20th February 2013Tom Wood on Euro Connection
With the support of the British Council, I attended this year’s Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival as an observing producer at the Euro Connections short film co-production market. The event was entering its fifth year and served, much like Cinemart and the Co-Production Market in Berlin for feature films, as a means of bringing producers from across Europe together to encourage co-production in short filmmaking. While I was there I was invited to take part in a round table discussion with producers, funds and promotion agencies across Europe to talk about the state of short filmmaking and funding across Europe. Members present were from Federation Wallonie Bruxelles Image (Belgium), S.P.I (France), Nisi Masa (various), C.N.C (France), CNC Centro Nazionale Del Cortometraggio (Italy), MEDIA Desk France, AG Kurtzfilm (Germany) among others.
It was an enlightening experience. Plenty of us have heard how healthy short film budgets on the continent can be, and that certainly proved to be the case. Nobody would bat an eyelid at the prospect of a short film budgeted at €100,000 – a remarkable figure given that the latest batch of BFI shorts were given a ceiling of £50,000, and this funding was targeted specifically at experienced short film directors with a recognized track record who are poised to make the leap into features.
The BFI’s short film support is not to be balked at given it is one of only two funds operating in the UK (Rankin’s Collabor8te scheme being the other) designed to develop fresh filmmaking. UK filmmakers are grateful for it, and it should be embraced. That said, it doesn’t do any harm to make an observation over how short filmmakers get their work funded and their projects put together overseas, and to ask whether there are elements of their approach that we could begin to embrace at home.
For example, there are a few notable differences between the approach to short film funding in UK and that in France. UK filmmakers have been offered two fund applications in the last year, both with fixed deadlines: the £10k Collabor8te scheme and the BFI’s short film scheme through Lighthouse. If you make it through to approval, then this final budget figure that the BFI or Collabor8te offer you (in accordance with how they interpret what is needed for your film) works as a final offer which you take or leave. The prospect of taking that money and trying to add to it and increase the production levels of your film by bringing on board co-financiers or, importantly, partners from overseas, is not really discussed. Presumably (and it’s important to note that I’m making a presumption, not suggesting that I know all about the inner workings of the nation’s film funds) this is to streamline the funding and contractual process, particularly given the workload of extremely busy business affairs departments. In any case, it seems that short film funding in the UK is confined to limited funds, with set turnaround times and with capped budgets.
In France the CNC, with its rolling short film submissions policy (much like the BFI and Creative England’s development funds), receives up to 190 submissions per month. This is a lot, and gets cut down to around 4 or 5 films funded per month. So, yes, there is risk of over saturation, but the real perk here is that they seem to take the short film making process as seriously as they do for feature films. This is helped by the fact that television channels such as Arte and Canal+ (who actually have cultivated audiences for short films) are known to offer as much as €1,300 per minute as a pre-sale on a short film. A filmmaker is able to build a finance plan for their film in the hope that they can meet the exact budget that they’re trying to reach. So the money you receive from the CNC is not your final figure, it’s a fund which goes some way to help you achieve what you set out to, and it’s up to you to bring together the rest of the finance and find a way of shooting on the money that you have.
Is there a better way for young filmmakers to learn how to co-produce? Moreover, would this not be perfect training for producer talent: learning how to seek finance from multiple sources, including pre-sales and of course national and regional funds?
The roundtable I attended was concluded with the assertion that it is better to put together a well-produced, well-financed co-production than a badly produced low budget national production which constantly fought a battle with its limitations. I certainly feel that a few short films I and some of my associates in the industry have been involved in over the last few years would have benefitted greatly from co-production, allowing us to get much more money up on screen.
Four action points were agreed upon by the group at the end of the session:
- They favoured a study into the production, distribution and promotion of short films across Europe – the last time this was undertaken was 1996 by the Council of Europe and Unifrance.
- An analysis of barriers to co-productions that stem from the national support systems.
- The development of the existing European support framework to the short film sector (markets, co-production forums and festivals) and the creation of a specific European fund for short film production
- The consideration of short films in bilateral and multilateral initiatives existing between states
The BFI’s Film Forever Plan suggested that co-production is something that we should embrace. Can this not be discussed in relation to short films too? It might encourage a much more open and collaborative filmmaking culture between ourselves and our European counterparts, and must surely be a building block for the future of British film. We’re far from under privileged in comparison with the majority of Europe, however it strikes me that we could reach much higher levels of quality in our work if we embrace the rest of the continent.