Screen editor Matt Mueller on his personal highlights from this year’s Screen Film Summit.
The Summit of ambition
The Screen Film Summit on December 10 generated enough compelling topical industry discussion to stretch across an entire year, let alone a single day.
It was an inspiring event — my first as Screen editor — and the level of engagement and insight was fantastic: superb speakers, fantastic chairs (yes, many of them Screen staff!) and delegates who asked some smart questions. I can’t thank our esteemed panellists enough for sharing their time and insights on the day.
A few highlights of the day for me:
• From the Changing Audience presentations by Lucy Jones at Rentrak and Sean Perkins, head of the BFI’s research and statistics unit, further confirmation that an increasingly crowded marketplace for releases is putting severe pressure on arthouse and foreign-language titles (including huge numbers of multiplex screens being dedicated to the same film).
• Mobile phones will soon represent half of all UK screens, doubling TV and cinemas.
• With the UK population ageing over the next 25 years, films aimed at an older audience are sure to increase their share of the overall market. Good news for film-makers such as Mike Leigh, whose Mr. Turner took 71% of its box-office takings from the over-55 age group.
• Curzon Artificial Eye opted to go day-and-date with their successful release of 45 Years, not because they anticipated a huge engagement from older film-goers on their VoD platform but because they are adopting a longer-term strategic outlook to build that segment of the audience for online viewing in the future.
• BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts stated on the How To Fund Your Film panel that nearly half of the slate they are supporting in production are projects directed by women. That’s a very encouraging statistic — and a new benchmark for the BFI, said Roberts. With the continuing discussion about diversity, hopefully the industry can keep generating encouraging news on this front.
• Roberts also made another interesting statement during the panel, noting that because film sits in that zone between culture and creative industries, it may not always be as valued as it could be. He called for “an overall culture of positivity” and less emphasis on criticism in the face of “financial disappointment… Sometimes the value of what we do gets overlooked.”
• Andrew Reid, head of production at Northern Ireland Screen, generated the biggest laugh of the day when he urged everyone in the audience to go out and buy a lottery ticket “to support public bodies like the BFI”. Funny as it was, it also made a salient point about everyone’s ability to support the UK film industry at a time of government cuts. During the networking breaks, more than a few people said to me they’d made a mental note to do just that.
• While the state of the UK independent film sector looks generally healthy, the middle-ground films, in particular the $3m-$7.5m (£2m-£5m) budget range, are being squeezed hard in their efforts to attract sellable talent and finance while those in the $15m-plus (£10m-plus) budget bracket — for instance, Suffragette — are growing. It suggests an overall polarisation in the production market, and a new set of pressures for producers going forward. PACT will be releasing a more in-depth report with a complete set of figures in the new year; I look forward to reading it.
• Iain Canning agreed his company, See-Saw Films, has identified that middle range as “problematic” but also accentuated the positive, citing the “democratic nature of the marketplace” and as a producer, if you’re able to tap into that level, “it’s the best it’s ever been”.