The British Film Institute (BFI) has today unveiled a two-part roadmap detailing its corporate and organisational vision for the next 10 years and how it plans to support the industry with National Lottery funding that is approximately 10% lower than the previous three-year period under BFI2022, for at least for the first three years.
Screen Culture 2033, a 46-page document, articulates how the BFI plans to evolve to become a “resilient, sustainable, digital-first and diverse organisation with a plurality of voices”.
The Screen Culture vision is underpinned by six key ambitions: diversifying the BFI audience; embracing a wider screen culture; reframing the public’s relationship with the nation’s screen heritage; growing the BFI’s digital platforms; developing long-term strategies for education and skills; and growing the cultural and economic impact of the UK’s screen industries.
Additionally, the BFI National Lottery Strategy and Funding Plan outlines a completely revamped distribution of Lottery funds to support UK filmmakers, organisations and the BFI London Film Festival (LFF).
The BFI has also given itself the task of increasing its own income by 10% during the first three years of the 10-year strategy, which takes the BFI up to its centenary year, as the organisation works to meet the challenge of “a significant gap in our projected finances” due to the pandemic.
“If we don’t take the appropriate action now, we will have a growing financial challenge for years to come,” writes BFI chief executive Ben Roberts in the foreword to Screen Culture 2033. “We receive 2.7% of the National Lottery’s income, but the size of the overall National Lottery pot has fallen and we have to do more with less.”
“The fundraising landscape is challenging, and both our physical and digital estates need investment,” the report acknowledges. “To deliver on our vision from a place of stability, we’ll need to grow the income that we generate ourselves. We must also consider how the industry can better support our cultural work and the services we provide to the screen sector.”
Although funding to help mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has ended, the impact of the pandemic has not, said Roberts. “We were hit by an income downturn through which we were supported by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] through the [now-closed] Culture Recovery Fund,” Roberts told Screen. “There is a journey back towards pre-Covid revenues which we are on.”
The BFI is funded via a combination of grant-in-aid (GIA) from the DCMS, an amount that is determined by the government’s three-year ‘Spending Review’, two pots of National Lottery funding – the first for filmmakers and organisations and a discrete fund for the LFF and heritage programme H22 called Section 27 – and self-generated income from sources including fundraising, grants, sponsorship, the five cinemas the BFI operates, LFF ticket sales and digital platform BFI Player.
There is pressure on all of these funding streams due to the rate of UK inflation (the amount of GIA will stay the same at around £14.9m in 2023/24, but in real terms will be down), changes in public spending habits (the BFI will receive the same share of the Lottery’s ‘good cause’ purse but this total purse is smaller and will be around £45m for 2022/23), and the closed cinemas of the pandemic, which saw ticket sales from cinemas and the LFF fall in 2020 and 2021.
According to the strategy: “The considerable challenges within the public sector funding landscape have meant that our core GIA [grant in aid] funding levels have not increased in line with inflation, resulting in us having to do more with less.”
The first National Lottery funding plan will run from April 2023-2026, with two more plans to be delivered across the 10 years. The first three years sees £136m of National Lottery money to be distributed as follows:
• £54m (£18m a year) for filmmakers;
• £34.2m (£11.4m a year) across education and skills;
• £27.6m (£9.2m) for audience development;
• £10m (£3.3m) for screen heritage work;
• £7.3m (£2.4m) across innovation and industry services;
• £3.2m (£1m) for international activities.
For filmmakers, the new funding plan’s £54m across the three-year period equates to £18m per year. (For comparison, in 2022/23 the BFI Film Fund budget is around £25m per year. This remains open to applications although the BFI will announce closing dates in the coming weeks.) Within the new funding plan, £43.5m is set aside for the new BFI National Lottery Filmmaking fund, that provides development and production funding, with editorial assistance, for projects that would not get supported from commercial routes.
The BFI Network returns with £7.8m to support new and emerging writers, directors and producers across the UK.
