BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts says a key area of the org’s focus is developing talent and projects, with 150 funding opportunities planned each year.
“Development is the bedrock,” says Roberts. “We talk about areas where the U.K. is underdeveloped. Everyone says, ‘Where are our animation, comedy, family films? Why aren’t you supporting them?’ but we’re not getting them. That’s a development issue. There’s a cost to comedy writing, so we have to understand those costs. There’s a paucity of people writing for family; we need to understand what the development issues are.”
The rise in BFI spending will encompass different areas. “This year we are spending about £14 million ($22.5 million) on production and about $6.4 million on development,” says Roberts, who adds that such spending will likely grow to roughly $11 million next year.
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John McVay, chief executive of U.K. trade association Pact, says development funding will be key to the U.K.’s independent sector. Although private funding for development in the U.K. is increasing, often via tax incentives, the majority of such coin still comes from the BFI and broadcasters BBC Films and Film4.
Film4 is one of the largest providers of development funding, spending approximately 15%-20% of its $16 million-$24 million overall annual budget on front-end coin. “Nearly half our team is involved in development,” says Tracey Josephs, Film4’s head of production. “There has been a marked increase in (this) activity in the past couple of years.” Josephs says development spending at Film4 in the past year has reached nearly $4.8 million. Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers,” which unspooled at Toronto, was developed by shingle Big Talk with money from Film4 and the BFI Film Fund.
BBC Films’ Joe Oppenheimer says few distributors get involved so early in the production process, and most production companies aren’t resourced for such spending. “That said, companies like Focus, Working Title, Studiocanal and Fox all spend money on development,” he says. “Producers give up certain rights but that’s the same with us or Film4.”
Larger production companies such as Shine Films, Exclusive Media Group or Big Talk also have development coin. The European Union’s Media program provides several development funds for producers with at least one distributed feature on their resumes, and regional bodies such as Creative England, Creative Scotland, Film Agency Wales and Northern Ireland Screen provide talent development activities and support.
Oppenheimer believes companies working together on development allows for better scripts. “We have a limited budget,” he says. “If we share development costs, it helps get more films made.”
BBC Films’ development funding pool is unspecified, but flexible. The broadcaster’s budget was recently cut from $19.25 million to $17.6 million, but it remains one of the country’s biggest supporters of film.
Roberts says the BFI also is making a “massive” commitment to first-time filmmakers. Better still, a producer doesn’t cede rights to the BFI, which recycles all money recouped from any development investment for future projects by that producer.
Prime minister David Cameron stirred a hornet’s nest in January when he called on Britain to make more “commercially successful pictures,” but Roberts feels no pressure to take this as a marching order.
“The joy of a creative industry, to a degree, is not having any clue what’s going to work and what isn’t,” he says. “We wouldn’t need a public fund for film if there was certainty.”