The Freedom of Information Act and the BFI

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

In order to conduct my data research I rely on a number of different sources.  Some of the data is already publicly available, some I gather myself and some comes from asking organisations to make available information not previously published. The BFI is one such source in this third category.

In the UK public bodies have a duty to share certain information with the public, under Freedom of Information (FOI) rules.  In the past year I have been exploring the BFI has a complicated relationship with FOI and today I’m pleased to share some of the outcomes.

In summary…

  • The BFI is not officially subject to FOI requests but is voluntarily answering public requests for information under FOI rules
  • Between 1st April 2011 and 31st March 2014, 116 FOI requests were made to the BFI
  • 88% of requests for information were answered
  • 5% of requests were declined as they related to “personal information” and 3% were declined as they related to “sensitive information”
  • The most popular topics were the UK Film Council, footage requests, film funding and Doctor Who.

What is FOI?

The legal framework behind governmental freedom of information in the UK is quite new, only came into force in 2005 and comprises of two laws The Freedom of Information Act 2000 and The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. (The second of which is often given the Hamlet treatment of being referred to simply as “The Scottish Act”).

Officially these Acts…

…make provision for the disclosure of information held by public authorities or by persons providing services for them and to amend the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Public Records Act 1958; and for connected purposes.

In short, the public have a right of access to information held by public bodies.  These include public authorities, publicly owned companies and designated bodies performing public functions.  Included are the national and regional parliaments, councils, the NHS, schools, universities and even the police and the army.

Is the BFI subject to the FOI Act?

Officially, no.  But this a contentious issue as almost all funding provided by the National Lottery is subject to the FOI Act. I couldn’t find any legislation in the National Lottery Act 2006 or elsewhere which legislates this but it does seem to be accepted practice that lottery funded projects are subject to the FOI Act.

It’s also a bit of a confused picture; bodies such as Film London claim that the BFI are subject to the Act but the BFI themselves insist that they’re not.  In the strictest sense the BFI are right.  They’re not a public body, they’re not mentioned in the Freedom of Information legislation and there doesn’t seem to be a legal requirement for lottery money to be covered by the FOI.

But if we look at who is and isn’t covered, and consider the history of the BFI activities, then it looks as if they should be subject to FOI. The film-related bodies which are subject to the Act (wholly or in part) include…

  • The Department for Media, Culture and Sport
  • Film London
  • The BBC
  • Creative England
  • Ffilm Cymru Wales (formerly called the Film Agency for Wales)
  • Northern Ireland Screen
  • Creative Scotland Screen
  • The UK Film Council (UKFC) – closed in 2008

There are a few film industry bodies which appear to be public bodies but are in fact private companies or charities such as…

  • The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)
  • Creative Skillset
  • The British Film Institute (BFI)

In June 2008 the new government hastily closed the UKFC and transferred its responsibilities to the BFI.   However, there were no provisions made to transfer the FOI requirements from the UKFC to the BFI, despite the fact they were both performing the same activities.

So can you make FOI requests to the BFI?

Officially no but in practice, yes.  The BFI voluntarily answer most FOI requests in the same manner they would be expected to if they were subject to the Act.

Go to and fill in the form, or email [email protected] and they will consider your request.

If you’re successful then within a few months you’ll get an email back which starts…

As you are aware, the BFI does not currently fall within the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”). However, we have agreed that we will voluntarily comply with FOIA principles in respect of those of our activities which are of a public nature until a formal order is made placing the BFI within the FOIA.

…and then goes on to answer your request.  If they feel that your request would be denied under the FOI Act they they will refuse to answer and explain their reasons.

What’s excluded from the FOI Act?

There are certain defined exclusions to the Acts, including…

  • Information that is accessible by other means
  • Information relating to or dealing with security matters (i.e. spies ‘n’ that)
  • Information contained in court records
  • Where disclosure of the information would infringe parliamentary privilege
  • Information which the applicant could obtain under the Data Protection Act 1998 or where release would breach the data protection principles.
  • Information provided in confidence
  • If it will cost the organisation more than £450 to service your request

New FOI policy at the BFI?

