As I get further down the rabbit hole of publicly-funded UK films, I’m finding curiouser and curiouser results.  Today’s research looks at the money that is returned to public organisations if a film they backed performs well.

I have previously looked at How the BFI awarded £129 million in the past four years, Which public bodies are funding UK films and If publicly-backed films are any good so today I will not be addressing where the funding comes from. Instead, I’ve been going through the BFI’s financial reports over the past decade to look at how their investments fared.  It’s fascinating to get a window into how these films performed for investors. Normally, we only get to see gross box office figures, which relate just to cinemas and are subject to a large number of deductions before the money flows back to investors, such as VAT, the cinema’s share, marketing costs, the distributor’s share, etc.

In summary…

  • The BFI recouped £37,977,946 from its feature film investments, April 2008 to March 2014,
  • It received a further £2,828,018 from other film investments, such as slate funding and shorts.
  • The King’s Speech earned the BFI a 836% return on their £1million investment (up to March 2014)
  • Only nine feature films which returned money to the BFI in the past six years have repaid their original investment
  • Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine has so far only recouped 17% of its original £6.7 million funding

Does the BFI make a profit on its investments?

Overall, no.

But it’s worth emphasising that the BFI’s primary goal is not profit. The BFI is looking to promote filmmaking talent, support artistically-worthy films and broaden choice for cinema-goers. Therefore, it would be unfair to label an investment as a ‘failure’ purely on the metric of not having recouped.

A small number of funding awards don’t need to be repaid but the vast majority take the form of an investment in the film.  The exact deal terms may differ between films but the BFI’s Film Fund guidelines state “You will be required to provide the BFI with a net profit share”.

The income generated by a film can take many years to be realised.  This is because of:

  • Release windows – A film needs to move down the list of formats from cinema right through to syndication on television.  The gap between cinema and DVD/VOD is shrinking but it will still be a few years between when it’s on the big screen and ITV3.
  • Global distribution – Films tend to open first in their home country and then aim to secure distribution in other countries. Many international distributors wait to see how a film performs at home before committing to a release.
  • Payment terms – As with any global business, it can take time to collect the money earned by a film, and for it to filter through all the myriad of middlemen before reaching the investors.

So, when we compare the amount spent and earned during each financial year we’re not comparing data on the same films.  However, to give you a sense of scale of the numbers, see below for the breakdown of new funding commitments and monies received over the past six financial years (running from 1 April to 31 March).

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Over the past few weeks I have been looking at UK-based public funding for films.  It appears to be a hot topic for UK filmmakers as I’ve had all manner of emails and social media messages asking for more details.  So I decided to dig deeper into the largest public body dedicated to supporting UK film – the British Film Institute (BFI).

Over the past four years, the BFI has awarded almost £129 million of National Lottery money to films, filmmakers and film related organisations and events.  Fortunately for us, the BFI publishes details of its awards and so I crunched the data.

In summary…

  • Between April 2011 and March 2015, the BFI awarded £128,831,288
  • The money was dispersed via 1,178 awards across 927 unique projects
  • Around 75% of those projects were individual films
  • The rest were events, organisations and activities promoting British films in the UK and abroad
  • The films with the largest total awards were Under the Skin (£2,170,410), Great Expectations (£2,030,000), Invisible Woman (£1,610,559) and ’71 (£1,556,736)
  • The UK Presence at Cannes Film Festival 2014-16 costs £1,170,000
  • The 2014 UK delegation to Shanghai and Beijing cost £95,000

Films funded by the BFI

The awards are made for all manner of projects and organisations so it’s hard to say exactly how many were directly for feature film projects.

However, judging by the names of the awards, I have calculated that 884 of the 1,178 awards made between April 2011 and March 2015 were directly linked to films (feature length and short films).  This represents 75% of the awards made by the BFI during that period.  The rest were awarded to organisations running schemes, festivals and educational events.

Below is a list of the 30 feature films with the highest combined total of awards made between April 2011 and March 2015.  It’s possible that funding was given to films on this list before April 2011 but that money would not appear here.  This combines all types of funding a film could receive including development, production, distribution, exhibition and export worldwide.

