continue to struggle for survival. They will remain locked out of high value commissions leaving them to big, London based companies like e.g. Left Bank pictures (Sony/Starz UK partner on Outlander).

Yet the opportunities for growth in Scottish film and TV are considerable. UK filmed entertainment revenues are forecast to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 3.4% annually between 2014 and 2018. In Scotland Channel 4’s new ten year licence requires it to increase its ‘nations and regions’ production from 3% of volume and spend to 9% by 2020 and it has made additional voluntary commitments to see this as a base and to do more to develop the skills and genre expertise that will aid growth. UK film and Video production revenues and exports more than doubled between 2002 and 2012.

One catch is that historically much of our enterprise and innovation strategy have been focussed on targeting support to individual ‘high growth’ companies and not webs of interconnected small companies. Yet the potential aggregate growth in employment, revenues and other impacts are comparable. The interconnected ‘ecology’ of film, tv and games with each other and with other creative businesses (e.g. music, theatre, design, audio, publishing) requires a different approach to that historically adopted in traditional sectors, one which can address both their commonalities (e.g. talent, skills) and differences (e.g. the speculative high risk/reward overwhelmingly one-off film nature of production vs. the commissioner-driven, series-orientated TV production).

The deep and complex ecology of the entire creative industries sector needs to be understood much better so that both investment and returns are seen holistically – investment in expressive arts education or professional writing and drama talent are part of the mix. Investment in e.g. studio infrastructure without parallel investment in skills development and talent retention would be a serious mistake. Our national film school, Screen Academy Scotland, is one small but significant part of that mix. We train some of the key talent – writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, editors – and provide a wide range of Continuing Professional Development opportunities to industry. However too many of our graduates leave Scotland to pursue their careers because too little effort has gone into understanding and growing what could be a much larger sector if only we join forces and work together to make it so.   Better coordination between Higher Education and Industry is of course essential but without a concerted programme of investment, incentives and broadcasting reform to remove the structural obstacles to sustainable growth we may continue to hear talk of the ‘crisis’ for years to come.

 

 

Mixed news for Scotland’s creative and high tech industries

The latest analysis of the UK’s creative and high-tech economy by NESTA (‘The Geography of the UK’s creative and high tech economies’ ) aims, amongst other things, to apply a more rigorous set of definitions to creative occupations/industries and to develop the distinction set out in their earlier report between the jobs and value added of the creative industries (those industries which have high proportion of creative jobs and e.g deliver creative content directly to the public) and the wider creative economy (which contains lots of creative jobs in non-creative industries). As importantly the report looks at the geographical trends in the creative economy and it’s here where warning signs for Scotland emerge.  As we’ve noted before (see june 2014 post) Scotland’s level of creative employment is in the mid range (6.4% of Scotland total employment) of  the UK’s nations and regions,  above Wales (5.7%) and Northern Ireland (5.3%) but below the South West (7.6%) and Eastern (8.4%) regions and of course London (15.5%) and the South East (10.7%).

The real issue however is that  creative employment is, if these figures are accurate, declining in Scotland while it is growing nearly everywhere else, both in the wider creative economy (down 1% in Scotland, up 4.3% across the UK 2011-13) and in the specifically creative industries (down 0.8 % in Scotland while up 5.0% across the UK). And this isn’t, for once, due to the ‘London effect’.  The highest growth rates are not in London but  in the Eastern (9.3% in Creative Economy, 11.5% in Creative Industries) , West Midlands (8.2% and 11.8% ) and North East regions (56% and 9.8%).

There’s better news from the high-tech economy where Scotland is leading growth at 5.1% compared to the UK average of 2.1% and ahead of even London (4.5%).  The NESTA study goes on to look at the intersection of the creative with the high tech economy and the analysis reinforces the  divergence of Scotland from the rest of the UK.  Whereas in the rest of the UK creative industries are growing faster (4.3%) than high-tech industries (2.1%) in Scotland the opposite is true. At the ‘sub-regional’ level (in Scottish terms = ‘regional’) it comes as no surprise that Glasgow and Edinburgh have higher levels of employment in the creative economy relative to other kinds of jobs.  The ‘Location Quotient’ ( the relative proportion of creative jobs in the region where 1.0 would be no different  to the national proportion) gives Glasgow and Edinburgh more than 1.2 and the rest of the country less than 1.0 and mostly less than 0.8.  (Edinburgh comes out particularly highly (7th in the UK) when creative and high-tech jobs are taken together.)

What does it all mean and why does it matter?  Well given employment in the UK creative economy is growing at 4.3% per annum, 3.6 times faster than the UK workforce as a whole (1.2% per annum) Scotland is losing out on almost all of these new jobs, compensated for by doing very well in the high-tech sector (5.1% p.a.) which across the UK is growing at a more modest 2.1%.  If we could secure even half the high-tech sector level growth in Scotland’s creative industries – say 2.5% we could add around 4,000 jobs a year.

