Empire of the Sensless: Funding, Promoting and Nurturing Emerging Talent pt1
Yesterday, I identified three problems I see currently facing Scotland's film industry. Today, I want to focus on the first of those problems - funding for emerging talent, and the promotion and nurturing of that talent.
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My personal belief is that for the film industry to flourish it has to become more accessible – to everyone. Barriers between the Existing Industry and everyone else must be broken.
We live in a society where filmmaking is no longer a dream factory. Nearly everyone has access to a cameraphone and YouTube. We should not be propagating the pretense of elitism that unfortunately often appears to still exist - just read any news comments regarding new studios for proof as to how the public perceive us. This attitude and perception must be changed to attract and nourish new entrants and engage the public. The Scottish Film Industry should serve everyone.
So how do we make it more accessible? In relation to emerging talent I believe the current concept of funding needs to be completely rethought.
Part of this belief comes from a recent BFI press release indicating further regional initiatives to promote the emergence of new talent. This can be seen as one of the key current 'establishment' opportunities for funding new filmmakers.
I find it sad that the BFI is continuing to promote this model, especially as the Scottish arm - the SFTN - use this same approach. I believe this model is actually damaging to creativity, to the promotion of new talent and - most importantly - in retaining new talent.
I have no issue with anyone specifically within SFTN or BFI; I have worked with a few and respect them all individually for their external work. My contention is that this model of funding is out-dated and if we do not address it immediately we risk the future of our industry.
While there are funding options available through other areas of Creative Scotland (and other public avenues), the reason I am focusing on this BFI/Creative Scotland controlled model is because I see it as the most publicised scheme in terms of promoting new talent, and - most importantly - it is regarded as the 'establishment' option of a funded pathway . i.e. this can be easily be seen as the afirst step route for new fimmakers to have a short film funded before then progressing to larger projects. Because this is a 'first-step' it is the reason I am focussing so heavily on this scheme.
Alternative options for emerging filmmakers to receive Creative Scotland funding indepedently, and not through these schemes will be covered at a later time.
(For the sake of transparency: I have never applied for SFTN funding, though I have colleagues who have – both successfully and unsuccessfully. I have however received Creative Scotland funding for two features, which will also be discussed later)
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The ongoing route of public film scheme funding - handing out money to the few from a large pool of applicants does not seem to have given us the results which are required to grow a healthy, young industry.
Although the vast majority of the films created within the SFTN schemes are very good, and from talented filmmakers there does not appear to be any significant results from them to justify the resources used. Other than the exceptions, which is always the case, there are no continuous awards or prestigeous film festival screenings, TV screenings or career trajectories for films created from this scheme.
A google search reveals there is little written which has shown a wide focus on Scottish Filmmaking internationaly. We seem to have no identity on a world scale through these schemes, and I find this frustrating as this should not be the case after so many years of public funding. At best, not enough is being done -in terms of results - to justify the huge resources invested. This is even more pronounced when compared to the vast home-grown independent works such as student films, crowdfunded films and independent films, many which have received a similar level of international praise and the furthering of careers, with less public backing.
Essentially, a lot of our resources are being put into a very small pool which need not be the case for effective results. To put it another way – too much for too little.
To create an effective, blossoming and self-sufficient indegenous industry, I argue that we need to put these fairly significant resources into alternative areas to make the most effective use of them. This is far from calling for the abolition of this BFI/SFTN option, just a change in their business model in order to help more filmmakers, and to create a better homegrown film industry by using those same funds.
We need a model which can create an aprreciatative local Scottish Film identity, but more importantly one recognised across the globe - just like many other countries already have. Countries who have invested in their indeginous industry.
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Like many issues in society and the way they are addressed, the current practice of funding emerging talent is essentially a quick fix of throwing money at a problem rather than exploring the roots of the problem. Addressing these could potentially offer a more fulfilling option which would benefit filmmakers – and our culture more.
Other than my belief of this being a cultural crime, it demonstrates again that we are in a state of malaise when it comes to looking after both ourselves and our filmmaking future.
