How many films in an average film career?

25 November '13 7 Comments on How many films in an average film career?

Space Chase clapperboardThanks to the BFI, I’ve managed to build a list of all the UK films budgeted at over £500k since 2003 and all the UK films budgeted at under £500k since 2008. That’s 2,737 feature films in total.  I’m starting to crunch the numbers on this large dataset and in the coming weeks I’ll share what I discover.

All the data in this article relates to UK films, although the people aren’t all UK nationals. First up – let’s take a look at how many films each person has been involved with.  In summary…

  • Only 13% of producers of low budget films have subsequently produced a second film
  • Under 3% of directors who have directed a film have gone on to direct two more
  • 23% of writers who wrote a film wrote a second film
  • Directors are more likely to make a second film than producer, writers or actors
  • The vast majority of writers, producer, directors and actors stick within either low budget (<£500K) or higher budgets (>£500k). Only 15% have worked in both budget ranges.

How many credits does the average film career have?

End roller film creditsI carried out a quick poll on my Facebook page to find out what my film friends thought was an ‘average’ number of credits for UK producers, directors, screenwriters and actors (in the top seven billing of cast) would be.  The consensus was 3 films for directors and writers, 5 for actors and 7 for producers. Although not at all scientific, this quick poll reinforces my belief that film people don’t realise how fleeting most people’s experience of filmmaking is.

The truth is a bit more depressing…

Ok, so the average film career has a low number of credits is low, but how does it split up for each role?

I’m glad you asked…


Producing is the field in which we see the biggest difference between the ‘over £500k’ and ‘under £500k’ grouping. Only 14.3% of people who produced a film for under £500k went on to produce a second film, whereas that figure almost doubles to 25.7% for producers of films over £500k.




This information only applies to the top seven billed cast members.  Obviously, films have many more than seven characters so these numbers do not represent how many times an actor has worked, just how many times they were a lead or major supporting role.

Dear God why?

Space Chase film crewYou might be starting to think:  why are so few people managing to get a second film off the ground during their film career?  There will be a multitude of reasons, but if I had to speculate I’d suggest that the following are key…

  • Many of those “writers” and “producers” are not there by choice but in fact directors and actors trying to build projects for themselves. It’s possible that some of the producers are in fact writers dying to get their projects finally shot.  This means that they are unlikely to carry on working in that role no matter what the outcome has been – a successful film should launch their principal career and an unsuccessful film might be the proof that they need to leave the industry.
  • There is not an easy progression from low/micro-budget filmmaking to industry-level projects. Many first-time filmmakers feel that their first feature film will naturally lead to interest from industry players, whereas this is not always the case.
  • The delusion is over.  It’s easy to play down the amount of work involved in making a feature film before you’ve actually made one.  It seems like a short hop from short films and so many other people seem to be doing them that people assume it’s easy.  However, after you’ve been through that process at least once it’s harder to steel yourself for another unpaid two-year battle.
  • Most films lose money meaning either that the director/producer lose their own savings/mortgage or they can no longer rely on the same investors, many of whom will have been their friends and family. However hard it may be to ask people for money it’s infinitely harder to raise more money from the same people after you’ve lost them their first investment.
  • It’s not as much fun as you’d think.  Filmmaking can be fun, rewarding, exciting, creative and artistically fulfilling but in reality many people’s film career includes a very hard grind of never-ending problems, lack of support and bad news.  (Personally, I love it!)

Moving up the chain

When I first calculated the numbers, some of the results seemed strange.  For example, 87.8% of directors of films under £500k only made one film, 81.8% of directors of films over £500k only made one film but across all films the figure is only 77.5%.  At first glance it seems wrong to have an average that is lower than the two source groups.  However, it makes sense when you realise that a director could have made one film for over £500k and one for under £500k.  This person would be counted as having made just one film in each of the two groups, but actually they have made two films overall. This got me thinking – how many people work on both types of films?

Between 2008 and 2013, only 13.7% of writers worked on films both under £500k and UK films over £500k.  The figure is 14.4% for producers, 12.7% for directors and 14.6% for actors listed in the first seven names of cast.

