24 FPS Blog

BFI Film Fund: A Five-Year Plan – movieScope

 What are your responsibilities as Director of BFI Film Fund, and how much money do you have to distribute per annum?
I’m responsible for strategy and delivery on all the BFI’s Lottery investments across film development, production and distribution. I’m also responsible for the BFI’s new international strategy, which will help ensure a strong, united UK film brand in the international marketplace. At the moment we have £18m per year to invest in development and production, which will rise to £24m per year by 2017. We have £4m per year for distribution and a total of £1.2m for international activity.

Ben Roberts

Ben Roberts

You were previously the CEO of Protagonist Pictures and also served in international acquisitions at Universal; how do you think this past experience will help you run the UK’s biggest public film fund?
Well this role has quite a broad remit overseeing development and production through to distribution and international sales, so I think a background spanning each of these areas is important in order for us to make sympathetic decisions. One key aspect I wanted to bring to the role was a market perspective that will connect with, and be responsive to, industry needs.

There will be investment for both development and production; how much is planned for each? And why is investing in development important?
At the moment we spend roughly £14m per year on production, making around 20 awards per year, and around £4m on development, which this year has been spread across around 150 awards. In Film Forever, we’ve highlighted development as a key area for investment and an area in which we can make a real impact; this is one of the riskiest areas of the industry financially, and so development money can be hard to find. Development (be it talent development or feature development) is the bedrock of a strong creative industry, and cultivation and support is needed to keep bringing new voices and producers through.

We’ll continue investing directly in script development, from early stage projects right through to projects that need late-stage pre-preproduction support. And we’re always challenging and exploring the most effective ways to work with and develop talent directly, no matter where they might be based within the UK, which we’re doing through our New Talent Network from next year. We’ve committed just over £2m a year to the network, which will work closely with emerging writers, directors and producers across the UK  and we’ll be working closely with Creative England and our partners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver on-the-ground support.
We’ll spend our production and development funds according to where they are most needed, but you can assume that production and development funding will both continue to rise over the next five years.

Will the development and production strands remain completely separate, or will a film that has received development funding automatically receive production funding?
We receive around 300 production applications per year but invest in around 20 projects, so we can’t and don’t make any commitments around ‘automatic’ funding. All applications are rigorously assessed and debated within the fund. The guiding principle in any decision-making is the strength of the project—we want to support and champion excellence in filmmaking, whether that’s from a first time director or producer or from an established, world-class filmmaker.

At the press launch of Film Forever you said that you didn’t think that commercial appeal and critical appeal can’t co-exist. Can you clarify what you meant by this.
There is a long line of films that have connected with audiences because of—not in spite of—their creativity and originality, and we shouldn’t underestimate the appetite of cinema audiences for strong, distinctive films, even at a very mainstream level. If a film finds its audience, whatever the size and make-up of that audience, then I would consider it ‘commercial’. So, I don’t think the cultural and commercial are mutually exclusive.

What can British filmmakers supported by the BFI Film Fund expect, and what advice would you give any filmmaker hoping to receive BFI funding?

I want us to provide a friendly, knowledgeable and supportive home for all the filmmakers we work with. We’re here to help them make their projects the very best they can be, so we’re always available to give advice or make suggestions, but we also give people the space they need. It all depends on the needs of the filmmakers and the project, but we’re very much here to help.
I would encourage anyone wishing to apply for funding to get their material in the best shape before coming to us, make a strong argument for your material and highlight the strengths of the elements in place. Be ambitious but realistic. It makes no odds if you’re project has a first time filmmaker or an award-winning director, all applicants use the same application form and all applications follow the same rules and processes. We read everything that comes to us. What we are looking for is excellence.

Sixteen short films have just received production funding through BFI Shorts 2012; do you think shorts are a good training ground for new directors? Will there be similar initiatives in the future?
Shorts are really important. They’re a calling card that filmmakers can use to help launch future projects, and they provide a professional training ground both in terms of developing ideas and working with a cast and crew to bring that vision to life. The 16 shorts we recently announced are exciting because they’re helping people with some experience to progress in their careers, hopefully helping those filmmakers to cross the difficult bridge between shorts and features. We’ll be delivering further shorts schemes through the New Talent Network and these will be for entry-level filmmakers and filmmakers with more experience.

The BFI Film Fund will strongly encourage producers and distributors to work more closely together; why is this important?

We’re going to be running pilots to encourage joint ventures between producers and distributors, helping them to work closely from an early stage to help maximise a film’s potential in the marketplace and incentivise distributors to get involved with independent UK films by helping to minimise their risk. The plan is that the distributor’s fees will be shared with the producer (and held by the BFI), which they can their draw down for use against future filmmaking activity.

Will the BFI Film Fund be focusing on co-production and export opportunities? Will it be important, for example, to fund films that can be sold internationally?
We’re allocating in the region of £1m next year (2013/14) for UK co-productions with British elements, but also which give UK filmmakers the opportunity to forge relationships and work with talent from around the world. We’ve tied together all our international activity—which includes Inward Investment, Export, Co-production, Talent and Skills, Policy, Cultural Exchange and Public Diplomacy—in our international strategy. We’re working closely with partners in the nations and regions, the British Film Commission, and trade bodies including FEUK, DUK, PACT on this wide-ranging strategy and all BFI international activity is now overseen by our Head of International, Isabel Davis, who works within the BFI Film Fund and reports to me.




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