I've divided what I see as the main problems of this type of funding into sections below, and will go on to suggest an alternative model; which I believe would result in a fairer and more creative alternative for new filmmakers across Scotland to progress their careers - while still remaining in Scotland.
The problems of our funding model
A) This current SFTN/BFI model immediately creates a divide of 'being good enough to be funded' or 'not being good enough to be funded'.
I think this is where the heart of all current emerging talent issues begin. There's little difference to this approach than the grammar/comprehensive schools 11+ of the past. By it's nature this creates a situation where the vast majority of emerging talent are being told they are not good enough to make 'proper' films. The education system moved on from this approach many years ago for the better, and so should we.
This approach promotes elitism which in not conducive to creativity, and fundamentally leaves the vast majority of applicants i) lost; ii) angry iii) upset iv) disillusioned. Due to the multitude of differing personalities, upbringings and personal living situations of the filmmaking talent, you risk losing a great deal of potential with this process.
Many experienced practitioners face this harsh binary system in 'the real world' but for nourishing emerging talent I'd suggest that this approach is counter-productive. A generation of lost new talent should not be thrown on the scrapheap so early on in their career because of out-dated funding models.
B) The carrot-on-a-stick approach to this form of funding is flawed towards creativity and risk-taking by promoting conformity.
All artistic works of value, across generations have been based on the questioning and overthrowing of current modes of working practice and thought. The result of the small amounts of 'official' funding being made available in Scotland is for creatives to potentially conform and not to ask questions for fear of being 'blacklisted', or overlooked. I'm not suggesting this happens, only that this can be the perception from some new talent. A level of control is seen to be created that can never be healthy to the needed level of pushing boundaries.
This approach results in the danger of safe films being made which conform to a preferred way of filmmaking.
This control reins in unconventional thought, challenges, risks, ideas and strong attitudes. Potential mistakes, experiments and harsh corners are all smoothed off in order to be seen as a 'safe choice'. Conformity leads to conformity.
Mistakes are not being allowed to happen, fundamental to experimenting. Attitude and ideas are the cornerstone to excitement and constraining them to fit a mould can never be good.
Denmark used mistakes and took risks to learn and create their own unique cinema. The results of this, while taking years to flourish are now being seen and felt around the world. This is what Scotland needs, and should have had.
C) An establishment suggesting that in order to shoot a 'Proper Film' you need public funding.
Most application forms will ask if you have received public funding, suggesting a validation of your abilities if the answer is 'yes'.
During my first ventures into the film industry there were many short film schemes and opportunities for new talent provided by different funders, all aimed at very different levels of experience, background and income; and all set-up to engage filmmakers: Tartan Shorts, Tartan Smalls, 8 1'2, Cineworks, 10x10s, EVTC, Gmac, VIP, Mediabase/FVA and many, many others.
In addition to economic change, a large reason for so many of these options no longer existing is advances in technology, and the access to that technology. Grassroots filmmakers may have had inadequate Hi-8 15 years ago, but to obtain more professional and acceptable looking results expensive 16mm or DigiBeta was required, beyond the reach of most. Now we have iPhones, DSLRs and other extremely high-quality, vastly cheaper options which allow access to previously high-end tools to a far larger number of people. And this is great. The internet has injected virtual filmschools for nearly all, and mostly all free of charge.
It's no exaggeration to suggest we have seen a seismic change in the skill level quality of new filmmakers over the past 10 years. I'd suggest that a vast number of films made by young people today are probably better than many of the £60K Tartan Shorts made in the early 2000s. While this is apparent to some it is often not acknowleded by others. .
That point I am attempting to make is that there is now less of a need to financially assist in the pyshical shooting of a film. Today's talent is smart and resourceful. But the existence of our current public funding models perpetuate a myth that public funding is needed to be accepted and allowed to progress into the industry.
In my experience, by far the number one response from new talent when asked 'what do you need help with?' is 'funding'. The current funding structure is perpetuating this belief.
