Last week I was contacted by the Film Distributors Association, who were trying to work out how many people work on UK independent films. The BFI do an incredible job of tracking films and employment but don’t have the numbers on this specific question. The hard part of the research is splitting the employment numbers between those working on “studio” and “independent” films. So I took the challenge and here’s what I found…
- 64% of people employed in UK film work in the production sector
- UK film employment has grown by 60% between 2007 and 2013
- Around half of the jobs in the UK film industry are self-employed
- 67% of UK film jobs in 2013 were based in London and the South East (the UK average for all industries is 28%)
- There were 1,689 feature films shot in the UK from 2009-13 inclusive
- 94% of those films did not have any financing from Hollywood studios
- Between 2009-13, 4,437 people acted as writer, director or main producer on at least one UK film
- 74% of people credited on UK indie films worked on just one film
- To be in the top 1% of “Most credited crew on UK indie films” from 2009-13, you need at least 10 credits
- 89,888 people worked on UK independent films from 2009-13
- 25% of those people were actors
How many people work in the UK film industry, across all film types?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides data on UK employment via its Annual Population Survey and Labour Force Survey. They define “people in employment” as individuals aged 16 or over who undertook paid work (as an employee or self-employed), those who had a job that they were temporarily away from, those on government-supported training and employment programmes, and those doing unpaid family work. Between October 2012 and September 2013 the UK film industry employment numbers were…
|Film and video production||42,097|
|Film and video distribution||6,289|
What kind of jobs are these?
Around half of the jobs in the UK film industry are self-employed. The percentage of UK film jobs which are self-employed has fluctuated over the years and I suspect that one of the main reasons is changes in employment in Production. Production is the largest sector, it has the highest percentage of freelance jobs and has changed hugely over the past decade (see above for the chart).
The vast majority of the people working in distribution and exhibition are employees, with more stable, predictable work lives compared with those working on film sets. Although that doesn’t mean that their work is entirely reliable, as anyone working in a cinema on a ‘zero hour’ contract will tell you. In 2013, the majority of Odeon employees at its flagship cinema were on a base rate of £25 a week, comprising of just four guaranteed hours a week, and many employees at Curzon and Picturehouse cinemas are on ‘zero hour’ contracts.
The film industry is hugely London-centric, with 67% of jobs in 2013 being based in London and the South East. The UK average for jobs across all industries is 28.2%.
What about employment just on UK independent films?
The data I’ve shared so far is very interesting but it’s combining multiple sectors and different types of films, so of limited use. The original question from the FDA pertained to production jobs on UK independent films shot in the UK and so to answer this directly I needed to build up a database of UK films, calculate employment on each and remove the non-indie films. I started with data from the BFI, who track all feature films shot in the UK. This includes all the films they can find, not just the large ones and it does not take into account whether the film was ever screened or distributed.
I defined “independent” as meaning there was no involvement of a Hollywood studio in the financing of the film. Some of these indie films may have been picked up by Hollywood distributors upon completion but I don’t feel that takes away from their “indie” status.
I found a total of 1,689 feature films, of which 1,585 (93.8%) were independent under my criteria.
|Shoot Year||All films||Independent||Studio involvement|
Number of key creatives employed
The main three creative roles (writer, producer and director) are almost always freelance, self-employed or run their own company. Films tend to have one director, one or two writers and a handful of producers, although in many cases people will take on more than one role on the same film. In the five years 2009-13 inclusive, I found that 4,437 people had taken on the role of writer, director or main producer* on at least one feature film shot in the UK.
*Note: “Main producer” is defined as those receiving the full “producer” credit, and does not include executive, assistant, associate, line or co-producers. If you’re interested in seeing how may producers work on a film then check out this research I did last year stephenfollows.com/how-many-producers-does-it-take-to-make-a-film).
Of those people, 4,070 had worked only on UK independent films, meaning that during 2009-13, only 367 people worked as a writer, director or main producer on a Hollywood-studio backed UK film.
What about all ‘on set’ roles?
Now that I had my list of UK independent films I was able to look at the number of people who had been credited on them. I used data from a number of public sources and found that across the 1,585 indie films shot in the UK from 2009-13, there were 149,231 credits.
The majority of people (74.3%) only received one credit and to be in the top 1% of “most credited people in UK indie films 2009-13” you needed at least 10 credits. Once I accounted for people with more than one credit I could calculate how many unique individuals were employed on UK independent films shot between 2009 and 2013. And the final answer is… 89,888.
I should add that 25.2% of the 149,231 credits were for cast members. Actors are as much a part of the film industry as directors, grips, runners, etc, so I think it’s fair they are included in the numbers. Actors have even less job security than the crew, are paid less and work in a much more competitive field. That said, I’m sure I will be asked for an employment number that relates only to crew members, so I removed the people whose credits were only that of cast member and the total number of unique individuals who worked on UK indie films 2009-13 became 65,059.
My figures for the number of films made in the UK differ slightly from figures published in the BFI Statistical Yearbook. This is to be expected when tracking feature films as so many are made but never shown and the definition of a feature film is so broad. I found some films tracked by the BFI which were now short films or web series, which could possibly have been changed by the filmmakers after the BFI started tracking them. Additionally, the BFI will constantly update their previously-published figures when they discover previously unknown films from past years (which I cannot).
The data for my research today came from a variety of sources, including the British Film Institute (BFI), the Office of National Statistics (ONS), IMDb, Wikipedia and the British Council.
I’m grateful to the FDA for asking the original question and to the BFI for sending them my way. It’s always extra fun to research something with an applied purpose in mind. If you have any questions you would like me to explore then drop me a line.