Amanda Nevill on future of the BFI

From Screen Daily today:

BFI’s Amanda Nevill: ‘This is an organisation that does make money, unlike the Film Council’

30 November, 2010 | By Wendy Mitchell

After yesterday’s announcement that the BFI would be taking on a number of key activities formerly overseen by the Film Council, Screen’s Wendy Mitchell spoke to BFI Director Amanda Nevill about how the BFI would have to change moving forward.

What would you say to people who don’t think the BFI is a good fit for Lottery funding?

There is a misconception here. Let’s look at what the BFI does, and how commercially successful we are. If you look at the IMAX, that was the highest-grossing screen for Harry Potter. The BFI Southbank’s percentage of occupancy is up there in the high 40s, which is nearly double the industry norm. With the BFI London Film Festival, we negotiate year round with the distributors, studios, and production companies around the world to bring those films here, and it’s a real industry reason that we do that.

If you look at all of the resources that the BFI delivers, like the of the BFI and the archive, those are used by television researchers and film researchers. The BFI Southbank is one of the launching places for films, we do previews all the time.

When you start to look at us very deeply, I think people can say first of all this is an organisation that does make money, unlike the Film Council. It funded very well but it didn’t make money. For every pound of public money, we generate another £1.50, because we’re very lean, our salaries are very low, every single penny of that profit is invested back in the things we’re here to deliver. I’m absolutely certain that’s one of very significant reasons the minister looked at us, we’re very lean, mean, salaries are low, overheads are tight, and the money gets invested back.

[BFI chairman] Greg Dyke’s statement today said that the BFI would hope to increase Lottery Funding for production from £15m to £18m, thanks to overheads savings. Can you give us any insight into where those savings will be made?

We’re putting our mouth where our money is in a way. One of the arguments [for the Government’s recent decisions] is that this country could no longer afford a Film Council and a BFI. Common sense tells you that if you put two organisations together you can make economies of scale and savings of overheads, which you can then redirect or reinvest.

Greg is quite rightly saying that our aim from the get go is to ensure that that money gets to the bottom line to reinvest. In this context, Greg is saying that his aim for next year is to increase the Lottery fund for that year whilst we do a massive review and consulation of all of our policies and strategies, with the industry.

This isn’t just about a new chapter for the BFI, this is about a very different chapter in the way the government relates to the industry. I don’t just mean the making of the Harry Potter films, I mean right the way across from emerging filmmakers to developing audiences to getting a greater diversity of British films seen out in the regions, and seeing what we can do to promote British films overseas.

Is it too early to think about the number of total staff at the BFI, or the location of offices?

The BFI as it stands now is facing a 15% cut on top of six years of no additional funding. So the BFI, in size, is going to be shrinking anyway. We will then be bringing staff from the Film Council to follow with the activity that we are picking up. The other thing is that we will be looking really hard at the way in which we offer that funding. So that the overheads are minimal.

Having gone through all the modelling that we looked at for the merger, and this is going to be less than during the merger, we know that you can get overheads out, you can get savings.

Even though we’ve had a standstill budget and inflation going up, in the last five years the turnover of our businesses has gone up 10% over inflation.

How many board positions are currently open at the BFI?

Five. We deliberately held back from filling those. We straight from merger discussions to abolishment of the Film Council to this. So we promised we wouldn’t fill those positions.

What kind of people would you like to see in those roles?

We’ve got some very strong industry people on the board already like Eric Fellner and Peter Watson. And Tessa Ross has recently formally come on board.What we’d be looking for is a mix of very high-end industry figures, film directors, possibly somebody from a digital convergence area, and then almost certainly somebody with some legal head on their shoulders.

Vaizey also very pointedly noted that BFI senior management roles might change, can you elaborate on that at all?

This is, in fact, the BFI moving on to its next chapter, he used those words deliberately. We’re taking on more activities so we need to skill up in those. So the expectation is that the senior executive board will have to bring on at least one or two posts I would have thought, although it’s very early to say, to help support delivery of these responsibilities.

What about some areas of UKFC business that weren’t brought up in the speech today, like the Innovation Fund?

It hasn’t gotten down to that level in detail, but I can reiterate that any funding commitments that are in place will continue until April 2012.

We’re going to take that year to do a very wide-ranging consultation. I think there’s a huge amount of pent up desire for people to discuss and get out their particular ideas for what they think should happen. I want to make sure there is more than enough time to do that. So eventually we’ll come up with a strategy that people will own, even if they don’t agree with every part of it. And then we will put the funding support on whatever that strategy is.

