Neil Peplow, director of industry and international at the British Film Institute (BFI), has outlined in detail how companies can access the new £7m UK Global Screen Fund (GSF), the creation of a UK version of Unifrance, and a summit to discuss the progress of the fund later this year.
The GSF went live as a one-year pilot in April by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is being administered by the BFI. Its aim is to boost the global exports of UK screen content as a new source of international distribution, business development and co-production funding for UK companies in the film, TV, documentary, animation and interactive sectors.
Talking at Screen and Broadcast’s Restart conference on Tuesday (May 18), Peplow described the creation of the GSF as “an incredible win for the sector” at a time when the UK government was hugely “pressed” by Covid recovery demands. He said a head of fund will be appointed within the next couple of weeks, who will report to him.
GSF has already announced its first call for applications for international distribution funding. This allows sales agents to apply for grants of up to £60,000 for a single eligible package film (drama, documentary or animation) and £10,000 for a single, eligible pre-sale film. The funding round opened April 28 and will close on June 30, in time for this year’s Cannes Film Festival which starts on July 6.
The next strand, due to launch on May 25, is for international business development and will provide financial support for business strategies that drive International growth and IP development for companies working in film, TV (animation, drama and documentary) and interactive narrative gaming.
“That could be about IP development for companies or it could be around distribution strategies,” Peplow explained.
The fund will be open to companies working in film and TV, in drama, documentary and animation as well as interactive narrative gaming. They can apply for anything between £50,000 and £200,000 across a three-year period. Applications for this fund will close on July 16.
The third strand, for international coproduction, will open on June 15. This will support UK companies looking to join international productions, sharing IP and revenue on film and TV animation and documentary projects with audience potential.
After the three funds have been launched, there will be a pause as Peplow and his team look at how much money has been allocated and where the most demand lies. It is not yet clear when further funding rounds will be held. An industry summit will be held later in the year to discuss the best way forward.
“It’s a work in progress. This is a pilot year,” said Peplow. “We are exploring what that should look like and also what we need to gather in terms of the evidence in order to convince Treasury this should be turned into a multi-year settlement.”
One goal will be to identify gaps – areas the GSF may not be successfully covering yet. As Peplow acknowledged, the EU’s Creative Europe programme (which UK companies can no longer access) has been around for decades and works at “a scale and with a built-in reciprocity” that is very hard to emulate overnight.
At present, the GSF will likely prioritise co-productions with countries with whom the UK already has co-production agreements in place. However Peplow does not want to rule out working with new partners. For example, Nigeria is one country with which the UK is developing a memorandum of understanding – with a possible view to striking a full coproduction treaty at a later date. And although the EU represents some 40% of the export market for UK film and TV, Peplow emphasised the GSF is also looking to support content creators looking to “explore new territories” beyond Europe.
“The measures of success we are looking at are going to be around increased international revenue streams, increased collaboration, increased number of productions and also the reach in terms of audiences,” Peplow explained.
The GSF is looking to provide marketplace data that will back up international sales and distribution strategies for UK companies. Peplow pointed out it may already be known the US is a key export market for UK film and TV but he cited new research highlighting the popularity of UK content in the Russian market. “It is this kind of data that could then potentially open up conversations in terms of finance packaging,” Peplow said.
The UK Treasury is providing the money for the GSF – rather than the Lottery monies that fuel the other BFI funds- which means the GSF has different performance targets.
“It is much more commercial in its intent,” Peplow explained. “It is about the ability to reach new audiences and to work in new territories, and to set up new collaborations and relationships.”
By this measure, the GSF will not look either to exercise the same control or editorial impact on the projects it supports. Instead, it will assess how many titles went into production and what additional revenue they generated.
On minority co-productions, the fund heads will not be looking to “sit in on fine cuts to give notes. It will be asking ‘does this open up new relationships, new territories and what is the potential impact on the business in two or three year?’”
Peplow confirmed that it is presently possible for films shot outside the UK but that qualify as UK co-productions to secure backing from the GSF and that this should remain the case. However, he added: “we will have to wait for the final and full guidelines to be signed off just to confirm that. [But] if it’s minority coproduction, there are no English- language requirements and it doesn’t have to be set in the UK.”
Umbrella brand, nations and regions
Peplow also outlined plans for the UK to establish its own equivalent to Unifrance, set to be launched next October, that will promote UK content, talent and businesses internationally.
“[We want to create] an umbrella brand so that at key markets and festivals we can bring together a narrative that will hopefully push an awareness both buyers but also with audiences internationally,” he said.
Peplow confirmed there would be “prioritisation” for the nations and regions but not “a ring-fenced allocation” of money for them “There is a requirement for flexibility. We don’t yet know where the levels of demand will be,” he explained. “We’re looking at where the applicant is based and how the content reflects the culture and talent of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the English regions outside of Greater London.”
Peplow was speaking alongside UK producers Grainne McGuinness, the creative director of Belfast-based Paper Owl Films, Elizabeth Karlsen, producer and co-founder of Number 9 Films and Bennett McGhee, co-CEO and co-founder of newly-created Home Team.