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The BFI means business

The BFI demonstrates some real business savvy in its new Forward Plan.

When the UK Film Council was shuttered and the BFI became the lead body for film, some industry watchers were concerned that the organisation might be too ‘artsy,’ ‘cultural’ and ‘historical’ to really throw itself into the heavily industry side of film.

Those fears now seem unfounded as the BFI has now revealed its much-awaited Future Plan for the next five years. What impressed me most in all the initiatives were the smart pairings of public funding with private businesses — the BFI announced new partnerships with Accenture, Aardman, Samsung and Pinewood.

The plan (story here) clearly states: “The Film Fund cannot support all the needs of independent production in the UK, but we all seek to attract new equity partners to British independent films, promoting the commercial opportunities in UK film to private and corporate investors.” Amen to that.

When I first moved to London after covering the film scene in New York for many years, I had to get my head around the fact that there was even any government support for film. But I always wished people lining up for those funds could also be inspired by some of the entrepreneurship we see more in America.

Pairing public money with private money is the smartest way forward — it means nobody gets too dependent on state funding, and private investment can be stretched to more value. Also, getting private businesses on board is a clear signal that projects and initiatives have value in the marketplace, not just in a cultural bubble.

Also in the plan, the BFI Film Skills Fund will also seek to “encourage original entrepreneurs and help to fuse creative, technology and entrepreneurial skills.” The archive itself will see a lot of digitisation and push into new media, with broadcasters and other partners.

The joint venture pilot between producers and distributors — while maybe echoing the not-quite-right Super Slate schemes of the past — is also a good step forward to ensure that producers are working on films that distributors think audiences want to see.

Looking towards growth in markets like China and Brazil is also forward thinking.

And let’s not forget the BFI itself is a moneymaker that will plow its income (including exhibition ticket sales, archive licensing and sponsorship) back into these plans.

Of course supporting film is also supporting art and culture, and the BFI’s archive is a national treasure, so there is nothing wrong with all those functions; it’s just crucially important to see some especially industry-focused initiatives in the mix.

This is a smart, business-savvy forward plan and I look forward to seeing it in action.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Agree with above wholeheartedly. Big question for me was the logic in building a player for the digitised archive when tried and tested great video platforms exist and they could spend the money building the audiences / communities not re-inventing wheel. (BFI/UKFC not famous for great tech development - Mymovies etc)

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  • Probably go unnoticed by most, but it's the most important issue to many - great to see the new BFI plans include cinema access: 'The Diversity funds will help promote equal access, participation and strengthening cultural diversity. It will also enhance access for people with sensory impairments and fund pilots for disabled people'.

    A lot of people will appreciate that statement, and eventually benefit from much-improved access to films. To thousands of people with hearing loss, an accessible show - via subtitles - is the main reason they go to see a film. Not special effects, not Brad Pitt, not great stories, but the opportunity to simply follow the plot and enjoy the film!

    People like these:

    Your Local Cinema .com

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  • Nothing new in public money being mixed with
    private equity [?] The new plan does not sufficiently address problems in exhibition - 64% of UK films released are specialised [ie non studio ] yet they only aggregate about 6% of box office with a typically brief but expensive cinema release that delivers no traction to dvd or tv sales. UK release costs are the highest in EU but the average ticket share is the lowest 28%.

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