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I think most UK cinema-goers would be surprised to learn that almost half of all UK releases in 2013 were not in English.  As you would expect, the vast majority of the UK box office takings go to films coming from Hollywood (76.5% in 2014) and almost every single one of them is in English. However, outside of “studio films”, there are a large number of feature films released in the UK which don’t feature English as their main language.

In summary…

  • 40% of the films released in UK cinemas during 2013 were not in English
  • Only 2.1% of the 2013 UK box office went to films not in the English language
  • Since 2001, foreign language films have accounted for 35.4% of UK cinema releases
  • The most popular non-English language within films released in the UK is Hindi
  • The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing non-English film in both the UK and America

Two out of every five UK releases are not in English

40% of the films released in UK cinemas during 2013 were not in English (280 films out of the 698 releases).  Of the 418 films which were in English, 360 were only in English and 58 were in English but also featured extensive use of other languages, such as Captain Phillips which was in English and Somali.

Although they make up a sizeable percentage by number, they account for a very small amount of the overall box office receipts – only 2.1% of the 2013 UK office office went to films not in the English language.

This is not a new trend; since 2001, foreign language films have accounted for 35.4% of UK cinema releases (that’s 2,324 films out of a total of 6,573 releases)

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I spent much of last week in deepest, darkest Somerset away from cities, screens and mobile signal – bliss.  While there I was grilled by a recent media graduate as to how he can improve his chances of employment in the film industry.  I told him of my previous research into the two most important things for film wannabes (i.e. a driving licence and a “concise” CV) and so the conversation turned to location.  Did he have to move to London to get ahead in film?

I agreed to look at what the numbers tell us about the location of the UK film industry.  In summary…

  • London has 13% of the UK’s population but 55% of the UK’s film companies
  • London and the South East account for 67% of jobs in the film and video production sector
  • The exhibition sector is far more geographically-diverse than the other sectors (production, post-production and distribution)
  • London has 13% of the UK population but 16% of the cinema screens

You don’t have to live in London…

Before I go through the numbers, it’s worth noting that all regions of the UK have film activity and each has a dedicated regional public body to provide funding, training and support.  The larger bodies are Creative EnglandCreative ScotlandFilm Agency for WalesNorthern Ireland Screen and Film London with more localised support coming from Northern Film & MediaScreen South and Screen Yorkshire.  Non-region specific support can also come from British Film Commission and Creative Skillset.

Often the most authentic stories are told by regional filmmakers; if every filmmaker told stories from the point of view of a Londoner then we would have fewer Billy Elliots and more Danny Dyers.  

… but London is where most of the industry works

London has 13% of the UK population but is home to 55% of the UK’s film companies.

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Last week I looked at the fall in UK feature film production, especially in the sub-£500k budget range where production has fallen by 50% in the past four years. On the day it was published, I reached out to a number of industry bodies and individuals and asked them two questions…

  1. What do you think is the cause of the drop in UK low budget production?
  2. Do you think that this will prove to be a good or a bad thing for the UK film industry? 

The answers give a fascinating insight into the different views of the industry.  I have included some longer quotes later in this article, but to summarise…

  • The unpredictability of the industry came through loud and clear.  Most respondents made reference to how fickle and changeable the film industry is.
  • Everyone agrees that the vast majority of the low budget projects made in the past five years have been of poor quality. Evidence quoted includes the box office results, lack of international sales and firsthand experience of watching them. 
  • Low / micro budget features are a good place for fresh talent to learn their craft and get noticed. The general view of sub-£500k films is that they’re not commercial products which the film industry has much interest in, but rather they are a place for first-timers and artists.
  • There was broad agreement that the raw number of films being made is not that important.  Instead, the quality and marketability of those films is what counts. Most respondents gave reasons why this trend could be both a good and a bad thing for the UK film industry.  Positive reasons included fewer unprofessional films, a chance to improve the image of film investment and fewer competing films in the marketplace.  Negative reasons included reduced employment opportunities, reduced funding opportunities and that represents a skills drain whereby feature films are losing creatives to other media.

Below are a selection of the quotes and feedback I received.  thank you to everyone who gave me their thoughts and I’m sorry I couldn’t include them all.

Christopher Granier-Deferre is a British film producer as well as the Executive Producer of Creative England’s low budget funding scheme iFeatures.

I don’t think there is one single cause. It’s a perfect storm of initiatives such as iFeatures becoming more firmly established, equity funders becoming more savvy, and the rise and rise of exciting alternative formats for filmmakers to explore. It’s a very cyclical industry and in 3 years time we might all be wondering why there is a huge increase in micro-budget movies!

The only thing that’s good for this industry is making better films that an audience are willing to pay to see, regardless of budget, genre, style etc. How we get there is no small debate, but micro-budget films are a core part of our R&D as an industry, the lifeblood of nurturing careers. Not all of them will work, but that’s fine, as Grayson Perry says about art: “you don’t have to like it all”.

Rebecca O’Brien is a highly experienced British film producer at Sixteen Films.  Her credits include Jimmy’s Hall, Looking for Eric and The Wind That Shakes the Barley.Continue reading