Updated: Tuesday, 11th August 2020 @ 4:38pm

'It’s only going to get harder to fund films': BFI director slams government cuts

'It’s only going to get harder to fund films': BFI director slams government cuts

By Sophia Rahman

‘In a conservative country like ours, with a government like we have at the moment, it’s only going to get harder to get films worth watching funded' KISS director and winner of March's Filmed Up, Mat Johns.

When considering the public funding of the British film industry, value for money is not as cut and dry as some might have you believe.

Since the UK Film Council were dissolved the BFI are responsible for the distribution of lottery money in the form of film funding, the largest source of film funding available.

Amanda Nevill, the director of the BFI, said: “I think one always has to make a strong case for government money, and I think that from a BFI perspective, we are always very conscious that a lot of the money we receive comes from British people buying lottery tickets and so we always have to try and make sure that that money brings real public value.”

The most recent fiscal figures available are a total of £266million spent on official grants and tax breaks in 2009-10, to fund a £4billion industry – an indisputably healthy turnover.

When considering Ms Nevill’s comments alongside these numbers, but more pertinently, alongside the prime minister’s mission statement for the BFI earlier this year, it paints a worrying picture for filmmakers is possession of a more artistic vision.

Calling for public funds to be redirected from features Cameron euphemistically terms ‘culturally rewarding’ to ones more typically high-grossing, he stated:

"Our role, and that of the BFI, should be to support the sector in becoming even more dynamic and entrepreneurial, helping UK producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions.”

However, mercifully, almost a year earlier Ms Nevill refuted such a distinction:

“There’s a false dichotomy between commercial and cultural. They’re completely symbiotic. I don’t believe there’s a filmmaker out there who doesn’t want to make a film that’s so compelling that it sets the world alight and makes people want to see it. In other words, it becomes commercial.”

Despite the sense spoken by the BFI’s director in 2011, it is Cameron who holds the purse strings and so many concerns for smaller filmmakers were voiced across the industry.

The BFI will distribute £273million over the next five years, £140million of which will be handed out in grants to filmmakers.

Although this doesn’t sound like a paltry sum, in comparison to France’s annual €700 - €750million and Germany’s estimated €350million, Cameron’s ambitions may prove to be asking too much in return for too little.

This is before considering the hoops that have to be jumped through to qualify to get a look in.

The recent changes to public funding, amount of red tape and pressure to create a more mainstream product have evidently scared away a few young filmmakers from applying for public funds, leading them to raise their own.

Mark Davenport, writer and director of Photoshopping, a dark comic film made in Manchester and co-starring television presenter Fern Britton in her first fictional role, told MM why he avoided public funding.

“I was keen to make Photoshopping without creative barriers; I wanted to make the film I imagined written down.

“I was keen to get the film made within a certain time-frame and without the intervention process of funding establishments like North West Vision, who might have questioned the ambition of the film and whose funding schemes are annual, sometimes drawn-out and not always guaranteed to give you the opportunity.

“We did approach the Arts Council I think, perhaps Arts and Business, I can't exactly recall, but to no avail. We didn't look elsewhere.”

So he utilised private investors, businesses and Indiegogo, a website where filmmakers pitch their idea and invite people who would be interested in seeing the film to donate money to its cause.

“Finding funding the way we did gave us incredible freedom really - it is true that we had to work harder to convince people to get involved and we had to pull in a hell of a lot of favours, but there were far less creative barriers because there was no intrusion from those funding the film telling us how to make it.”

Over the twelve years he has been making films in the region, things have changed with the times, and not necessarily for the better: “I don’t think there’s enough funding in the North West.

“I understand why; there used to be perhaps too much thrown at it and not enough return or responsibility, but for me it has gone too far the other way.

“The fear of people making mistakes with larger amounts of money means that too stringent and too structured funding schemes occur and I think that this may put people off realising their ideas.”

Ed Lilly, a BAFTA and Royal Television Society nominated director who received funding from the UK Film Council – amongst others – is sorry that such a resource has been dismantled.

“I would have liked to have seen the UKFC reformed, rather than disbanded. It offered guidance, workshops and mentors that provided a great opportunity for filmmakers to learn while they were working, and I don’t know if the BFI will have that.”

This March’s winner of Cornerhouse’s Filmed Up, Mat Johns, director of KISS, a brutal and thought-provoking short form drama shot in Manchester that was self-funded on a micro-budget, finds the North Western landscape long in talent but short in investment.

“[In the North West] there’s these tiny packets of creative people that come together and make brilliant work, I just think it could be better embraced by the powers that be.

“The truth is still, most of the media, especially the business aspect of it is still very much down in London… I think no matter where you are in the world, finding funding for a film is hard, it just is.

“But in a conservative country like ours, with a government like we have at the moment, it’s only going to get harder to get films worth watching funded.”