Posts Tagged 'lottery funding'

BFI latest: Back to the future

So Ed Vaizey has set out his “exciting new vision for the British Film industry” which was welcomed by BFI Chairman Greg Dyke “as a bold move to create a single body to champion film across the whole of the UK and provide a clear focus internationally.”  Hmm..wasn’t that just what the UKFC was set up to do?  Never mind, the increased Lottery funding for film and the BBC and Channel 4’s increased commitment to British movies are indeed ‘good news stories’ though there is precious little new thinking in anything the Minister has announced (though it was nice to see him ‘encourage’ Sky TV to think about investing in film…again.  Younger readers may be unaware of Sky Pictures,  the Murdoch behemoth’s previous foray into UK production helmed by Elisabeth M. which was not quite an unalloyed success.  Still there will be quite a few former UKFC staffers not transferred to the BFI who will be looking for a job shortly so it might be an opportune time to have another go).  Yes the BFI will assume most of the functions of the UKFC and the English Regional Screen Agencies have circled the wagons and formed themselves into three super-regions with a wider creative industries remit under the banner ‘Creative England’ (now where did they get that idea one wonders?). But that is all about structure not policy or priorities.  The one hint at the latter comes in the Minster’s enthusiastic references to PACTs proposals to amongst other things reform the equity position taken by public film funders and a passing reference to the ‘debate on exhibition and distribution’.

In essence today’s announcement is largely a rearrangement of the deck-chairs although the Lottery consultation Vaizey has announced and the reformation of the BFI’s Management and Board do represent a window of opportunity to influence the direction the ship takes in the future.   Sadly British film policy continues to lurch two steps forward, one step back, as it has done since the 1930s and, notwithstanding Ed Vaizey’s rhetorical attempt to deny, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the US film industry in the UK and the UK industry itself are in many ways at odds with each other doesn’t bode terribly well for an informed debate about its future course under this Government.

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…

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.

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.


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