Up-and-coming directors in Britain can call on support from a range of public funding sources in the country, and the effectiveness of this can be judged by the wealth of movies by newbies competing at the 2017 British Independent Film Awards.
The British Film Institute is a leading backer of home-grown talent, and helped fund the development of three BIFA frontrunners by debut feature directors, “Lady Macbeth,” “I Am Not a Witch” and “God’s Own Country.”
Natascha Wharton, senior development and production executive at the BFI Film Fund, says when deciding whether to back a director’s first feature “voice is key.” They have to have “something to say about the world,” she says. Mary Burke, who holds the same title at the BFI, adds: “The filmmaker has to have a bit of fire within them to prove to us that they can deliver what it is they have to say.”
Projects that “pop out” and deliver a fresh perspective are given priority. “If things feel over familiar we will smell it and we won’t get excited about [the film],” Burke says.
The BFI encourages people to move into filmmaking from other art forms. “We feel that artists are artists and they can crossover. It’s just a question of learning how to translate your expression into a different form,” Burke says.
Diarmid Scrimshaw, one of the executive producers on “God’s Own Country,” says when deciding whether to back a first-time filmmaker’s project it is the material that counts most. “Primarily you are looking at the strength of the writing, and you are asking: Does the script deliver on its own terms? And, is what it is trying to say worthwhile to put into the world, and likely to be compelling enough for an audience to want to watch it.”
Scrimshaw says it is also important to discover if the filmmaker will be a “good partner in a long-term venture; someone we feel we can enjoy spending a lot of time with; and who will respect those around them.” He adds, “Filmmaking is such an intense process. Every time you make a film you go through a furnace, and it is a quite a long-term commitment.”
Another public agency backing new talent is Creative England, whose iFeatures program helped develop and fund the production of “Lady Macbeth,” and also played a part in the development of “God’s Own Country.” Creative England’s head of film, Paul Ashton, sees one of the objectives of iFeatures is to prepare directors for a film career, and create a momentum that will propel them into their next feature. “You can’t take away the creative challenges they are going to face, but what you can do is support them through that so they come out of the process stronger and more confident,” he says.
Ashton says support for new filmmakers also rejuvenates the industry as a whole. “The film industry needs a constant refreshing of the voices within it, otherwise you get a sense of staleness and a disconnect between those who are making films and the audience,” he says.
Film4, which backed “I Am Not a Witch,” also aims to support the career development of filmmakers. It is committed to producing short films as well as features. “The idea behind short films is that they are a bridge [for the filmmaker] to features,” Sam Lavender, deputy head of creative at Film4, says. “We would primarily consider a debut feature to be a first step and a calling card in a filmmaker’s career.”
Having supported the debut feature, Film4 also looks to back the filmmakers’ subsequent films. “You always commission the development and greenlight a feature with the sincere hope that you will continue to work with that filmmaker. The whole reason behind the debut is in order to be part of launching a career,” Lavender says.
Yann Demange is one of the many filmmakers who has benefited from the support of the public agencies in Britain. His feature debut “’71,” which won the BIFA for best director, was a big success, and he received a lot of offers for his next movie. Demange, who is in post with “White Boy Rick,” starring Matthew McConaughey, credits the support he received from Film4 and BFI for contributing to his career. “They encouraged me to be bold and be quite singular in what I wanted to do,” he says. “It helped me get to where I am now.”