Examination of Witness (Questions
Mr David Pope
Q376 Chairman: Mr Pope,
I gather you are going to stand.
Mr Pope: If that is okay with you.
I would appreciate that.
Q377 Chairman: Fine.
I do not think we have ever had anyone giving evidence standing
up. Okay. Let us begin with you. Could you, perhaps, first of
all, explain to us a little about your organisation?
Mr Pope: Yes. Good morning, and
thank you very much for the invitation. The New Producers' Alliance,
the NPA, is an open access membership organisation for producers,
directors and screenwriters, and a training provider. The organisation
has been in existence since 1993, and I have been with them for
three years. Our operations are split between membership services
and training. Examples of membership services would be structured
networking events in the industry, providing what we would call
a project guide before major markets like Cannes and Berlin. A
project guide means members who were attending would be able to
submit details of their project and that would then be sent out
to financiers, distributors and sales agents who were attending
the market. In terms of training, we offer a broad collection
of training around those job descriptionsproducers, directors
and screenwriters. We have very broad constituencies within our
organisation because we have open access, so we have short filmmakers,
we have a very large constituency of filmmakers who are moving
from making short films into looking to make their first feature
film, and then we have more established members who are making
Q378 Chairman: Your
work is concerned just with (I say just"it
is a big industry) the film industry, not so much with television.
Mr Pope: That is correct, yes.
That is where our focus ison producers, directors and screenwriters
who are moving into the film industry, whether that is as a new
entrant (certainly we do have some people who come to us who are
looking to bring in skills because they are making a transition)
or whether it is from producing television to looking to producing
film, or it is people working in other job descriptions who are
looking to move up.
Q379 Chairman: Basically,
therefore, you are concerned with what is, in effect, quite advanced
training. Would that be fair?
Mr Pope: I think, within the training
landscape, our main priority is what we would call continued professional
development. So we are not a film school; we are not dealing with
people who are new entrants looking to enter the industry for
the first time, but we are providing a set of training and skills
development which we try to keep in line with developments that
are happening within the industry.
Q380 Baroness Eccles
of Moulton: Good morning, Mr Pope. I want to ask you about how
the NPA is funded. We know that you work with DCMS, the Film Council,
regional screen agencies and others. What other sources of funding
do you have?
Mr Pope: Our funding breaks down,
roughly, into three areas: membership fees (because we are a membership
organisation); our second major revenue stream is training (we
charge for the training; it is not free, but you pay significantly
less if you are a member of the organisation than if you are not),
and then we receive some sponsorship. The only organisation out
of that list that we receive any funding from is the UK Film Council,
and we receive a sponsorship amount from them.
Q381 Baroness Eccles
of Moulton: The UK Film Council revenue is the most reliable,
Mr Pope: In what respect?
Q382 Baroness Eccles
of Moulton: Presumably, you have sources of funding where you
cannot predict what it is going to produce.
Mr Pope: Absolutely. Training and
membership are subject to market forces. We have some other, smaller
sponsorship deals which tend to be with service providers who
seek to sponsor the organisation, but it is very small amounts.
Q383 Baroness Eccles
of Moulton: What about forward planning?
Mr Pope: It is an ongoing concern.
We are constantly looking for new revenue streams. The current
revenue stream which is, I guess, most to the fore is looking
to investigate ways of putting our training and information services
on line. We are quite an old-fashioned organisation in the current
landscape of film membership organisations. When the organisation
started, which is not actually that long ago, the internet was
practically non-existent, and now there is a huge amount of possibilities
for filmmakers to exchange information on line. We are very good
at the physical presence; we are very London-centric, and we are
constantly trying to address that; we want to do more work in
the regions, and more work internationally, and we see the possibilities
of online training and online provision of the information that
we gather to be a good move forward. Hopefully, that will extend
into a bigger revenue stream.
Q384 Baroness Eccles
of Moulton: You do, obviously, have a website?
Mr Pope: Yes, absolutely. We need
to work on the website to be able to bring these services in.
