BFI authors’ rights

Phase One of the BFI’s plan outlined by Amanda Nevill is due to be completed within six months. The initial consultation period will finish on 22 June 2007. If, as seems likely, the plan to dispose of BFI Publishing then moves ahead, BFI authors will no doubt be approached about assigning their rights to another publishing house.

If you are a BFI author with a recent standard contract, it should include a clause on ASSIGNMENT stating that: ‘Neither party shall assign the rights or obligations set out in this agreement in whole or in part without the written consent of the other party’.

Whatever type of contract you have, it’s advisable for all BFI authors to obtain expert advice about the implications of any assignation proposals, and to take steps to protect their rights. The Society of Authors (http://www.societyofauthors.net/) provides legal and other advice to members.

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Letter in the THES

A letter addressed to Amanda Nevill and Anthony Minghella by 48 leading academics from around the world is published in this week’s Times Higher Education Supplement. The letter was sent before the BFI circulated its plans, but the concerns expressed in it were on the mark.

BFI’s vital mission
We have read the document The BFI: A Preview on the institute’s web page, which details initial plans for a radical overhaul. We applaud the desire to examine how to maintain and develop the BFI’s historic mission but are concerned that the document does not address book publishing.

Publishing at the BFI has long been a key component of its national and international image and reputation.

We and many other senior scholars of the media around the world have benefited from the wealth of sophisticated, high-level cultural research and pedagogy that the area has supported and promoted.

As an imprint and a group of in-house intellectuals linked to the wider tasks of the institute (many of whom have been distinguished authors in their own right), BFI Publishing has made a unique contribution to the study of film and television around the globe.

We are not aware of any specific plans the BFI has to evaluate publishing, but with so many segments of public culture at risk through the desire to monetise all and sundry, we want to emphasise the importance of this wing of your activities.

For us, for media studies academics and students around the world, it could not be greater. Publishing at the BFI is an international flagship to millions of people in education.

We urge you to sustain and develop this vital independent voice.

Toby Miller
University of California, Riverside
Tony Bennett
Open University
Charlotte Brunsdon
Warwick University
And 45 other leading academics from around the world




Amanda Nevill’s letter

The full text of Amanda Nevill’s letter, circulated yesterday and again today, appears below. If you can get past the litany of ‘really, really stunning’ achievements, the really, really cunning part appears at the end, where the details of Phase One are revealed. The rhetoric of success clearly has not impressed the funding agencies, since BFI management has failed to attain adequate funding for the BFI’s cultural activities, and has been unable to think creatively or responsibly about ways to respond to the funding crisis. Instead, it is acting hastily and without consideration for the organisation’s long-term health and survival.

Dear Colleague
I am writing to tell you of some forthcoming changes at the BFI which I would like you to know about, hopefully in advance of your hearing if from other sources.

Following a review in 2003, we set a new strategic direction – a dynamic, ambitious and inspiring plan which led to a much needed increase in funding. The plan focussed on:

*The BFI National Archive and Collections – nurturing and nourishing the greatest collections on film in the world – both physical and intellectual engagement

*Sustaining an international focus for film exhibition in this country – through BFI Southbank and the London Film – to build the case for a Film Centre

*Deliberately intervening to ensure the widest diversity of film and knowledge about film is available to everyone in the UK – recognising that eventually most distribution will be done digitally

Explicit within these goals was an expectation that we aspired to remain an international cultural authority – and be recognised as such at home and abroad. Critically to achieve any of this we needed to lift the perceived value of the BFI and what it delivered. We have delivered on all fronts with some really, really stunning achievements.

The profile and commitment to the Archive is completely different. We have provided national leadership through the emerging National Film Archive Strategy, invested in the organisational and physical care of the archive, plus made real steps forward in reaching out to new audiences through broadcast, innovative event screenings and the design and programming of the Mediatheque. New monies have been brought in to further our aims. Of course, it is nowhere near enough, the Archive is a life work, but as a result of the new, high profile commitment to the Archive, new funding opportunities are presenting themselves – opportunities which simply would not have been there before.