Is there any concern about the BFI charter having to change to accommodate Lottery distribution?

I know it for absolute certain that actually the charitable status will be of enormous benefit, because you are required to reinvest back in, you have to keep a tight lid on your costs and overhead and salaries. There will be a couple of small changes to the charter, which aren’t fundamental at all, for example when the Film Council was invented, we had to change a bit in it to say that our funding would be received from the Film Council. But we’ve already been extremely careful to check all of this.

Why this could this move be good for the industry and also good for the BFI?

It is a new chapter. That’s not to say the old chapter wasn’t good, it was a really important part of film going forward. But I think different times require different solutions. The things that used to frustrate me and that now really excite me are this notion that we can join things up a lot more. For one tiny example, we put production funding in, a lot of that money will go to emerging filmmakers, there are a lot of difference when we can say, here’s your money to make your film, and by the way there is all the rest of this BFI portfolio that can support you from the get go. That notion of fusion and creating this whole environment of support, that has got to be exciting.

BFI’s Amanda Nevill: ‘This is an organisation that does make money, unlike the Film Council’ | News | Screen

More on agencies involved in funding British cinema

From the Guardian yesterday:

British Film Institute to take over from UK Film Council
BFI will distribute lottery money to film-makers, the culture minister Ed Vaizey announces 

Mark Brown, Arts correspondent, Monday 29 November 2010 19.22 GMT

The British Film Institute will distribute lottery money to film-makers from next year, ministers announced today, ending – they hope – an acrimonious row that even prompted Clint Eastwood to write a concerned letter to the chancellor. 

The government revealed its plan to abolish the 10-year-old UK Film Council in July. Even those who sympathised with the decision criticised the lack of a plan for who would take over. 

Today the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, tried to alleviate those worries by announcing the BFI would take on most of the UKFC’s functions apart from the task of encouraging inward investment, which would be in the hands of Film London. 

Vaizey said the BFI would have to “change fundamentally” to be “more able to realise an exciting vision of a coherent, joined-up film industry”. 

It will be responsible not only for heritage and education, but for helping the production, exhibition and distribution of new British films. 

In a speech at Bafta’s headquarters in London, Vaizey said the intention was to build on the already considerable achievements of the British film industry. “Despite the success, we cannot be complacent,” he said. “The goal of a sustainable, independent British film industry remains as elusive as ever.” 

The BFI immediately announced a rise in the money available for new films in the coming year from £15m to £18m, made possible by the cut in overhead costs because of the film council’s abolition. 

More than a year ago the Labour government planned to merge the BFI with the film council, with the BFI as junior partner. Today’s announcement, a merger in all but name, puts the BFI in charge. 

Its chairman, Greg Dyke, said: “It makes sense for there to be a single voice for film in this country – and that’s going to be us.” He added: “We can certainly do it significantly cheaper … how much cheaper, we don’t know yet. The UK Film Council carried quite a large overhead.”

There are still lots of questions. How much bigger will the BFI have to become? How much more money will it get? How many film council staff will transfer?
Vaizey said he expected a detailed transfer plan to be sorted in the new year.
He reaffirmed that lottery funding for film would rise from £27m to more than £40m by 2014 and said there were no plans to change the tax credit scheme which has encouraged Hollywood studios to make films in the UK.


Vaizey praised Channel 4 and the BBC for its investment in film-making but said he could not understand why Sky did not make films. “As one of the country’s most innovative broadcasters, they would bring a new dynamic force to the table that would lift everybody’s game.”
The job of attracting foreign – principally Hollywood – studios to Britain will go to Film London, but Vaizey stressed that it would be working for the whole of the UK, not just the capital.

The announcements were generally welcomed by the industry. Film producer David Parfitt, incoming chairman of Film London, said: “The key thing for us is that the money is still there and there is a promise to increase it and also a guarantee of the long-term future of the tax credit. 

“Those are the things that the industry really wanted to hear.” 

There was a more understandably downbeat response from the UKFC as it continues to help out in its own abolition. Tim Cagney, managing director, said: “We are relieved that, after over four months of uncertainty, the government has made up its mind on where public support for UK film will sit. There are still many unresolved issues so, to benefit the industry and to protect our staff, we will continue to work with the relevant organisations on a smooth handover of film functions and expertise.” 

