Posts Tagged 'Scottish Government'

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..

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We’re smart enough and have the resources to run our own TV

(Originally published on the Guardian Website Tuesday 16th September)

Claire Enders (What would a Scottish yes mean for democracy, 14 September) claims that “Scotland simply isn’t big enough to support strong independent media”.

She suggests the substitution of a Scottish Broadcasting Service for the BBC in Scotland would reduce media plurality. However, since 1957 Scotland has had an independent commercial station, STV, with a vibrant news and current affairs output, which would continue to offer strong competition to any licence-fee/state-funded broadcaster. Not since the 1980s has Channel 4 had any Scottish current affairs or political output, so the level of plurality would remain unchanged.

She suggests Scotland could not secure a free-to-air deal with the BBC. The licence fee (or post-independence equivalent) in Scotland raises £300m; the pro-rata share of network BBC television is £75m, while BBC Scotland costs £86m. Even if the BBC secured £100m for supplying its services to Scotland (considerably more than Ireland currently pays for the same privilege), that would still leave £200m to fund SBS, radio and online services.

After independence the Scottish parliament and whichever government the people of Scotland elect would shape Scotland’s media regulation. Holyrood, elected on a proportional representation basis, and with much greater cross-party pre–legislative scrutiny, is considerably more democratic than Westminster.

More creative industries jobs in Scotland than we thought but most sectors declining

The DCMS have just released their nations/regions breakdowns of creative industries employment in the UK and the Scottish picture is, relatively speaking, somewhat disappointing even if the figures show the number of creative industries and creative economy jobs (more on that distinction later) in Scotland to be more than most recent Scottish estimates calculate.

Across the UK creative industries jobs (creative and support) grew 10% between 2011 and 2013, while in Scotland there was a slight drop from 103,000 to 102,000 according to the DCMS count.  In the wider ‘Creative Economy’ (which includes creative jobs in non-creative industries) every sub-sector bar two (Architecture and IT) recorded falls in employment with the total dropping from 166,000 in 2011 to 163,000 in 2013. The sectors recording the highest falls were Advertising and Marketing ( -2000 jobs) Crafts (-2000) and Design (-2000) with the highest riser being IT, software and computing services (+8000).  The presence of the latter in Creative Industries statistics is a continuing issues as many of these jobs are not in fact creative industries related at all and as this sector accounts for one third of the total jobs its increase of 7000 jobs over the two years masks the falls elsewhere.

Whereas every other area in the UK shows an increase in creative industries employment as a proportion of total employment between 2011 and 2013 averaging 0.5% and up to 1.2% in the East of England, only Northern Ireland and Scotland record a drop, albeit a statistically insignificant 0.1%.

Scotland’s 102,000 creative industries jobs (NB jobs in the creative industries only, the creative ‘economy – see below) account for 6.3% Scottish employment total compared to the 8.5% UK average (a total of 1.7m jobs).  However setting aside London (16.2%) and the South East (10.1%) that’s on a par with most of the rest of the UK barring the East of England (8.3%) and the South West (7.6%).

With 163,000 of the 2.6m UK Creative Economy jobs (NB ‘Creative Economy’ counts creative jobs in non-creative Industries) Scotland’s share has fallen more (-0.6%) than anywhere other than the East of England (-0.8%).

That these figures are very different from those used in recent discussion of Scotland’s creative industries comes as no surprise to those of us with an unhealthy interest in comparative methodologies but is a real problem in trying to get to any sort of coherent policy discussion about what needs to be done to support both overall growth and the specific needs of individual sectors.

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.

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.

Getting film researchers and industry into the same room proves productive

Around 60 researchers, policy makers, consultants and others too multi-faceted to categorise but all  sharing an active interest in film policy gathered at NESTA’s London HQ on Wednesday (26th October), courtesy of sponsors the University of Hertfordshire.  Titled ‘Research and policy making for film’ the symposium’s objective was captured in an early session title: ‘Opportunities and challenges of collaboration’.  Setting the scene, the BFI’s head of strategic development Carol Comely observed that in recent times Governments (of various hues) had developed and implemented policy on the basis of a ‘sub-optimal’ research and evidence base.  This was so despite the recommendations of the 2008 “Creative Britain” review.  Declaring the BFI’s aim to be seen as a ‘knowledgeable organisation’ whose expertise ought to extend way beyond ‘film as text’ she acknowledged that it still had “some way to go”.

One  might add that the BFI is not alone in that regard, the evidence base for film policy in Scotland has been scanty to say the least, indeed there hasn’t been any systematic research into the impacts or options for film policy here for over a decade. The closest we’ve got being the 2001 Scottish Executive Review of Scottish Screen and David Graham Associates ‘Audit of the Screen Industries in Scotland’ but as in other domains (see below) these tend to studiously ignore reviewing previous policy success or failure and are thus apt to neither learn from nor avoid repeating the same (mis)judegments.  There have of course been occasional and useful contributions to an otherwise largely absent ‘serious’ debate as distinct from under-informed invective.  These ranging in time and place from e.g. Mark Cousins writing in Vertigo and (then backbencher) Mike Russell reporting to Parliament  to contributions from the more academically inclined such as Duncan Petrie’s significant corpus of work on Scottish ciema which often touches on policy questions and myself (though I leave the usefulness of the latter for others to judge).

