Ben Roberts of BFI Film Fund

The BFI (British Film Institute) has been behind some of the best and brightest emerging talent in the country, providing an invaluable network of resources for those wanting to start out in a notoriously tough business.

Its Film Fund was established in order to find and nurture the creative forces to be reckoned with of tomorrow, ensuring our homegrown industry stays strong and relevant. However, like all institutions there have to be shake-ups in order to reflect the changing face of filmmaking and society. That’s why Fund director Ben Roberts has outlined some fundamental changes to the way the scheme operates.

As he describes it:

The recent wave of creative flair in new British cinema makes it an exciting moment to build on the momentum and confidence among filmmakers, and to open doors to those for whom the feature-length drama might not be their default setting, and create new languages in film… a lot of this is about giving our filmmakers the freedom and resources to go for broke, armed with the knowledge that they know someone is interested in supporting it, even if the risks seem substantial.

It’s hoped UK filmmakers will take inspiration from the likes of Get Out

Roberts identifies six key areas for expansion, the first of which is Cultural priorities. The Fund is changing how it assesses applications from different cultural backgrounds. The idea is to fairly maximize the use of BFI’s “meaningful but not endless” National Lottery money. Five “cultural objectives” have been identified, including a noticeable move to help productions outside of London. Read more about those here.

We… have to be clearer about our priorities than we have been in the past. This will help us help filmmakers make the most compelling arguments for support.

Developing more work beyond the capital requires UK-wide support, so Roberts has announced the creation of six regional Talent Development Executive posts. These will operate alongside existing FANs (Film Audience Networks). Roberts describes the Execs as:

Working like A&R scouts – a focus on outreach, discovery, and an opportunity to fund, encourage and engage new talent – helping new filmmakers to cut their demos, so to speak.

All important targets of Diversity and Inclusion will be reinforced, with annual reports intended to keep the decision-making process accountable:

We’ve long been guided by these principles, but we will put these in place formally from April 1, 2018.

One of the most eye-catching goals is a 50/50 gender balance in chosen filmmakers.

Lady Macbeth, a recent BFI production

Relaxing Film Fund guidelines: Shorter form projects have clearly had an impact on the Fund’s thinking. Whereas before a submitted film would need a running time of at least 1hr 9 mins, the guidelines will be adjusted to accept 60 mins. Roberts explains the BFI is…

…to try and be less prescriptive, to remove barriers rather than create new ones.

They will also be actively seeking non-traditional means of storytelling and alternate technologies.

Perhaps most interestingly the team are playing down the significance of a cinema release, categorizing their next intention as “Removing theatrical restrictions“. This is to reflect the changing face of distribution. I was certainly told when beginning my filmic endeavours that securing a distributor was essential. Now the likes of content snapper-upper Netflix are guiding Roberts down a different path:

It’s a working assumption that the theatrical release is the mark of a film’s success. Cinema is still our first love, but we’re trying to move the conversation on a bit.

The final change Roberts sets out also represents an acknowledgment of the evolving marketplace – Fully financing. Independent production is so often a piecemeal effort, with funding cobbled together from various sources. He wants a more efficient approach to this, with an emphasis on timetabling:

In certain scenarios, we’re there to fully finance work… but we will still encourage all producers to be securing other finance for their projects… We encourage producers to have a good sense of their potential audience, but let’s also recognise that so many of the more formidable successes… come from most unexpected places, and catch the industry and audiences by surprise.

Roberts hopes to find the next Christopher Nolan, but also directors from more diverse backgrounds

Implemented as part of the BFI2022 five year plan, these changes hopefully come as welcome news to aspiring filmmakers. Perhaps like me you’re surprised some ideas haven’t arrived sooner, particularly with regards distribution. Though it shows BFI are listening to people and, as films are all about communication, that can only be a good thing.


For more detail on the Film Fund reforms go here.


Source: ScreenDaily