Earlier this year I made a FOI request to the BFI asking for details of all FOI requests made to the BFI (a bit ‘Inception’, I know). First they shared just the overall stats.  I pushed and received some of the details and finally last week, after more requests, they agreed to share all of the answers publicly on the BFI website.

Their email said…

I can further confirm that as part of the BFI’s on-going approach to openness, transparency and accountability, the details of Freedom of Information requests will soon be published on the BFI website.

Consequently, the information you have requested will soon be available at I will email when I have a definitive date, but it should be in the next couple of weeks.

Hurrah!  I shall share this link when it comes through and in the meantime you can download the PDF summary of 116 FOI requests made to the BFI between 1st April 2011 and 31st March 2014 here

What have people been asking the BFI via FOI?

The questions asked of the BFI range wildly.  Some are related to the industry…

  • How many people does the BFI have in its sponsorship team and what are their fund-raising targets? Are they hitting them?
  • Could you please supply all internal documentation held by the BFI which in any way relates to the film ‘The
    Iron Lady’
  • I would like to know: how much (including overheads) has been spent so far in the search for the Director of
  • I’d like to make a request on the total costs for BFI and LFF, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sports
    (in particular Ed Vaizey and his entourage) for the two weeks at the Cannes Film Festival, including expenses, hospitality, accreditation, accommodation, parties, flights and also any advertorial/advertising expenditure on the dailies or other print/online costs associated to Cannes.

Some were a little strange…

  • What is the percentage of fresh meat purchased by your
    organisation or its sub-contractors that is of British origin?
  • I am writing to make a request from you to allow me to view and retain CCTV footage.
  • I should like to request under the freedom of information act all E-Mails you are legally able to provide with
    reference to the BBC television show Doctor Who or particular episodes of that show from the past 60 days.
  • My mother in law won the junior british gymnastics championship in 1962. I was wondering if you had any
    information or maybe a video of this.

And some people really should learn to Google their questions before invoking an Act of Parliament to demand answers…

  • Could you please tell me how I get more information about the forthcoming festival in October and also how I
    go about getting tickets, or concessions?
  • Please confirm dates of next year’s festival.
  • Please could you furnish me details of who and where I complain to, with regards to the grossly inexcusable and
    unacceptable inaccuracies contained within a film that has just recently been released.

All of the short answers to these questions can be found here and the long answers (which require attachments) will be on the BFI website soon.


In my time in film data research I have found the BFI nothing but open, helpful and generous with their information. We are fortunate in the UK to have such a body as the insights they provide are extremely useful to the industry.

What makes low budget films sell?

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

Last week I shared some results from a survey I conducted of 542 film industry business professionals who have attended Cannes, AFM or Berlin in the past five years.  I looked at their perceptions of how much “micro” and “low” budget films cost, and the amount needed to make a ‘commercially viable’ film.

Today I am sharing more results, focusing on elements which filmmakers can influence in order to improve the chances of success with their low budget film – i.e. the film’s elements, genre and distribution route.  I also canvassed opinions on statements on a variety of topics relevant to low budget feature filmmakers.

In summary…

  • The single most important factor in the success of a low budget film is the script
  • The track record of the director and producer don’t seem to matter much
  • Everyone thinks that horror is the most profitable genre for low budget films
  • Only 17% of industry professionals think that the traditional distribution model is most appropriate for low budget films
  • Low budget films are great for training and showcasing talent…
  • … but not so great for investors seeking a profit

Which elements of a film are most important on a low budget?

The script is everything.  Interestingly, the track record of the director and producer is of little interest, suggesting that low budget films are judged mostly on the merit of the finished film, rather than “who you know”.

These results are consistent throughout the industry, however those in Sales and Distribution rate the artwork/poster above the abilities of the cast.

Which genres are best suited to low budgets?

Read more »

How much do “low” and “micro” budget films cost?

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

In November I am leading (along with James Cotton) a four-month part-time programme around micro-budget feature films. I want to ensure we’re teaching what is actually happening in the industry today, rather than outdated ideas or common misconceptions. So, being the data-driven fiend that I am, I have performed a number of studies into the topic.

Today I’m sharing some of the results from a survey I conducted with 542 film industry business professionals who have attended Cannes, AFM or Berlin in the past five years.

