Posts Tagged 'creative scotland'

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..

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.

Another sunrise for Scottish film?

Some 64 years since a member of parliament first raised the issue of a film studio in Scotland, Angus and Mearns MSP Nigel Don will move a motion in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow noting the imminent arrival of Terrence Davis to shoot his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s masterpiece Sunset Song.  As it happens this was a project I first recommended for funding when I was in charge of development at Scottish Screen exactly 10 years ago, evidence (if any more were needed) of the patience and determination required of filmmakers in raising the money to get from page to screen. (See this earlier post for an analysis of what happened to the Scottish Screen Development slate ‘class of 2001’)

Don’s motion focuses on the absence of ‘proper’ studio facilities in Scotland, one of several factors which has over the years limited the number of incoming feature films that Scotland can attract and the amount that they can spend while they are here.  The absence of a full-scale sound stage and associated facilities has also, arguably, limited the ambition and possibilities of what Scottish-based filmmakers, and indeed television drama producers, can achieve on their own turf.

It has to be said that Scotland has seen the sun rise – and set –  on a studio or at least studio proposals many times since the end of World War 2. Beginning with Scottish National Film Studios (1946-47) through Blackcat (1984 – 1991), a veritable blizzard of competing proposals and sites in the early nougties (from  Gleneagles to Inverness) and most recently the sustained effort led by the redoubtable Gillian Berrie of Film City in Glasgow, the ambition to raise the roof on a studio rarely stays dormant for long.

Enhanced studio facilities alone, however, cannot solve all the problems facing Scotland’s filmmakers, both those trying to get projects of the ground here and those whose livelihoods depend as much if not more on incoming productions and the work they generate for technicians, facilities and service companies (from lighting and transportation to hotels and to catering).  However thanks to its Titanic Studios a single TV series, Game of Thrones, brings  £20m per series to the Northern Ireland economy, which combined with a single feature, Universal’s “Your Highness”, meant that last year N Ireland attracted £30m of spend, significantly more than Scotland’s typical £20 to £25m a year.

In the highly competitive world of mobile film production, and notwithstanding the fantastic work done by our screen locations and film commission staff, the highly-prized skills of our crews and the attractiveness of our diverse locations, cold hard cash plays a very large part in where producers choose to shoot their films.  Location incentives, tax breaks and ‘soft’ financing are the levers nations and regions use to lure productions their way and while Scotland benefits from the UK film tax credit we lack the direct incentives to clinch the deal that more and more countries from familiar players Canada, and Germany to assertive new kids on the block like South Africa, Belgium and individual American States.

Even as differential tax breaks and incentives for non EU productions are currently under scrutiny by the European Commission, Northern Ireland is looking at how it can develop its own tax break which offers producers and policy makers in Scotland some food for thought.

It starts with the audience

But making films and encouraging the making of films isn’t, or certainly shouldn’t just be about helping filmmakers or the economy.  From a public policy perspective the audience matters as much if not more; it deserves to have easy access to the best of the world’s cinema, the best that Scotland’s film makers can provide and the smallest gap between the two.  A key player in that regard is the British Film Institute.  With £98m to spend across the UK on film education, distribution production, talent and heritage it holds most of the purse strings and strategic oversight for a very large part of the UK’s film ecology including, at least for the time being, Scotland.  Following a period of policy reviews (to which the Sottish Goverment contributed) the BFI’s future plan, charmingly titled ‘Film Forever’  was launched a few weeks ago and its senior executives are currently on a tour of Britain, hosting Q&As with ‘stakeholders’, with the (not terribly well attended) Scottish event taking place last week in Glasgow.

The first of the BFI’s three ‘strategic priorities’ is “Expanding education and learning opportunities and boosting audience choice across the UK ” and central to the delivery of that part of the strategy is “A new education offer delivered by a new partner aimed at inspiring young people from 5-19 to watch, understand and make films”.

In practice what this means is a single agency for the UK charged with giving every school the opportunity to establish a ‘film club’; a new online platform; and a youth Film Academy (available in England only in year one).  In pursuing these objectives the BFI has stated its commitment to work with the nations and regions and existing expertise in further and higher education and to play a leading ‘advocacy’ role in, for example, making “the case to Government in Westminster and in the devolved UK administrations for film education to be more firmly embedded in curricula. We will advocate policies which build on pioneering work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and on the forthcoming national plan for Cultural Education.

Over the horizon…

So far so good and it seems most practitioners, policy-types and concerned politicians welcome the new strategy, even if they may argue the merits of individual budget priorities.  However the key challenge for Scotland is to make sure that the distinctive  legislative and administrative context and structures of education, training, exhibition, audience development etc. are understood, respected and engaged with in the development of truly ‘Scottish solutions for Scottish needs’.  So far the signs are broadly positive both in terms of the BFI’s engagement with the various sectors in Scotland and acknowledgement of the distinct Scottish context by e.g. some of the potential bidders to run the ‘5-19 education offer’.  More importantly, perhaps, the leading players involved in audience development, film education/skills and ‘ specialized’ exhibition in Scotland (organisations like GFT, Filmhouse/CMI, DCA, Regional Screen Scotland, access centres and the film and media academies) are showing real signs of a joined-up approach to making the full range of film, film understanding and film skills as widely available as possible.  At the same time Creative Scotland has embarked on a review of film in Scotland to “inform [its] future priorities for investment and partnership working in and beyond Scotland”.  Ten years have elapsed since the Scottish Executive’s Review of Scottish Screen and nine since the last published study of the economic aspects of film in Scotland (the ‘Audit of the Screen Industries in Scotland’ ) and while recent research on the cultural value of film has touched briefly on Scotland (such as the fascinating BFI report ‘Opening Our Eyes: how film contributes to the culture of the UK’)  there is still some work to be done to show just how important the moving image, and cinema in particular, to our sense of identity (or identities), our ability to make sense of the world around us and to help shape it.  As with a studio, illuminating what we have, don’t have and what we could have on the screen is a potentially important step forward and now is a very good time to let some more light in.

A hundred years of investing in Scottish film

On Monday night ‘from an original idea by Mark Millar‘  the First Minister Alex Salmond and Culture Culture Fiona Hyslop and a crowd of potential film investors gathered in Glasgow to hear Claire Mundell and Peter Nichols explain the investment opportunities created by the new MacKendrick Fund.  I was asked to provide some context about the Scottish film industry so here are some excerpts:

“We’ve been making feature films in Scotland for almost exactly a hundred years now.  The first of six film versions of Rob Roy was made here in Glasgow in 1911 in a small studio in Rouken Glen. It was a hit not just at home but around the world. Sadly however the production company behind the 1911 Rob Roy filed for bankruptcy just a year or so later which is perhaps a salutary reminder that one hit doesn’t guarantee future success. 

In the intervening hundred years there have been several attempts to kick start a Scottish film industry, but it wasn’t until the 1980s, following Bill Forsyth’s success with Gregory’s Girlthat we saw a concerted effort to promote Scottish film with the creation of the Scottish Film Production Fund, launched with a very modest £80,000 budget and in the middle of a recession. … [W]e have seen growing levels of investment, both from public (thanks in particular to the National Lottery) and from film industry sources.  But the level of film investment isn’t yet quite enough to secure the real prize which is a critical mass of feature production and a sustainable, profitable, diversified screen industry. Yet that prize is within our grasp if we can achieve the right mix of locally produced films and incoming productions, a decent share of television drama production and, perhaps before too long, the means to offer tax and other incentives. 