Under the Skin5£2,170,410Drama Sci-Fi ThrillerJonathan Glazer
Great Expectations3£2,030,000Drama RomanceMike Newell
Invisible Woman4£1,610,559Biopic Drama HistoryRalph Fiennes
’715£1,556,736Action Drama ThrillerYann Demange
Frank3£1,427,000Comedy Drama MusicLenny Abrahamson
Sunset Song4£1,397,350DramaTerence Davies
Belle3£1,369,000DramaAmma Asante
High Rise2£1,335,000Action Drama Sci-FiBen Wheatley
Ethel & Ernest2£1,235,000Animation Drama
Get Santa3£1,235,000Comedy FamilyChristopher Smith
Spike Island4£1,223,555Drama MusicMat Whitecross
How I Live Now4£1,151,982Drama Romance ThrillerKevin Macdonald
Half Of A Yellow Sun6£1,150,432Drama RomanceBiyi Bandele
Seven Psychopaths3£1,105,313Comedy CrimeMartin McDonagh
Cuban Fury2£1,100,000ComedyJames Griffiths
Bomb aka Ginger & Rosa2£1,055,000DramaSally Potter
Bill2£1,050,000FamilyRichard Bracewell
Pride2£1,050,000Comedy DramaMatthew Warchus
X+Y8£1,036,817Comedy DramaMorgan Matthews
Last Days on Mars (aka The Animators)2£1,035,000Horror Sci-Fi ThrillerRuairi Robinson
Mr. Turner2£1,035,000Biopic Drama HistoryMike Leigh
The Fury aka Suffragette 3£1,035,000DramaSarah Gavron
Slow West2£1,035,000Action Thriller WesternJohn Maclean
American Honey2£1,035,000DramaAndrea Arnold
Jimmy’s Hall2£1,015,000DramaKen Loach
The Falling6£983,250Drama MysteryCarol Morley
Fast Girls4£976,400Drama SportRegan Hall
Our Robot Overlords5£915,653Action Adventure Sci-FiJon Wright
City of Tiny Lights3£885,735Crime Drama ThrillerPete Travis
Le Weekend3£835,000Comedy Drama RomanceRoger Michell
The Selfish Giant5£804,411DramaClio Barnard
Calvary2£798,790DramaJohn Michael McDonagh

If you would like to research a film for yourself then visit and search under ‘Project title’.  Bear in mind that it’s not unusual for a film to change name between development and release, as happened with “Ginger & Rosa” which was called “Bomb” when it received BFI funding awards.

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Last week I answered a question posed by someone working in a public funding institution, who wanted to know if organisations like theirs are involved with better-than-average films. The result showed that, yes, they were. This week, I am answering a question on a related topic but this time from a filmmaker. They emailed me to ask “Which genres get the most public funding?”.

In summary…

  • 39% of UK films have drama as one of their genres
  • One in five of UK films have some backing from a public funding body
  • 55% of the films the BFI / UKFC backed 2009-13 were dramas
  • The BBC are half as likely as the BFI to back a thriller
  • Almost a third of all films backed by the BBC were documentaries
  • Over a five year period, the BBC only backed two horror films
  • Since 1980, only 4% of BBC-backed films have been horror films
  • The BFI fund a disproportionately large number of dramas, biopics and period dramas
  • The BFI fund a disproportionately small number of horror, documentary and fantasy films
  • 45% of period dramas made in the UK received some kind of UK-based public funding
  • No fantasy or spy films made in the UK 2009-13 received funding from a UK-based public body
  • Other genres with low levels of public support were mystery, mock-documentary, action and horror

What genres do we make in the UK?

In a few previous articles I’ve looked in detail at the genres favoured by British filmmakers so today I shall be brief. Of the films shot in the UK between 2009 and 2013, 38.7% had drama as one of their genres.

The figures add up to more than 100% as films tend to have more than one genre.  For today’s research I allowed films to have up to three genres, in line with most industry classifications (the average was 1.9 genres per film).  In their annual Statistical Yearbook, the BFI assigns each film a single “primary genre”, and between 2011-13 18.5% of UK films had ‘Drama’ as their primary genre.  More about that here.

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