(If you would like to join us on the course then there are still a few tickets available. The early bird discount ends at the end of the week so be quick. The line-up of speakers is really strong (and growing!) and we’re proud of the program the participants will complete. You can find out more at

In summary…

  • Across 542 film professionals, $396,000 was deemed the maximum budget for a “micro-budget” film
  • The maximum budget for “low budget” films was $2.1million
  • Film professionals in Africa feel that a film must be budgeted at least $3.4 million to be commercially viable
  • The figure for film professionals in South America was just $1.2 million

What is a “micro-budget” film?

Currently in the UK, many people will regard £150,000 ($245,000) as the cutoff for a film to be classed as ‘micro-budget”. This is in large part down to the fact that £150k is the maximum budget for a film to take advantage of the SEIS tax scheme (which protects ~78% of investors’ money).  Film London’s Microwave “micro-budget” scheme caps budgets at £150,000 ($245,000) and Creative England’s iFeatures is a “low budget” scheme at £350,000 ($573,000).

I asked 542 film industry business professionals “In your opinion, what is the maximum budget for a film to still be classified as micro-budget?” The average was $396,000 (£243,000).

What is a “low budget” film?

Read more »

New film data visulisation tool –

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I’m passionate about film data. The numbers behind our industry tell us a great deal about who we are, what we make and what audiences are watching.

So today I’m really proud to be launching a fun, free online tool which visualises film data through the years:

See it in action

The FilmTimeMachine contains some data my blog readers will be familiar with and also as-yet-unpublished data.  Datasets include…

Most hired directors

Amongst the new data sources I created for the FilmTimeMachine is ‘Most Hired Directors’ for all films which grossed at least one dollar in the US box office between 2004 and 2013  (4,202 films in total).

You can view the interactive version at

Number of films (2004-13)
Tyler Perry14
Steven Soderbergh11
Woody Allen10
Clint Eastwood8
Michael Winterbottom8
Michel Gondry8
Richard Linklater7
Lasse Hallstršm7
Steven Spielberg7
Franois Ozon7
Ridley Scott7
Jay Duplass7
Mark Duplass7
Stephen Frears7
Ethan Coen7
Joel Coen7
David Gordon Green7
Marc Forster7
Robert Rodriguez7
Dennis Dugan7

Wanna see more?

I’m keen to hear what other types of film data people want to see represented with this tool so drop me a line.


I’m grateful to Chris for his mad coding skillz, Dave for his mesmerising logo and to Sheri whose Facebook post about music industry trends sparked the initial idea.

What percentage of a UK film crew is female?

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

Last month, I published a report into what percentage of crews on the top US grossing films of the past 20 years are women.  I found that, on average, women made up only 23% of a typical film crew and in some jobs such as cinematography and composing, it was around 2%.

The results were reported widely and sparked a healthy debate about the causes and what, if anything, should be done.  One consequence was that I was asked by a number of people what the situation is in the UK.

Download the full UK report now, for free. This project was far too large to fit into a single blog post, so I’ve written it up as a PDF report. It spans 17 pages and breaks down the results in much more detail. The report is free and all you need to do to get it is sign up to my e-mail list.

I send out one e-mail every week or fortnight, to highlight new articles on this blog around film data and statistics. You can unsubscribe at any time, I won’t sell or pass on your email address, there’s no spam… it’s just me.

The UK results in summary

I studied 2,336 UK films to assess the gender of their crews.  In summary…

  • Between 2009-13, women made up 26.2% of crew members on British films.
  • This compares favourably with top US films over the same period (22.2%)
  • Of all the departments, the Transportation department is the most male, with only 7.7% women.
  • The only departments to have a majority of women are Make-up, Casting, Costume and Production.
  • Visual Effects is the largest department on most major movies and yet only has 16.5% women.
  • 6.4% of composers on UK films were women.
  • 14% of UK films had a female director, compared with 3% of top US films.
  • The percentage of women on British films has barely changed in the past five years.

On average, women make up 26% of crews on UK films

The only departments which have a majority of women are make-up, Costume / Wardrobe, Casting and Production.

