BFI coin to include $165 million for production

The British Film Institute has finally revealed how it plans to spend its estimated lottery budget of £285 million ($458 million) over the next five years, with $165 million earmarked for production and $137 million for a major drive in film education and audience development.

Funding for film production and script development will increase by 33% over the period, with the current annual investment of $29 million rising to $39 million by 2017.

Rather than aggressively chasing commercial returns, the money will be targeted at innovation and risk-taking that the marketplace alone won’t support.

The ambitious new education strategy, which will cost $56 million over five years, proposes to ensure that every child has access to film and filmmaking as part of their schooling.

The BFI also will spend $24 million over five years to digitize 15,000 of the most significant British films, in order to make the U.K.’s film heritage more widely accessible.

The BFI Future Plan for 2012-17, titled “New Horizons for U.K. Film,” will now be subject to a mandatory four-week review, the shortest period legally possible, before the final version is approved by the BFI board, with the onset of the plan to begin in September.

The plan adopts many of the recommendations from the Film Policy Review, commissioned by the U.K.’s Dept. of Culture, Media and Sport, which published its report in January following a year of intensive industry consultations. The BFI was heavily involved in shaping those proposals, with three BFI board members among the eight industry figures who conducted the review.

However, the BFI estimated it would cost the org $160 million a year to fully implement all the FPR proposals, whereas the BFI’s lottery funding is expected to average $92 million per year from 2012-17.

“We have set out a bold, long-term vision for film that will genuinely make a difference to education, audiences and filmmakers, and support the U.K.’s growth agenda by boosting jobs and the economy, and stimulating inward investment and export,” said BFI chairman Greg Dyke.

Said BFI chief exec Amanda Nevill: “British creativity and talent is world class, and our plan capitalizes on that to help drive economic growth in the U.K., support jobs and skills and incentivize new thinking and new ideas. But this plan is also about creating a new deal for audiences. This isn’t just about the next five years; long term, the BFI wants people to have a lifelong relationship with film, both the next generation of audiences and filmmakers.”

The BFI took over from the U.K. Film Council in April 2011 as the strategic agency responsible for investing lottery money to support British film culture and the film industry. Its annual $92 million lottery budget is more than double the UKFC’s $40 million in its final year. That’s largely because lottery coin will no longer be siphoned off to fund the London 2012 Olympics. But the BFI is also enjoying a golden legacy from the UKFC, which bequeathed to its successor substantial unspent reserves and several commercially successful films, such as “The King’s Speech,” whose recoupment will provide the BFI with a significant revenue stream for years to come.

Since April 2011, the BFI has been in transitional mode, handing out funding on an ad hoc basis while attempting to transform its own internal operations to meet its new industrial responsibilities, and devising its long-term strategic plan.

Highlights of the new strategic plan for 2012-17 include:

•investing an average of $26.5 million a year into production, and $6.4 million into development;

• increased backing for genres such as animation, comedy, documentary and family films;

• the launch of a regional network of talent development hubs, including funds for microbudget features and shorts;

• a renewal of the Vision Awards, offering development slate funding for selected production companies;

• a commitment to explore ways in which producers and distributors can apply jointly for project financing;

• and a pledge to explore ways to give producers a larger equity stake in films backed by lottery coin, and to find the best way to ensure that recouped lottery coin is reinvested directly into new projects.

This falls short of a promise to allow producers to keep recouped coin for reinvestment in their own projects, as recommended by the Film Policy Review. But producers will be able to keep any recouped development money.

Other notable aspects of the plan:

•an annual $6.4 million fund to subsidize P&A costs in order to encourage wider distribution of a broader range of British, specialty and arthouse films;

• a non-specific pledge to develop a strategy to support the export and international promotion of British films, in partnership with BBC Worldwide, the British Council, the British Film Commission, Film Export U.K. and BAFTA;

• a promise to boost international co-production, including a study to consider the case for rejoining the Eurimages co-production scheme;

• and digital exhibition equipment to be installed in 1,000 nontheatrical venues over the next five years.

The plan also pledges $1.6 million a year to support the U.K.’s international film festivals, launching a national film academy for 16-19 year olds and a new film training scheme to equip up to 5,000 people a year with new skills, including digital production and special effects.

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