Minority training in the UK
The three 'b's in B3 Media stand for 'beats, bytes and the big screen'. The London-based organisation works to bring together multicultural film-makers and the mainstream UK film industry. B3's FeatureLab is one of a handful of UK initiatives to target film-makers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. Now in its second year, the programme, funded by training organisation Skillset and Film4, is running throughout 2009. It consists of workshops and masterclasses, a week-long intensive development workshop at the Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam and a chance to pitch to the B3 and Film4 development teams.
B3 Media also runs a digital shorts programme aimed at black and ethnic minority film-makers - Blank Slate - which is in partnership with the UK Film Council, and is now into its sixth year.
Marc Boothe, managing director of B3 Media, emphasises the importance of training: 'The investment of talent, regardless of race or gender, has to be for the long term, but it also has to be strategic.
'The US has a much larger, culturally diverse talent pool, and a better understanding of how diversity can make sense both culturally and economically,' he says. 'Here, we are only really beginning to understand that.'
The National Film and Television School (NFTS) also runs a programme - Compass Point - specifically aimed at under-represented ethnic groups. Funded by Skillset and the UK Film Council (UKFC), the programme is now in its third year and consists of a series of workshops as well as a mentoring system. This time around the focus is on directing, and competition for the eight places on the course is fierce.
Paul Moody, head of partnerships and diversity at the NFTS, set up the programme after reading a Ukfc report which showed the clear lack of representation across the industry.
'Too often in the film industry, it has been about 'jobs for the boys',' says Moody. 'There are seriously talented people out there from the diverse folk who make up UK society, who don't have the background of connections to successfully pursue their careers. Courses like Compass Point are a necessity and can only be positive for UK film.'
Film London's The New Black programme focuses on a different area of the industry - exhibition.
'What you don't get is black people in control of the cinemas and so this course is looking at opportunities to get films with black content on screen and in front of audiences,' says course tutor Karen Alexander.
'Without calling it racism, there is a history of major middle-class white institutions not really taking black and ethnic minorities seriously, so we had a lot to overcome,' adds Rebekah Polding, audience development manager at Film London.
Fifteen people working in the exhibition of black-content films were given the chance to take part in the year-long programme which includes workshops, panel discussions and a masterclass. It is now in its final stages and runs alongside another Film London initiative aimed at improving publicity for black film festivals.
'What is healthy about this course is that it is bringing the debate to the surface,' says Alexander. 'But what we must not do is ghettoise black film-makers and black film.'
Whether the programme will run again, is 'entirely down to funding', admits Polding. 'But we are certainly not going to drop the overall initiative.'
In 2007 only 12% of the films released theatrically in the UK were written by women and only 6% were directed by women. An initiative run by Birds Eye View (BEV) and Sheffield-based digital film company Warp X is attempting to redress the balance.
With support from Skillset, The Last Laugh is a lab-style programme aimed at encouraging established female comedy writers to make the move into films. It was inspired by a comedy film retrospective at last year's BEV Film Festival.
'When we got to the present day, we realised there were no strong female characters any more. So we thought by encouraging female film writers, this would translate onto the screen,' says BEV director Rachel Millward.
Three of the film ideas to come out of the initiative will be developed by Warp X. 'We wanted to focus on the genre of comedy, because women tend to be stereotyped in the kind of films they make - either mainstream dramas or romances,' suggests Warp X's head of development Caroline Cooper Charles.
The company previously ran a genre-led programme in 2007 called Dark Light, which gave female directors the chance to develop horror feature projects for Warp X. Of these, Juliet McKoen's 2D4 (working title) has been shot.
As for running the programme again, Cooper Charles says 'it depends on current needs in the market. In a few years we might be looking for kick-ass women to make thrillers. Only time and funding will tell.'
But Millward suggest that need exists now. 'Women feel that film is inaccessible. The fact 200 of them applied for this programme shows that.'
Struggle facing gay directors
Film festivals are also being used as platforms for supporting under-represented groups. As part of this year's London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in April, a one-day programme is running to encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (Lgbt) film-makers to break into the industry.
'Lgbt film-makers often have a harder time making the jump from shorts to features because the subjects of their films can be perceived by the industry as marginal and only relevant to queer audiences,' says programme organiser Helen De Witt.
Called The Long And Short Of It, the programme will combine case studies from established Lgbt film-makers, a producers panel, story-telling workshop and a session about distribution and exhibition opportunities.
'The aim is to enable these film-makers to gain an understanding of how the industry works in order to realise their own vision and to make feature films that can be enjoyed by our festival audiences and further afield,' says De Witt.
CASE STUDY - THE LAST LAUGH - KATE HARDIE AND CATHERINE SHEPHERD
This time last year, comedy writers Kate Hardie and Catherine Shepherd had not yet met. Now, their joint feature project, Are You Ready' (which Shepherd describes as 'a British Napoleon Dynamite with strong female characters'), is in the running to nab a spot on Warp X's development slate.
'It is difficult to find other women film writers to work with, because there aren't many of us out there. But at the residential weekend which was part of the Last Laugh programme, I met Kate and we hit it off. It was great to find someone to collaborate with,' says Shepherd, who had worked on TV sketch shows, but was keen to make the break into writing for films.
Hardie, an actress-turned-writer and Screen International Star of Tomorrow in 2006 who has written and directed for Channel 4's Coming Up series, adds: 'It is easy to get obsessed about whether women are good film-makers, when actually it should just be a given that women make films. This course is a step towards that, but the downside is that it can seem a bit charitable. It's a shame that in 2009 there is still a need for these kinds of programmes.'
'A lot of it comes down to confidence,' says Shepherd. 'Films and comedy in particular can be real 'boys clubs'. What's great about this programme is that for once you have people telling you anything is possible.'
CASE STUDY - B3 MEDIA FEATURE LAB - ROBERT SAMUELS
As a result of taking part in B3 Media's Feature Lab in 2007-08, Film4 has commissioned The Amazing Labours Of Arthur Glass, the first feature by Robert Samuels.
Samuels describes the project, which is at the first draft stage, as 'quirky and magical and nothing like Kidulthood'.
His first short film, Zoltan The Great, came out of another B3 training programme - Blank Slate - a UK digital short-film scheme which ran in 2005, again aimed at the black and minority ethnic film-making community.
UK-born with parents of Jamaican origin, Samuels knows how difficult it is to break into the film industry. 'A lot of this industry is about who you know. And people who can afford it get further because they're able to work for free to gain experience. This doesn't really exist among minorities, so the cycle continues.
'The course was a tremendous thing to do, and I don't know if I would have got my script seen by Film4 without that kind of official backing.'
Samuels warns of the dangers of being pigeon-holed as a black film-maker. 'It's all very well having (Adulthood director) Noel Clarke, but we need a big influx, which shows a broad range of different film-making styles.'