Ama Ampadu, Louise Ortega, Mia Bays

Source: Darren Brade

Ama Ampadu, Louise Ortega, Mia Bays

The BFI Filmmaking Fund executives said the revamped National Lottery fund is looking for projects “as production ready” as possible, and have underlined the limited pot “can’t be all the answers” for supporting the UK independent industry.

Mia Bays, director of the BFI Filmmaking fund and senior production and development executives Ama Ampadu and Louise Ortega were speaking on a panel on Monday in the UK Pavilion in Cannes, moderated by Telefilm Canada’s Mehernaz Lentin. 

Details of the revamped fund were first announced in March, and involved £18m per year for three years of National Lottery ‘good cause’ funding being allocated to the Filmmaking Fund. In 2022/23, under the previous iteration of the BFI Film Fund, the budget was around £25m per year.

Scroll down for the revised fiction feature funding structure

“We have less, that is a reality. But we still need to do as much, if not more. That’s always challenging,” said Bays. “Often we’re asked to answer every possible question and be the entire solution. We just can’t be. We all need all the help we can get.

“We can’t be all the answers. All the answers can’t come from the UK either in terms of money. Every single aspect of the ecosystem needs help. Cinemas are struggling, production is struggling. We need to look holistically. If production becomes healthier, but there’s nowhere for the films to go, we can’t reach audiences.”

“It’s difficult for us to be a cornerstone anymore,” added Ortega. “We need to see some of that work and other kinds of finance, agencies, sales agencies if it’s a possibility, have been approached and are being engaged with [from funding applicants].”

International co-production is another avenue the execs are encouraging for potential fund applicants. “The funding environment is really challenging. We’re keen to encourage more co-productions, and co-creative works,” says Bays. “It’s really healthy to develop work that could have two domestic markets that it is genuinely appealing to two places, in a way that is developed from the ground up organically, rather than retrofitted.”

She also noted non-English language features are of interest: “It’d be great to not be so bound to the English-language, either. We’re in a different environment now. We mainly see English language, but we just financed our first Irish-language feature [Rich Peppiatt’s Kneecap].”

Fund priorities

The BFI outlined in its initial funding announcement that “equity, diversity and inclusion; cultural and audience impact; talent progression; creative risk taking; UK-wide reach and sustainability” will fuel its funding decisions.

“It’s not just a box ticking thing for us, and it can’t be a box ticking thing for you guys applying with your films,” said Ortega. “We always put it as: it’s about really engaging with our priorities. For equity, diversity and inclusion, for instance, it’s not only about [on screen] representation, it’s also about heads of department. That’s the same for the UK -wide angle, impact of audience, talent development progression, risk, all of these things, you have to show you have really engaged with all of them.”

Ortega also noted: “Be as production-ready and specific about those priorities as you can. It’s not a rolling fund in the same way that it used to be so we can’t take a risk on something that’s going to push for six months, that would mean someone else’s project can’t happen within that timeframe. We have to prioritise people who are production ready, and this is the last piece.”

Bays flagged the importance of having a diverse team to then asses the applications. “We do not have an external panel, the team are deciding. We have a production inclusion manger, Morgana Melvin, we have the development and production executives, we’ve just hired a senior production executive in sales and distribution who brings a lens of the market to proceedings, and very much has a specialist audience development track record and international sales skills. It’s about having multiple lenses in the team to understand what authentic looks like. We all come from various lived experiences.”

“We can’t as a team be wholly representative,” Ortega added. “If there is something that speaks to a very specific screen experience that we don’t feel we have the representation on the team, then we will have bodies in to consult and interrogate those discussions.”

Ampadu further stressed the importance of authenticity for fund applications. “It’s who is telling the story – the authentic voices, the writing, is coming from someone who has a connection to that material. There were certain stories that weren’t being told at a certain time. We have our inclusion targets, and the idea is to make sure that those voices are able to tell their stories.”

BFI Filmmaking Fund for fiction features

£29.4m (across three years) of production funding is available via two funding streams:

  • BFI Discovery Fund is dedicated to directorial debuts, budgeted below £3.5m and aiming to support six features per year. Funding will be available across three application rounds annually. The first deadline was last month, April 24, for fully-developed projects seeking to shoot this year. Applications will then reopen in July and November.
  • BFI Impact Fund will support five projects with production funding per year, as a rolling fund. Criteria focuses on scale and level of audience impact projects are seeking to make. It’s aimed at filmmakers with debut projects budgeted over £3.5m or second time and beyond filmmakers. The BFI plans to work with the projects to provide opportunities for upskilling, mentoring and production shadowing.

BFI Development Fund has £4.5m (across three years) to cover all stages of development and aims to support 60-70 projects per year. Emerging producers can request enhanced overhead support alongside their fee within the development budget.

BFI National Lottery Creative Challenge Fund will open later in 2023, funding labs and development programmes to decentralise project development and ensure support is UK-wide. Funding will be awarded to production companies and screen organisations across the UK to develop and run time-specific programmes to support filmmakers move their work forward.