What is the average budget of a British film?

I spoke at The Data Summit last week and gave a room full of technology experts a by-the-numbers tour of the UK film industry. It’s always fun to give non-industry people a glimpse into the film industry as it’s a healthy reminder just how bizarre some of our practises are.  I spoke to the accompaniment of sharp intakes of breaths (at the chronic mis-match between supply and demand), the sound of jaws dropping (at the success rate of films) and even a heckle of support from The Guardian’s technology editor Charles Arthur (when discussing the “originality” of Hollywood films).

One question that came from two different people was: What does it cost to make a film in Britain? So I thought I’d look at this on my blog this week.  The numbers below relate to films shot in the UK, as defined by the BFI.

In summary…

  • Across all films shot in the UK in 2013, the average budget was £6.2 million.
  • Adjusted to 2013 pounds, the average budget in 2012 was £4.2 million, 2011 was £7m, 2010 was £5.4m and 2009 was £6.9m.
  • 43% of films shot in the UK in 2013 cost less than £500,000
  • All of those <£500k films account for only 4% of all money spent on films in 2013.
  • The average budget for <£500k films in 2013 was £150,000

The Overall Average

The average budget for all films shot in the UK in 2013 was £6.2 million.

This is not very revealing as there are so many different types of films made in the UK that it’s akin to asking what the average cost of a restaurant meal is – it depends what you’re eating.

Drilling Deeper – The Films We Make

In order to uncover a more useful answer we should start by looking at the types of films we make in the UK.  By number, two thirds are budgeted under £2 million.

But when we look at the amount of money spent we can see that these low budget films make up just 13% of the overall spend.

So it’s clear that stating one average budget across all films is not very useful.

Average Budget by Budget Range

With this in mind, I grouped the films into six budget ranges and calculated the inflation-adjusted average budgets.

The final chart is of particular interest.  With most of the other graphs the average budget is towards the middle of the range; such as the “£10m – £30m” range where the average in 2013 was £14.6m.  However, in the “Under £500k” range we can see that the 2013 average is just £150k.  This suggests that further segmentation is needed at this lower level to reveal more (sadly that data is not yet available).

Methodology

The initial data points came from the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit. From there I extrapolated some data, combined with others and adjusted for inflation. I chose to focus on films shot in the UK as defined by their production year.  An alternative course open to me was to study the films passing the Cultural Test.  This was a slightly smaller number of films, so I opted to study production over certification.

In a future blog I may return to this topic as in some cases the number of films made in the UK differs significantly from the number of films passing the Cultural Test.  I feel there is something of interest to be teased out of these differences.  Stay tuned, campers.

The rise and rise of alternative content in cinemas

Last week I gave a talk at the Barbican for the East End Film Festival. The event, EMERGE, was looking at the convergence of technology and storytelling and which made for a fascinating day.  One of the topics which came up in discussion was the rise of alternative content in UK cinemas.  Due to time, we didn’t get a chance to address the issue properly so I promised I would cover it here.

Alternative content, or ‘Event Cinema’, is the use of cinemas to show concerts, events and performances which are not traditional feature films.  The sector has grown massively in recent years and even has it’s own trade body in the UK, the Event Cinema Association. Just like with feature films, the field is dominated with major cultural brands, such as New York’s Met Opera, the UK National Theatre, Bolshoi Ballet and the Royal Opera House.

back_to_the_future-383217New brands have also been established, the largest of which is Secret Cinema who mix live theatre with classic films to present a whole evening’s entertainment.  Later this summer they are rebuilding parts of the American town of Hill Valley in which to present screenings of ‘Back To The Future‘.

In summary…

  • The UK leads Europe in alternative content*
  • Alternative content took £12.5 million at the UK box office in 2012
  • Opera accounts for 40% of all alternative content events in the UK
  • 52% of UK alternative content is live
  • In Germany only 35% is live
  • 87 of alternative content is Sweden is broadcast live.

Leading the European Pack

The UK is taking the lead in alternative content within Europe*.  Of the events screened in the UK, 52% are broadcast live with the other 48% are pre-recorded. The split between live and recorded content is quite different between countries.  In Germany and Austria only 35% of content is broadcast live where as in Sweden it stands at 87% live.