We have changed the face and profile of the BFI and all its activities by opening a new front door at BFI Southbank. Again a really important step in showing the world in a much more comprehensive way, the value of all our activities, and our determination that the international legacy of the world renowned cultural programme is sustained into the future – and in a way which responds to today’s audience expectations. As a direct result of building the case for BFI Southbank, significant funding for a feasibility study for the Film Centre was forthcoming along with the stunning alignment of key stakeholders supporting the potential for a longer-term project.

There is a soaring ambition for the Festivals – particularly the LFF where admired programming, together with critical relationship building and the marketing additionality of the headline sponsor, has attracted renewed interest which brings with it the potential of new funding support in the future.

Some stunning new initiatives have brought our distribution of film and knowledge to a large number of new audiences, from the real successes of co-productions in Mitchell & Kenyon and Friese-Greene, the archival shorts initiative. Furthermore the availability online of the legendary BFI filmographic database has resulted in a groundbreaking commercial deal which will lead to the BFI knowledge and brand being an integral part of all portable video players into the future.

The digitisation of archive material for the Mediatheque and the production of education materials for this and ‘Screen-on-line’ contributed to our national profile, manifest in our leadership of the National Film Education Strategy. Looking forward the horizon is very complex – and uncertain. There are real opportunities for much needed capital investment, but some very, very real challenges with expectations of a significantly reduced operational budget. There are also decisions we made three years ago that we have yet to carry out. The Governors re-affirmed the strategic direction last June (2006) – whilst acknowledging the likely challenging financial context going forward, namely:

– an uncertain commercial climate for books, DVDs and Stills sales
– higher than anticipated utilities costs
– a continued requirement to top up our pension fund (£7-800k per annum)
– uncertainty about our grant in aid from Government – it has been the same for 4 years (with no inflationary link). Whilst we expected this to be the case for the first three years, we could not plan for a standstill grant this year or going forward without significant change across the BFI in order to live within a smaller budget framework. It is now clear that this is the most likely scenario although confirmation will probably not be received until late autumn 2007 – hence our critical need to re-think and re-align now. These are set against the opportunities presented as a result of the work achieved in the last three years:

– stronger cohesive organisation with an influential and supportive Board
– changing perception of the BFI across broad stakeholder group (with still masses more to do)
– potential capital funds for the Archive

– potential funding for the Festival

– potential support and funding for the Film Centre

So the challenge is to push ahead with our strategic direction, adhere to the integration of our cultural values whilst explore alternative ways to work within a significantly reduced financial framework. We are taking a phased approach. An outline of the first phase is attached for your information. As you can see, we are determined wherever possible to protect areas of critical cultural roles but find creative ways to deliver them differently.

We will need to implement this first phase in the next six months. As you are aware, a feasibility study was undertaken two years ago under the guidance of a committee compiled of representatives of the British Library, HEFCE, BUFVC, AHRC and MeCCSA looking at the future investment needs of the Library. The recommendations of the report reinforced the original decision to look to a partnership. We are now pushing ahead with the plan to seek a formal partnership for the Library for investment and greater engagement by the research, academic and filmmaking communities. In order to live within a reduced financial framework, there will be further changes to come later in the year. As soon as they are formulated I will write again.

Above all we need your support. It is very important to all of us that we don’t undermine the good work achieved over the last three years. As a special friend of the BFI, I hope therefore that if you have any concerns, queries or suggestions that your first port of call would be ring or email me directly as I would be very delighted to discuss any area in more detail if wished.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely
Amanda Nevill
Director

An outline of the first phase
– We propose to remove BFI Book Publishing from the direct management and responsibility of the BFI whilst retaining the imprint and close association between BFI books and the overall cultural programme. This will be effected by a sale, merger or outsourcing arrangement.

– The Footage sales operation has grown significantly over the past three years. We now want to develop the operation further.
– We believe that the Film Sales operation will perform best if it is contained within an organization that has greater critical mass in this area of work. We propose to seek tenders from third parties to take over the film sales on behalf of the BFI.