Q385 Bishop of Manchester:
I am trying to make some sense of the figures from the UK Film
Council on film production expenditure. These are the figures
from 1992 to 2008. It does look, particularly last year, that
in terms of co-productions there was a pretty significant drop,
but even overall, if we look back over this quite long period
of the 1990s and through into this decade, it does suggest to
me that the film production expenditure and employment figures
are probably stagnating at the moment, and I wonder if that is
your estimation of the situation. If it is your estimation, have
you got any suggestions about how things might be improved?
Mr Pope: I think co-production
is a particular issue because the figures you have will reflect
there has been a steep decline in the recent years. I think that
is a particular subject, and if you are going to come on to talk
about the tax credit, that kind of links in with that.
Q386 Bishop of Manchester:
That is coming up.
Mr Pope: The UK film industry is
the sort of industry where it depends who you ask. Obviously,
in the public domain there are success stories. We continue to
produce a good amount of film and we continue to maintain the
market share. There are challenges to the industry, and if that
is what you would like me to speak about then I am happy to do
that. Obviously, the recession affects all industries. In the
case of the UK film industry the contribution to the financing
of films the banks were making has, for all intents and purposes,
gone. This is essentially gap funding, which is very much money
coming in late in the financing stages and is required to be given
back early in the recoupment process, and so that last 20 per
cent of the budget has gone. I do not think it is going to be
seeing the effects of that for a while because I am sure you are
aware of how long the projects take to put together, and how long
films take to evolve and come to fruition.
Q387 Chairman: How long
would you say that was? Is there an average?
Mr Pope: I would say two years.
Let us say a year for a decent draft of a script to be ready to
go into financiers, three months in production and post-production.
So a minimum of two years for a project.
Q388 Chairman: Many
take much longer than that.
Mr Pope: Yes, yes, definitely,
and some very well-known projectsvery famous films in the
public domainhave had very long development processes.
Linked in with that, in terms of the current economic climate,
all businesses have got cash flow issues. If your product has
that kind of development time and you are looking to get a return
on that, obviously, cash flow in your company is a significant
issue. So it is not news to anybody, and it is affecting all industries,
but those are two quite significant things. One is bank funding
of films which, obviously, has taken a hit.
Q389 Bishop of Manchester:
Presumably, if this goes on for too long there will be very serious
implications in terms of the creative resourcing for the film
industry because people will not want to come into it if they
feel there is no future.
Mr Pope: I would agree with that.
Also, you will have migration of talent and skills from the industry.
Q390 Bishop of Manchester:
Has that already started?
Mr Pope: I do not think it has
started yet. I think that there are some issues that need to be
resolved, and obviously that is a big macro-economic set of issues.
The second issue is that there are going to be cuts in public
funding to the UK Film Council and the film sector, so as my membership
apply for funding from the production funds of the UK Film Council
and to the regional screen agency production funds, that is of
concern to my membership. In terms of just going on to the co-production
issue, the NPA membership has been hugely in support of the tax
credit. Is it appropriate to move on to that?
Q391 Chairman: We will
come on to the tax credit. You speak, really, with two hats; you
also have your own production company, Advance. How do you see
it from that point of view? How do you see the economic position
at the moment for films?
Mr Pope: Currently, the film projects
that we have in development areall of them except for oneto
be produced in the UK. So they are being written here to be shot
and post-produced in the UK. So there is a certain set of economic
Q392 Chairman: The exchange
rate, presumably, helps, does it, a bit?
Mr Pope: The exchange rate helps
for inward investment. I think that is something that is very
important, and the exchange rate changing is obviously more attractive
to the American companies to come and shoot here, and that is
very important for sustaining our workforce and our industry.
One project is written to be shot in the United States, and that
has a slightly different economic structure.
Q393 Baroness McIntosh
of Hudnall: Just thinking about your membership, presumably there
is a significant number of your members, or possibly the majority,
who are making small, low-budget films, some of which do not get
captured by the kind of official statistics about what the film
industry in this country is producing. Can you talk a bit about
those people who are either making very cheap films because that
is what they want to do, or because that is all the finance they
can secure and they are just starting up, or whatever? Who are
they? What proportion of your membership do they represent? What
kind of contribution is that level of filmmaking, in your view,
making both economically and culturally to the film industry as
Mr Pope: Yes, we have a large constituency
of those filmmakers, and thank you for recognising that. I think
low-budget filmmakingits definition and its place in the
film industryhas changed in recent years, to the extent
that there are public bodies that have low-budget film schemes.
