Diversity: Hot Topic at British Screen Advisory Conference

Diversity was the hot topic at the 12th annual British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC) Conference in London on April 28. Almost all of the day’s eight sessions, covering film, television, games and online content, saw diversity become a key issue of discussion; however, there was no united front among the speakers and panelists.

How to tackle the lack of diversity in the U.K.’s creative sector has become a hot-button topic in the country, especially since the British Film Institute announced its Three Ticks assessment initiative last year, which requires applicants for BFI funding to demonstrate commitment to diversity across three areas of their production. On Monday, the BFI announced the appointment of Deborah Williams as diversity manager, reporting to BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts.

“We’ve been trying to push hard on the diversity agenda,” said Roberts, taking part in a keynote discussion with producer/deputy chair of BSAC Marc Samuelson, before an invited industry audience that included producers and filmmakers including Noel Clarke. “We’re struggling to receive the volume of applications we would like from a better range of filmmakers: women, filmmakers from outside London and the Southeast, and in terms of ethnicity. I think we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re very focused on it.”

Roberts admitted the Three Ticks program still needed some modification “before we have guidelines that are robust and that will make a difference,” aiming to have these in place by September. He also sought to reassure the audience that the guidelines were not a way of selecting the projects receiving BFI support. “They’ve been slightly misinterpreted as quotas. They are not about us choosing the projects we’re going to invest in. When we’ve chosen the projects the guidelines will be handed to producers to tell us how they are going to meet minimum requirements.”

Pressed by Samuelson on whether he would like to see the guidelines applied more broadly across the U.K., including in criteria for qualifying for U.K. tax breaks, Roberts said there had been discussions with the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport about whether the Three Ticks assessment might be applied to inward investment films. However, he admitted further discussions between the DCMS, BFI and Treasury would have to determine any potential impact on the economy if the guidelines were seen as too aggressive.

“Personally, I’d like to see it rolled out to inward investment films,” he stated. “As the BFI we’d like to see it rolled out as broadly as possible.”

Stuart Murphy, director of Sky Entertainment Channel, was the first to raise the issue in the first session of the morning, pointing to what he called the broadcaster’s “industry-leading announcement about diversity” in August last year that aims to improve the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people across its entertainment channels to at least 20% onscreen by the end of 2015. Sky is the biggest investor in new content programming in Europe.

But while all agreed that diversity was an important issue, not all speakers considered the BFI’s guidelines necessary.

“It can happen naturally without a challenge or a target,” said Danny Perkins, CEO of Studiocanal U.K., insisting the project should come first. “It’s something we haven’t really addressed but without chasing it I think (Studiocanal has) quite a broad range.”

The content is king argument was also supported by YouTube and Vine star Daz Black, taking part in a panel discussion on the future of online video talent. “My followers aren’t just a number; they’re people, and that’s what should be so important,” said Black.

However, Claire Tavernier, founder and managing director StoryTechLife, admitted there was a notable lack of ethnic diversity among bloggers. “The YouTube blogger world is incredibly white and middle class. It’s certainly not as diverse as one would hope.”


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