– The Stills collection we propose will revert to a research only facility and we will no longer engage in sales activity. Eventually, it is anticipated that the Stills collection will move to Berkhamsted in order to release space at Stephen Street.
– Sales of BFI DVDS are already managed by a third party. We intent to engage in a re-tendering of that activity over the next few months. We also wish to review whether we can deliver DVDs in a different way. This includes a potential procurement tender. We plan to tender the production process for DVD to see if we can improve performance through managing the editorial and delivery in-house, but the production process out-of-house.
– Sight and Sound remains an important part of the BFI’s cultural outreach but we need to work on a growth plan to secure its future. In particular, we want to get a better understanding of Sight and Sound’s editorial role within the emerging BFI digital strategy through retaining editorial content in house but market testing the production process.
– The BFI Membership Scheme, which was relaunched within the Trading Division and is now attaining stability verging on growth, is now in good enough state to transfer to the Marketing Team where there are obvious links and strategies.

BFI Publishing Update

Following letters of concern about their restructuring plans to BFI Director Amanda Nevill and Chair of the Board of Governors Anthony Minghella, on Friday 25 May a statement was circulated by BFI Head of Publishing informing recipients about the intention to seek external partners to take over the book list. The statement indicated that the BFI imprint would be protected and current contracts honoured in any arrangements with other publishers. However, it did not invite discussion with or input from BFI authors or the wider film and television education community. It simply said that we would be kept informed about progress and the final decision. In a separate email, Amanda Nevill stated that a fuller statement about the BFI’s plans would be circulated within a week.

That statement arrived by email today. It outlines the BFI’s achievements over the past three years, the impact of financial constraints on the organisation’s future activities, and the extensive plans for reorganising its activities. Those plans will proceed in stages, and the first phase will affect the following operations: BFI Book Publishing; footage sales; film sales; the stills collection; DVD production and sales; Sight and Sound magazine; and BFI membership. The BFI library is not mentioned as part of the first phase. As far as BFI Publishing is concerned, the statement indicates management’s proposal to ‘remove BFI Book Publishing from the direct management and responsibility of the BFI whilst retaining the imprint and close association between BFI books and the overall cultural programme. This will be effected by a sale, merger or outsourcing arrangement.’

Amanda Nevill affirms her willingness to discuss these developments in more detail, so anyone who would like to see the full statement, or would like clarification of how these decisions were reached, should email her at amanda.nevill@bfi.org.uk. She also states that she will write again as soon as there is further information.

Matters are moving very fast, and anyone affected by or concerned about the BFI’s profound policy changes should make their voice heard as soon as possible. The decision to dispose of BFI Publishing will have far-reaching effects and should be discussed openly and democratically with everyone who has a stake in the future of the BFI.



Welcome to BFIwatch

You are visiting BFIwatch, a blog set up to provide a discussion forum for events affecting the British Film Institute, London, UK. The blog is completely independent of the BFI, and is intended to be used as a means of sharing information between interested people around the world.

The BFI is a leading national and international cultural organisation that promotes and supports a range of activities concerned with film and television education. (To learn more about the different aspects of the BFI, click here: http://www.bfi.org.uk). Through its activities and publications it provides essential resources for research and scholarship, and it has been central to developments in film and television studies in the UK and globally.

Like many other cultural organisations, the BFI faces a lack of adequate funding for its activities. This situation has led to a programme of restructuring and a major rebranding operation. Decisions are currently being made by BFI management that will change the organisation’s identity forever, and will affect its position in the film and television education community. One of those decisions concerns BFI Publishing, which produces an award-winning, influential list of books that is at the heart of the BFI’s educational and cultural remit.

BFI management has announced its intention to look for external partners to take over the list. If this should happen, BFI authors’ rights could be affected and the list could lose its distinctive remit. The international reputation of the BFI could also be seriously damaged. Despite the radical impact of this move, there has been no discussion or debate about it. BFI authors have simply been told that they will be kept informed of progress and the final decision. The BFI is a public body accountable to its stakeholders and members. A significant policy change such as this should have been openly and democratically discussed before the decision to dispose of the list was taken, so that everyone concerned is aware of the implications.

Please add your voice to those asking for clarity and transparency in the BFI’s decision-making process. We welcome comments, suggestions and advice posted on BFIwatch.

Keep informed.