So Film London has a micro-budget scheme where they are shooting
films for around £100,000. One of those films has just been
released in the cinemas (it is called Shifty and it is
on all the posters), and the NPA, because we have a constituency
of filmmakers that work in low-budget independent feature filmmaking,
are very happy to see that. So we have a large constituency of
our members engaged in that area. Budgets have been shrinking;
any producer that comes in will tell you, even from their experience
that budgets have been shrinking. I think that there is a recognition
in terms of talent development whereby it used to be that you
made short films, or you worked in television, and then you would
go and do a feature. Now there is this middle ground where micro-budgets
are seen as an effective training ground to bridge that gap between
short films and bigger budget films. I think changes in technology
in the last 10 to 20 yearsin the main, access to production
and now distributionhave changed the landscape.
Q394 Baroness McIntosh
of Hudnall: Can I just interrupt you there for a minute? Is there
a parallel in the film industry with what has happened in the
music industry, where independent music producers and creators
of content have actually bypassed the traditional distribution
mechanisms and gone, for example, straight on to the internet,
and allowed their work to be seen that way? Is there a parallel
group of filmmakers who are doing something like that, and making
their work accessible that way?
Mr Pope: Absolutely.
Q395 Baroness McIntosh
of Hudnall: Is that work giving rise, then, to those people becoming
more conventional filmmakers of the kind that we are used to hearing
about, or are they a separate group?
Mr Pope: I would say it is early
stages for what we would term DIY distribution". Some
areas of the industry would not really recognise it. It used to
be that self-distribution was a bit like self-publishing; it was
that nobody else would distribute it so you had to do it yourself,
instead of it actually being an economic model whereby you look
to recoup as much as possible from your endeavours. Obviously,
the internet has changed everything, in terms of that. Lessons
from the music industry: I think people should look at that model
of what has happened to the music industry very carefully, but
it is another way of distributing content. Theatrical is there,
theatrical is not going to go away; any of my filmmakers would
want their film in the cinema in some shape or form, whether it
is a very broad release or if it is geared more towards a marketing
exercise for the launch of a DVD or the content going on line.
However, there are very entrepreneurial filmmakers out there who
are looking to investigate ways of using the internet, because
the internet is a global market. Obviously, there are huge concerns
about rights and piracy and those issues, but from an economic
point of view you can reach very large audiences.
Lord Maxton: Leading on from that,
one of the problems that your members must have is that, in a
sense, we are all now film producers on the internet; we can all
make films for Facebook and YouTube, and all these other things.
Chairman: Facebook, you say? You
and the Prime Minister.
Q396 Lord Maxton: Do
you find that difficult? Are your members finding now that people
can watch almost what they want to watch and it does not have
to be produced commercially, in a commercial way?
Mr Pope: A lot of the arts and
cultural endeavours are facing the same issue: music, journalismit
is affecting a lot of different industries. My personal opinion
is that quality will out and there is a certain amount of types
of material that people will watch for a certain time, but then
captivating stories, well-told, will engage people.
Q397 Lord Maxton: I
agree it is not necessarily in the creative area, but if you take
the news area, some of the best news video that has been aroundthe
landing of the 'plane on the Hudson River, the car on fire driving
into Glasgow Airporthas all been delivered not by professionals
but by amateurs on a 'phone.
Mr Pope: In answer to your question,
our organisation's responsibility in that area, I see, is to present
people with opportunities and current trends and things that are
changing, and get our filmmakers to think about whether that applies
to the stories that they are trying to tell. If your story is
a period drama, you are going to adopt a certain model of production,
you are going to be reaching a certain audience, and you are going
to look to distribute it in a certain way as well. If you are
making a film that is all shot in three rooms and it is an urban
environment, modern day, your production model may change; your
audience may be different, your audience may be viewing content
in different ways and you may not want to put so much of your
emphasis on to a theatrical distribution because you know that
your audience is going now to buy it on DVD, or download it. We
encourage our filmmakers to look at the story, think about the
audience, adjust their budget accordingly and then look at how
they want to distribute it after that.