Back to the present and Jim Barret from Bigger Picture Research identified a key challenge to greater academic influence on the policy process – the disparity in timescales between policy formation, often measurable in months (or, in the case of the UKFC’s demise what appeared to be weeks) and securing funding for and completing academic research, which is more often measured in years.  Royal Holloway’s John Hill characterised the position of academic researchers as lying on a continuum ranging from ‘hired hand’ to ‘critical public agent’ – the latter ensuring that researchers maintained sufficient distance and disinterest to both ask and answer questions that might not always be the ones Government or public agencies want asked.

A little surprisingly, during the course of the day few seemed to feel that policy evaluation, as distinct from original research which might inform new policy areas, was a significant area of potential.  Compared to other fields such as health, criminal justice and so on, which are awash with evaluation projects, the results of successive film policies seems to go unchallenged.  To be fair John Hill did point out that every successive Government film policy seemed to adopt an ‘ab initio’ position, blithely ignoring the previous regime’s efforts.

NESTA’s creative industries director and former Lehman Brothers economist Hasan Bakhshi was less interested in what had or hadn’t worked in the past, preferring to focus on what he suggested were as yet largely unexplored methodological avenues.  ‘Experimental’ and ‘action research’ approaches could, he argued, yield more useful research outcomes, citing the example of NESTA’s work with the National Theatre on cinema broadcast relay of theatre performances.  He suggested there are insights not being brought to researching the film industry: “as an economist I’m particularly concerned at the lack of engagement of economics researchers with the film industry.”

One might challenge this assertion as there has certainly been quite a lot of work going on nationally and internationally, usefully summarised in Sydney University researcher Jordi McKenzie’s recent literature survey.  That said a contributor from the floor rightly observed that applied film industry research doesn’t tend to get you published in the mainstream international journals and thus gain the attendant quality ranking when exercises such as the Research Excellence Framework are conducted.  These are major concerns for up and coming as well as established academics.  As a potential corrective Bakhshi supported the idea of dedicated funding streams to support academic-film business research collaborations.

Turning in the next session to examples of successful collaborations, veteran film historian, curator and researcher Ian Christie, a leading light in 2009’s groundbreaking study ‘Stories we tell ourselves…’  gave a thoughtful and cogent summary of the ways in which his work has engaged with real world concerns. He gently berated the film studies research community for failing to properly engage with empirical methods which could generate the kind of evidence base to inform cultural as much as industrial policy debates, declaring “we’ve had too little quantitative and too much qualitative” work.

Screenwriter and former Hollywood exec Susan Rogers reflected on her work into the experience of women and other underrepresented screenwriters – how they had found a way into the industry and how they managed to stay in.  Echoing other contributions she noted how prone to believing in its own mythology the film industry is.  Far too many people, for example, appeared to believe that the dearth of women screenwriters was because they didn’t write ‘the kind of material that applied to 16-24 year old boys’ commonly believed, erroneously, to be the dominant demographic (as a quick check of the BFI statistical yearbook will confirm).

The first afternoon session zeroed in on film industry data – what exists, what doesn’t, who collects it and owns it and how far they are prepared to share it with researchers or place it in the public domain.  Earlier in the day Ian Christie noted that the large dataset of British film that had to be created for ‘Stories’ because it simply didn’t exist previously, hasn’t as yet been adopted for further development by anyone else – a major omission which he hoped would soon be put right.  Sean Perkins, Acting Head of former UKFC and now BFI Research and Statistics Unit (whose existence within the BFI finally seems, after a concerted industry lobby, to be secure) declared his hope that more of the large volume of data collated and held by the Unit could be made available to other researchers in academia or industry, the better to facilitate analysis in directions or to depths beyond the limited capacity of the Unit’s staffing base.  At the same time he noted that there were significant obstacles to accessing increasingly important data on e.g. non-theatrical audiences and revenues for Video On Demand, with the UK’s biggest operator believed to be working strenuously to withhold such information.

Manchester Business School’s Richard Philips was rather more sceptical of the benefits of ‘data mining’, suggesting that more ‘what if’ based approaches would be of more help to industry (rather overlooking the point that benefit to the industry is not the only criterion for conducting film industry research).  By ‘what if’ he meant drilling into the film value chain to unpick what the decision making, evaluation and risk management process are at each stage of the film lifecycle from development to exploitation, the better to  understand how risk is/can be minimised by investors.

While such ‘operational’ focussed research has an important role to play in informing business improvement, and may well have wider policy implications, it shouldn’t eclipse the equally valid, and at least as strategically significant importance of, aggregate data about patterns and factors in the economic, cultural and social performance of films and filmmaking and film policies, of different kinds and at different levels from national to local.  Amongst these concerns are questions of equality and diversity of representation in respect of women, minorities and other groups.   Picking up this concern Rosalind Gill from King’s College highlighted the continuing issues of access and equality surrounding the film industry’s resiliently ‘informal’ recruitment and selection practices which continue to reinforce the underrepresentation of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in many if not most parts of the industry.  She observed that it continues to be difficult even to raise the resistance and/or inability of the film industry to adopt the kinds of formal practices and interventions that have gained ground in other sectors.

At the end of this particular day, it’s fair to say it was a valuable and welcome start to a much larger enterprise – that of getting better film policy(ies) informed by more and better research arising out of what all present hope will be a significant increase in scale, range and impact of film industry-academic collaborations.  This, of course, requires funding from industry and/or Government and if the most tangible outcome of the day proves to be a better-marshalled case for the benefits of such an investment that alone would make it worthwhile.


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