generic film industry

Source: Pexels

The independent film sector plays a vital role in supplying top talent to the UK’s booming production scene, according to new research by the British Screen Advisory Council (BSAC).

The study, by NARVAL Media’s Bertrand Moullier, involved an analysis of the 18,844 career credits accumulated by 548 senior professionals working in one of four key production posts (line producers, directors, art directors and cinematographers) on high-end TV or UK-based inward investment (aka US studio) films in 2016.

Among the findings were:

  • For those working in UK-based inward investment films, 41% of career credits came from working on independent films.
  • The figure falls to 23% for those working in high-end TV.
  • Only 27% of those with senior production roles had achieved that position without first working on an independent British film.
  • 57% of those surveyed had over 20 years’ experience in the business, whilst only 10% had ten years or less.

The study, which also involved in-depth interviews with 32 senior professionals, saw respondents cite the greater flexibility over roles in the indie sector as “pivotal” and “critical” in going on to secure senior roles on bigger-budget productions.

Negative aspects of working on independent British film projects were also voiced, including concerns about long development periods and cash-strapped productions discouraging talent at early career stages, long gaps between productions and lower pay levels driving talent to find jobs in other audiovisual sectors.

Interviewees also observed that job offers for experienced professionals have been slowly drying up for mid-range projects, with one director of photography saying: “I did £4m budget features in my time as an assistant. However, now it’s a lot of £1m features or massive blockbusters that I won’t get a look in because they’re not in my network. There seems to be fewer projects in between, well-financed, professionally made independent British films where people like myself developed our skills and built up competitive CVs.”

Nonetheless, the importance of the independent film sector to the UK’s booming TV and film industry was clear. The sector was singled out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as helping to rescue the country from a potential pre-Brexit recession after it grew by 9% between June and August this year.

A director interviewed by the study said: “In the UK, the independent British film sector is analogous to the subsidised theatre. Both pay back public sector investment many times over because they attract high-end tourism and serve as nursery slopes for new writers and directors who go on to inject new energy and skills into our cultural industries.”

Bertrand Moullier, the study’s author, concluded: “With independent British film currently going through a particularly difficult period, it is not clear how any resulting decline in opportunities for talent development might be made up, especially as the relatively small size of the production spend compared with high-end TV and inward investment films appears to belie the scale of its contribution to the ecosystem.”

The findings will be presented in London today (Oct 17) to BSAC members and specially invited senior execs from across the indie film value chain, including finance, production, sales and distribution.

NARVAL Media provides strategic advice to national and international trade associations for the audiovisual sector. Besides BSAC, they have also worked for IFTA (Independent Film & Television Alliance) and the UK’s National Film & Television School (NFTS).