Posts Tagged 'development'

Scotland reverses decline in EU MEDIA programme awards but no medal (yet)

After seven years of steady decline Scotland finally saw an improvement in the level of investment secured from the EU MEDIA programme as the programme itself nears its end.  As we’ve noted in previous posts (see October 2010 and May 2011)  Scottish production companies’ share of MEDIA’s Single  Project and Slate development funds hit a high water mark in 2004 then dropped to a low point in 2010.  Last year Sigma Film’s £170k Slate award helped stop the rot but the overall share of the €14m MEDIA funding in the UK coming to Scotland remains less than 2%.

To be fair we would not expect Scotland to be sharing in the around €8m support to distributors, sales agents and individual films given the absence of first run distributors based in Scotland and only one film (Sigma’s Perfect Sense) in the eligible list.  And in the skills department we’re not faring too badly (thanks to Screen Academy Scotland’s ENGAGE project) with €150K of the €971k invested in training programmes.

On the other hand no Scottish company secured Single Project development funding (19 English and 2 Welsh companies shared €740k between them), Interactive Project funding (€150k awards went to two English and one Welsh company) or a share of the €1.2m in support for TV Distribution shared by five English companies.

All in all a small improvement but not exactly gold medal territory.  In any case with the EU MEDIA and CULTURE programmes being replaced in 2014 by ‘Creative Europe’ (if you want to know more those kind people at the European Commission have posted some short FAQ video answers here.) we will all have to get used to new structures, priorities and application processes.

With €1.8bn to spend between 2014 and 2020 (assuming the European Council and Parliament approve the Bill and budget, which have yet to receive their ‘first reading‘) there’s a lot at stake, and not just for media companies.  Whether or not Scotland gains independence during that period, we would get a lot of benefit from securing a larger slice of the pie than we have managed recently.

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!

 

Where have all the co-pros gone?

While the world’s media were heading to Cannes to traipse the Croisette and the red carpet (where, incidentally, our own Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin has been very well received), MEDIA, the EU’s support scheme for pan-European collaboration last week announced the results of its latest round of funding.

The good news is that Accidental Media, a Scottish based company founded by Tomas Sheridan (an Edinburgh Napier graduate and 2009 participant in ENGAGE, Screen Academy Scotland’s European coproduction workshop which is itself funded by MEDIA) has secured Single Project Development funding for ‘Babel’s Market’ which was a runner-up in the 2009 ENGAGE competition.

Accidental’s €11,488 award amounts to 3% of the total €413,393 in single project funds awarded to UK-based companies so far this year.

The less good news is that Accidental are the only Scottish beneficiaries out of nineteen UK companies awarded a total of €1.6m across all of the MEDIA schemes from single project and slate development to interactive projects and TV distribution.  That makes the Scottish share of MEDIA funds thus far (there’s a second call whose results will be announced later in the year) less than 1% of the UK total and would appear to the confirm the trend over the last decade which we noted here last October .

In itself the share of MEDIA funding secured by Scottish companies needn’t  automatically be cause for concern, but taken together with the seeming absence of much recent co-production activity across film or TV there are clear signs that the Scottish production sector is not securing the international finance or distribution that it arguably needs to ensure growth or indeed sustainability.  Cinema is almost inherently international these days as the UK domestic market is simply too small to finance anything other than ultra low budget films.  In television, while there is undoubtedly plenty of scope for Scottish companies to grow within the context of UK network commissions, co-production is an increasing opportunity if not a pre-requisite in higher-end factual programming in genres like natural history, history, science and arts.

While of course it’s gratifying that ENGAGE has helped at least one Scottish company on the road to international co-production, it would be good to see more alongside it  The development support available from the MEDIA programme is a very valuable aid to getting projects off the drawing board and into serious development and if there are reasons Scottish companies aren’t applying or are relatively less successful in securing support these clearly need to be addressed.

Scotland’s missing MEDIA millions

First the good news – the EU MEDIA fund invested nearly €8m in UK film, television and interactive media companies last year, supporting everything from documentary film project development and training programmes such as our very own ENGAGE project to UK distribution companies like Artificial Eye and Soda Pictures and Scottish cinemas such as Glasgow Film Theatre, DCA and Filmhouse.

Now the bad news. Scotland’s share of MEDIA funds to support film and television production has slumped to its second lowest level ever while Welsh and Irish producers continue to access much higher levels of development cash.  The Welsh, for example, between 2001 and 2009 secured over twice as much (€4m) development cash as Scotland’s €1.9m.

