Are British filmmakers a load of drama queens?

Today’s research started out as a simple investigation into what percentage of UK films are dramas but quickly descended into exploring the meaning of genre.

In the distribution world it’s often said that “drama is not a genre”.  This means that most genres provide the audience with a clearly defined expectation of what the film will be before they see it.  However, saying that a film is a drama doesn’t give us anything to go on when assessing what it may involve. Most dramas are either star-driven or ‘execution dependent’ (i.e. they have to be good and get great reviews to have any hope of attracting an audience).

Despite this, a huge number of the films we make in Britain are dramas.  I’ve written before about why this might be, so I won’t go into detail.  Suffice it to say I feel it comes down to a combination of our literary past, our cash-strapped present and our semi-European disdain for commerciality.  I am not saying that it’s good or bad, but simply noting our tastes as a filmmaking nation.

I decided to drill into this drama obsession a little deeper and it proved trickier than I expected.  In summary…

  • 18.5% of the films made in the UK from 2011-13 were dramas
  • Dramas account for just 9.8% of the total amount spent on UK films
  • 12.2% of the UK films in cinemas are dramas
  • But they account for just 0.5% of the box office gross for UK films
  • The average budget for a UK drama film between 2011-13 was £3.1 million
  • The average gross for UK drama films 2011-13 was £380,000 – just 12% of the average budget

What genre do UK filmmakers make most often?

Drama is the most popular fictional genre for UK filmmakers. According to the BFI’s Statistical Yearbook, 18.5% of the films made in the UK 2011-13 were dramas.

So do we spend most of our budgets on dramas?

Not at all.  When we overlay the amount of money spent on film budgets over the same period we can see that dramas account for just 9.8% of the total amount spent on UK films.

In fact, the average budget for a UK drama film was £3.1 million.

Do UK audiences like dramas as much as UK filmmakers?

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What are the highest grossing low-budget British films?

I spent the weekend at the first of twelve sessions for the Micro-Budget Mentor scheme that I’m running with producer James Cotton.  We had a lecture theatre full of keen micro-budget filmmakers and I spoke about at the current state of low and micro-budget filmmaking in the UK.  In order to prepare, I looked in detail at all the data I could find on UK films budgeted under £1 million.

The core of today’s blog article is the combination of data I purchased from Rentrak, new data the BFI gave to me and a series of public online sources (such as IMDb, Box Office Mojo, Opus, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacrtic and Wikipedia).  Consequently, I can’t share all of the figures as freely as I normally would.  Rentrak won’t let me republish their raw data and the BFI have provided some data for background research only.

Nonetheless, I feel that the key outcomes I am publishing today are new and noteworthy.  I have never before seen a box office chart for micro-budget films.

In summary…

  • The UK film with highest global gross (under £1m, Jan 2008 to Aug 2014) was Searching For Sugarman.
  • Between January 2008 and August 2014, there were 1,419 films made in the UK budgeted under £1 million
  • Only 7 of these grossed over £1 million in cinemas worldwide
  • 0.17% of the 1,190 UK films made on under £500k grossed over £1 million worldwide.
  • 20% of UK films budgeted under £1 million grossed at least £1 in any cinema around the world.
  • That figure drops to 16% for films under £500k and 10% for films budgeted under £150k.
  • Rotten Tomatoes provides data on just 24% of UK films budgeted under £500k and Metacritic only rated 4% of the same group.

Highest grossing UK films budgeted under £1m

The UK film with highest global box office gross released between January 2008 and August 2014 was Searching For Sugarman.  This film alone accounts for almost 24% of the combined gross of the top 50 films.

No.FilmYearGenre
1Searching for Sugar Man2012Documentary Music Biopic
2Marley2012Documentary Music
3Locke2013Thriller Drama
4Anuvahood2011Comedy Spoof
5Still Life2013Comedy Drama
6Redirected2014Action Comedy
7Weekend2011Drama Gay interest Romance
8The Disappearance of Alice Creed2009Thriller Crime Drama
9The Act of Killing2012Documentary Socio-political Drama
10Tyrannosaur2011Drama
11Tormented2009Horror
12Shank2010Crime Action Drama
13Ill Manors2012Crime Drama
14The Spirit of '452013Documentary Socio-political
15Of Time and the City2008Documentary
16Kill List2011Horror Thriller Drama
17Papadopoulos & Sons2012Comedy Family
18The Caller2011Horror Crime
19Exam2009Thriller Horror
20Archipelago2010Drama
21Fire in Babylon2010Documentary Sport
22Metro Manila2013Thriller Drama
23Jig2011Documentary Music/Dance Comedy
24Dreams of a Life2011Documentary Drama
25The Summit2012Documentary Sport
26In Fear2013Thriller Horror
27How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster?2010Documentary
28Cheerful Weather for the Wedding2012Drama Period drama Comedy
29The Pervert's Guide to Ideology2012Documentary
30Sket2011Thriller Crime
31Wild Bill2011Drama
32Leviathan2012Documentary Horror
33Wagner & Me2010Documentary Music Biopic
34No Greater Love2009Documentary
35Offender2012Thriller Drama Crime
36Pusher2012Crime Action Thriller
37McCullin2012Documentary War
38The Shock Doctrine2009Documentary
39DeadTime2012Horror Thriller Music
40The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)2011Horror Drama
41She, a Chinese2009Drama
42Letters to Sofija2013Biopic Drama Music
43Tortoise in Love2012Comedy Romance
44Tonight You're Mine2011Romance Music
45My Brother the Devil2012Drama Gay interest
46The Arbor2010Biopic Documentary Biopic
47Payback Season2012Thriller Drama
481 Day2009Drama
49A Field in England2013Horror Drama Historical
50Afghan Star2009Documentary

Highest grossing UK films budgeted under £500k

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Do filmmakers lie about their budgets?

