Unable to sleep (and still reeling from the awfulness of 10 O’Clock Live), connections formed in my mind between the data and certain recent developments, including Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s appearance at a London School of Economics event (I know. On reflection I should have taken a sleeping pill).
Contrary to what we’d been told about perniciously high salaries and quango combustibility, the Minister informed his audience the decision to abolish the UKFC was down to their ‘failure to arrest the relative decline of the British independence [sic] film-making sector, compared with those of France, Germany and even Italy’ (as reported by Raymond Snoddy).
“There ought to be a huge opportunity for British independent filmmakers to grow and grow to a significant size”, the Minister is quoted as saying in Snoddy’s report in The Spectator.
I’m not disputing the idea that independent filmmaking has declined in the UK. I’d simply like to know what data, models and assumptions were used to arrive at this conclusion, because (arguably) these same numbers could also tell us something useful about ‘sustainability’- which would make them ideal candidates for judging the success of film policy under the BFI. We should be told.
There’s a wider issue here, and it concerns what research and market intelligence is needed in the public domain, both to judge the success of public policy and to help tackle the ‘information asymmetry’ underlying market failure within UK film (see Angus Finney’s The International Film Business: A Market Guide Beyond Hollywood for more on this subject). Many SMEs are disadvantaged by limited access to good quality market data and analysis for business planning, so there’s scope for the public sector to add considerable value by making such information available at little or no cost.
The opportunity to ask this question afresh comes with UKFC’s imminent closure, and uncertainty over the future of its research function. There’s been no specific mention of funding to continue the work of the Research & Statistics Unit, so 2011 could be the last year we see a Statistical Yearbook. And unless Film London (for example) takes on the role of tracking UK production activity and reporting the numbers, the type of release issued yesterday by UKFC will also cease.
So while the practical decisions about public funding for film are still being taken (and while we have a chance to influence that decision making), let’s put together a wish list of the most useful and relevant information for gauging the present state and future prospects of our national industry. What do we need to know?
Over the next few weeks I’ll be soliciting the views of well-regarded industry commentators and well-placed insiders (as well as some noteworthy outsiders), with the aim of posting the widest range of views on what research and market intelligence we’d like to see freely available post-UKFC. I hope you’ll join the debate.