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The Crisis in The UK Independent Film Sector: Industry seminar at Goldsmiths, 3Oth May 2018

Martin Smith, Visiting Fellow, ICCE

There are two current narratives on the state of the UK film industry: the first is about boom-time, record levels of inward investment, production spend and employment and the impossibility of getting hold of a sound-stage for months to come.  This is the story that is highlighted in government  and industry press releases.  The second is about growing difficulties in financing non-Studio films, independent producers being squeezed on their fees, tough times for sales agents and collapsing home-grown distribution businesses.  This more pessimistic (and officially ‘off-message’) narrative is generally only discussed in trade circles and specialist film industry blogs.

The relative deprivation of the indie film sub-sector in the midst of US Studio plenty is not new (it has been a recurring feature of the UK scene for decades) but a convergence of structural and cyclical factors may now be driving indie decline in a way that could be terminal for many British producers unless remedial measures can be identified and implemented.  Already most films in the £3-10m budget range, films that five years ago were generally capable of being financed from a combination of public and private funding sources, now struggle to find financial backers without A list talent being attached.  The consequences for talent development at all levels of the business, in front of and behind camera, are potentially very serious.

This is the background to an unusual industry roundtable that took place at Goldsmiths on 30th May.  It brought together 26 industry professionals, mainly from the development and production segments of the value chain, representatives from the DCMS film industry team, the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Film Commission and the British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC), plus a handful of academics specialising in industry data and business issues. The roundtable/seminar was conducted in accordance with the Chatham House rule in order to encourage the frankest possible exchange of opinions.

Industry practitioners and film industry academics rarely get together for structured ‘state of the nation’ discussions of this kind.  In this sense it was a highly exceptional event.  The particular occasion for the roundtable was the publication of a report by ICCE postdoctoral researcher Michael Franklin entitled “Examining the understanding and management of risk in the film industry”.  This is a summary for lay consumption of academic work on attitudes to business risk in the audio-visual sector (and especially film) carried out in 2016-17.  The primary research method was to engage senior industry professionals in long-form conversations about risk, risk management and risk mitigation as encountered in the day-to-day business of making and distributing movies, and to classify the resulting material by conceptual and organisational category from the perspectives of business management and economics.

The Franklin research comes, amongst other things, with an important recommendation for change in the way the industry generates and uses commercial data.  It concludes that “What is required is the development of new, coherent mechanisms for collecting, processing and disseminating industry data so that, subject to genuine considerations of commercial sensitivity, the benefits of such data become accessible to all businesses operating across the FVC (film value chain)”.  The response from practitioners to this proposal since 30th May has been generally very positive, but it remains to be seen whether the industry is capable of rising to the challenge.

Dr Michael Franklin’s research summary can be found here.

A fuller version can be found here

Dr Michael Franklin

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