So it’s a very important sign of the growing credibility of Scottish film, and of entrepreneurial producers like Claire [Mundell] and the partnership she has forged with Presience and with Creative Scotland, that the MacKendrick Fund has been established … Now of course that’s not to say there aren’t risks investing in film.  Far from it – films themselves are inherently high-risk, the majority of films are unprofitable, the majority of revenues and the vast majority of profits come from a minority of the titles released.  But as with other high risk investments, fortune favours the brave and the smart.  The key to success is spreading and sharing those risks, taking a long rather than a short term view, looking not just at individual films, but at baskets of films and at film businesses.

 In my view the biggest economic challenge facing Scottish film, and by extension prospective investors, is that we simply don’t make enough movies to ensure the hits come frequently enough to offset those that don’t quite hit the spot.

If you look at similar sized countries across Europe, compared to our yearly handful they produce between twelve and twenty five movies annually. As a result they see box office revenues alone ranging from 40 to 200 million pounds a year just in their domestic territories and a market share as high as 25%.  (And of course box office receipts typically account for less than a quarter of a film’s total revenues.)  But what’s equally important to note is that statistically their films are no more likely to be hits than ours.  The ratioof hits to misses is actually remarkably consistent in nearly every territory, regardless of the size of the industry. 

That said last year UK production investment actually dipped by 9% and the number of productions dropped by over a third.  Now while this is undoubtedly a concern it also presents a golden opportunity for producers and investors in Scotland.  Because if we can increase production levels here from the single figures typical of the past decade to something closer to the levels of other small countries, then we are much more likely to produce the hits that can attract audiences, generate real returns for investors, and deliver the sustainable industry that we all want to invest in.

While Karla Black pulls in the Venice crowds, Italian artists and industry join forces

Karla Black’s Scotland + Venice exhibition at Venice’s Biennale is still attracting flocks of visitors in the November sun but forty minutes inland the sights of Vicenza, home to the great architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), are remarkably crowd-free.  This may be due to the apparently rather laid-back attitude of the city to the business of attracting tourists, despite the $10 billion that the Veneto as whole earns from them.  It seems the success of the Veneto’s export-led industries such as €billion global fashion brand Diesel accounts for the pleasing absence of trinket shops festooned with blow-up Palladian Villas or Palazzio key-rings.  Gratifying as this may be, it is likely to become a thing of the past if the decline of the local manufacturing economy prompts a greater emphasis on attracting the tourist dollar, yen or remibi.

The purpose of my visit to Vicenza, home of the 16th century genius Andrea Palladio whose Villa Rotunda has inspired great and not so great buildings around the world for half a millennium, was to talk about Scotland’s creative sector and strategies to city officials, artisans and academics (including the influential researcher and recent visitor to Edinburgh Napier, Prof. Pier Luigi Sacco)  involved in Fuoribiennale and Innovetionvalley.  These  projects are aimed at ensuring the sustainability of creative industries in a region which claims to possess “the highest degree of creativity in the world”.   (Slightly more objective analysis by the European Cluster Observatory suggests that while important, the Veneto is around 23rd in the global league table of regions for creative and cultural employment clusters, with Paris Ile de France, Inner London and Milan holding the top three spots).

In certain key respects the Veneto region is not dissimilar to Scotland with a population of 5 million and GDP of €141 billion (Scotland’s is around €150bn). However it has a larger industrial base (33% of GVA to our 26%) and a smaller services sector (65% to our 74%) although the balance has shifted around 5% towards services over the last decade. Notably over 30% of the 458,000 businesses in the region are ”related to craftsmen” – an indication of the artisanal tradition that remains an important element in future economy development alongside the “high concentration of small and medium-sized enterprises highly specialised in a productive sector.”  This is after all the $3bn ‘world centre’ of tanning  – the leather in your shoe could well have come from the region, not to mention the shoe itself .  But it is the Veneto’s design-intensive and high valued-added clothing industry (evident in the success of global brands €1.3 billion Diesel and €2 billion Benetton) and the numerous design-led sectors such as glassware and ceramics which concerned the creative industries champions gathered in Vicenza.

The focal point of their effort is the conversion of the majestic Palladian Basilica in the very heart of Vicenza into an incubator for new creative businesses.  Following a €25m restoration the Municipality of Vicenza, working with academics from the University of Padova, hopes that the traditional skilled artisans of the region and a new generation of designers, artists and creative entrepreneurs will find a way to ensure the continued generation of creative design IP that can be manufactured in the region.  Their objective is to secure an international market for smaller companies without falling prey to the outsourcing which has become an industry in itself.  Helping artisan-based companies to develop marketing and media skills is one key objective, the thrust of which is:

re-branding the North-East of Italy as a creative hub, far from the traditional manufacturing image. … The entire region is characterized by the existence of creative hubs – e.g. Venice – technological hubs – scientific and technological parks in Venice and Padova –, a thick population of emerging small firms in tertiary activities – communication, marketing, It – and a changing population of firms operating in the design, manufacturing and commercialization of a variety of Made in Italy products. These elements need to be connected coherently in order to communicate a new identity of the region to the relevant constituencies in Italy and on foreign markets”.  Source: Task Force on Using Excellent Clusters toAddress Emerging Industries.

While direct comparisons between Scotland and the Veneto or, say Edinburgh and Vicenza, are not straightforward the challenges facing the Venetian textile sector are perhaps analogous to those facing companies in the Scottish Borders while the desire to better connect the creative skills of service-oriented companies in advertising and digital media to IP-generating businesses in the cultural sector is shared by, for example, the recently re-launched Creative Edinburgh.

One of the most interesting aspects of the incubator project in Vicenza is the leading role of Fuoribiennale “an association of artists and creative professionals gravitating around the Biennale of contemporary art of Venice”.  It would be interesting to see a grouping of Scotland’s artists making common cause with say the Borders textile firms in pursuit of a creative-industries led regeneration strategy in Hawick, Jedburgh or Kelso though the existence of Borders Creative might well allow that to happen.  (Indeed there might be some useful mileage in the latter getting together with their opposite numbers in the Veneto to swap notes. )

My Italian interlocutors were most interested to know about Scotland’s experience of Creative Industry incubators , the short answer being in truth its difficult to say as no-one has really researched the topic.  Other research (see for example Jo Foord’s Strategies for creative industries:an international review)  suggests that, on their own, incubators may be of limited value, particularly if their underlying purpose is to stimulate a ‘creative cluster’ of businesses. Rather what really matters is a holistic approach to SMEs’ needs from start-up to sustainabilty.  While Scotland’s artists, creative practitioners and businesses may not exactly be breathless in anticipation of the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership detailed action plans,  they have the potential to be important step towards realization of the Government’s aspirations for a truly ‘joined-up’ strategy for the sector’s development.  Meantime when the works of the world’s cutting edge artists are packed up and sent home, the Venetian artists and artisans will be forging links in the home of one of the world’s greatest creatives.

The extraordinary Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, the oldest surviving (indoor) theatre in the world and, alongside the Villa ‘Rotunda’, arguably the crowning achievement of Andrea Palladio, although he did not live to see it having died before it was completed in 1585.

