EXCLUSIVE: A new survey published today on the state of the UK’s independent production sector has revealed the harsh challenges being faced by the country’s indie producers.
Among the eye-opening findings are that 75% of independent film producer respondees who have made 1-2 feature films earned less than $7,800 (£6,000) per year over the past five years for their film producing work. Of those who have made 5-10 feature films, 67% still earned less than $19,500 (£15,000) per year over the past five years from producing their projects.
The survey was conducted by UK producer-supporting advocacy group the Producers’ Roundtable in association with union Pact and has been backed by the majority of the UK’s major films orgs including the BFI, Film4, BBC Films, and several significant indie producers.
The survey also showed that 53% of independent film producers said they had given up their fee multiple times to get their films made, with 77% saying they had done this at least once.
Further findings included that 30% of BAFTA nominated/winning independent film producers who responded earned less than $13,000 (£10,000) over the past two years for their film producing work.
It also noted that of the respondees, 31% attended private school (compared to 6.5% of people in the UK).
In total, 83% of independent film producers think being an indie producer in the UK today is “not sustainable”.
The Producers’ Roundtable, which was established by rising producers Loran Dunn, Sophie Reynolds and Helen Simmons and has more than 100 members, is now touting potential solutions to the problem.
You can read these in full below, but the guidelines call on private financiers, sales agents, talent and lit agents, distributors, writers, directors, and other gatekeepers to support a series of measures to create a more sustainable industry.
Those include fixing the producers’ fee on any film budgeted below $3.9m (£3m) at a minimum of 8%, reducing the amount of fee deferrals, and stipulating that producers are not cut out of creative discussions with the film’s talent.
See-Saw Films’ Hakan Kousetta and Moon producer Nicky Bentham, who co-chair Pact’s film policy group, both said they were “strongly in favour” of the guidelines.
“This research from the Producers’ Roundtable reinforces what we’ve known for a long time. The British indie film industry is not sustainable without a proper recognition of the value of the producer and Pact is strongly in favour of these industry-produced guidelines. For too long producers have been diminished and expected to have only the crumbs left on the table. If we want a diverse, inclusive and incentivised independent film sector then there needs to be a dramatic shift from the old attitudes,” Kousetta and Bentham jointly commented.
Rose Garnett, Director of BBC Films, also said that the guidelines “broadly reflect our current position”.
“BBC Films supports filmmakers, by which we mean producers as much as writers and directors, at every stage of their careers. We’ve enjoyed a productive dialogue with the Producers’ Roundtable and we fully support their aim to make producing a more sustainable and inclusive career for all – in fact their suggestions broadly reflect our current position,” Garnett said.
The survey was sent out across the biz and results were drawn from a total of 149 responses.
It follows last week’s publishing of the latest batch of BFI stats relating to production activity on these shores. On one hand, there is more money than ever in the biz, with a continued surge of inward investment leading to record levels of money being spent on production. On the other, the growth is entirely in non-UK projects, and the country’s homegrown producers are not feeling the benefit – UK domestic film production was down a staggering 45% in 2019 on the previous year.
Also responding to the findings, Film4 Director Daniel Battsek said, “We recognize, from working regularly with them, the challenges independent producers face in the early part of their careers. It’s in everyone’s interests that our industry produces a variety of stories from a broad range of storytellers, in order to keep audiences coming to cinemas. Film4 support the Producers’ Roundtable’s aims and will work with our production partners to help steer the wider industry towards adopting these guidelines.”
Soon-to-be BFI CEO Ben Roberts added, “Independent producers are key in ensuring cultural diversity in our filmmaking, and in working closely with them we’re aware of the continued challenges they face. We have welcomed contributing to the Producers’ Roundtable and they have helped us ensure that our guidelines remain as supportive as possible.”
Warp Films, which produced Four Lions and ’71, said that to create “a diverse and sustainable independent film industry”, producers must be “supported and paid fairly”.
“The producers we are talking about are not at the very beginning of their careers, they are three, five, ten years in. They are being supported by public and private financiers here in the UK and abroad and are receiving accolades for their work. And yet, still, they are struggling to make a living,” explained Producers’ Roundtable founder Dunn.
“It is important to recognise the privileged background that is required to live on such a low income for so many years. As a collective we recognize that many of the surveyed producers have only been able to stay in the game for so long because of other sources of wealth. We want to change that,” Simmons added.
“Our survey shows that this is an industry which expects its producers to work for very little. We want to ask why this has been acceptable for so long and how we can make producing a career that is viable for a far wider pool of talented individuals, many of whom may come from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” Reynolds said.
The Producers’ Roundtable guidelines:
1) In order for production companies and producers to be able to sustain themselves, and the writers and directors they work with, we recommend the production fee on any film under $3.9m (£3m) should be no less than 8% of the direct costs of production, to be divided between the producer(s) and production company(ies) as the lead producer sees fit.
2) Deferral of producer fees for development or production should not be encouraged, endorsed or suggested by any financier or their representatives, and the Producers’ Roundtable strongly encourages producers not to defer any of their fees, instead finding alternative solutions and savings within the budget. Most producers have already deferred their fees during the development of the project, and even successful features which find an audience are unlikely to see a return at the back end for the producer themselves, making fees pivotal.
3) Given the importance of talent relationships and transparency across the board, as well as a need to not undermine the fundamental role of the producer, especially at an early stage of their career, the producer must be involved in all meetings and correspondence with the writer or director, pertaining to the shared project. Financiers must not meet with the writer or director, specifically about the shared project, except as organised and attended by the producer(s). This should be the case during the consideration of the project, during development and production, and during the project’s initial exploitation.
4) No production financier may participate in net profits from the producer pool of net profits, even in the event of receiving a producer credit; this must be reserved only for the filmmakers.
5) Given the importance of film festivals in promoting and selling a film, and in career progression for all filmmakers involved, it is vital that the producer of a film is supported in attending its premiere, equal to the director, especially as salaried executive producers are often paid to attend themselves. We therefore encourage sales agents to make sure the producer is always tied to the director in attendance of any international and UK premiere of the film, including their travel, accommodation and accreditation expenses. We hope financiers will also encourage and financially support this move.