Monday, 25 June 2018

Who will tell the Welsh story?

This is such an important submission that I thought it worth reproducing in full.  Since it comes from an industry professional who knows a great deal about film finance, and who has had many dealings with the Welsh Government creative industries team, I hope that the Culture Committee pays due attention to it, and takes on board its key recommendations......

(Note: there are two Dave Balls — one within the creative industries team, and the other who is an independent professional.)


Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru / National Assembly for Wales
Pwyllgor Diwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chyfathrebu / The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee
Cynyrchiadau Ffilm a Theledu Mawr yng Nghymru / Film and Major TV Production in Wales
Ymateb gan David Ball / Evidence from David Ball


It would appear this sector has no clear line of approach to those media makers seeking co-operation in financing their intended product. There is no clear guideline similar to concise and accurate online applications existing in other parts of the UK. There appear to be far too many small offshoots in the creative sector, a tedious chain of command and a total reluctance to act in timely fashion. The decision making process involves far too many people and takes far too long. This is due to so many staff members being unqualified to operate efficiently. “Qualified” means a total understanding of the requirements of the media production industry. It also requires understanding of what the film maker is trying to achieve. There have been instances where project applications have been rejected as being either too commercial or not commercial enough, benefit to Wales irrelevant, itself a contradiction. The involvement in script assessment is also often undertaken by persons unqualified, which often leads to a negative response rather than a positive one, grossly unfair on the applicant. If the goal is to achieve clarity on policy, the entire departmental staff needs to be reassessed for suitability to the task.
In summary, a clearer line of application is required, together with a measured response in timely fashion by those professionally qualified to respond.

There is an obvious beneficial impact to any region of Wales which welcomes a film or TV company. Certain areas of outstanding natural beauty are often featured in media production and local expenditure increases during this period. Given the localisation of the infrastructure based from Cardiff, generation of jobs is limited to local labour and the use of “supporting background artistes” or film extras. All employment is generally low paid and temporary, hotels and local authorities being the principal beneficiaries. Economic benefit to Wales is lessened by a number of “brass plate” companies supplying facilities through establishments such as Pinewood Studios, the revenues being filtered back to a non Welsh UK base. A similar scenario exists across the globe.

As a senior film maker (fifteen feature films made wholly or partly in Wales) the cultural impact is barely nominal, due to locations being “cheated” in Welsh regions. Being a minority language, it is difficult to foresee any change to this scenario. Even high end TV drama is filmed bi- lingual to achieve other sales in non-Welsh speaking areas (Hinterland). More awareness should be paid to this aspect; it is twenty years since “Solomon & Gaenor” made an impact on the world stage.

Filming in Wales represents true value for money, average production costs in the region of 35% cheaper than London. Obviously, all UK regions are more economically viable than the capital but do not possess the contrasting visuals available within short reach. Varied architecture also allows Wales to “double” for many other places at a fraction of the cost. This has proven a successful lure to foreign producers in the past and should be portrayed as an advantage; more visual awareness should be championed as a solid reason to film in Wales, in tandem with the economic benefit. However, producers are always looking for finance and a clear line of investment (rebate) for filming in Wales could be the added incentive to secure their business.

Without having sight of the Welsh Government’s new Economic Action Plan, it is impossible to judge any affect. Let us hope the true value of benefit is accorded to potential revenues from the media production industry. It has far too often been glossed over in the past. Using the multiplier, my fifteen films, all in the low to low/medium budget range, generated an economic benefit to Wales of over £70M in the decade 1997-2007. Larger productions would easily overtake this figure in a relatively short time.

4). FCW/BFI.
These institutions are difficult to access for the film maker and represent a daunting challenge. Whilst the BFI serves the UK, one has to question the disposal of resources at FCW. Given their overhead, it is hard to imagine their being able to invest significant sums to worthwhile Welsh productions and thereby making a solid contribution. It is known for them to have supported product with limited Welsh content in the past, something to cause arousal locally. Does their work complement that of the Welsh Government? The outsider viewpoint is they are representing them.

It is always hard to develop skills or address skills shortages in this sector, given the often seasonal nature of production creating intermittent demand. Some years ago CYFLE appeared to be helping youngsters train in the media and this worked reasonably well, supported by most Welsh film makers. The increased production by the BBC in Wales in recent years is probably the only means currently of an introduction to the industry. There appears to be a void in opportunity which the Welsh Government would have little chance of filling given the sporadic nature. There are very few areas of skills shortage in Wales and crews are excellent, camera department being the notable area of shortage. Is there sufficient data to map existing skills? Wales has a crew database but this is not promoted; perhaps it should be. There is good reason to maintain an updated CV in the freelance media industry. Incoming film makers currently tend to bring in crews they know rather than shop locally, inadvertently denying jobs to first class local talent. It could be a case of advertising local skills (Welsh spend etc) rather than try to develop them.

The committee asks if enough is being done to grow a domestic film industry and encourage film makers to tell stories about Wales.
The simple answer is no, nowhere near  (enough) is being done. The support for local product (outside S4C) is virtually non-existent although there is a need for expansion on the cause of the inertia. It is commonly believed the creative sector doesn’t “think Wales”, moreso of job retention. A case in point is a project entitled “The Lan” developed with the creative sector for two years between 2014 and 2016. This is one of the most historic true life dramas centring on the effects on a community following a fatal mining explosion in 1875 in Gwaelod Y Garth. The following persons gave their written support for the benefits to Wales (historically, culturally and economically):- Carwyn Jones, Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Wigley, Derrick Morgan, Jane Hutt, Prof. Colin Riordan, Kevin Brennan, David Melding, Tony Benn and Jack McConnell. It became apparent that Pinewood Pictures, holders of the film fund, didn’t deem the project commercial enough. The creative sector followed the Pinewood initiative, unimpressed by its “Welshness” and disregarding the huge body of Welsh support. Frustrated after two years of negativity, a meeting was called and the producer was informed the sector budget had been exhausted, factually translating into “If Pinewood don’t like it we can’t support it”.
There are many examples of unilateral behaviour within the creative sector but important to point out to the committee that films about Wales do not receive anything other than commercial assessment which answers the question succinctly.
Wales will not nurture a domestic industry and will not have the opportunity to inform the world of its history until the culture of money making is succeeded by the need to maintain its cultural identity.
There is so much wrong with the modus operandi of the creative sector and the misdirected course they are forced to follow by the demands of outsiders, it is impossible to even consider the creation of an endemic film industry.

Sent from my iPad

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