The extraordinary Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, the oldest surviving (indoor) theatre in the world and, alongside the Villa ‘Rotunda’, arguably the crowning achievement of Andrea Palladio, although he did not live to see it having died before it was completed in 1585.  True to the values of the Renaissance the founders of its sponsor, The Academy Olympia, saw no division between the arts, science and literature but viewed them as part of the same human endeavor.  Endowing a theatre was for them as important a contribution to understanding  the world as the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

The hot scottish screen projects and talents of 2001 – where are they now?

Back in 2001 there were 53 feature film projects in funded development at Scottish Screen – a cumulative investment of just under £700,000 – I know this because back then I was the Executive in charge of script and project development. The agency was established in 1997, inheriting the functions of (and not a few projects from) its predecessor the Scottish Film Production Fund. Scottish Screen in its turn gave way last year to Creative Scotland which has taken on the mantle of investment in Scotland’s screen talent and championing its screen production.

Of those fifty-odd scripts (one or two quite literally so) to the best of my knowledge five have been produced.  A couple of these you will probably have heard of and may well have seen: Young Adam, David Mackenzie’s 2003 adaptation of the Alexander Trocchi novel starring Tilda Swinton and Ewan Macgregor, or The Flying Scotsman, the true story of cycling ace Graham Oberee starring Johnny Lee Miller in the title role. The others you might not have encountered: Stewart Svassand’s One Last Chance (2004), Paul Pender’s Evelyn (2002) and Sergio Casci and Don Coutts American Cousins (2003). Together though, these were ‘the ones that succeeded’ out of the class of 2001, confirming that rule of thumb that one in ten funded developments will make it to the screen.

Was the remainder of the investment (roughly £600K) in those projects that didn’t get made wasted?

No and here’s why:

Firstly as William Goldman sagely observed, no-body knows anything and a one in ten production ratio is par for the course.

Secondly, whether you are a studio, a public agency or an independent producer, development isn’t just about having a punt on a project – it’s an investment in talent and relationships.  This project may or may not pay off but through the process of working on it a collaboration is developed, tested and if it gels may be the seed of future success.  For the individual company or studio the hope is that the talent will stick to you and eventually the right project will get green-lit.  For the public agency however the payback need not be so direct.  If the talent goes onto to make a contribution to the industry/culture as a whole – the common good as it were – then the investment will have been worthwhile.

So what happened to the ‘unmade’ talent of 2001? Here’s a selection of those attached to the projects that didn’t get made:

Craig Ferguson – now a star of US TV. Morag MacKinnon –TV directing career (Nice Guy Eddie, Buried, The Innocence Project)and first feature (Donkeys co-written by 2001 writer partner Colin Mclaren) released in 2010. Jack Lothian –TV writing career (Totally Frank, Doc Martin ShamelessPatrick Harkins has a TV writing and directing career including Sea of Souls and Taggart). Mark Greig has written for The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes and ParadoxEleanor Yule has been directing  documentaries including Crimes that shook the world and drama documentaries on Dennis Nilsen and Ian Brady. David Kane has had a successful career in television as a writer (Sea of Souls, Rebus, Foyles War, Taggart) and recently director (The Field of Blood). Brian Kirk – went on direct TV in Ireland (Pulling Moves) England (Murphy’s Law, Funland) and the US (Father and Son, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones). Robert Murphy has written for Murder City, Cape Wrath and DCI Banks: Aftermath.And then there’s Gilles Mackinnon, Ian Sellar, Brian Elsley, Mike Cullen, Karen McLachlan and Margy Kinmonth.

So all in all at least half of the people that Scottish Screen backed in 2001 have and continue to make an important creative and commercial contribution  to film or TV here and abroad.  That’s the bigger picture of public investment in screen project development and a salutatory reminder that ‘getting it made’ isn’t the only relevant measure of whether an investment has been worthwhile.  That said its notable how the careers of the class of 2001 depend on television and, by the same token, how restricted Scottish feature film production remains (a point regular readers will be familiar with).  With the average age of a first time feature director in Scotland remaining stubbornly around the 40 mark and the competition for the more prestigious, high budget single or 2-part TV dramas at least as intense as it has ever been, the creative bottleneck facing the class of 2010 is unlikely to get much looser any time soon.  So talent development remains a risky game which, for the time being at least, only pays off in the long run.  Good luck to the class of 2010!

 

Welcoming back the BFI to filmmaking in Scotland

If as expected Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announces tomorrow [he did – see comment below] that the British Film Institute (BFI) will take over most of the UK Film Council’s role in funding film production, will film in Scotland be any better or worse off?  Nobody can really know for sure but there are a few pointers from the past which may prove to be relevant. 

Whoever houses the new arrangements for investing in development and production (not to mention distribution, exhibition, education and a whole slew of other activities largely overlooked in the furore over the UKFC’s imminent demise) it is likely that many of the same people will, for the time being, be making the decisions.  But historically the BFI has had a somewhat different institutional take on film culture and film industry than the UKFC and it will be interesting to see if the Scottish dimension of that, a mixture of general neglect punctuated by occasional enlightened acts of benevolence, is revived.

In general terms the BFI always had a bit of a problem with Scotland – it was to all intents and purposes ‘other’ –  our cultural, educational and political administrative systems sufficiently distinct but insufficiently interesting to merit much dedicated officer time or attention.  By the same token Scotland’s emerging autonomous film institutions (Films of Scotland followed by the Scottish Film Council, technically a branch of the BFI to begin with, and then Scottish Screen) substantially let the BFI ‘off the hook’ when it came to being held to account for film developments north of the border, even though its title and charter were resolutely British.

 But at the same time and to its credit the BFI did play a critical role in fostering the first stirrings of narrative cinema in Scotland by championing the work of Bill Douglas, a film-maker whose filmic aspirations did not fit the mould of the then ‘Films of Scotland’.  Douglas stands out as Scotland’s most internationally recognised ‘auteur’ filmmaker (though the other Bill, Bill Forsyth deserves to be included in that category for those who choose to employ it) and, tellingly, practically the only one to be supported by the BFI Production board in its nearly fifty years of nurturing “An alternative British art cinema”. And it did latterly support the singular vision of Margaret Tait, co-funding her first feature Blue Black Permanent in 1992 (at the tender age of 72!) and Lynne Ramsay’s first professional short (Kill The Day, 1997) but on the whole the Production Board had by all accounts a fairly negative view of Scottish talent and Scottish stories.

WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY?

Since the UKFC was established in 2000, and as we’ve noted elsewhere , a fair amount of UK cash has come Scottish cinema’s way, in addition to the sums disbursed by Scottish Screen that is.  Given that Scottish film has been able to access both Scottish Screen (now Creative Scotland) and UKFC funds it would be easy to think (and easy for those smarting from the cuts to public arts funding in England to complain) that we Scots have been having our cake and eating it.  Well a little inspection of the facts suggests otherwise.  Though the calculation of what amounts to a ‘fair’ Scottish share of public expenditure has ever been and will no doubt remain a vexed question there is enough life left in the ‘Barnet formula’ to make it worth a shot. 

Taking the financial year 2008-9 as our example, and with the aid of the UKFC Research and Statistical Unit’s extremely useful Annual Statistical Handbook, we find that the total ‘public sector selective investment’ in film comes to around £256m (including Tax Relief, film investment by the BBC and Film 4, EU funds and so on).