The EU MEDIA programme, which in various guises has been running since 1990, is designed to help build a stronger European industry and promote wider circulation of film and TV across national boundaries.  The UK has historically done well out of MEDIA’s various interventions in training, project development, distribution and exhibition and in the past Scottish production companies have been quite successful at tapping this investment source. So while its great to see two Scottish based companies (Synchronicity Films and True TV & Film) sharing in the €1.1m of funds awarded to the UK in the latest round of single project funding its rather worrying that there are only two.  It’s even more worrying to see that none of our production companies have secured slate development funds since 2006. It would be comforting to think that these figures are just a blip rather than symptomatic of a trend but looking back over the past decade our analysis shows that from a high in the early 2000’s, Scotland’s share of MEDIA investment in production companies has dropped steadily since 2004 while England, Wales and Ireland’s shares have held up well, especially given enlargement of the EU in 2005.  Looking at MEDIA project, slate and TV broadcasting funds combined Scottish companies’ take has declined from an average of over €300K in the first half of the decade to around €60K on average over the past four years.

Of particular concern is the fact that no Scottish-based company has secured MEDIA slate funding since 2006. (London based Ecosse films secured slate funding in 2008 and have just announced they are opening a Glasgow office headed up by former Scottish Screen Head of Talent Carole Sheridan but it would be misleading to count them in the 2008 figures on that basis). Slate funding gives production companies vital working capital with some discretion over which particular project it is invested in, depending on timing and market conditions.  Given that one might reasonably expect that over the last few years more companies would be in a position to put forward a slate of projects the figures suggest that the companies that have previously received slate funding are not yet in a position to secure a second tranche and that newer companies that have previously received single project funding still haven’t reached the point where they can present a credible basket of projects.  (The most optimistic interpretation is that they don’t need MEDIA’s help at all because they are able to access sufficient development funds elsewhere but this is rather unlikely.)  Alternatively it may be that Scottish companies simply aren’t developing projects with appeal outside the UK which for some television genres is quite likely but for feature film, documentary and animation, co-production is practically obligatory so the fact that so few have succeeded to secure that most precious of risk money, development funding, is a significant indicator of international weakness in the Scottish production sector.

There are, it has to be said, some bigger issues at stake here.  Scotland, because it is a part of the UK, doesn’t benefit from designation as a country ‘with low audiovisual production capacityunlike every other EU country other than France, Germany, Italy and Spain.  Ireland, on the other hand does, and designation as such earns more points in the competitive evaluation of funding bids.  That said Wales doesn’t benefit from the designation yet its producers are doing a lot better than the Scots.

As ever in the screen industry Ireland presents a useful comparator and there the story is once again rather different.  Over the past decade Irish producers have typically accessed three times as much MEDIA funding as Scots and, tellingly, have in the past three years secured over a million Euros of slate development funding compared to a princely €80,000 in Scotland.

At the other end of the journey from idea to screen is distribution and once again the MEDIA programme offers support to hard pressed independent production companies trying to get their programmes seen beyond the UK.  In the early 2000’s Scottish producers regularly accessed the TV Broadcasting fund, averaging over €120,000 a year investment from 2001 to 2004.  Since then no Scottish company has been awarded support while Welsh producers have on average received over half a million euros a year.  The existence of a well resourced Welsh (and English) language broadcaster –S4C – may be the key here as it plays a pivotal role in co-financing and broadcasting deals with its opposite numbers in other European countries.  Scotland, by contrast, can bring very little to the table in terms of domestic broadcaster investment.

It isn’t pleasant drawing attention to these comparisons but without considering the facts, however unpalatable they are, we won’t get very far in identifying what is needed to improve Scottish film and television’s international presence and revenues.

In the film sector in particular co-production is a practical necessity even if opinion is divided about whether it’s always desirable.  The combination of limited domestic markets and the fact that distributor/financiers need to find partners to share the risk of what are relatively small slates of projects, mean few European films of any scale are made without at least one partner from another territory.  Indeed Hollywood studios apply exactly the same risk spreading principle to the financing of studio slates so the economic logic of co-financing is pretty much universal.  The extent to which the pull of co-production may distort the creative integrity or unnecessarily complicate the production process and add costs is a much debated topic.  It featured for example in the most recent cycle of ENGAGE co-production workshops for new filmmakers led by Screen Academy Scotland.  But even if many producers view co-production as a mixed blessing, for the foreseeable future it can only continue to grow in importance and in that context support systems such as the MEDIA programme remain a vital aid to developing and distributing across borders. Scotland’s production community is clearly missing out on that support and needs to address why that is. Equally Blair Jenkins and the rest of the expert panel hatching plans for a Scottish Digital Network ought to consider carefully how to engage with international audiences and finance if Scottish screen talent, product and producers are to reach beyond these borders.


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