EM Media chair Lisa Opie calls for the industry to face change head on and remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

To say these are interesting times for film in general and for the regional screen agencies in particular would be an understatement.

There are many questions facing us… how do we grow our blossoming creative businesses in the face of widespread spending cuts? How do we build on our previous successes whilst reorganising the funding infrastructure?  How do we prepare ourselves for an infinitely more complex digital future whilst empowering our creatives to reap the commercial rewards they richly deserve?

These are difficult questions and, in light of a perceived lack of interest in what is happening to the film infrastructure outside of the capital, they need to be addressed as publically and as quickly as possible. Why? So that talent in all its guises is afforded the chance to join in the conversation before arbitrary decisions are made that directly impact upon their creative futures. 

There are three things of which I am sure. Firstly change is good when it forces innovation.  And there are some excellent examples of investment innovation out there. At EM Media we’ve offered equity, quasi equity, loans and matching funds and we’ve offered business support. We offered funding to Anton Corbijn’s Control and we’ve backed Shane Meadows This is England, Nick Whitfield’s Skeletons and the brand new and already critically acclaimed Oranges And Sunshine. So good films have had regional finance. Nothing new there you may argue, although I beg to differ.

As well as attracting critical acclaim the films we have backed, in many cases, recouped our investment ensuring that success funds the success of an even greater number of creative businesses.  Of the films backed by EM Media, 80% have been directed by first and second time film-makers, and we are now able to sustain our overheads indefinitely enabling us to pump funding where it is needed most. 

But our work is not all about critical success… within the post- UK Film Council debate the focus has been on film production with everything else it impacts upon barely registering within the heated debates. Lottery support for film goes way beyond making films.

EM Media is based in one of the most rural areas in England. As such Lottery support has been put to exceptional use putting the consumer first. For example, it has stimulated the development of a network of 27 urban and rural exhibitors, working with three urban venues to share best practice, have put film-makers in touch with their audiences, and audiences in touch with film no matter where they live. 

And most often our interventions have been really small but powerfull - from £2000 to get some legal training in format rights to £500 to attend a conference.

Secondly, I’m sure that change is bad if it throws the baby out with the bath water. Where we have built skills, experience and credibility let’s harness them. At EM we have regularly co-financed projects with Film 4, Ingenious, BBC Films, Channel 4, Scottish Screen (as was), Film Agency Wales, Matador and Vertigo, and as the only British investor in Anton Corbijn’s’ Control (shot in Nottingham), we have a proven ability to deliver stellar projects out of London. 

Screen Yorkshire set its stall out differently to EM Media in film terms backing period dramas such as Wuthering Heights and TV dramas such as Red Riding. Our neighbouring agencies have complemented each other well, becoming partners in the Warp X scheme and each adding to the East side of England’s deserved film reputation.

And finally, change is very good when it forces you to look afresh at customer requirement and question how best to service them. We have the opportunity to listen and learn, to consult and complement. In the scramble to cut costs let’s make sure we take time to ask our customers and partners what works for them. Let’s make sure that we recognise creativity can and does kick off anywhere and avoid the gravitational pull of those areas already served by the BBC or Channel 4. Let’s not be lazy but ensure we come up with a better solution than the one we had before. 

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