Now if we strip out the tax relief, broadcaster and EU funds that drops to direct UK public expenditure of around £116m.  The Scottish share of that (totting up Grant-in-Aid from the Scottish Government, the average allocation of Lottery film funding to Scotland of around £2.7m AND the average UKFC investment in Scotland of £1.4m) comes to around £8.4 m i.e. 7%.  The Barnett formula for calculating Scotland’s share of any change to UK funding is generally based on 9.77% of the equivalent spending in England and Wales which in this case would come to £11.38m or in other words a gap, in 2009-09, of approximately £3m.

Even with the swinging cuts to many of the areas of expenditure making up the UK total at this point it seem very unlikely (but we will examine it in future posts) that in the coming years Scotland’s share of film-related expenditure will catch up, proportionately, with the rest of the UK. (And even if it did it wouldn’t remove the historical disparity).

Meantime we look forward to seeing how the new custodians of the UKFC’s film investment funds see Scotland’s contribution to British cinema’s future and hope that they adopt a less metro-centric perspective than in the past.

Rollover day for Lottery film millions?

The debate over who will inherit the UKFC’s Lottery millions when it finally closes its doors rumbles on.  Possible beneficiaries include the Arts Council of England, the BFI and NESTA but the potential role of regional and national agencies, including our own Creative Scotland, has received rather less media attention. 

In a recent response to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee enquiry into the future of Arts and Heritage funding Screen England, representing the nine regional screen agencies, argues:

With the UKFC no longer in existence, and the structure of LEPs [Local Enterprise Partnerships] not yet determined, it is imperative that any future restructuring of funding should incorporate a strong recognition of the creative industries, so that this vital sector can continue to grow, to protect jobs and revenue, and to play its part in helping the UK out of recession. As we move into an increasingly digital future, we believe it is the Screen Agencies, or whatever they evolve into, that are best placed to continue to deliver this support.”            

As if to underline the current precariousness of public support for the screen industries, in an otherwise unrelated development one of the nine regional agencies, Screen East, went bust this week “following reports of financial irregularities and the arrest of one of its managers” according to the Guardian.   However in a show of solidarity the other regional screen agencies have, Broadcast reports, rallied round to help those ‘Eastern’ film projects threatened with collapse.

While Soho is abuzz with speculation about how many and whose hands will be signing the cheques on their next project, North of the Border (and indeed South of it) one of the many little known facts about the UKFC is how much it regularly spent in Scotland, supporting not just film production but distribution, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, training (Interest to declare: Screen Academy Scotland has received  more than £1m of UKFC Lottery funding via Skillset since 2005) and much else besides.  A quick inspection of the extremely useful DCMS national lottery grant database reveals that in excess of £1m a year has been coming to Scotland since 1999 and more detailed analyses taking into account funding awarded in the first instance to bodies with English postcodes suggest something approaching £1.5m a year.  Adding that to the two to three million of Lottery funding that Scottish Screen historically received would be a fifty percent increase in the resources available to the making, showing and understanding of the moving image. That could make a profound contribution to achieving the step change in Scottish cinema that future generations richly deserve. 

At this year’s TV Festival, when I asked James Hunt ( having declared himself a firm supporting of devolving money and decision making), whether he would support devolution of Broadcasting powers to the Scottish Parliament he ruled that out.  Well now he has a chance to redeem his devolutionary credentials…

Time to call ‘turn over’ for greater TV turnover

Last night, on the eve of the TV industry’s annual migration to Edinburgh from London (where notwithstanding the BBC’s efforts to shift production into the nations and regions, most of it remains domiciled) a vision of televisual growth and opportunity was unveiled by Tern TV’s David Strachan in the august surroundings of the National Library of Scotland.  “Growing the Television Broadcast and Production Sector in Scotland” is the much anticipated report of the working group set up in the wake of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, which published its closely argued and impassioned final report (‘Platform for Success’) back in September 2008 to be followed by Scottish Enterprise’s rather more prosaic contribution “Building the ‘Platform for Success’” in March 2009.

In a nutshell the report argues that television in Scotland is looking at a three-year window of opportunity to achieve 60% growth in commissions and employment.  That would see turnover grow from £215m to £346m and employment from just under 3,000 to the full –time equivalent of over four and half thousand jobs.  However as the report notes:

“This will only happen with collective and coordinated action across broadcasters, independent production companies and the public sector”.

While the major driver of this anticipated growth is the BBC’s commitment to increase network production in Scotland to account for 9% of its spend, an increase of £50m a year by 2016, the report also expects higher levels of commissioning by Channel 4 and, in the longer term, other broadcasters to be part of the mix.

But there are significant barriers to achieving this step change and, as in the film sector, a key one is the question of scale and diversity of companies.  Skills gaps are another barrier, the Catch 22 of growing network production in genres that Scottish companies have historically not been adept at is that you can only become adept at developing and producing entertainment or drama if you have had commissions that allow you to grow that expertise!  Lacking a domestic market of sufficient scale to give companies both the business base and the range of genre expertise that can migrate to network, the danger is that increased demand from network commissioners will be met by local branches of London companies importing talent and skills ‘known’ to network commissioners.  This is nothing new – it’s been the central issue facing indies and broadcasters in Scotland since 1982 and the creation of Channel 4.

The solution to this market failure?  Coordinated action (which includes significant public investment) to address the questions of scale, sustainability and skills that can get Scotland’s producers – indie and in-house BBC/STV –  into the premier league across the full breadth of programme genres. 

Who will deliver this?  The report suggests Creative Scotland should take the lead, building on the model of the Creative Industries Partnership Reference Group, but calls more broadly on the ‘public sector’ to provide up to £10m a year (though some of that might come from the BBC and Channel 4) through various mechanisms ranging from Seed Equity Finance of £50k to new start-up companies through to Production Incentive Finance of up to £500k a shot to support ‘productions of scale’.  The report suggests that the latter investment could itself lever an additional £12m a year securing or creating around 240 jobs a year.

How will it be paid for?  According to insiders one of the reasons the report has taken so long to hit the streets has been Scottish Enterprise’s seeming reluctance to sign up to hard figures on the necessary pump-priming investment – presumably for fear that the larger portion of it might have to come from its budget with no guarantee of the Government chipping in, particularly in the current climate.

So it boils down to whether the potential return of an extra £130m to the Scottish economy, 1700 jobs a year and a step change in Scottish broadcasting and production with significant wider cultural and economic benefits (e.g. to the ‘creative supply chain’ of writers, directors, designers, actors, facilities and technology companies etc.)  is worth the risk of around £10m a year in investment – around a third of the cost of the proposed new Forth Bridge or what the Government currently spends on supporting air services to the further reaches of the country. 

Assuming around half of the necessary investment – say £5m – were to come from Scottish enterprise that would be just over 2% of its annual investment budget.  On its own figures the current Gross Value Added (GVA) of the sector is £153m a year.  Taking the mid-point between its worst case and best case scenarios gives an additional £76m a year GVA, even if the return were only £50m that would still be a ten-fold return on investment.  In opportunity-cost terms that seems like a pretty competitive proposition and arguably at a considerably lower risk than in many (most?) other sectors.

Let’s not pit TV against film

A couple of years back in a contribution to the book Scottish Cinema Now I wrote

Over the past twenty-five years filmmakers in Scotland have benefited from a protected support system which has privileged their claims to both cultural subsidy and direct financial investment in screen content. That situation is changing rapidly, as television, games and new media producers demand equal status in the subsidy game, basing their claims on economic, cultural and democratic grounds.

