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The U.K. film industry had many reasons to celebrate throughout this year’s awards season, with plenty of recognition for British talent in front of and behind the camera. One of the standout titles was The Father, writer/director Florian Zeller’s twisting debut that thrust audiences into the mind of an elderly man suffering from dementia, which landed both BAFTA and Oscar wins for best adapted screenplay and best actor (for Anthony Hopkins).
As it happens, The Father — a French-British co-production — is exactly the sort of independent project that would benefit from the newly launched U.K. Global Screen Fund, an initiate that was first unveiled in late 2020 and formerly launched in April.
Financed by the U.K. government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and administered by the British Film Institute, the fund — set at £7 million ($10 million) in its pilot year — aims to boost international development and distribution opportunities for film, TV, animation, documentary and video games from the U.K.’s independent screen sector.
Partially aimed at replacing Creative Europe’s MEDIA fund, which the U.K. industry lost access to when the Brexit transition period concluded on Dec. 31 2020, the fund is split into three strands — supporting distribution for U.K. films, international co-productions and international business strategies driving international growth.
And it’s this final element — which opened to applicants May 25 — that arguably separates the U.K. Global Screen Fund much more from what was on offer before and could potentially plant the seeds for some major innovation when it comes to doing business abroad.
For the British Film Institute, the international business development strand — which is capped at a £200,000 ($283,000) grant over three years — is aimed at helping businesses explore markets where they might not have been able to previously.
“It’s about businesses who have an international strategy that requires them to use working capital, but it might be too risky for them to do so,” says the BFI’s director of international affairs Neil Peplow, who is leading the fund for its pilot year.
Among the areas where Peplow says companies could invest the money is in developing an international marketing approach in order to boost revenue streams.
“So could we use an existing platform like YouTube to boost recognition to then boost sales?,” he asks, pointing to animation as one area where that example might work. “It’s that kind of innovation that we’re looking for, and also giving company owners the ability to be innovative and adaptive to the way that the markets are changing, rather than just having development slate funds in place.”
For David Parfitt, who co-produced The Father through his London-based Trademark Films banner, the fund should allow producers such as himself to reduce the risk when they go out internationally with their IP.
“That’s something I noted with our French co-production partners on The Father — that holding onto the IP is central to the way French producers work and I know that’s very much encouraged,” he says.
Parfitt notes that producers in the independent film world often have to “give away everything” as they take their projects overseas.
“It’s always that moment, when you’re heading towards pre-production and that final deal comes in, and you effectively give away your firstborn just to get the film away,” he says. “So this funding should give us the opportunity to strengthen our hand in those sorts of deals.”
Of the three strands in the U.K. Global Screen Fund, the international business development element — investing early on, often before a project has begun searching for financing — is likely to take the longest to bare any visible fruit, especially compared to international distribution where increases in territories a film has reached will be instantly apparent.
“I think it’s the one that, to be honest, is the least likely to provide instant results, but it could end up being the most valuable if it does what it’s hoping to do in terms of developing new IP, strengthening companies and potentially attracting international investment” says Charlie Boye, chief executive of trade body Film Export U.K. “But because it’s — in all meanings of the word — speculative, it’s probably riskier, but potentially more rewarding.”
Boye compares the international business development strand to funding concepts that have already been well explored in the tech world, an area he says where people realize that “you kiss a lot of frogs before you get a prince.”
In putting together the U.K. Global Screen Fund, the BFI worked with trade bodies such as Film Export U.K., alongside individual companies across film, TV, animation and games to help get a broad understanding of what their international needs were. But the hope is that in this pilot year it will be able to gather enough data to precisely identity where the gaps are.
“I think we’ll see some really innovative approaches to building international business that we may not even be aware of,” says Peplow. “From conversations I’ve had in the animation sector and listening to the way that they’re thinking about how to distribute and exploit their IP, it’s very different to the way that a film production company would look at it, because they’ve got more of a direct route to market. So we’re learning a lot about different approaches.”
And there are also plans within the U.K. Global Screen Fund to use the information gathered to create a wealth of knowledge that can be shared among companies, giving them pointers about what works and what doesn’t in each territory. Peplow says that online events are in the pipeline that could eventually develop into full-blown physical seminars to discuss the varying approaches of doing international business.
With the doors to the fund now open, Peplow claims he wants to see applications from companies across the U.K.’s film, TV and gaming industries that all share a desire to answer the same ambitious question: how can we use this fund to explore international opportunities that will build more sustainable business?
“I think what’s great for us in the U.K. is that we have a huge number of companies that have managed to sustain [themselves] in an independent sector that’s got increasingly tough,” he says. “And they’ve done that because they are innovative and adaptive. And I think hopefully we can now support and encourage that into areas where previously they haven’t been able to go.”