Growing Scotland’s film and television – yes please Minister(s)

Though some practitioners are expressing ‘consultation fatigue’ (following the Creative Scotland Film Sector review (which I chaired) and subsequent consultation on its Film Strategy 2014-17, the Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s enquiryto consider how Scotland can grow sustainable TV and film and video games industries” it is an important opportunity to set out the potential for growth as well as the obstacles facing our screen practitioners and businesses and encourage Parliament to press the Scottish Government  to seriously up its support for the sector if it really wants to see the culture, economic and social benefits from the moving image that other European countries have achieved through concerted action.  My tuppence worth is available along with the other eighteen [since posting the number has risen to 40] written evidence submissions (though one of them seems to have wandered in by mistake!) here. The committee will be taking further evidence from a variety of practitioners and agencies during January starting with Games on the 14th, TV and film on the 21st, public agencies on the 28th and Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs on the 4th of February. Given the concern for the economic impact of the creative industries it is curious that the Committee, so far at least, doesn’t plan to take evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney.  He’s the person who really holds the key to investment in the sector…having read and heard the evidence from all the above perhaps the committee will then have some questions for him.

UPDATE 4/2/15 in recent days John Swinney’s name has appeared on the agenda alongside Fiona Hyslop to appear in front of the committee today which suggests that the committee members/those giving evidence have successfully upped the ante..

Try to be crazy! Wu Wenguang – Founding figure of Chinese Independent Documentary

Last week I had the chance to interview renowned documentary filmmaker and founder of the Caochangdi Workstation in Beijing, Wu Wenguan, while he was in Edinburgh screening work by new filmmakers associated with the Village and Memory projects.  Our hour long conversation ranged over his accidental entry into the world of documentary, losing his way in it and finding a route out through his work with emerging filmmakers – of whom he simply asks “try to be crazy”

We’re smart enough and have the resources to run our own TV

(Originally published on the Guardian Website Tuesday 16th September)

Claire Enders (What would a Scottish yes mean for democracy, 14 September) claims that “Scotland simply isn’t big enough to support strong independent media”.

She suggests the substitution of a Scottish Broadcasting Service for the BBC in Scotland would reduce media plurality. However, since 1957 Scotland has had an independent commercial station, STV, with a vibrant news and current affairs output, which would continue to offer strong competition to any licence-fee/state-funded broadcaster. Not since the 1980s has Channel 4 had any Scottish current affairs or political output, so the level of plurality would remain unchanged.

She suggests Scotland could not secure a free-to-air deal with the BBC. The licence fee (or post-independence equivalent) in Scotland raises £300m; the pro-rata share of network BBC television is £75m, while BBC Scotland costs £86m. Even if the BBC secured £100m for supplying its services to Scotland (considerably more than Ireland currently pays for the same privilege), that would still leave £200m to fund SBS, radio and online services.

After independence the Scottish parliament and whichever government the people of Scotland elect would shape Scotland’s media regulation. Holyrood, elected on a proportional representation basis, and with much greater cross-party pre–legislative scrutiny, is considerably more democratic than Westminster.

The scanner has been working overtime this week digitising some pre-web documentation of Scotland’s film history and this delightful epistle from Bill Forsyth in the 1986 Edinburgh International Film Festival Programme is just one example

Bill Forsyth letter on That Sinking Feeling EIFF Programme 1986

Sunshine on Leith and Filth zoom into all time Scottish top ten

The latest and, as ever, fascinating annual statistical handbook from the BFI allows the elves here at The Producer’s Cut to update the all-time top Scottish films at the UK Box office (NB Adjusted for inflation) with not one but two films making it into the list from 2013.  Not surprisingly perhaps Sunshine on Leith and Filth, having briefly occupied the number 2 and 3 spots at the UK box office in 2013 have quickly joined the all time Scottish top ten at number 4 and 6 respectively.  Trainspotting remains the undisputed top dog with 25% of the total box office garnered by the ten films and indeed all but one of the top five films are from the 1990s.  Inevitably the definition of ‘Scottish’ used here is subjective – both Rob Roy and Last King of Scotland could be ruled out on production origin terms (as could even Mrs Brown for that matter) but allowing for that caveat we can see that there’s no real pattern to the best-selling Scottish movies other than that from thrillers to a musical they managed to strike a chord with the film-going public.

 

UK Box Office £ (adjusted for inflation)
Trainspotting (1996) 12,331,224
The Last King of Scotland (2006) 5,680,951
Shallow Grave (1995) 5,101,342
Sunshine on Leith (2013) 4,600,000
Rob Roy (1995) 4,352,000
Filth (2013) 3,900,000
This Year’s Love (1999) 3,600,636
Mrs Brown (1997) 2,647,037
Magdalene Sisters (2002) 2,138,934
The Angels Share (2012) 1,928,376
Total 46,280,500

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.

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!


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