Today’s Sunday Herald article on television in Scotland highlights the sector’s growing case for greater public investment to underwrite the domestic production sector’s capacity to secure a greater share of network commissions.  The BBC is the key objective, as it rolls out its promise to up Scotland’s share of network spend, but Channel 4 and, to a lesser extent, ITV are additional prizes on the horizon.

The suggestion that film in Scotland has enjoyed a ‘privileged’ status akin (STV’s Alan Clements is quoted as saying) to ‘snobbery’ in the eyes of Creative Scotland’s predecessor Scottish Screen echoes the comments made in evidence to the Scottish Broadcasting Commission in 2007 by PACT CEO John McVay “The obsession with film was a big mistake. “ and well as former Scottish Enterprise CEO Jack Perry who claimed films supported by the Glasgow Film Fund had ‘negative value to the economy’.

Now public investment in talent, skills (both creative and business), development resources, infrastructure and professional support services are all perfectly legitimate claims for any industry – creative or otherwise – to make on the public purse but in a period of swingeing cuts to public sector spending its even more vital that legitimate and important conditions are met by any investment regime.

Firstly public funding mustn’t be used to substitute for or ‘crowd out’ rather than ‘crowd in’ investment that could (and indeed should in the case of public service broadcasters) be made by the central industry players in the market. Where public funds leverage new additional investment either from end-users (broadcasters, distributors etc) or from private finance that’s undoubtedly a good thing. There is certainly a case for additional investment in the development capacity of independent producers but if this simply leads to a transfer of risk e.g. from broadcasters to public funds without a significant net increase in overall investment nothing will really been achieved. 

Secondly we need to be careful that public funds raised and designated for one purpose e.g. Lottery Funding explicitly designated to support ‘The Arts’, amongst other ‘good causes’, are not used to substitute for the lack of appropriate and necessary investment from other branches of Government. 

The perfectly legitimate case for pump-priming investment in television production companies producing revenue generating, employment creating, profit-maximising product in a context where they have been at a historical and structural disadvantage in the market place shouldn’t be confused with mechanisms to address a wider cultural, social and industrial deficit in the production, distribution and appreciation of indigenous screen content.  They are, of course, intimately intertwined but they remain separate policy objectives in need of co-ordinated but nonetheless in some respects distinct forms and criteria of intervention.

Thirdly we need to be wary of what economists call ‘regulatory capture’ – “the process by whereby beneficiaries of government decisions gain control over the relevant decision-making machinery.” – a charge usually leveled at cultural rather than economic players (see David Throsby, 2010. The Economics of Cultural Policy,  Cambridge University Press).  

Consultation, participation in deliberation, expert advice and opinion are all vital to the formation of policy but we always have to ask if any one interest group is exercising undue prominence or obscuring the wider picture and if the evidence, analyses and option appraisals they offer up are as objective and robust as the public have a legitimate right to expect when scarce public funds are at stake. 

As the Sunday Herald article rightly notes, there is in prospect a much more joined up approach to growing the economic (and indeed the cultural and democratic) contribution of television in Scotland. Likewise the television production sector has an absolutely legitimate place in the debate over public intervention in the screen sector, but so do filmmakers, the audience(s) and a host of interests from Gaelic speakers to community cinemas.  That said we need  to avoid setting television (or games or any other screen based creative content) against cinema and confusing the criteria by which each has a claim on public support. 

As I suggested in that Scottish Cinema Now essay, some in the film community were a little too eager in the 1990s to obscure the cultural case for film in order to make somewhat inflated claims for the (currently achievable) economic impact of indigenous production.  By the same token those now pressing, quite understandably, for a more serious approach to growing the broadcast sector shouldn’t see film as a competitor for attention and funds.  In reality television drama for example (a must for the long term health of television in Scotland) and film-making for the cinema are mutually inter-dependent.  Amongst their shared interests both rely on the same talent base from writers and directors (look at Paul McQuigan) to post-production SFX specialists and commissioners (think Andrea Calderwood) and there are important synergies to be found at a business level as a recent report on the corporate finance of SMEs in the UK film industry for the UK Film Council found.

When it comes to film and television, as in so many other walks of life, united we stand, divided we fall.

The Scottish Screen (or is it ‘Screen Scotland’?) dug is dead.

Today sees the official birth of Creative Scotland and the demise of the Scottish Arts Council and, according to the Press Association , as dutifully reproduced on the Herald and other newspaper websites around the country, something called ‘Screen Scotland’. (It would seem that the old newspaper practice of checking agency copy is now a thing of the past.)

Those gathered at last night’s farewell do in Glasgow for departing Scottish Screen staff and those who came to work today for their new employer, Creative Scotland, had the opportunity to swap reminiscences about the ups and downs of the agency’s thirteen years (91 in dog years so quite a good run) and look forward, albeit with a certain amount of trepidation, to the new era.  As a former Scottish Screen employee myself I’d be the last to say that it was an unalloyed success.  Some of the good intentions behind the joining together of the Scottish Film Council, Scottish Film Production Fund, Scottish Broadcast and Film Training and Scottish Screen Locations were at best only partially fulfilled and the operational silos that persisted in some areas only really began to be dismantled with the arrival of its third and final CEO Ken Hay.  That said, the ‘Golden Umbrella for films by Scots’ as the Herald put it back in 1996, did shelter a lot of good work and sustained the bare bones of a film industry still struggling to achieve critical mass. 

The task facing Creative Scotland (and as one of its newly installed Board Members that of course includes me) is to build on Scottish Screen’s (and its predecessors’) achievements; identify new/better ways of supporting screen work and the people who make, show and benefit from it; and pull together the various national, regional and local players who can make both screen culture and industry stronger.  More of a ‘big tent’ than an umbrella you might say.

Those PACT proposals – good for whose business?

Yesterday’s ‘Something for Nothing’ Edinburgh International Film Festival discussion on PACT’s proposal for a new deal between public funders and film producers proved to be quite a lively affair.  Having raised the specific issue of how the proposals might impact on Scottish production (see earlier post) I was invited to be on the panel and contribute to the wider discussion.  Having given them a bit more thought it seems to me that PACT needs to address, and the public agencies need to consider carefully, some key questions and consider a number of safeguards should they take them forward.  There are some other issues, principally of methodology and the evidence required to back up the assertions around cause and effect, much of which could be addressed through some econometric modelling of the proposals, but we’ll leave those for now.  But for new readers let’s briefly recap the key ‘problem and solution’ posed:

a. In essence PACT’s view (and few could disagree with this first point) is that UK film businesses are underperforming – they are under capitalised, too few have any scale and even of those that do there are major obstacles to sustaining their businesses.  PACT also holds that this is not because of any deficiency in the product:  “UK Independent producers consistently make films that work with audiences and critics alike, yet the current business model prevents them being able to benefit.” 

b. PACT believes that a major contributory factor to the above state of affairs is that public film financiers such as the UK film council, Scottish Screen and the regional screen agencies treat their investment in film production as equity and expect to recoup their investment before the producer (albeit many now allow a recoupment corridor e.g. the UKFC’s recently agreed 30%).

c. PACT proposes, therefore, that henceforth public funding should be treated as the producer’s equity and that this would produce the following benefits:

1. producer’s would have increased leverage when seeking private sector finance as they would be seen as investing their own equity

2. production companies profitability would improve as a consequence of being able to secure more finance, on more advantageous terms, added to the direct benefit of being able to reinvest the recoupment revenue stream (of what would now be their equity) ensuring better financed development, less ‘rush to go into production’, the prospect of increased budgets and following those better results in theatrical and other markets.  In short a virtuous circle in which everyone would benefit because:

3. More succesful film companies would become progressively less reliant on public funding as they would increasingly be able to source finance elsewhere and this would in turn allow smaller/newer producers to get an increased share of the public funds thus ensuring that their (other principal) purpose – ensuring a culturally diverse, risk-friendly film financing environment – is not just maintained but enhanced, thus ensuring better public value all round.