Privately, ministers acknowledge that the film council’s abolition was badly handled. It led to angry letters to newspapers, and the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, even travelled to Los Angeles to assert that the UK was open for business when it came to film.
Since then, Vaizey has consulted widely and also announced today that he was setting up a ministerial film forum to meet every six months or so to debate issues and concerns.
Vaizey also announced that the eight regional screen agencies outside London would be streamlined into a single body, Creative England.

Greg Dyke’s response to DCMS proposals

From the BFI website today:

The BFI will become the lead strategic body on film and the distributor of Lottery funds to UK film-makers from April 2011, Minister for Culture and the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, has announced.

Greg Dyke, Chair of the BFI, has issued the following open letter to the film industry:

You will have heard that in a speech he gave this morning, Ed Vaizey has asked the BFI to take responsibility for film policy in Britain. Under this umbrella is the distribution of Lottery funding. Also included are certification, the Media desk, support for film in the nations and regions, and education.

It is a bold move to create a single body to champion film across the whole of the UK and provide a clear focus internationally.

In his speech, Ed Vaizey also confirmed an ongoing commitment to the tax breaks and he reaffirmed that lottery funding is expected to increase from £27m currently to over £40m by 2014. We obviously welcome both decisions.

This move will mean a major transformation for the BFI. In the immediate term we will be working closely with staff at the UK Film Council to make sure that the skills, expertise and knowledge needed for this new world are retained. For some time we have deliberately held back from making new appointments to the BFI Board, but now that we understand the full scope of our new responsibilities, we can begin the process of recruiting the new Board members. In particular we will be looking to appoint new Governors who are active in the film industry.

Also in the short term, we hope to make more money available for film in the coming year, increasing the size of the Production Fund in 2011-12 from £15m to £18m – that’s an increase of 20%. This is possible because we will be making significant overhead savings.

We are looking forward to working even more closely with our colleagues in each of the Nations and with those across the English regions through the new “Creative England”. We currently have a good relationship with Film London that is set to be come stronger and this announcement from Government has already become a catalyst for a new drive to promote British film, with initial pledged partnership commitments from BBC Worldwide, BAFTA and Odeon plus, we anticipate, many others.

Of course all of this is subject to the inevitable process of due diligence which will take several months, but we aim to move quickly and to work in an inclusive and collaborative way to develop a new, exciting and coherent vision for film in Britain going forward.

BFI to oversee funding for British cinema

From the Guardian today:

British Film Institute to oversee 60% rise in movie industry lottery funding

Culture minister Ed Vaizey praises the efforts of the UK Film Council but says it is time for the industry to move into a ‘new chapter’.

John Plunkett, Monday 29 November 2010

The culture minister, Ed Vaizey, today said the British Film Institute would assume the lion’s share of the responsibilities of the defunct UK Film Council and announced a 60% increase in lottery funding for the UK industry.

Vaizey added that the BFI would be a “single voice” for British film and described it as an exciting new page in the history of the industry in the UK.

He said the amount of lottery funding available to the UK film industrywould increase from £27m today to £43m by 2014.

He praised the contribution of the BBC and Channel 4 to UK film-making and called on BSkyB to invest in British movies as they had done in domestic television.

Vaizey said the BFI would be in charge of delivering government policy on film and the distribution of lottery money.

It remains unclear how much will be saved as a result of the controversial axing of the Film Council and the transfer of the majority of its powers to the BFI.

But Vaizey said: “I am pretty certain that we are going to save significant amounts of money going forward and we will see a significant amount of those savings going into film production.”

He added that he did not want to “denigrate” the efforts of the film council, which had been a “great success”, but said it was time for a “new chapter”.

More details soon…

British Film Institute to oversee 60% rise in movie industry lottery funding | Film |

Update on funding bodies for British cinema

From the Daily Mail yesterday:

Curtains for UK Film Council as film charity takes over


Last updated at 10:48 PM on 13th November 2010

The British Film Institute, the charity chaired by former BBC chief Greg Dyke, is to take over the UK Film Council’s role handing out lottery funds to film makers. An announcement is expected from Culture Secretary Jeremy hunt next week.

The Government has pledged to abolish the Film Council in its ‘bonfire of the quangos’.

The council was behind hits such as Bend It Like Beckham, Tamara Drewe and the Last King Of Scotland, though it also had its share of flops such as Sex Lives Of the Potato Men.

While the BFI is expected to handle the council’s £15 million a year funding to film makers, the Arts Council will handle some of the administration to avoid any conflict of interest.

Curtains for UK Film Council as film charity takes over | Mail Online