Posts Tagged 'MEDIA'

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’.

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.

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