• Staff writer

Storytelling, craft, skills and talent driving UK industry

BEST OF BRITISH TALENT : Lady Macbeth was the calling card for Florence Pugh, this year nominated for Academy and BAFTA awards for her performance in Little Women, while the coveted Golden Globe for Best Actor and nominations for other industry accolades went to Taron Egerton for his portrayal of iconic singer-songwriter Elton John in the hit musical Rocketman.

With such growth and success on the global stage continuing, it is undoubtedly an exciting time for collaboration at the BFI. “The BFI’s role is scoping out what the landscape is going to look like in the next five years, and then coming up with initiatives and research that allows the industry to take advantage,” says Peplow

Neil Peplow continues: “The issue that we have had here has been facilitating the demand we’ve attracted. “Where I see this going is facilitating the demand through increasing our skills base. So we have been funding screen skills and working with partners, for instance Lucasfilm with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Eon on the new James Bond, No Time To Die, to develop new entrants and to provide people who can actually be employed on set. “Then there’s the studio space from this production boom. We’re working very closely with our sister agency the British Film Commission who do a fantastic job. They are focusing on how we can develop that studio space both outside of London and outside of the M25 so it’s not just the south-east benefiting from this production boom.” Andrew M Smith, Corporate Affairs Director of Pinewood Group says it is doing its part to meet the unprecedented demand for studio space, with their expansion representing the biggest development of sound stage space in the UK. “We are proud to have been home to the BAFTA award-winning 1917, and we want to keep being home to such award-winning productions and talent. The real challenge is the shortage of skills and Pinewood are deeply committed to helping attract and develop talent in the creative industries.” Peplow continues: “The other thing the BFI plays a crucial role in is developing the talent behind the camera to ensure that we are still known as a nation of storytellers. That’s an element of additional value we bring to the international landscape.” Although as we speak we don’t know the results of the upcoming Oscars, one of the key films coming from that storytelling expertise, and tipped for Oscar glory, is 1917. “Yes, it is being seen as a favourite with Sam Mendes as writer and director working with female cowriter, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and a cast and crew peppered with UK talent,” Peplow continues. “And I think if you look at high-end TV such as Killing Eve and The Crown you can see it is not just because we have fantastic crew and fantastic cast, it is because we have the people who can create those storyworlds. “If you look at the history of cinema in the UK, the BFI, having been established in 1933, what has been at the heart of that movement has been how we see ourselves through the moving image; how we see ourselves as a society; and what kind of values we want to be aligned with. “That can only be strengthened by the activity in our production sector because that feeds into our ability to tell those stories in high quality to a mass audience. So with something such as Downton Abbey, it’s having massive international success in China at the moment. “Yet, at the same time, you see stories coming through like Blue Story (a powerful drama on gang culture) which was released through Paramount, and incidentally a film we weren’t involved in but was supported by BBC Films. Written and directed by Andrew ‘Rapman’ Onwubolu, who had been working outside the mainstream but whose short films had been seen by tens of millions on YouTube, reached a really strong domestic market. So we are finding talent is coming from lots of different areas and lots of different backgrounds. Having this healthy production industry gives confidence and also aspiration to that new talent and to those new film-makers from all walks of life with new and different stories who are coming through.” The BFI’s role is to identify, promote and to support those filmmakers and the stories they tell. “It has always been the BFI’s role to experiment with the moving image and that is no different today,” says Peplow. “With immersive we are looking at what role we can play in providing platforms to explore new screen narratives and how audiences can be reached through them. “Whether or not they change the way that narrative is told is an interesting question. Ultimately, it still comes down to the essence of cinema which is how to engage audiences through story and the moving image that gets people to understand the human condition.” There are, he says, a number of opportunities for growth. “There is a strong role for local independent cinema. What the BFI is looking at is how that is progressing and evolving. People still want to go out to experience a film in the dark with a community they share bonds with. That will always be part of our culture. But there are opportunities to look at different ways to reach audiences both here and internationally. “On the bigger scale, industrial investment, our production base is very healthy and I think there will be moves to invest in new studios, which I think will be seen quickly. Also, in order to back that up we are investing in skills and ensuring that post-Brexit we are open for business and continue to build on that strong growth. The BFI is confident it can readjust as media technologies change. “There have always been cycles in film and TV. If you go back to 1933, you had the boom happening because of sound. Then further down the line, a complete readjustment of what cinema was because of TV. Then you had the impact of VHS. Now we have lots of online platforms delivering content,” says Peplow. “At every one of those points, these were seen as challenges – and I suspect if you looked at the coverage at that time there was always an existential tone. However, the industry has looked as those threats as opportunities and always built a new way to reach an audience. “Our role is looking forward and scoping out what the landscape is going to look like in the next five years, and then coming up with initiatives and research that allows the industry to take advantage. “Worldwide we are seeing a shift in the industry’s ecosystem, from funding films to channels to audiences. Within that we are seeing films that would have been released in cinemas moving onto streaming platforms. You can either see that as a threat to indie cinema or you can view it as an opportunity. What I see isn’t a transfer of value solely from independent film to the platforms, I’m seeing a growth in the value of the whole industry. “The fact you can reach billions of people through online subscription services as a massive opportunity and as increasing the economic value of the entire sector.” Peplow acknowledges it will take a while to transition and understand the role that independent cinema will play,” he says. “We look at how we can ensure that distribution of local product and important national cinema is reaching relevant audiences. “I am encouraged by local success stories we’ve recently had. One is Bait, a low-budget, black and white film shot on a clockwork Bolex camera. It has taken around half a million pounds at the box office through a localized distribution approach which actually aligned precisely to the audience that wanted to engage with that film.” Celebrating the industry’s successes, in talent, content, production expertise or shaping future generations of creatives, is all key for the BFI. “There is a lot to be proud of. Every time you see a technician or somebody from the production side winning an Oscar, getting the recognition they deserve, that really shows we have high craft skill levels,” says Peplow. “We can be incredibly proud of being a leading international production hub. We can be proud we are looking forward and developing a workforce from different backgrounds, from different locations, in order to take advantage of this boom. We are really focused on diversity and some of the best work we are doing at the BFI is around that. “The top headline is always around the shows that do well and the films that win awards and we continue to have that success on a global scale. “That is the same pride that we have as a nation because we have always been a nation of storytellers, from Shakespeare onwards. We have always had the ability to reach people internationally with the stories that we tell. When I was working in Sydney, I saw outside my window a popup replica of The Globe which ran through summer with Shakespearean plays on. “I thought to myself would Shakespeare, hundreds of years later, have thought his reach would have got to Sydney with people still queuing up to engage with those stories. “I’m proud that our storytellers continue that resonance and cultural impact not just here but internationally and are timeless.

Neil Peplow & Ben Roberts

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