It all sounds terribly good but there are one or two catches.  One of them I’ve already raised, the problem of national/regional funders seeing the recoupment stream (small as it is) leak out of their nation/region .  Though its worth noting here as a reminder that out of the £5m in Lottery awards Scottish Screen (soon to be Creative Scotland) made in 2007, 55% (£1.9m) went to London-based companies and while they might well, under the suggested new rules, be inclined to reinvest revenues returned by virtue of their (publicly donated) equity in Scottish talent/projects, without some safeguards in place there is no guarantee that would happen.

An even bigger issue, however, is the credibility of the idea that over time the call on public funds from the growing, more profitable, production companies would decrease.  At present, taking PACTs own argument at face value, there is a significant disincentive to better-capitalised, more market friendly companies seeking UKFC or Scottish Screen investment precisely because it is likely to dilute their equity position and reduce overall revenues.  Take away that barrier and it is difficult to see why any rational film business wouldn’t try to get as much public money into their projects as possible since in effect it would become a grant and increase their equity to boot.

On this point several panelists suggested that since the public bodies have the right to choose which projects to invest in they could choose not to invest in projects whose producers might only be trying to ‘milk’ the system.  However to do so there would need to be a criterion for determining which projects were ‘genuine’ and which were trying it on and that is by no means simple.  Almost any producer worth their salt could make a pretty convincing argument on the basis of employment, multiplier effects, sustaining UK production infrastructure etc. plus a modicum of ‘cultural relevance’ to argue their case to access the public cash. 

While these are legitimate arguments for certain kinds of public intervention, there remains a very real risk that a significant amount of public funding could end up substituting for, rather than additional to, market investment and thus not in fact delivering any of the public value it is intended to.

 There are, then, quite a few issues that PACT and others need to address and on a positive note the indications from yesterday’s event are that at least some of them will be taken forward.  In reality I suspect PACT don’t expect to get a complete transfer of equity from the public funders and the report is the first salvo in a negotiating strategy which is looking to gain at least 50% of revenues.  Unlike the effective and well-deserved reversion of TV rights from broadcasters (who unlike the UKFC or Scottish Screen etc. are end-users and get their/our public value from the licence to distribute ) to indies, the position of public film funds in the current climate makes any dimunition of their meagre resources a tough sell.

Scots film output needs to reach Danish levels to achieve take-off speed

I can’t say I was very surprised to read that Danes have been flocking to the cinema to see Armadillo, Janus Metz’s documentary portrayal of Danish troops in Afghanistan.  The Danes, like the Scots, are a nation  of five million or so, and avid cinema goers like us, but the big difference is that they have a steady supply of Danish films to watch and watch them they do.  With Danish films averaging an impressive 27% audience share of the Danish box office only France has a bigger appetite (38%) for its own cinematic produce.

Of the many factors that might account for the popularity of Danish films on home turf, the buoyant state of production could be a primary cause or is it an effect – or both?  Either way from research that I will be presenting at a conference of (mainly) cultural economists in Copenhagen next week, there can be little doubt that there is a correlation between the two.  Or to be more precise we can see a close relationship between domestic production levels and audience share once a nation’s film output rises above the level Scotland (or indeed Ireland) currently sustain. 

Here in Scotland we make so few (typically five) films a year that the annual audience share for local films fluctuates wildly depending on the presence or absence of a single hit film.  In a good year it can be as much as 7% but on average its less than 1%.  Ireland, making around eighteen films a year, still only manages an average 5% market share.  It’s only when production regularly exceeds that level that a country appears to be able to sustain an audience share above 10%.  As production rises the market share follows (see graph) but does so more slowly, particularly above 25% (the UK level) and it takes considerably more films per percentage point of audience up to the ceiling of just under 40% found in France.

LINK TO GRAPH: Film output and market share

Perhaps the most significant point about this relationship, for Scotland at least, is the relatively steep start to the curve.  Quadrupling Scottish film production from its current average of five to around twenty a year could see the audience grow by a factor of fifteen or more and produce a much healthier return on total investment than we currently expect or get.  As, if not more, importantly it would greatly expand opportunities for new filmmakers to prove their talents and existing filmmakers to move onto their second or third film, a crucial point in career development both critically and commercially.

For many years filmmakers and commentators have spoken of a magic figure of around ten to twelve films a year as a kind of ‘take-off’ point for a sustainable (Scottish) film industry.  Well the evidence suggests this is not quite enough to get off the runway.  But get the speedometer up to twenty and things could be different.  Another task for the Creative Scotland ‘to do’ list and a challenge for all of us concerned with the fate of Scottish film to secure the stories, the finance and the distribution if we want to see ‘chocks away’.

How new is the new creative economy and is it really shrinking?

In the first of an occasional Friday series on the language of policy we take a look at when and how ‘creative economy’ entered the lexicon of policy wonks, politicians, academics and the chattering classes (apologies if you feel you don’t belong to any of the foregoing!).

Many people think John Howkins coined the term with his 2001 book The Creative Economy but in fact it was in use considerably earlier than that.  Ten years earlier in The Times (April 13th 1991) Neil Kinnock was reported as indicating “Labour was proposing a move towards a ”learning society”, the only sure foundation of a creative economy. Labour’s technology trusts would bring together universities, industrialists and financial institutions. They would try to commercialize ideas developed in universities and by other public bodies, giving inventions a real chance of being manufactured in Britain.” 

The following year, 1992, Chinese Central committee member Yang Jike opined that: “the combination of science and technology with creative power results in a creative economy and a restructured economy; and the combination of science and technology with information results in an information economy and a policy-making economy” ( Xinhua news agency domestic service 7 Nov 1992)

A year later neighbouring Japan was looking forward to the Creative Economy in a Government sponsored report calling for “Formation of a Domestic-Demand-Led Economy and a Sophisticated, Creative Economy” as one of five core principles for economic reform. (The Daily Yomiuri, December 18, 1993)

Closer to home in 1995 an Irish Times opinion piece calling on the Irish Government to end subsidy of Temple Bar area (now somewhat synonymous with stag and hen parties but intended to be a dynamic cultural quarter) suggested: “The rest of the creative economy upon which the expensive edifice of government rests will have to fork out to pay for the tax-holiday of those in Temple Bar. There’s no such thing as a free lunch no such thing as a free tax-break. Somebody will always pay the revenue missing.”

