Posts Tagged 'EU MEDIA programme'

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.

Do we still need film schools?

As Europe’s leaders scrabbled to save the Eurozone this week a fair slice of the world’s films schools were assembled in Prague “Exploring the Future of Film and Media Education”.  Fifty or so countries were represented at the annual conference of CILECT, which was founded in1955 by a generation of filmmakers and film educators still scarred by world war two and determined to ensure the burgeoning cold war did not cut off the international mobility and exchange of ideas that had been one collateral benefit of the global conflict.  Perhaps not surprisingly then ‘internationalisation’ remains high on their agenda.  The desire to ensure students and staff are exposed to different cultures, practices and experiences is a major part of CILECT’s raison d’etre and the focus of many of its more successful projects.  The world changes though and whereas in the past film educators may have worried more about their students lacking exposure to world cinema now they are equally concerned that immersion in a globalised media world comes with the price that students may struggle to offer the world something ‘distinctive’.  It is the same paradox that haunts global culture – the search for ‘difference’ promotes the creation of similarity.

Behind such concerns lies a deeper challenge to film schools – their very existence.  This fuelled the conference debate on the ‘fundamental values of films schools’. The growing popularity of the (very silly) idea that ‘all you need now to make a feature film is a camera and a laptop’ continues to sway even normally intelligent people and it has to be said that even film school staff can fall prey to technology fetishism.  The now very tired debate over ‘should we still be teaching using film as well as digital’ received yet another airing in Prague when the important question is not about the technology but about the methodology.  Film-making is about making creative choices within the means at your disposal – about what to film , where and when to film it, with whom, in what way, when to cut, when not to cut – in which what kind of technology to use is merely one choice.  Learning how to make those choices, experimenting, risking, failing, getting advice and feedback and learning from each other – these are the lessons learned in film school, not which buttons to press (though that is a necessary part of the process). With enough time, a manual and judicious use of Google  anyone can work out how to use a Digital SLR or an ARRI ALEXA. Using the same approach they are unlikely to have the same success casting two compatible actors, coaching believable performances or ensuring a team of five, ten or thirty pull together under pressure of time on a cold wet moor towards a common creative vision.  They are equally unlikely to be challenged about their values, forced out of their comfort zone or exposed to films they would never have chosen to watch themselves.

Yet given demand for places at film schools has by all accounts never been higher it may seem strange that such anxieties trouble at least some of the world’s film schools.  The explanation lies less in the attitude of young filmmakers, who still seem to appreciate what film school offers, but more in the attitude of public policy-makers who, swayed by the popular impression that ‘anyone can be a filmmaker now’, are questioning the value, and more specifically, the cost, of maintaining national film schools.  Those that are directly funded by culture or education ministries outside the university system feel exposed as ‘luxuries’ while those that are based within Universities are in some cases being pressured to drop their ‘small numbers, high quality’ approach to reduce costs.  The fashion for ‘teaching creative skills’ has overtaken ‘nurturing creative talent’ and engendered a ‘more=better’ approach by funding bodies. This, combined with the dead hand of educational homogenisation, is starting to squeeze the risk-taking out of film practice education in favour of a technocratic approach in which, it is presumed, armies of multi-skilled creative technicians will march into jobs in the expanding creative economy and save us from deindustrialisation.  There are good reasons to pursue aspects of this strategy in addition to what in music or drama is well understood as a ‘conservatoire’ approach,  But some countries have never even accepted that the centre of excellence idea might apply to more modern (albeit now a century old!) art forms such as cinema while in those that have, the pressure to conform to wider higher education norms and numbers is growing inexorably.

Here we should acknowledge a big caveat as what is described above is largely a European phenomenon.  The rest of the world is developing film schools fast and from Singapore to South Africa their growth is a symptom, perhaps, of the fact that with few exceptions a commercially and culturally successful film industry is rarely found without the influence of one or more film schools.  Europe’s film schools are increasingly partnering up with the rest of the world to promote international collaboration amongst both staff and students.  This year our own Screen Academy Scotland’s extension of its EU MEDIA funded ENGAGE programme to embrace participants from China and Canada is just one example with the EU’s MEDIA MUNDUS programme supporting several such projects.  As China, India and South Korea become global players in co-production and not just markets for Hollywood product, the opportunities for Europe’s new filmmakers to ‘think global, act local’ are expanding significantly and film schools are increasingly in the vanguard of brokering such relationships.  Whether they will be able to hold their end up, though, depends on their continuing to be valued as small-scale centres of excellence that  are an investment in long-term success and not short-term ‘outcomes’.

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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