Arguably, the roles which have the largest impact on the final story are writers, producers and directors.  Therefore, the fact that women only account for 15%, 27% and 14% respectively must have an effect on the representation of female issues and viewpoints on-screen.  You can see my research into whether audiences care about the gender of the key creative roles here

Has UK female representation changed over time?

Read more »

How to get hired in Film and TV

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

ShortRoundTo many, working in the film and television industry can sound a little nutty. Many job advertisements seem to read…

Compliant drone needed to work long hours for low pay under unpleasant conditions. Must be willing to drop everything at short notice in return for no job security, no pension and fewer than one lunch break per day. Must own a car and don’t bother applying unless you know someone who already works here.

And yet there are no shortage of new entrants. The number of media students has increased dramatically in recent years and the UK film industry is employing more people than it has in a very long time, possibly ever. The end result is that most industry professionals get asked on a regular basis “How can I get into the film/TV industry?”

To answer this I performed two surveys – one with 1,235 international film professionals and the other with’s audience of UK television and film employers.

In summary;

  • Facebook is the most popular place for employers to post new vacancies
  • Having a driving licence is much more useful than a university degree
  • On average, UK employers receive 60 applications for each job.
  • Only 46% of those applicants meet the job requirements
  • Just under half of all film and television employers think that new entrants should work for free
  • When asked ‘What makes a perfect CV?’ 67% of employers used the words “short” or “concise”

Where can I find a job?

It would take a few blog posts to go through all the ways you could start your career in film or television so for now I will stick to the job boards.  The most commonly used site for new film and TV jobs is… Facebook!

I have previously analysed a year’s worth of jobs on Shooting People, which would be worth reading if you’re looking for film work.

Should you work for free?

Read more »

How many BFI funding applications are successful?

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

Today’s article contains new data that the BFI have released to me.  Following research I carried out about UK Film Council / BFI funding of short films, I wondered what the success rate was for feature film funding applications and put in an enquiry.

The National Lottery is the second largest source of public funding for films in the UK, and in 2012/13 totalled £65.4 million.  (Incidentally, the largest source is HMRC, who gave £206 million via the UK film tax relief). The vast majority of Lottery money is awarded by the BFI, and filmmakers are invited to apply for grants within development, production and distribution strands.

In summary…

  • In the past three years, the BFI has received 2,505 applications for funding.
  • Of those, 720 were successful, equating to 29% of applications.
  • Almost half of all applications to the BFI for development funding in 2012/13 were successful.
  • In an average year, the BFI receives 353 applications for development funding, 403 for production funding and 79 seeking support for distribution.

Development funding

In the graph above, the numbers for ‘applications received’ include the few which were later withdrawn. The figures for development applications cover film development, pilots, pre-production, supplementary funding applications and awards.

Between 2012/13 and 2013/14 the number of applications fell by 16%, leading to a higher overall success rate for the remaining applications.

Production funding

Read more »

Who dominates UK film distribution?

I've just launched a new part-time course with James Cotton designed to help you make and sell a micro-budget feature film. It's based on data research and experience teaching for the NFTS, Met Film School and around the world. Find out more at

It is becoming ever easier to make a feature film, thanks in large part to new technology which is cheaper and more accessible. We are currently in a boom for feature film production, with more films made in the UK last year than ever before. However, the size of movie audiences and the rate at which we watch films is not growing at the same speed.  This means the ‘pressure point’ in the filmmaking process has shifted from “Will I get it made?” to “Will anyone see it?”

I’m going to spend some time over the next few months looking at the situation UK filmmakers face when trying to get their film sold and seen by audiences.  First up, let’s take a look at who is actually distributing feature films in the UK.  In summary…

  • There were 698 films released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland in 2013
  • The number of  film and video distributors has increased by 32% since 1996
  • In 2013, there were 470 companies focused on film and video distribution in the UK, only 127 of whom actually released a film in UK cinemas that year
  • The top 10 distributors account for 97% of the box office revenue
  • Just three companies (StudioCanal, eOne and Entertainment) control half of all box office income made on UK independent films.

More films in cinemas than ever before

The number of films being released in the UK and Ireland has doubled in the past 15 years.  Last year, there were almost 700 films shown in cinemas in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

And more distribution companies, too

Read more »

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