On The Rise

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Is the current UK film boom benefiting independent filmmakers?

I get asked a lot what the numbers reveal about the state of the UK film industry. The overall numbers suggest that we’re doing pretty well.  Box office admissions are up 250% from 1980, we have the second biggest box office in Europe (although frustratingly behind the French), UK employment in film production is twice what it was 15 years ago, and our films are taking an increasing amount at the global box office.  Most crucially, the last few years have seen the largest number of films produced in the UK since the invention of film.

However, this answer rarely sits well with small, independent filmmakers. Many insist that times are hard and that the benefit of the ‘boom’ is only being felt by the Hollywood studios who will just leave once the juicy tax money dries up.  So I decided to take a more detailed look at the numbers behind the films made in the UK.

How many films are produced in the UK?

In 2012, there were 249 films produced in the UK (i.e. started principle photography).  This was down from a peak of 358 in 2010 but a lot higher than the number for 1998 (83 films).

Who is making these films?

The UK currently has a stable and attractive tax credit system which has lured large Hollywood productions to our shores, such as Edge of Tomorrow, Fast & Furious 6 and the Batman trilogy to name just a few.  However, this same tax credit system is open to feature films of all levels and is in fact more attractive to films budgeted under £20 million than those over £20 million.

So is it studio productions or independent films which account for the recent boom in the number of films made in the UK?  It’s independent films.

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How many people and films are at the Cannes Festival?

I have just returned from the Cannes Film Festival – exhausted, with a suitcase full of paperwork and a strong desire to sit alone in a darkened room for the next week to recover.  Cannes market (marché) and festival is *the* annual gathering of film professionals from all over the world and it’s a heady mix of sun, film screenings, ice creams, parties, awards, networking, ice creams, booze and fun.  And ice creams.

One of the drawbacks of writing about film data and statistics is that while I was there I was asked innumerable times “How many people do you think are here?”  I got so sick of the question that I vowed once I returned to Blighty I would investigate and publish the results here.

In summary…

  • 29,626 people were officially accredited in the festival and market in 2013.
  • Two thirds of those people came from Europe.
  • 4,589 members of the press attended in 2013
  • 44% of whom were French
  • A total of 80 films were celebrated by the festival in 2013: 22 made up the Official Selection.
  • In 2013, 1,420 films were screened in the market: twice the number in 2003.
  • 2,178 short films were in Short Film Corner

The People

To be granted access to the events and buildings in Cannes during the festival you need to apply for official accreditation.  There are varying sorts, including…

  • Festival badge. It’s free but you need to prove that you’re active in the industry.
  • Market badge. This is around 300 Euros and gives you access to all the market screenings.
  • Short Film Corner badge. If you have a film selected in the short film market then the director and producer are each given accreditation.
  • Press badge. There are varying levels of press accreditation and the top level is probably the best badge around.  With it, almost all areas of the festival will treat you like a VIP.

Last year, 29,626 people were officially accredited for the Cannes festival and market.

As well as the official attendees there were many unaccredited people flooding into Cannes including waiters, vendors and hookers (who apparently can earn up to $40,000 a night).

acreditedproscannes-stephenfollows_com

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How many Assistant Directors work on a film?

A few months ago I looked at the size of crews on 2,000 films. Since then I’ve had many requests to break the numbers down by department. I published a producers breakdown a few weeks ago so now it’s time for the ADs.

I looked at the Assistant Director credits on live actions films within the highest grossing 100 films of each of the past 20 years, giving me a pool of 2,000 films to study. In summary…

  • In 2013, the average film had two First ADs, almost five Second ADs and one and a half Third ADs
  • Films budgeted over $100 million have three First ADs, seven Second ADs and three Third ADs

Twenty Years A.D.

In 2013, the average film had two First ADs, almost five Second ADs and one and a half Third ADs

It’s worth making very clear that all credits are not equal.  Here I am counting the number of credits, which sadly does not give me a way to measure importance or time served.  A First AD on the second unit would be counted equally here as the First on the main unit.

Money Allows You To Have Seconds

Unsurprisingly, larger budgets mean more ADs.  The largest impact is on Second ADs, which swell from an average of just half a Second for films under $1 million to almost seven on a film over $10 million.