Q398 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: Can you tell us, Mr Pope, about First Light and your
own involvement in it?
Mr Pope: First Light is one of
the huge success stories for the UK film industry and the future
of the UK film industry. My engagement with First Light has been
not extensive. I was actually privileged to be asked to come in
and be what they call an industry mentor, which means that organisations
apply for funds to make films with children and young people,
and then First Light attaches people from the industry to the
organisation to provide advice to them on a broad range of issuesso
accessing crew and equipment, and production logistical issues
like permits. I basically worked with, I think, three schools
and a production company on different projects, depending upon
the experience of those providers. In the schools there was a
lot more for me to do but in the production company there was
not as much for me to do because they were experienced filmmakers
within their own right. I could go on for a long time about how
important I think it is because it is, basically, building future
generations of filmmakers.
Q399 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: You say they apply for funds from the UK Film Council.
Mr Pope: From First Light.
Q400 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: Where does First Light get its resources from?
Mr Pope: I could not speak for
First Light but I believe its funding is from the UK Film Council.
Q401 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: To what extent? Do you know?
Mr Pope: I would not know, but
I think it is an initiative that is generated by the UK Film Council.
Q402 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: Was it a direct initiative of the UK Film Council?
Mr Pope: I believe so.
Q403 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: In what way do you think the UK Film Council could
further extend remits, just as First Light has done and brought
many more young people in?
Mr Pope: I would say, in light
of future cuts, keeping First Light properly funded and going
would be important in that area. Obviously, I have no idea how
the UK Film Council is going to deal with the cuts that are coming
up. I would not want to be in a position to prioritise different
things, but in answer to the question I think it is a really vital
service to the future of the industry.
Q404 Lord Hastings of
Scarisbrick: Could you just give us some scale of some of the
films that have been made and, maybe, whereother than the
internetthey have ended up being distributed? For First
Mr Pope: When I was there I was
asked by the schools about possibilities as to where it should
go, and there are actually children's film festivals. I believe
that they tried to get a digital television channel to screen
films. They have a big awards ceremony in London. Apart from that,
I could not speak for distribution channels for the films. A lot
of it goes on line, and when you look at the generation that it
is targeting in terms of becoming filmmakers then online is the
Q405 Lord MacDonald
of Tradeston: How many fee-paying members do you have in your
Mr Pope: It is around 900.
Q406 Lord MacDonald
of Tradeston: You have mentioned earlier the tax credit scheme.
How have the changes impacted on your members compared to the
Mr Pope: The current scheme, we
believe, works very well, principally, in terms of the rate at
which the money comes back, the fact that you can apply for an
interim payment, it is transparent and now that the tax credit
can be cash-flowed because the money is coming from a reliable
source. That is something that has evolved over the last couple
of years. To my knowledge, I have no members who were caught by
the very fast transition that happened (if that answers the question).
We have members who are looking to co-produce, and we also have
other producers, who are not necessarily members but who we are
constantly in contact with, who co-produce, and I would say that
the issue with the tax credit is that for films being shot in
the UK and for inward investment it has worked incredibly well,
and in terms of emerging producers and clarity in being able to
access those funds, it has worked extremely well. If you work
in co-production the figures fairly reflect the downturn, and
you have probably heard this argument, I would think.
Q407 Lord MacDonald
of Tradeston: Are there any particular changes that you would
be looking for that would help the low-budget films, in particular?
Mr Pope: Low-budget films, in particular.