The result of this current thinking is that we enter a vicious circle or catch-22 situation. Being told you need public funding makes you believe you need pubic funding, and when you don't receive public funding you end up believing you can't make your film to a level of Industry Acceptance. We loose the business acumen, resiliance and creativity needed from producers by suggesting there is only one way of achieving something. These entrepreneurial skills are essential for any filmmakers further career.
D) The funding and promotion 'Catch-22': in order to exist there needs to be a reason to exist.
The BFI Emerging Talent Funding Networks are allocated money to assist new talent in making films. They do this but Independents also make many good films already in Scotland.
If the BFI networks are seen to promote these other, independent films which potentially become successful a question arises as to why these schemes need to exist in the first place? You enter a Catch-22 situation if promoting all levels of filmmaking, which is not helpful to an emerging industry.
It could be seen as a result of this conflict, the Networks rarely promote non BFI/SFTN films (certainly not on their Facebook page during 2017-2018 anyway). As will be seen later, those huge funds and resources can make a large difference to all the struggling filmmakers working independently (and not always by choice). The SFTN should be using their resources for promoting all successful filmmakers in Scotland, not just their own if using public funds.
What are the solutions?
The concept of inspiration, self-belief and the realisation that you are capable of doing something yourself is fundamental to an artist. Being told you that can do something yourself, or realising that you don't have to wait to ask for anyones permission to be creative is incredibly liberating. And this inspiration and promotion of independence is what is missing from our current system of funding emerging talent.
Regarding Year Zero moments in UK culture, the 'punk explosion' of the mid-late 1970s is one of the 20th century's cultural high water marks. It crossed music, film, fashion, journalism and theatre. A new breed of creatives were born from a system that previously stigmatised and controlled them. This was permission to disobey and loosing the fear of being different. It is no exageration to suggest a small moment of self realisation led to a movement which redifined the last centuries perception of art and changed culture dramatically.
I'm not for a second suggesting there should be any revolution or the destroying of any BFI Networks. But I do believe we need to rethink how they currently operate.
My suggestion for a solution to keeping and growing new talent is to focus less on the funding of actually shooting a film but using those BFI/CS resources to 'bookend' and assist a wider pool of films which are created independently.
By bookending I mean we should focus on the areas which happen before, and also after a physical film shoot. Pre-Pre Production and Post-Post Production, if you like.
Bookending - I think - is the key to using this funding more creatively and with more fulfilling, rewarding and exciting results.
Public money should be made available for this, and I believe it should be used by SFTN to help grow our grassroots industry. Create a real Scottish Film Talent Network by assisting those already making films.
By 'what happens before a film shoot', one aspect of this pre-pre production term is a need to engage with voices not yet heard.
From my experiences with fantastic schemes such as Hit The Ground Running – intended on creating opportunities for crew members – there are certain people who will apply, and certain people who sadly won't. Likewise, there are certain people who will apply for film funding. There are variable reasons for some people not feeling capable or confident enough to apply for these opportunities, but they should be encouraged to as they may just have the potential to create great stories.
I suggest that some of the SFTN/BFI money is spent on more social outreach and inspiring people to show they can make films of value, and don't have to be born an auteur to do so, or that their only option for achieving this is by being part of an elite. That validation is enough for a kernel to be born and this approach is currently severely lacking. Nurturing and growing talent should be fundamental to a healthy industry. Filmmaking should be for the many, not the few.
Much of the work in this area is already being done by Screen Education Edinburgh (also BFI funded) and in my opinion they are currently creating Scotland's best and most exciting output. If part of this work was adapted by the SFTN on a wider scale, and with a larger target quota than the SEE remit I believe we'd reach many more exciting voices currently unheard.
Inspiring filmmakers to seek different types of funding, on their own terms should be a priority. Crowdfunding, private investment, and other external funding should be seen as valid ways of paying for filmmaking. Many films – and many very successful ones have been funded this way.
