WARNING: extreme cynicism ahead (goes on for a while too).
Below is pretty much an essay that poored out of me unexpectedly when I started writing a topic to discuss the good and bad side of lottery funding.
If I was a bleeting hippy I might refer to the BFI and organisations like it as a big uncaring industrial monster that thinks nothing of the delicacies of creative art and only seeks to control it for it's own profiteering ends. Since I'm not a bleeting hippy I won't say that but that doesn't make it not at least partially true.
It's important to begin by explaining that I am looking at this from the perspective of a young filmmaker currently producing his first feature without previous professional (industry standard) credits outside of his own work. To the industry I am a nobody, and ambitious nobody but a nobody none the less.
For anybody unfamiliar with the what was the UK Film Council that has now been absorbed by the BFI I will offer a brief rundown of what I have come to understand that they do. On the positive side they are a funder of independent film that anybody of any level can apply to in the hope of securing money to make their first dream project (currently the BFI is only funding features, but it's a new system so it's just finding it's legs). Theoretically they are fantastic resource, a bridge into the industry for those of us on the bottom rung who need that extra boost, and there's no denying that a 'UK Film Council' (now the BFI) logo on your film offers a large amount of credibility to your project.
This is all well and good, but when something sounds this great it usually isn't. The UK Film Council that was, in my understanding, dealt primarily with "development funding". In other words they gave you some start up capital along with the credibility and contacts that came with their brand name to get your movie off the ground. You used this to gather investment and talent and then had to pay back that development fund by the first day of filming. Sounds like a good deal, however, the fine print in the UK Film Council stated that it did not fund projects with a budget of less than £500K.
This is not an enormous amount of money in film terms, if you're an established filmmaker, but if you're just starting out with very little besides a love of film and (hopefully) a healthy share of talent then that is an obscene amount of money because the odds are you live in zone Z of London writing captions for comic strips and are so poor you've been using the same tea bag over and over again for the last month. In a broad stroke I felt that the UK Film Council was designed to force someone like me to make a film way beyond what I was comfortable with and spend money that I more than likely had no chance of getting back, that's assuming I could gather the money in the first place and didn't just float around in debt to them for years on end.
The inherent problem here is that it isn't helping talented newcomers to fullfil their dreams it's forcing talented newcomers to conform to all the same rules that their much more successful peers conform to, which frankly is ludicrous. The BFI have a somewhat different plan though, they actually fund your film outright, either entirely or partially, but the breakdown of what they do doesn't seem any less ridiculous.
Say the BFI give you £500K to make your film, well firstly they don't actually do that, they just promise to do that. According to their terms and conditions you sign up and recieve their interest and it is then entirely your responsibility to gain other investment (if necessary), other talent (cast and crew), a distribution deal and all advertising associated. After you've accomplished all of this you get your money and make your film, except the BFI can intercede at any point they like during this process and the contract you sign with them clearly states that the BFI hold final cut over your movie. Once the film is finished and released the BFI own it, after arguably having contributed the least amount of work to its creation, and you owe them £500K for the privelige.
Okay, let's say the label of BFI is worth it's weight in gold, which to be fair it probably is, and there's every probability that the BFI will not in fact bother to take creative control of your film, that clause could just be there to cover themselves in case they accidently fund Nazi propaganda and don't realise until the last minute. Anyone who has dealt with lawyers and contracts will know that they always sound like they're trying to screw you over but are usually just cautionary. So okay, maybe I'm going overboard, but my point regards new filmmakers still feels valid.
For one thing if you aren't planning on a cinema release then there's no point even applying for funding, which almost immediately knocks most small time filmmakers out the window. The UK Film Council, and presumably now the BFI, generally fund a lot of mid-level British movies, movies with stars made by people with industry contacts, still possibly directors and writers making their first films, but these people aren't nobodies they know what they doing. The fund seems designed to help established professionals take the next step in their career, which is fine they deserve help too, but it wants to mascarade itself as supporting new talent and I just don't think it's doing that.
New talent doesn't need money so much as it needs help meeting the right people and guidance in the right direction. As far as I can tell the BFI contributes nothing to the creation of a film aside from a little bit of credibility and for what they ask for in their contract that doesn't seem like enough. If the BFI want to fund low budget films, giving struggling professionals chances they wouldn't necessarily have otherwise, then that is fine, but they are not here to help out the little man, they are just as much a part of the system as anything else.
I once read an article explaining how the UK Film Council was actually set up to actively divert funding away from smaller "arts" film projects and essentially killed the funding portions of the Art Council in this regard. How much truth is in that I don't know but it seems plausible. All in all the UK Film Council seemed just as afraid to take chances as your average uninspired studio executive and that seems like it's missing the point of what lottery funding should be about.
The BFI has only just taken over so perhaps they will turn this system around and those of us at the bottom of the food chain making our smaller films for festivals and the like will get a look in. Alright a lot of us will probably produce commercial disasters but don't we deserve a chance? Do we only help people who we can be sure will succeed or do we simply help those who need it? Only time will tell I suppose.
Anyway, that's my rant and don't take what I'm saying as gospel, if I'm wrong then correct me. So, any other thoughts ... ?