Last week’s article didn’t feature any sexy charts, so I thought it would be a shame to disappoint film data nerds two weeks in a row.  As penance, I thought I’d tackle a juicy topic I’ve had on my mind for a while: Do filmmakers lie about their budgets?

The short answer is – yes, all the time.  There are times when you want your budget to seem higher than it actually is (to get noticed in the industry, to get a sales deal, to look cool at a party as the big-shot filmmaker) and sometimes when you want it to seem like you spent less than you actually did (getting good deals on kit and crew, when you’re embarrassed at how much you wasted, to look cool at a party as the resourceful filmmaker).

I took data from the BFI and HMRC and compared it with budget figures published online.  In summary…

  • Between a third and a half of British films released 2009-14 have publicly declared what their film cost to make.
  • 92% of films budgeted over £30 million declare a budget whereas for films under £150k it’s 40%.
  • At least 30% of British films released 2009-14 lied about their budget – 8% claiming it cost less than it did and 22% inflating their budget.
  • 43% of films actually made for £500k – £1m inflated their budgets publicly
  • 35% of films actually made for £1m – £2m under-reported their budget.
  • On average, British filmmakers making films under £150k claim that their budget is £255k.
  • Of the sub-£150k films released in 2014, 21% claimed that their film cost over half a million pounds.
  • Micro-budget filmmakers are increasingly inflating their budgets.
  • Filmmakers blame distribution and marketing pressures

How can we find out what a film really cost?

The budgets for Hollywood films tend to make their way into the public domain via leaked documents, gossip from the vast number of people ‘in the know’ and reports to stockholders. However, lower budget films don’t suffer from many of these leaks and so the only online source for most budgets is the filmmakers themselves.  This makes is extremely easy to misrepresent your film’s true cost.

In fact, there are very few places where filmmakers are forced to reveal the truth about their budget.  All UK companies have to file annual statements with Companies House showing basic financial data, but these don’t give enough detail to work out budgets. Films can be split across years, a company’s overall income/expenditure could be across numerous projects and some films are co-productions, meaning the film’s budget has been paid by more than one company.

Fortunately for us, the UK currently has a tax rebate system and a friendly government body. The producers of British films can claim back about a fifth of the money they spend on a film in the UK.  You need to get your film officially certified as ‘British’, work out how much you’re owed (for films budgeted under £20m, it’s 25% of 80% of your total spend, or 25% of the money you spend in the UK – whichever is lower) and then submit your corporation tax return.

HMRC (i.e. the taxman) shares some of these details with the BFI, meaning that the BFI has accurate figures for how much every single British film cost to make.  They don’t publish these figures in detail but they were kind enough to share budget range data with me. This means that for all recent British films, I know for a fact that one of the following budget ranges applies:

  • Over £30 million
  • Between £10 million and £30 million
  • Between £5 million and £10 million
  • Between £2 million and £5 million
  • Between £1 million and  £2 million
  • Between £0.5 million and £1 million
  • Between £150k and £500k
  • Under £150k

These budget ranges are as factual as anything can be, because if anyone lied to HMRC then they would have been committing fraud.  It does happen by only very rarely. I then cross-referred this data with publicly available data such as Wikipedia, IMDb, Box Office Mojo and interviews with filmmakers in order to measure how different the publicly stated budgets are from the legally-declared true budgets.

How many filmmakers publicly state their film’s budget?

Across all British films released between 2009 and 2014 (including those not released yet but scheduled for a 2014 release) I found budget figures for 38% of them.

 

Approximately three out of every ten films has a budget published in the year it’s released in cinemas.  Over time this increases; there are published budgets for almost half of all the British films released in 2010.

Are they telling the truth?

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The Freedom of Information Act and the BFI

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 that has not previously been 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 how 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. It only came into force in 2005 and comprises 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?

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What makes low budget films sell?

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?

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

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 microbudgetmentor.com)

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?

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New film data visulisation tool – FilmTimeMachine.com

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: FilmTimeMachine.com.

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 filmtimemachine.com/most-hired-directors

DirectorNumber of films (2004-13)
Tyler Perry14
Steven Soderbergh11
Woody Allen10
Clint Eastwood8
Michael Winterbottom8
Michel Gondry8
Priyadarshan8
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.

Epilogue

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?

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 stephenfollows.com/do-women-prefer-films-made-by-female-filmmakers

Has UK female representation changed over time?

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