UPDATE: After today’s story that Creative England’s popular iFeatures scheme was looking at an uncertain future, Lady Macbeth producer Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly and director William Oldroyd got in touch to ask if they could send over a comment to voice their support for the program, which I’ve added to the end of this article.
EXCLUSIVE: I can reveal that iFeatures, the UK funding initiative that has developed successful low-budget pics including Lady Macbeth and Apostasy, is facing an uncertain future with Creative England and its partners now reviewing the program.
Rumors started swirling in UK producing circles last week that participants in the current iteration of iFeatures had been told the initiative would be shelved after the completion of this edition. I understand that this talk was premature, but Creative England has confirmed to us that it is seeking a new backer to ensure the program’s future.
The current cohort of 2019-20 iFeatures projects will be supported through the development phase, and BBC Films and BFI say they remain committed to bringing at least three of those to production.
iFeatures was first launched in 2009 by UK regional agency South West Screen and BBC Films. There were four iterations of the program between then and 2018, with each round selecting 12 projects that participated in a development cycle before three were green lit at a budget level of between £300,000 ($390,000) and £350,000 ($450,000).
In 2018, the program was relaunched as an annual, year-round development lab that looked to take more ownership of its projects and in theory progress more to production, potentially at higher budget levels. At that point, Creative England began speaking to new partners outside of the aforementioned trio, including companies like UK financier Great Point Media, to inject more finance.
iFeatures recorded its most prominent success from its third edition, which saw William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth, starring Florence Pugh in an early role, and Dan Kokotajlo’s Apostasy both secure premieres at Toronto (2016 and 2017) and go on to awards recognition, being nominated for three BAFTAs between them. Further iFeatures graduates have played at Sundance, Tribeca, Venice, Berlin and SXSW.
Several of the films from the 2018 edition have now made their way onto the development slates of the major UK backers including BBC Films and BFI, with a view to progressing to production. A further 12 were selected in 2019 and have been participating in the development lab since last summer.
Jessica Loveland, Head of BFI NETWORK, told us in a statement that the org was “constantly assessing how best to support UK filmmakers” and was currently “reviewing how best to support talent development across the UK”.
Eva Yates, Commissioning Executive at BBC Films, added that now is a “moment of huge change in the film landscape” and that “it feels right to explore the most dynamic ways we can build both bespoke and structured support for the many talented writers, directors and producers emerging in the UK”.
Creative England’s Head of Film Paul Ashton commented in a statement: “iFeatures has been a unique and crucial addition to the UK’s independent film industry, and successes of the films nationally and internationally speak to the universal appeal of the unheard voices that the programme pioneers.”
“Creative England has constantly evolved the business models behind its programmes, as evidenced by the $31M (£24M) debt fund we launched last year for creative businesses. We are evolving iFeatures and looking forward to working with our partners – both old and new – as we take it to the next level,” Ashton added.
This is a challenging time for homegrown UK production. While inward investment, driven by the U.S. studios and streamers, reached record levels in 2019 at $2.56BN, spend on UK domestic film was down a colossal 45% on 2018.
Lady Macbeth producer Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly and director William Oldroyd voiced their support for iFeatures with the below comments.
“We are disappointed to hear the news that iFeatures, Creative England’s funding initiative for emerging filmmakers, may be at risk of being dismantled. When we first set out to make Lady Macbeth, the majority of the industry turned their noses up at us and declared our film was commercially limited, too tonally dark and too female-centric. The words “an impossibility to make” were heard on numerous occasions.
“iFeatures were the only ones willing to take a chance on us; an unproven team with great ambition. Their nurturing enabled us to find our voice as filmmakers and they allowed us to make our debut feature film with freedom and care. Not only was Lady Macbeth a creative and commercial success, it globally established its team members including recent Academy Award-nominated actor Florence Pugh.
“Our film would not exist if it were not for iFeatures. Without initiatives like this and given UK indigenous production is down by a devastating 45%, we fear it will be even more difficult for emerging filmmakers from all backgrounds to break into the film industry. We do hope that does not happen,” the pair said.