Beside those who may not be confident enough to apply for any schemes there are currently thousands of independent filmmakers in Scotland already making shorts and struggling. A validation that what they are doing is of some worth, and can indeed add to Scotland's creative culture needs to be reflected by the wider industry.
It's not just finding new voices, it is furthering those who have already made films - and there are many. We need to address the imortance of promoting films currently made but needing an outlet. Assisting in promotion is a vital area that is traditionally been challenging for our industry.
It's never been easier to shoot your own movie. Options available to new filmakers, on completion of a film are still incredibly limited, and in my opinion this is where SFTN should really use their very large resources to promote Scottish Film Talent. And make a very large difference to our indegenous industry.
Promotion, PR, applying to film festivals, distribution are all key aspects of the filmmaking process which are still complicated. This final bookend is where I see our entire industry being benefited the most. Rather than funding 6 or so films per year, by assisting with already completed films they can boost their output to 30 or so more. And that will benefit us all.
Great films are going unnoticed on a world stage due to SFTN only promoting their own. That is not a Scottish Film Talent Network.
There are many areas for growing emerging talent which I have not seen adequate enough proposals for in the 3 released reports so far, which concern me.
I do believe that for the wider industry, what we have seen so far is a great step forward in bettering our industry but more work needs to be done, and clear plans made for our indeginous industry, which currently seem lacking.
There is a fantastic opportunity here to change the way we look at emerging filmmakers and our indeginous industry by introducing this new dedicated Screen Unit. There are so many areas which could be looked at to grow our industry, and if we don't make concrete plans now we can waste years getting close to where Denmark currently is..
A new studio is ovbiously a priority, although this would likely be service industry focussed. In the past quotas for home grown productions were introduced as a result of the increased amount of foreign productions basing themeselves in the UK. While 'Quota Quickies' have been stigmatised many great filmmakers were nourished through them - Michael Powell being a prime example. Quota productions certainly offer prime opportunity for experimenting, which I believe is an essential component for any filmmaker; and our current model certainly does not allow for mistakes. While many service productions are required to employ quotoas of local crew I also believe international productions filming here should be providing funding for emerging productions. A production such as Avengers could easily have funded two £20K micro budget feature films.
Tartan Features is an independent reaction to this, and the lacking of important forward thinking schemes such as iFeatures based in Scotland. We have, beyond proof-of-concept shown that you can create successful micro-budgeted features - and experiment by going out and doing this ourselves. With their greater resources we should have, over these 5 years seen something similar from SFTN. It's incredulous to think they have not created one micro budget feature, regardless of success. We should not have to do what they should be doing. It is now an essential stepping stone from shorts to larger, traditional features.
Additionally we need to address the propossed 'One Stop Shop' focus of the Screen Unit fully, in relation to emerging talent. I believe there are currently large problems with gaining access and one door entry has the potential to hinder that access more if not adequately thought through..
I have been lucky by having two feature films funded through CS. I can only say positive things about my own experiences with them, and I believe I have had a good relationship with them. I do have a feeling however that my access to this funding would not have been so easy without the assistance of very good, recognised producers who were working with me. While I feel I have been looked after well I know from hearing from the experiences of other independent filmmakers that access to funding is a problem for them, and the term often used is 'without knowing the right people'; whether this is right or wrong. I feel that for those lucky enought to be funded, like myself we should not keep our heads down when there is a perceived problem of access for others. I feel I've been treated well by CS but I know others who disagree and their reasons for this must be looked into adequately..
The Propossed Screen Unit must re-asses how they interact with and and offer access to funding for emerging filmmakers. As the heavily publicised entry level pathway sceme for new Scottish Film Making talent, I believe the first area we should be looking at for re-assesing is this BFI/SFTN scheme.
After this first step we should continue to look at the many other options for engaging, exciting and increasing new Scottish Film Talent, and to better our industry.
There should be no reason to wait for anyone else to do this. Nobody has the right to say you are, or are not a part of the Film Industry. Everyone, including the public are part of the Scottish Film Industry, and as part of our future culture we all have an equal voice in this important opportunity. And we should not remain silent.