I've spent the summer mulling the future of this blog. What began as a short break to recharge my batteries became, with surprising rapidity, a happy release from the treadmill of posts. As the weeks and months have passed I've grown accustomed to not committing my thoughts to the ether, a habit that I'm only breaking now because the moment feels right.
More than that, I've found a new purpose for the blog, and nothing is more motivating. Despite a growing readership and a subscriber base that numbers in the hundreds (i.e. a level of success for a niche blog I never anticipated), earlier this year I was struggling to justify the work involved, which contributes nothing to my income.
Fortunately, I was never in it for the money. At the time I started the blog I simply wanted to be part of a wider conversation about the film business with people who share my passion.
Truth is, the blog failed to generate the level of commentary from readers, and therefore affirmation, that I'd hoped. After nearly 200 posts, I've had 50 comments in total (for which I'm grateful, don't get me wrong).
And despite some very favourable words about the blog, some of which appear in the right-hand sidebar, I began to lose heart in the whole enterprise. It's a funny thing: when you don't get paid for your graft, you have to measure value and worth in other ways. In the absence of feedback, that's a real challenge.
So what's changed? Well, there's the small matter of the biggest shake-up in British film policy for a decade. The announcement in July that the UK Film Council is to be abolished has enormous ramifications. Whenever a big beast falls in the forest, the effect is felt up and down the food chain.
Now is not the time to unpack all that this shift in film policy augers, but one thing is clear and germane to re-launching the blog. With the Film Council gone (don't expect it to hang around much after next April) there's a very real danger that the type of research covered in this blog will cease to be available from publicly accessible sources. Goodbye Statistical Yearbook. So long UK production analyses (like that published today). No more studies into the local cinema ecology, cultural impact of British film, film education provision and so on.
Some recent commentators have ridiculed UKFC's research output, characterising it as partial and manipulated. Nonsense. The Research and Statistics Unit's output is one of the richest sources of film data and analysis anywhere in the world. Some UKFC press releases may have prioritised certain findings over others to tell a particular story, but the underlying research has always been sound, and open to scrutiny and challenge.
But who will pick up the torch once UKFC is no more? The BFI is a likely contender. After all, they published the Film and Television Handbook for many years before the Statistical Yearbook stole their thunder. But this seems fanciful given the Institute is facing a 15% cut to its already over-stretched budget.
Maybe Arts Council England (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)? They look favourite to inherit UKFC's lottery funding responsibilities. Trouble is, the bulk of UKFC's research activity was funded through grant-in-aid, not lottery. And that looks like it will simply vanish once the lights go off in Little Portland Street.
Besides, ACE has no previous form in handling market intelligence data of the sort we're talking about.
So the future looks bleak for the types of research that had previously been used to inform both strategic and tactical film policy decisions, as well as supporting business planning in the private sector up and down the country. What's more, the academic research community will suffer with the loss of these free resources.
So where does that leave Bigger Picture Research? Hard to say until we know for certain what will replace UK Film Council. But if film research as we've come to know it becomes scarcer on the ground, there's even more reason to collate whatever we can still lay our hands on. Whatever new direction film policy takes, it is imperative that those in charge are held to account. That can only be achieved with insight, analysis and no small degree of hard evidence.
Bigger Picture Research has a mission.
The first post will come as soon as the government announces UKFC's successor(s). In the meantime, I'd recommend interested readers should strip mine the RSU's page on the UKFC's web site. Download as much as you can before the switch is thrown. After all, that's the baseline data we'll be working with in the months and years to come. Get it while you can.