N.B. My sample doesn’t have any films budgeted between $70m and $80m, hence the missing section on the chart.

Not getting animated

For these crew calculations I have been studying the highest grossing 100 films of each of the past 20 years, giving me a sample of 2,000 films.  106 of those films were animations and so I excluded them from the calculations of averages as the process of making an animated feature is hugely different to that of live action film.  Most animations did not credit any Assistant directors and for those that did it is fair to assume that the AD role is different from that of an AD on a live action set.

I know that readers of this blog will not be satisfied until I have put numbers to those claims so here you go… Across those 106 animated films there were just 22 First ADs, 28 Second ADs and 12 Third ADs.

Short Films Funded by the BFI 2011-14

Personal note: I missed an article last week due to an illness I picked up on a recent teaching trip to Malaysia and Singapore. I’m over the worst of it now and back on schedule. Thank you to everyone who emailed asking where their weekly hit of films stats was.

Today’s article is something I have trying to write about for almost a year; short film funding. Last July I contacted the BFI with a Freedom of Information request about the amount of money awarded to short films. After a bit of chasing (and ten months passing) they have finally released the figures.

I asked them which short film projects they have funded in the past few years, and to what amounts. In summary…

  • Since 2011, the BFI has awarded over a million pounds to 29 short film projects
  • The largest amount of funding for one film was £58,500
  • Warp Films received over 10% of the total amount awarded

Breakdown by Year

The total amount awarded since January 2011 was £1,084,961 and splits up as follows…

  • 2011 = £123,818
  • 2012 = £887,651
  • 2013 = £72,792
  • 2014 = £700
  • Total Jan 2011 to Feb 2014 = £1,084,961

In 2011 there was no new shorts scheme, whereas in 2012 The Lighthouse managed the BFI’s allocation of £1 million. The short film awards are now handled by Net.Work.

The Films

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How many films are based on Shakespeare plays?

This week I haven’t had a great deal of time to produce in-depth research so here instead is something a bit lighter than my normal fare.

I took a look at the number of feature film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. In summary…

  • There are 525 films which give Shakespeare some sort of writing credit
  • Of those, 294 are full adaptations of Shakespeare plays
  • Hamlet is the most often adapted Shakespeare play
  • Over half of all Shakespeare feature film adaptations are based on Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth or Othello.

Which Shakespeare plays are most frequently adapted?

In total, there are 525 feature films which give William Shakespeare some form of writing credit.  Looking in more detail at these films I found 294 films which are full feature film adaptations of Shakespeare plays.

What counts as an adaptation?

Even the simplest statistical exercise, such as this, ends up presenting tough choices. In this case I had to decide what counted as an adaptation. I included direct adaptations (such as Romeo + Juliet) and more liberal adaptations (such as 10 Things I Hate About You and West Side Story which were based on Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet).  I excluded films which didn’t directly credit the original screenplay story to Shakespeare (such as The Lion King, which is loosely based on Hamlet) and films which included elements of Shakespeare’s writing such as sonnets and lyrics.

Films that fail the Bechdel Test are better than those that pass

I should start this article with a personal note – I don’t like what I’ve found. I always try to approach data impartially and not look for certain results. Inevitably, this sometimes leads to results which challenge my beliefs or my opinions.  I am a firm believer that the representation of women on screen is often woefully poor and needs addressing.

Last week the guys at FiveThirtyEight published a great analysis of the box office performance of films which pass the Bechdel Test. My first thought was ‘damn’ as I have also been working on a similar study. They have been extremely thorough and it’s well worth reading their article. In order to avoid repeating their work I have shifted my research to look at how good the films that pass the Bechdel test are.

First, a quick primer for those who don’t know what the Bechdel Test is. It was suggested in 1985 by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. A film passes the Bechdel Test if it features…

  1. …at least two named female characters…
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. …about something other than a man.

Using data from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and bechdeltest.com I studied 4,983 films made in the past 120 years.

In summary…

  • Films which fail the Bechdel Test get higher ratings from both audiences and film critics.
  • Films which fail all three criteria of the Bechdel Test (i.e. fewer than two named female characters) get the highest ratings

The results

By all four measures, films that fail the Bechdel Test score higher than those that pass.

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