The new National Lottery Creative Challenge Fund has £2.7m to support organisations to deliver labs and creative development programmes for filmmakers and covers feature films and XR work across documentary and fiction. It feeds into one of the strategy’s core aims – to promote decentralisation away from London and metropolitan areas within the screen industry.
Further new funds include the audience-facing BFI National Lottery Open Cinemas fund, a £2.7m pilot aimed at boosting attendance for new audiences in independent cinemas. It aims to support a free, fully accessible screening every month in UK-wide independent cinemas.
A £2.3m BFI Production Support Services fund is aimed at industry services, to help secure inward investment and support international productions to take place across the UK, as well as to deliver production services on a local basis in the regions of England, complementing support in the nations.
Also set to be announced in due course are revisions to the ‘locked box’ mechanism, the original form of which was set up in 2012, and allows producers, writers and directors to recoup income from National Lottery-invested productions, to be used for developing and producing future feature films.
The new funds will open when the existing programmes of BFI2022 come to a close in April 2023. Exact details of these funds will be announced in early 2023.
“The most important thing is how we work with funded partners where there might be changes to their funding,” deputy CEO Harriet Finney told Screen. “It’s important we prioritise those where there may need to be organisational change, and that’s something we’ll be very careful to communicate with those partners, and the film funds will come a bit later.”
Roberts said he was confident income from the National Lottery will remain stable. “As we are only 2.7% of a very large lottery pot, it would take some significant shifts to materially impact on us,” he said, adding that the arrival of new Lottery operator Allwyn in February 2024 could even mean a potential rise in income.
“We’re running a 10-year programme on three-plus-three-plus-four-year plan for a number of reasons,” he continued. “Ten years is a long time and what we need in three years’ time may be very different to what we need in six years’ time. We have to allow to rebalance funding. It also means we can embark on relationships with partners with a degree of certainty over the next three years.”
Roberts also said that while he did not expect a new government under new prime minister Liz Truss would alter the amount of GIA received by the BFI, he couldn’t predict for certain.
“We are heading into some degree of uncertainty as we don’t know what Liz Truss’ fiscal priorities will be,” he acknowledged. “I will say we always have plenty of time to make the case with the DCMS.”
Taking all this into consideration, financial resilience is a major ambition of the strategy, with the target of 10% addressable income growth over the next three years.
“It’s a tough time [in] the financial climate for us,” said Roberts. “We’ve got to be realistic about the period we’re entering, where the government public purse faces lots of challenges. It’s right that we should be growing our commercial muscle and looking to secure other resources and forms of revenue for the BFI.”
Areas that could be further exploited for commercial gain include the BFI National Archive and streaming platform, BFI Player.
The plan is for BFI Player to evolve into BFI+ – a new generation of streaming service that will be easy to access on all major at-home devices, with a refreshed approach to acquisitions, and access to a greater range of online exhibitions. To do this, the BFI is looking to secure a one-off investment within the strategy’s first three-year circle.
“We’re building the investment case at the moment. Funding could come from a range of different sources, and we’re in various conversations,” said Roberts.
“We just can’t be apologetic,” he said of the need for BFI to build its commercial revenue streams. “It’s going to be critical for us to continue to show that we can unlock the value in everything that we do.”
BFI London Film Festival
The BFI London Film Festival is one programme for which the BFI is working on a revised funding model for the 2023 edition. It presently receives some National Lottery funding, alongside corporate sponsorship, and is in a multi-year agreement with headline sponsor American Express.
The Lottery funding mechanism under which the LFF is funded is known as National Lottery 27 and was always due to end after the 2022 edition. Roberts said the BFI is now in conversation with the DCMS about how the LFF will be funded for 2023 and beyond, possibly through a different Lottery mechanism.
