Gatekeepers of Film FinanceIt is important for one to understand what the three major types of film in the British sector are, since each category brings with it a series of distinct personalities – the personalities of a film’s creator (writer, director, producer), of a film’s financiers, and of a film’s audience. A producer and writer need to understand these various personalities and take them into consideration when beginning the development process.

This can aid them in finding the right match between their own project and the companies that they will seek out for financing. In particular, the UK film market is controlled by four key gatekeepers: BBC Films, Film4, Working Title, and the BFI Film Production Fund with National Lottery funding (formerly the UK Film Council).

A producer needs to understand the market that has been created by these gatekeepers before he begins to consider a film’s funding. (For example, three of these four gatekeepers tend to lean toward specialist films, a preference which has warped the developmental marketplace away from mainstream and conceptual films). To aid this understanding, this article will consider the three main categories of film (specialist, conceptual, and Anglo-Hollywood) and their relationships to the four gatekeepers of film financing.

Specialist Films

Specialist films are usually produced independently. The financial source for these types of films tends to be very small companies with as few as two or three employees. Their budget size will range from low to medium, with auteurist  films making up much of the UK low-budget market.

The majority of these films will be funded by their home territories (most often broadcasters). In fact, it is often vital that a film have a domestic broadcaster, who will back the film in order to gain a brand association with an adapted work, or a director (as opposed to backing a film with the hope of high box office profits).

Specialist films typically get made in order to obtain artistic recognition rather than any real commercial gain. They often get funded based upon the director’s reputation or the artistic potential of the film. These types of films are dependent on the broadcasters BBC, Channel 4, and the public subsidy. The main gatekeepers of funding for these films are the executives at the BBC and Channel 4, as well as executives at the National Lottery production fund (formerly called the UK Film Council).

Very few private investors channel their money into these films, preferring to fund conceptual films instead. It is also highly unlikely that any specialist US studio division would fund production of these films, unless the subject matter is appealing, or the film has a director with an international reputation. (However, these US studio divisions will sometimes acquire the specialist film after production for US distribution).

Conceptual Films

Conceptual films get produced independently by companies that are small or very small, or sometimes by integrated mini-majors in Europe such as Canal Plus. Their budget sizes can widely vary from extremely low to high.

The most expensive of these tend to lose money as a result of competition with Hollywood-produced films. Conceptual films can suffer from their inability to cast big names (which can help to ensure domestic television and DVD income), to fund global marketing campaigns, and to directly recoup their investments from integrated distribution and exhibition.

Since conceptual films are built around the film’s straightforward script concept, genre, and/or noteworthy names (director or cast usually), they don’t need to be driven by the broadcaster’s desire for auteur films. However, the last five years have seen an increase in broadcaster interest, with the BBC and Film4 both looking at conceptual films with a youth angle or an auteurist edge.

Conceptual films tend to be made for a mixture of artistic and commercial reasons. In the case of lower budget films, the genre is critical (thriller, horror or romantic comedy films, for example). For higher budgets, the package (i.e., the director and cast names) makes the difference, because funding requires pre-sales or sales estimates. Sometimes larger sales agents such as Summit invest in the film, and recently, conceptual film production has also been partly financed by some UK distributors like Vertigo (Horrid Henry 3D, The Sweeney, Streetdance 3D, Monsters) and the urban youth-geared company Revolver Entertainment (Sket, Shank).

Before 2010, funding in this sector was encouraged by the UK Film Council Premiere, but the recent shift in lottery funding toward the more culturally oriented BFI will likely reduce financial support for conceptual films in favor of more specialist films.

The main gatekeepers of funding for conceptual films tend to be talent agents, sales agents, equity financiers, and executives from the National Lottery production fund. Some European mini-studios (for example, Canal Plus and Pathé) and UK distributors, also sometimes get involved with funding. Film4 at Channel 4 has been backing more films in the conceptual genre in recent years, especially when those films have a youth angle to them.

For example, The Inbetweeners Movie, Attack the Block, How to Lose Friends and Shaun of the Dead (which was developed at Film4 and then acquired after its production by ITV). In addition, the films Streetdance 3D, In The Loop, Made in Dagenham and The Awakening, all involved BBC Films. As with specialist films, it is rare for a specialist US studio division to invest in the production of conceptual films.Also these studio divisions do sometimes later acquire the films for US distribution.

Anglo-Hollywood Films (and Anglo-Hollywood Specialist Films)

Studios typically produce these types of film,  usually via established production companies, although occasionally they use smaller companies when they already trust the producer. The budgets for these films are generally large, mainly due to the necessity of having big names that will drive the US release and high production values. However, they will still need to recover the international distribution campaigns that the studio has funded.

Anglo-Hollywood films don’t generally need a domestic broadcaster when they are in the funding stage. Often the broadcasting rights will be sold after production, when a distribution deal has been reached between the broadcaster and the film’s studio or output-deal-connected distributor.

Usually studios choose to finance these films because they need a product for international distribution, and the studios that are most often behind these films’ development, financing and distribution, are US studios (and occasionally the bigger sales agents). Of course, these US studios and sales agents will eventually receive the majority of the films’ profits, a fact that is the main motivator behind their decision to fund a film.

Therefore, these types of films get developed with the potential audience market in mind, and they rely upon the US domestic box office to recover the majority of their investment. The film’s marketing to the rest of the world will be done off the back of this success in the US market. (However, it is worth noting that the foreign box office in recent years, has accounted  for more than 50% of a film’s income on occasion.)

The main gatekeepers of funding for Anglo-Hollywood films are the executives of US studios and UK companies that have formal output deals, or strong track records and relationships with those studios. Ultimately, the US studios will always be involved in the funding of these types of film, either through their main studios or their specialist divisions.