What do producers really think about the manner in which national funds choose projects and allocate money? Screen profiles a selection of European bodies and gauges local opinion on how they operate. We also look at the role played by public bodies in Canada and Australia in supporting film production
Spanish Film Institute (ICAA)
Who makes the decisions? Various committees comprising figures from the country’s arts establishment and film and TV professionals. ICAA director general Carlos Cuadros has the final say. Committee members are replaced every two years.
Based on what? Producers must submit the script anonymously to avoid favouritism, then, if successful, provide a full description of the project, including financial breakdown. Cuadros says committee decisions are unanimous and are based on a points system.
How transparent is the process? Not very, say producers, once the process has passed the no-name script stage. The decisions are taken behind closed doors and producers are told only whether they have passed or failed.
Does the fund retain ownership? No.
What do producers like about the fund? The ease with which a film can qualify for funding. “We met the criteria for our project Red Lights, no problem,” says producer Adrian Guerra.
What don’t they like? “Most of the banks are not willing to discount the financing upfront,” says producer Manuel Monzon, of the difficulty in cash-flowing projects when funds are received after theatrical release. There is also discontent about the single application process per year (where producers can apply for one fund for multiple projects) and that non-industry professional such as university professors, and editors and technicians are on the committees.
How effective is the fund? Since the introduction of the funds in 2010, an increasing number of Spanish films — Cell 211, Even The Rain, Red Lights — are having an impact at the local box office and selling well abroad.
German Federal Film Fund (FFA)
Who makes the decisions? A 12-member committee comprising reps from the producers’, exhibitors’ and screenwriters’ associations as well as broadcasters and the government. All are appointed on a three-year basis but can do more than one term.
Based on what? The commercial prospects of a project. A conditionally repayable, interest-free loan can be granted if the producer’s application makes it likely — on the basis of the screenplay, budget, financing plan, cast and crew lists and, if applicable, the distribution contracts — that the film will improve the quality and profitability of German cinema. Decisions are based on a majority vote.
How transparent is the process? A producer can appeal a refusal; successfully in the case of Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist, unsuccessfully when it came to Joe Wright’s thriller Hanna.
Does the fund retain ownership? No.
What do producers like about the fund? There is no requirement to generate an economic effect, as is the case for Germany’s regional funds.
What don’t they like? “The primarily economic orientation of the funding decisions,” says Guido Schwab of Ostlicht Filmproduktion. Also, some producers grumble about the number of TV executives on the committee due to broadcasters’ substantial contribution to the FFA budget.
How effective is the fund? It is a national institution. Since the legal basis of the fund, the German Film Law, is revised on a regular basis, the fund can be fine-tuned to respond to any changes in the film industry such as the expanding video-on-demand (VoD) market.
Polish Film Institute (PISF)
Who makes the decision? PISF general director Agnieszka Odorowicz, in consultation with a rotating panel of film-makers, scholars and critics.
Based on what? Artistic and cultural values, such as support for Polish culture and cultural diversity, as well as taking into account local locations, talent and facilities. Recent recipients include Agnieszka Lukasiak’s festival title Between Two Fires.
How transparent is the process? Decisions are remarkably consistent, given that no two application sessions (of which there are two or three a year) are considered by the same panel. Explanations for rejections are given, suggestions are made and film-makers are encouraged to apply again in a later session.
Does the fund retain ownership? No.
What do producers like about the fund? The relative ease of application, a quick, 90-day turn-around on decisions, support from PISF advisers and the programme’s willingness to consider a wide variety of projects.
What don’t they like? Doubt remains over the competence and independence of the expert panels. Some say auteurs themselves should make the decisions in a kind of peer review. Others say panelists should be independent, salaried decision-makers, not film-makers. While the PISF has brought the local industry up to European standards, Dariusz Jablonski of Apple Film Production, believes it is time to push the envelope: “We should change the system of evaluation,” he says. “Our choices have to be braver.”
How effective is the fund? Very. In 2004, the year before the PISF was established, 12 Polish films were released, earning 8.8% of the $127.6m market. By 2008, 35 Polish films garnered 44.4% of the $166.7m box office. “The fund is improving the Polish industry,” says Jablonski. “We have more films, bigger films and better films.”
Italian culture ministry cinema fund (Mibac)
Who makes the decisions? Various committees made up of directors, screenwriters, public administrators, producers, critics and finance experts. They are presided over by the culture ministry’s director general for cinema projects.
Based on what? The script, technical elements and economic feasibility of the project.
How transparent is the process? Relatively transparent. The commission changes its members regularly and the focus is on the overall feasibility of the project — not just artistic merit. If turned down, a producer is given an explanation per category.
Does the fund retain ownership? The producer has to pay the investment back and the ministry retains the rights until then.
What do producers like about the fund? It provides crucial support to first and second-time film-makers, such as on Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Cosmonaut, which went on to win the Controcampo Italiano’s top prize at Venice in 2009.
What do producers dislike? The bureaucracy: once approval is given, the lengthy paperwork starts again with the culture ministry’s bank. Also, the fund depends on the Fondo Unico Spettacolo (FUS), the shrinking annual arts budget.
How effective is the fund? Though money is less available generally — 10 years ago the state financed 50% of films produced, that figure is now 12% — the state investment represents a vital part of the Italian production sector.
Israel Film Fund
Who makes the decisions? A team of three ‘lectors’ — film professionals who are replaced every two to three years — who then meet with the fund’s executive director, Katriel Schory, and its head of production and finance, David Lipkind. The board of directors has final oversight.
How transparent is the process? Information flows freely between both sides the entire time. Rejected projects can apply to the state-backed Cinema Project.