“We’ve got ambitious plans for the festival,” Roberts said emphatically. “It’s a growing festival. The picture of the future funding model isn’t, ‘How do we shore it up at the level it’s at?’, it is ‘How do we grow it?’. I’m not worried about us securing a future funding model for the festival. It’s just that we have to change it.
“The LFF is so integral to so much of our work, it’s not something that is over there on a limb that can be handled separately. It’s fundamental.”
Despite the clear financial challenges, Screen Culture 2033 is viewed by the BFI as a chance for the organisation to emphasise its role in the industry beyond a distributor of National Lottery funds. “For the first time, we’re thinking about the BFI in a much more holistic way,” said Roberts. “[National Lottery funding] is not the only way we can support our constituencies.”
He pointed towards distribution, exhibition, film acquisition and policy and evidence work, such as July 2022’s economic review of UK independent film, as examples of the BFI’s wider supportive roles.
“At the BFI, we’re here to promote and grow the full value of screen culture: to celebrate its positive impact on society; to transform access and ensure its continued economic growth; and to keep a record of the evolution and impact of our evolving artform in the BFI National Archive.”
The strategy underlines the BFI’s bid to become an “open house” for all. “We’re moving towards an egalitarian state, where we are seen as an inviting space for you, as a creator, as an audience or as a curious member of the public, to come with your own screen culture and feel that it’s valued, valid and relevant,” said Roberts. “We want to push through this strategy that screen culture is a positive for society – for creativity, for social cohesion, and the economy.”
He said there was a job for the BFI to do in enhancing the perceived value of the concept of ‘screen culture’ at its broadest. “Film, TV, the screen industries have always suffered somewhat in my mind by being stuck somewhere between a creative industry and an art form,” he said. “In the last decade the growth of the screen sectors has slightly eclipsed the role screen culture plays in terms of its societal benefits.
“We talk about video games and immersivity in the strategy but it’s fair to say young people are creating moving-image grammar when they make a Tik Tok,” Roberts continued. “It’s important we communicate that we care about that. It matters that the key body for film is being less limiting, or elitist or hierarchal in terms of form, format, genre.”
The new strategy further extends the BFI’s commitment to support screen industries outside of film, with an evolving focus on video games and extended reality.
“We are being as egalitarian as we’ve ever been, in terms of putting our arms, organisationally, around screen culture at its broadest,” said Roberts. “We also wanted to lean into the fact that everyone has a very different screen culture experience, and for some people, that’s video games.”
The first three years of the strategy will build a case for government and industry support for the video games sector, with the BFI already providing certification through the cultural test for tax relief for video games.
“What we’re not saying, at the moment, is that we have the funds from a lottery perspective to start funding video games through one of Mia’s funds,” explained Roberts, in reference to Mia Bays, director of the BFI Film Fund. “What we are saying is that we want to spend the next year or two working with that sector to understand what the case might be for us as the BFI, maybe through some funds, or maybe in partnership with others, to [explore] what’s the additionality, and what’s the public benefit for supporting video games.”
Screen Culture 2033 came together over a 13-month period and involved consultation with hundreds of screen-sector stakeholders and more than 2,000 members of the public across the UK, as well as close evaluation of the funding activity from the previous strategy period, BFI2022. There was a deep root-and-branch review of every single programme, partnership and activity the BFI undertakes.
“This time round we wanted to go back to basics, consult deeply, widely and extensively over a long period of time, and enter it in the spirit that everything that was on the table could be challenged,” said Roberts.
BFI chair Tim Richards said: “As a cultural charity and a distributor of National Lottery ‘good cause’ funding, we see the societal benefits of screen culture and the vital contribution it makes to the UK economy. The ambitions we lay out in Screen Culture 2033 … and the BFI National Lottery Strategy, aim to expand opportunities for creators, audiences, educators and industry to ensure the screen culture produced and consumed in the UK truly reflects our vibrant and diverse population.
“Our role in creating the right conditions for the economic growth and cultural development and appreciation of UK screen culture throughout our past, present and for the future has never been more important.”