Independent Film: In this digital age, is the BFI my BFF?

tumblr_m4wmqiTPZG1qher3go1_500Six months ago, I returned home to the UK from Hollywood. Bank bail-outs, global crises, and an explosion in production technology aside, the landscape of the British film industry had changed in my time away. Screen West Midlands was no more, and many of the old filmmaker online hangouts (with the exception of Shooting People) had also gone by the wayside. Nevertheless, we hit the ground running and began production on our feature length documentary.

Short of Facebook friends, our next stop had to be the ever present British Film Institute. A quick browse around the site yielded an email address…10 minutes later my request for some professional updating was on its way.

Now, at this point, I should say I don’t usually ‘hang’ with institutes and such; I’ve always found, for them, red tape is thicker than water – like the time I was in Cannes celebrating the financing of a feature film project. In a flurry of champagne and French cuisine, I was invited to meet with The Film Council. The next day, I arrived at the spacious suite on the Croisette and was handed a form to request a meeting back in London. I was there, they were there….but the meeting was back in London?  #wtf

Anyway, I digress. Back to my BFF’s at the BFI. As the application deadline passed, thoughts of development funding retreated from my mind, replaced with schedules and logistics. Our promotional series, The Haunted Kingdom, began to attract the attention of the press, and with the failure of the Mayans to predict a simple end to the world, it was Christmas which finally brought an enforced halt to production.

The New Year brings fresh interviews, a fresh fall of snow and a reply from….the BFI/MEDA [sic] (MEDIA, methinks?). Two and a half months after my original email, I got the reply and the invitation I was waiting for “…Check out our webpages.” OMG. I presume the address is: http://www.wedontgiveacrap.com.

Ignoring the obvious points: a) I couldn’t have contacted them without getting the email address from the website, and b) timewise, my BFF’s email took longer to write than the New Testament, I have to ask myself:

Are entities like the BFI redundant in today’s digital film and media landscape?

Personal annoyance aside, I would genuinely like to pose the question and open the debate.  Let’s look at the areas these types of foundation/quango/whatever purport to support: #poetanddontknowit

Development
If you are a writer, you write. If you are a producer, you produce. Creativity is an itch which always needs to be scratched. It doesn’t stop when the money dries up. Giving development money to people who need encouragement to create is promoting the wrong sort of people to be “in the business.” Proactive writers and filmmakers are often penalised for getting on with it, so…tell me again how this is helping British filmmakers?

Funding

The BFI has announced its Vision Awards for 2013-2015, but the entry criteria for production funding is too high for anyone except established companies. Arguably, filmmakers are much better off spending their time and efforts raising money with Kickstarter or other crowd funding options.

Distribution

You will struggle to find anything on the Film Council/BFI or other websites that would help regular filmmakers to get their film out there. Most smaller filmmakers struggle to get any distribution and don’t have the tens of thousands of pounds to support their own P&A campaign. So, again, an online distribution or streaming solution is a clear winner.

SO?

Well, let’s take a moment to look at a few factors affecting filmmakers today:

So, a dedicated filmmaker can: raise money for a project via suitable crowd funding; produce a feature length project in an HD format; cut the project on a relatively inexpensive edit solution; then distribute it online. All without involving a funding body, studio or production company.

🙂

Now, aside from the issue of filmmaker’s objectivity and the quality control that comes with third party eyes viewing a creative project, there is that point again…Who are my BFF’s really helping?

The Vision Awards help companies with a “fiction, documentary or animation feature film that has been distributed theatrically in the UK.” That eliminates 99.9% of all filmmakers in the UK, for the reasons I mentioned above. So, this helping filmmakers guise is actually a none too subtle disguise to subsidise companies already in a position to make films. Unlike.

Banks are always criticised for only lending money to people who don’t really need a loan. But is this any different? This is government money used to subsidise film companies who already have the means to make films. If that’s the case, wouldn’t a more honest approach be to introduce better tax incentives for ALL companies making films, and re-allocate BFI/Lottery hard cash to prop up organisations like the CAB, who actually need help and are in a funding crisis? Like.

I don’t mean to sound like a rabble rouser, but it irks me when people claim they help but actually don’t. That’s why I love Ronseal — “It does exactly what is says on the tin.”

But back to my original point: why does this matter? Well, it doesn’t. If filmmakers can produce their own quality digital material and distribute it, then these types of elusive BFF’s aren’t needed.  Unfriend.

Talent floats, and realistically, there is no filmmakers’ lifeboat. But the digital age gives us literal safety in numbers, and these ones and zeros do help creative, informed people. All we need now is a way to connect all those disparate people…Oh hang on, isn’t that called the Interweb?

Mark Alexander Todd is a working writer/director located in the West Midlands.

More details about the projects he’s involved in can be found on his company

website, GuvnorMedia.co.uk.

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About in mi experience

I've been creating videos film and media for almost 30 years. View all posts by in mi experience

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