Things really hotted up (in the UK) with Labour’s 1997 election and in a critique of the Arts Council of Great Britain (and in terms familiar to us from the debate over the establishment of Creative Scotland) the Guardian’s Johnathan Glancey observed: “For [Culture Minister Chris] Smith and New Labour it [the Arts Council] represents a top-down approach to the arts that seems not only out of step with Government thinking, but a long way removed from the way that the creative economy’ works in 1997. It does seem remarkable that full-time career bureaucrats, based largely in London, have the power to channel funds to one artist or group of artists and away from another. The paperwork, committees, in-fighting and jostling for position involved seem utterly divorced from the artistic process. Far better to be funded or commissioned by a maverick private patron, perhaps, than by committees. Great art is not the product of consensus, but of confidence, risk-taking and even recklessness.

Smith gave a speech on the Creative Economy at that Autumn’s Labour conference (though ‘Cool Britannia’ was the tabloid’s preferred term) and Tony Blair used the pages of the Mirror to say “Government can help build a creative economy fit to take on the world in the new Millennium.” (3/10/1997)

Back on home turf  (and eerily presaging Andrew Dixon’s recent tour)  in 1999 ‘ART CHIEFS HIT THE ROAD WITH MISSION TO LISTEN’ was the headline in The Scotsman (August 11th) reporting the launch of the national consultation on cultural strategy that has led, via many twists and turns, to where we are today, mere months away from the formal launch of the agency charged with making Scotland’s creative economy both bigger and better.  Eleven years back  “The value of the arts to Scotland’s economy is also stressed in the consultation document, Celebrating Scotland. The “creative economy” has been estimated by Scottish Enterprise as generating GBP 5.3 billion a year and sustaining 91,000 jobs.” 

Interestingly, if rather worryingly,  ten years later the Government told us “The creative industries in Scotland has an estimated turnover of £5.1 billion in 2007 and employed 60,700 people .” – not exactly good news if the data is truly like for like, which of course it almost certainly isn’t. (see Creative Industries, Creative Workers and the Creative Economy: A review of selected recent literature. )

Always ahead of the curve (and keen to work football into any discussion) Channel 4 nations and regions chief Stuart Cosgrove (rightly) berated the meeja/policy wonk’s determined focus on the issue of  ‘a Scottish Six’ (O’clock news)’  as a distraction from wider issues:

This month, Scotland’s two biggest clubs, Rangers and Celtic, will commission more media work than most broadcasters. They are vital to Scotland’s creative economies – building websites, driving e-commerce, pioneering live beam-back television, planning pay-per-view channels and commissioning sell-through videos for the Christmas market.”  (‘So who do you think controls the future of Scottish broadcasting?’ Scotsman 3/12/99)

As we entered the 2st century the term really took hold of our politicians’ imaginations: 

Scotland’s creative industries, already worth £5 billion every year, are to receive £25 million worth of investment as part of a new strategy, MSPs heard yesterday. The pledge was made by Nicol Stephen, deputy minister for enterprise, speaking during a debate on the creative economy. Mr Stephen said that the executive wanted to see the sector grow, year on year, by 10 per cent. Acknowledging that the sector was both “wide” and “diverse”, Mr Stephen explained that it encompassed industries as wide ranging as architecture, computer games and advertising.” (The Scotsman, 28/9/00)  By this point the number of people employed in the sector was miraculously back up to 100,000 (unlikely) – or he was using a different definition (likely).

Not everyone in Scotland at the turn of the millenium was so enamoured of the Creative Economy though. 

The debate on the “creative economy” is typical of this Government’s flatulent filibustering when it has nothing new to say but needs to deny debating time for more important issues like the SQA shambles. I ask Rhona Brankin if the Government will invest scarce public funds in a so-called film studio at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay when developers are already willing to make a huge private investment for a film studio of international scale elsewhere in Scotland. A polite body swerve is her response.” (Brian Montieth. MSP’s Parlimaemtary diary in the Herald 9/10/2000)

So the term ‘Creative Economy’ has been in fairly widespread use for the best part of twenty years and it seems we still dont know for sure just how big it is or how many people work in it and therefore how fast it is growing.  Another argument (if any were needed) for someone (Creative Scotland?) to knock heads together to establish a data collection, research and analysis unit fit for the creative economy of this century rather than the nineteenth. 

Have a good weekend!

Putting Creative Scotland in its place

Andrew Dixon’s first tour of Scotland arrived in Glasgow today for the latest in Creative Scotland’s open forum series, the first to feature the newly installed CEO.  Developing themes which he has in the past few weeks aired in a variety of settings from Ullapool’s Ceilidh Place to an RSA event held in the offices of solicitors Anderson Strathearn, Dixon gave pride of place to, well, ‘place’.

The importance he attaches to the development of places (alongside branding and a culture of investment rather than subsidy)  is perhaps not all that surprising given Dixon’s previous role leading the Gateshead initiative. It might also be seen as an effective way to balance the emphasis we’ve seen to date on Creative Scotland being an artist and practitioner-led organisation with a broader sense of community benefit and participation in arts and culture.   Beyond that laudable aim however, one can also see a certain tactical and rhetorical shrewdness in emphasising how particular communities, localities or regions engage with arts and creative industries.  It immediately brings into focus the critical importance of partnership with local authorities, Scottish and Highlands and Island Enterprise, and all the other national bodies that spend the 70% of the Scottish Government’s cultural budget that CS doesn’t control.  

Clearly Creative Scotland isn’t responsible for supporting the totality of cultural production, arts access or creative industries development from the Borders to Shetland.  Given its assigned leadership role in the Scottish Cultural Industries Partnership though, staking a claim to improving the cultural life of Scotland as a whole by marshalling the disparate players in the culture and creativity game into a cohesive team could translate into material benefit if it leads to clear visions, suitably resourced and managed, of how places as diverse as Kilmarnock and Killin can join equally in the benefits of a Creative Scotland.  But as Dixon noted, in these strained fiscal times, CS will require clearer priorities and ways of measuring success than we have seen before.

Festivals on demand

Sticking with festivals and Video on Demand (see yesterdays post) some query the wisdom of festivals pursuing a distribution platform that has been around for some time and appears to some not to have fulfilled its promise. Exactly a decade ago analysts were predicting  that ‘enhanced TV’ would be worth $20bn by 2004 (See The Hollywood Reporter April 28 2000).  Well ten years on Screen Digest estimates global VOD revenues in 2009 to have been a more modest $2.9bn (about a fifth the size of the DVD market) and to reach $5.3bn by 2012.

However according to  Screen International  VOD may be on the edge of a breakthrough as DVD sales fall, the multiplication of ways in which to access VOD content – game consoles, TVs with built in web connection – and more sophisticated pricing strategies secure its place in the domestic living room.  The rub here, though, is that contrary to what fans of the Long Tail might expect, ‘speciality’ films appear not to be benefiting from this democratisation of distribution channels.  Why?  because VOD reproduces the ‘aggregator’ role that distributors/video stores/online DVD rental outlets like LoveFilm etc. play in selecting, curating and promoting titles.

This is where Festivals could find a niche – with the potential to leverage their programming skills and ‘brand value’ in creating a VOD ‘label’ (and assuming they can do a deal with a carrier) a festival like Edinburgh could make like a ‘Metrodome/Soda/Optimum’ .  (I would have included Tartan Films but sadly they went bust in 2008).