Maintaining funds that exist would be good, whether it is national
funds or funds at the regional screen agencies. When we are talking
about low-budget filmmaking I think it is really important to
consider short films as well, because training and skills development,
obviously, is very important. A certain type of training stops
at a certain point, and then you make a short film and then you
make your feature. If you do not get to make those short films
it makes it more difficult to make a feature. So it would be a
problem with the advancement of talent. Short films are not, for
the most part, made as an economic commodity; they are made as
an expression of talent and to show that you can move forward
into feature filmmaking. So they are very reliant on public money.
That would be my main concern, at the moment, if there are any
cuts in funding to production funds, but to remember about short
filmmaking as well, because it is a significant stage in the advancement
Q408 Lord MacDonald
of Tradeston: As you know, in the new regime there is a cultural
test there. There was a time when low-budget films and art films
were part, really, of a cultural insurgency of people who were
challenging the established broadcasters and the commercialism
of the feature film industry. Is that one of the main purposes
of your organisation? Or is it simply a development stage into
the commercial cinema?
Mr Pope: A development stage, I
think, is an appropriate way of looking at it. However, we would
not say: Do you make commercial films or do you make art
house films? Therefore we can offer you advice"; we would
go back to that triangle of What is the story?"; Who
is your audience?", and Make a budget". So whether
someone comes to us with a high-budget, action film that they
want to shoot out of the country with a very high budget, or they
come back to us with what they would term an art house film, for
which there is an audience, for us the issue is: if you want to
make an art house film, who is the audience, what can you look
to get back; therefore, adjust your budget and then you can reassure
your financiers that the budget reflects the audience. So that
would be the same advice, whatever the story. That mechanism would
be the same advice, whatever the story was.
Q409 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: When you say we" how many of you are
there providing the training?
Mr Pope: The structure of the organisation:
there is myself and I have three members of staff, two of which
are part-time. So I have an administrator and a sponsorship and
funding officer. We do not have full-time trainers; we recruit
trainers from the industry. So all of our trainers are practitioners
and we believe very strongly that our trainers should come from
the industry, so their knowledge is current.
Q410 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: It depends on demand how many training schemes you
Mr Pope: Yes, effectively. We create
new training schemes as new challenges come or as we see that
there will be a potential in the market for them. We have a roster
of trainers that provide those services. Were we to be presented
with a subject that we felt we would have to go and look for new
trainers then we would do that; we would find people with very
specific knowledge and skill sets to deliver that training. So,
obviously, changes in technologies and media mean that there are
certain areas where we are looking for other areas of expertise
to come in and inform that. In terms of the more traditional structuring
of feature films from development to distribution, we have a set
of tutors who can come and deliver that who are active producers.
They are on a freelance basis.
Q411 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: I may be slightly repeating Lord MacDonald's question,
but what type of person comes to you for training? Is it individuals?
Mr Pope: Yes, it is individuals,
although individuals in the film industry are production companies.
We sometimes have partnerships coming to us, we may have a writer
and a producer who are coming together for some of the training,
but in answer to your question it is the individual who is running
that production company that comes to us for training.
Q412 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: In a more general sense, how do you assess the current
availability of training in your industryoutside of what
you are providing?
Mr Pope: I think it is very good,
and I think, certainly since I started, it has completely changed.
We are hugely in favour of a national strategy for Skillset to
be put in place; it is from every angle of the industry, for every
Q413 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: Can you expand a bit on what you refer to as the
Mr Pope: The fact that some film
schools have been looked at and designated as recognised centres
of excellence. (I am not sure that is the phrase that would be
used). So that is one aspect. Continued professional development
is seen as a significant training strand, so that people who are
already in the industry may require more skills and knowledge.
That is very important, and it is very clear. Skillset liaises
with the industry very well; so they listen to what the industry
is looking for, in terms of skills.
Q414 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: In this time of recession, who is funding all this
training that you are referring to?
Mr Pope: It would very much depend
upon the training provider. Film schools charge fees; some film
schools, I believe, would get funding from Skillset. A training
provider like us, the way that we would gain money from that fund,
would be in two ways: one is that when it is announced that there
are certain priorities that are being looked at in terms of continued
professional development, we may put in a bid if it suits the
type of training that we provide. We have only done that once
and the training is actually running this weeka five-day
training programme for producers from groups that are under-represented
in the workforce, which is running as part of the East End Film
Festival. Another way that money would come to us is that there
is a funding scheme to provide grants to individuals, so some
of the people who are more experiencedbecause you have
to have a level of experience to access those fundswould
have their fees paid for through that. As an economic consideration,
that still contributes to the revenue stream. I can only speak
for our organisation, really.