It’s worth noting that this cut off is arbitrary and could have been £250k, £750k, £1 million or any other number you like.  Sadly, I don’t have the data to drill deeper into this area as I only have the films categorised into one of the two groups.


BFI Film ForeverI’m very grateful to Nick and David at the Research and Statistics Unit of the BFI.  The whole RSU team do a sterling job at logging and tracking UK films and we’re fortunate to work in a country where this kind of data is deemed valuable enough to fund.  The results in today’s article came from analysis I performed on raw data provided by the RSU.  In the coming weeks I’m going to be sharing more analysis of this data, covering a number of topics.

It’s worth noting that it’s easier to track larger films so it’s possible that some no-budget features films were missed off. They would have been included in this list if they came to the attention of the BFI in any number of ways, including funding awards, distribution deals, screenings, tax credit application and a load of other methods.  If a feature film was made entirely outside of the industry and never screened or sold then it could be missing from this list.  I’m not too worried about these as (a) I don’t think there are a huge number and (b) my main focus is the professional UK film industry, not just people shooting 90 minutes of footage.

Before 2008, the BFI did not track films with budgets under £500,000 and so any such film would not appear in these statistics. Also, I’m writing this in late November 2013, meaning that the 2013 data is incomplete.  I will attempt to revisit this topic in the future when updated data is available.

The “producers” referred to in this article are people with a full “Producer” credit.  I have data on Executive Producers but I did not include it in this analysis as it’s a vague term, covering a number of things, including investors, company bosses, star actors, powerful writers/directors, actors’ agents, etc.


Berlin shop window wisdomOn a side note I’ve discovered that Facebook posts take the largest image as the main thumbnail for blogs.  This meant that last’s week’s article on international distribution of UK films was offered on FB along with an image declaring ‘Walk round the house like a fucking champion’.  Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment, I had meant it to be a throwaway thought at the end related to my time in Berlin, not the main message to UK producers.

This means two things – firstly, if you arrived here hoping for more German wisdom, you might be disappointed. May I suggest you try here.  Secondly, I’m going to be ending these blogs with seemingly random images, in order to give Facebook a better thumbnail option. Auf Wiedersehen.

Space Chase was part of Sam's film career



  1. Thanks for sharing this, Steven. Although it’s a bit depressing at first glance it does prove that a few determined individuals are going on to make multiple films – I guess there’s still hope 🙂

  2. Another great article. Thanks for passing on the knowledge although some of it may put some on a downer. But as the saying goes – onwards and upwards which is what I intend to do. thanks again.

  3. Ahh. More nice statistics. Thanks. I just saw “The theory of everything” at the Berlin Int. Short FF.

    Please add the more important and uplifting information about how many self-made no-budget short films the talents are involved in.
    This will be a higher percentage than feature films. A wave, the legion. Film is a mass medium done by masses.

    Within a certain framework, you can easiliy collect a hunded films as director and gain more experience with genres, cast and crew. Endurance is helpful. The shool of life.

    My short filmography

    Good luck!

  4. Great stuff Stephen. I’ve been tracking similar stats for Scotland over the past few years. Of 66 first time directors between 1979 and 2012, 20 have made a second film and 7 a third. So you have a roughly 1 in 3 chance of making another film at each stage. However there is some interesting US research that shows if you get past three your chances then increase with each successive film

  5. Great stuff Stephen,

    You might also be interested in:

    The `Less Than 1% Problem’ in the Domain of Movies/Screenwriting (Velikovsky 2014)


    `40 Domain Problems in Screenwriting’ (Velikovsky 2014)


  6. Markus A. Darkraven

    Thanks, Stephan. As a struggling screenwriter. Who is trying to produce his work. This information has given me pause to think and reflect on why I am writing and working so hard. And the answer is simple…I am doing what I love and love what I am doing. And that is creating and writing stories. That I have written. I want to have this career as a visual storyteller/novelist. I will be a first time filmmaker and I am have eight screenplays/projects completed and the outline for many more to come. The plan is to get them all produced. Hopefully the budget will be in the 500k-1 million range. This article help me get a better perspective son how I can move forward.

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