Why bother with Cable/Satellite VOD when you could do the whole thing online?  Well there are a variety of reasons including anti-piracy, security of payment, the ‘installed base’ of things like hotel Pay-TV but also marketing and ‘perceived value’ advantages.  In any event go-ahead festivals like Tribeca and others are trying to test out where and how they can use their market knowledge to create additional revenue streams that get the movies they love to show seen more widely. 

Not content with getting a slice of the distribution action, not a few festivals – such as Adelaide and Melbourne – have also set themselves up as financier/producers.  That some of their investments result in films that then premiere at their festival neatly closes the loop from production to distribution.  Following that model the EIFF could become a rival to  (or perhaps more accurately complement) Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland and the existing production companies…

Film festival seeks out screens nearer you

With recent volcanic activity reminding us of how much we take air travel for granted, cineastes trying to reduce their carbon footprint may be cheered by the Tribeca film festival’s determination to extend its audience reach through Video on Demand.   The much-loved festival was founded in 2002 (by Robert De Niro amongst others) as a cultural riposte to 9/11 and is now launching an online presence which offers not just clips, comments, reviews and bookings but a dozen full-length films simultaneous with their festival premiere .  Reaching potentially 40 million cable-TV homes courtesy of deals with the likes of Time Warner and Comcast, the Festival aims to extend its brand into online, DVD and theatrical distribution.

Beyond the festival box office

The Tribeca move reflects the upheaval in film distribution generally and its impact on festivals in particular.  Feeling the squeeze of declining sponsorship and public funds, an ever more crowded festival calendar, new platforms to profile films before they are picked up by distributors and, at the same time, new opportunities to  reach audiences hundreds if not thousands of miles and not a few dollars away from a festival, taking the festival to those eyeballs and leveraging its hit-picking expertise down thevalue chain to distribution and sales is rapidly becoming the festival survival strategy of choice.

Edinburgh – the moving image centre of the north?

Where does this leave our own and the word’s longest continuously running film festival?  Well that’s a question which will no doubt be put later this month to the candidates for the newly created post of CEO of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI).  The CMI brings together the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Filmhouse in a new corporate entity with designs on exhibition, education, incubation and possibly a great deal more.  Bulging at the seams of its Lothian Road premises the desire to find a new, bigger and better base has been around for some years but extending the Festival/Filmhouse brand into virtual space is likely to feature strongly as well.

EIFF faces some very significant challenges in the coming year – not the least being the end of a very substantial three year uplift in funding from the UK Film Council.  The £1.9 million over three years that the UKFC awarded the Festival in 2008 runs out this year and there is virtually no prospect of a remotely similar sum becoming available again – not the least because the UKFC has been told by the Government to lose £25m from its budget over three years to divert to the Olympics.  In an effort to protect production investment the Council, says CEO John Woodward in Screen International got rid of a number of things which were nice to do but in the cold hard reality of having less money, we just couldn’t do any more.”  And amongst those “there was a big festival fund and a digital archive fund which have both gone.”  That leaves the EIFF with a drop in income of around £600K a year – not much fun for Artistic Director Hannah McGill or the incoming uber-CEO at precisely the time when raising its game and expanding its reach in time and space  is absolutely imperative.  Likewise a bigger, better building with the potential to add a third dimension to EIFF and Filmhouse is a critical component in any development plan but would seem to be as far away as ever.

Will Creative Scotland and its new CEO Andrew Dixon play a (benign) deus ex machina in this local staging of a global drama?  Not to the tune of £600k a year one has to wager but some serious investment allied to a far-sighted vision and coherent strategy on the part of both CMI and Creative Scotland is clearly required if the twin stars of EIFF and Filmhouse are to shine brighter in these occluded times (and that’s not a reference to the Icelandic ash cloud which not surprisingly has been a headache for film festivals as well).

Boost to UK film producers may spell bad news for Scots

A recent proposal by PACT, the Producers Association for Cinema and Television, to strengthen UK film producer’s businesses by allowing them to retain 100% of the revenue earned on public investment in their films has, on the face of it, much to recommend it.  Like the ‘automatic’ schemes in France and other countries it would give producers a greater equity stake in their productions and, for those (few) that are successful, generate more funds to reinvest in future projects.  On the other hand the film funds, like the UK Film Council and Scottish Screen, would lose out as they would no longer see a financial return on successful investments with which to top up their (declining) Lottery investment pots.

But there is a hidden and rather more worrying aspect to this proposal which would directly impact on Scottish producers.  Of the £37million of Lottery funds which Scottish Screen disbursed between 2002 and the end of 2009, over a quarter (£9.5m) went to London based companies. (This compares to just over £1m of UK Film Council feature film investment that went to Scottish based companies in the same period). Should PACT’s policy be taken up in Scotland then its entirely possible that profits from investment by (what will soon be) Creative Scotland in projects produced by companies in London or elsewhere in England will then be recycled into projects with no direct benefit to Scottish film industry or culture.  The present system, whatever its other failings, at least ensures that the admittedly meagre returns (approx 5%) are retained for investment in either Scottish based projects or Scottish based companies.

Let us hope that this downside features in Scottish Screen/Creative Scotland’s discussions with PACT.

Creative Scotland is born but Scottish Screen may still bark

Reading the debate that finally ushered into being Creative Scotland is only marginally more entertaining than watching paint dry, if only because its possible to skip the most tedious parts to get to the slightly less tedious.  One can’t help wondering who nobbled the tories to try and secure an ammendment to the Bill to give CS the title “lead body” which, if you believe its opponents, would have set it above the national companies, Museums Scotland etc.  Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab) bemoaned the non-transfer of Scottish Enterprise’s creative industries budget (something SE bods like to deny exists) to the new body and the potential loss of the Scottish Screen brand so  doggedly built over the past decade.  Culture minister Fiona Hyslop didn’t comment on the SE issue but she did hold open the prospect of the Scottish Screen scottie dog continuing to wag its tail if Andrew Dixon and his soon to be appointed board feel so inclined:

” I say to Pauline McNeill that the use of the Scottish Screen brand will be an operational matter for creative Scotland, and I will pass on her remarks to the body.”

So good news for the (‘when we thought we might lose it we realised how much we loved it’) film-making community not to mention dog lovers.  Speaking of the latter Scottish Terrier lovers can get a further film-related fix with an account of how a Coraline Animator got 200 Scottie dogs doing their thing. 

Have a good weekend.

Creative Scotland inspires our friends across the sea

Hardly out of its nappies and Creative Scotland is already being cited as a model for others to follow.  Making the case in the Irish Times for a joined up department of culture and creative industries, Gráinne Millar (head of Temple Bar Cultural Trust) offers a refreshingly upbeat description of our almost-there-now agency as “a radical, innovative new statutory non-departmental public body responsible for developing and promoting culture.”    If nothing else this counts as a belated vindication of whichever nameless civil servant had the brilliant idea of replacing QUANGO with NDBP thus coining a much more melodious acronym for arms-length bodies (if you don’t believe me just try replacing ‘non-departmental public body’ with ‘Quasi autonomous non-governmental organisation’ – see?).

Millar is keen to see a single new department audit, streamline and centralise  not two but five Government departments and no less than eight organs of the arts, crafts and creative industries (the Irish Arts Council, the Irish Film Board, the Heritage Council, the Crafts Council, the Libraries Council, the Council of National Cultural Institutions, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Culture Ireland).   Makes our synthesis of the Arts Council and Scottish Screen look like a walk in the (sculpture) park.


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