Q415 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: We are going to see Skillset.
Mr Pope: Okay.
Q416 Baroness Bonham-Carter
of Yarnbury: Just one final question: do you think there is enough
training for entrepreneurial skillsnot just the creative
skillsfor making films and succeeding in the film business?
Or is that not something you know about?
Mr Pope: The film industry is art
and commerce and you have to view the two in equal balance if
you are to succeed in any way. Do I think business training is
important for producers? Absolutely. We provide it in certain
ways, yes, and I know it is a priority that everyone looks at
and keeps going. For example, one of the things that we do is
get our producers to interact in various ways with other professionals
that they would be working with on productsso lawyers and
accountants constantly sit on panels that we would present as
members from the industry.
Q417 Lord Maxton: I
am slightly concerned, first, before we move to distribution.
Can you give us some idea of exactly what your revenue stream
is, over a year?
Mr Pope: £120,000.
Q418 Lord Maxton: Out
of that you have to pay?
Mr Pope: We have to pay our staff,
our overheads, which is a small office, and the running of that
office. We do not have any training facilities; we use a variety
of models for that and sometimes we have sponsorship venues. For
example, every month we do a producing panel which is on a different
topic of production, from producing, from development to distribution,
and the BFI host that on the South Bank. For other training we
would hire training spaces. Yes, out of that sum there is staff,
trainers and overheads. We are a very small operation.
Q419 Lord Maxton: Can
I turn to the distribution of film in this country. Is it a constraint
on the way in which your members can make money?
Mr Pope: Are you talking about
Q420 Lord Maxton: The
current arrangements for film distribution. Who controls it, in
Mr Pope: There are different ways
of distributing. Our primary advice to a producer is that if you
are going to be working in theatrical distribution then work with
a reputable sales agent, because a sales agent's job is to sell
the film on behalf of the producer, especially if your intention
is to sell internationally. Are producers, in general, the people
who benefit the most from a distribution of a film? I think you
have to be careful of the deals you do right at the very beginning.
Q421 Lord Maxton: In
the film industry itself, the actual cinema industry rather than
television or anything else, it is getting into that distribution
system, is it not, that is difficult?
Mr Pope: Getting into exhibition
spaces is as much of an interaction between the distributors and
the exhibitors as it is between the sales agents and the distributors
as it is between the producers and the sales agents. So there
is a chain there. Cinema audiences are consistently good. In the
UK there are great hopes that digital projection will help broaden
the variety of material that is in the cinemas. I think that probably
best addresses what you are asking rather than individual deals
between distributors and sales agents and producers. There is
a hope that digital projection will help prioritise certain content
on certain days and certain times when certain audiences are going
to be there to see it. How that works out is still early days.
There is a possibility that it will help broaden the variety of
content that is available. That is importantthat the cinemas
are not dominated by large-budget films with large marketing budgets.
Q422 Lord Maxton: They
are dominated by one or two big companies who own most of the
cinemas. They, at the end of the day, decide what films are going
to be shown.
Mr Pope: There are some independent
cinemas, and I think it is as important that they get the funding
to get the digital projection systems in as the big cinemas. I
think that is important for the cinema-going public.
Q423 Chairman: These
are all issues that we need to take on. In the meantime, we are
all, I suppose, rather uneasily aware that in 10 minutes' time
we are going to be listening to a Budget which might have an impact
upon us all. Virtually everything we have just said over the last
two hours may be totally irrelevantbut we will see. Thank
you very, very much indeed for coming. We are very grateful for
the way you have given your evidence; it is unique in our experience
to have someone standing up for that length of time, but thank
you for that. Perhaps if we have got any other questions we can
come back to you.
Mr Pope: I appreciate the invitation,
Chairman: Thank you very much.