Does the fund retain ownership? No, contractually the fund is just an investor.
What do producers like about the fund? After approval, projects have a sound financial basis on which to proceed.
What don’t they like? According to producer Marek Rozenbaum, president of the Israeli Film Academy, whose opinions often represent the consensus of the industry, the fund’s main drawbacks are the bureaucratic procedure (caused largely by the transparent nature of the process) and the limitations imposed by the personal taste of the lectors.
How effective is the fund? It is essential for the mainstream production of Israeli films [such as Ajami, The Band’s Visit and Lebanon], and is to thank for the high international profile of local films in recent years.
Danish Film Institute (DFI)
Who makes the decisions? ‘Commissioners’ are hired for a maximum five-year spell to oversee documentaries, features and films supported by a talent development initiative. There is a ‘new market system’, for projects of broad audience appeal, which is chosen by a five-strong committee, consisting of two from the DFI (who often have production experience) and three from the wider industry.
Based on what? The personal taste of the commissioner or committee.
How transparent is the process? Producers believe it to be very transparent. They can communicate directly with the commissioners and can be called in to discuss their projects.
Does the fund retain ownership? No, not after five years.
What do producers like about the fund? Its flexibility. A project can start off in one scheme and end up supported by another. Janus Metz’s Armadillo was conceived as an episode of a TV series but was redrafted as a feature documentary. The DFI is also well-resourced. A project can pick up around 50% of its budget from combined DFI and broadcaster support.
What do producers dislike? There is some concern during the development period that funding is targeted at directors and writers, rather than producers.
How effective is the fund? Producers point out relatively few Danish films are actually profitable. Without the support of the DFI and the broadcasters, the production sector would almost certainly collapse.
Feature Film Production Program of Screen Australia
Is it easy to apply? Yes, though a lot of documentation is required. It is preferred that a film goes through two application processes: first seeking a letter of interest and second seeking investment. Applying only for investment is risky as a rejected project cannot be reconsidered for 12 months.
Who makes the decisions? Films must pass four hurdles: one of three full-time investment managers, two part-time feature-film consultants, an investment committee, and finally the Screen Australia board, though the board does not have to sign off on investments of less than $1.1m (a1m). If producers apply for a letter of interest and investment, they go through this structure twice. One or two reports are commissioned on every feature from external consultants. The board is not a ‘rubber stamp’. Most staffers have production experience, while the board chair is IBM’s chief exec.
How transparent is the process? Fairly — producers are told why a film does not win support.
Does the fund retain ownership? Screen Australia retains a 1% copyright interest in all projects in which it provides more than $108,000 (a$100,000) and in all those in which it invests in the hope of seeing a return.
What do producers like about the fund? “For films up to about $8.2m (a$8m), it’s possible to get 70% of your budget through Screen Australia, the producer offset [a tax-based rebate] and state government agencies,” says producer Brian Rosen. The staff handling features are also well regarded.
What do they dislike? The pace of decision making. “If you apply for a letter of interest and then investment, the process can take 12 months as only four board meetings are formally earmarked for feature investment decisions,” says Antony I Ginnane, president of the Screen Producers Association.
How effective is the fund? Very little profit flows back to Screen Australia and big box-office hits are rare, but without it there would be very few local films.
TELEFILM CANADA’S Canada Feature Film Fund (CFFF)
Who makes the decisions? It differs in English and French, largely because of the high volume of English projects in all 10 provinces and two territories, with a concentration of French in Quebec. Decision-making is further divided (differently in each language) with a dual system of selective and performance ‘envelopes’, where the latter is principally based on box-office performance and reserved for ‘successful’ companies. The cash is further divided into budget range.
How transparent is the process? The system is more open than ever, especially since all forms, reports and catalogues are posted online. However it is still a somewhat selective process.
Does the fund retain ownership? No, but it does take a preferred recoupment position.
What do producers like about the fund? Its stability. Producers also acknowledge the increasing transparency, and that guidelines are adjusted as the market changes both nationally and internationally.
What do producers dislike about the fund? Producers with a strong box-office history applaud a system which is partly performance-based, while producers with award-winning films (which do not necessarily translate into box-office receipts) argue decisions should be based on cultural criteria.
How effective is the fund? Telefilm Canada has launched a sweeping, year-long review of ‘effectiveness’. Most agree no matter whether the mission is cultural or economic, the goal of reaching larger Canadian and international audiences” is paramount.
Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF)
Who makes the decisions? There are application committees for feature-length fiction projects, animations, shorts and documentaries. Each has six readers, three are chosen by the industry. Decisions are taken by majority vote.
How transparent is the process? The fund is fairly transparent. Applicants receive initial feedback from the committee and a final written account of the discussions. Producers can re-apply once but only a third time at the discretion of the committee. After a third rejection, there is a final appeals procedure.
Does the fund retain ownership? No, its investment is an interest-free loan and VAF is one of the last recoupment positions.
What do producers like about the fund? VAF director Pierre Drouot, an experienced producer who is respected by the local industry. “It’s an autonomous fund, really embedded within the industry,” says Peter Bouckaert, Eyeworks.
What don’t they like? Older producers complain there is a bias towards younger talent, while others suggest VAF shies away from supporting edgy projects such as Ex Drummer, which VAF only came in on when the project was nearing completion. Some producers have also raised concerns that different committees evaluate projects at the development stage and then at the production stage. They would prefer one committee to oversee a project throughout the process.
How effective is the fund? Very: most agree it has unearthed a new generation of talent, dubbed the ‘new Flemish wave’, popular with both local audiences and international festival-goers.