All this change...and we're still broke

Creative Producer Luke Davies explains why talking money is crucial in the film business and gives tips for kickstarting your journey

16 December 2021

It goes without saying that the last 12 months have rocked every person, community and industry across the globe in a multitude of ways, illuminating shadows that had long-hidden unfair and dangerous practices of all kinds. The UK film industry, specifically, is experiencing upheavals in all directions, impacting development, production and beyond. Recently, workers have been fighting the long hours too often found in the production sector, and the industry is facing skills shortages while production spend skyrockets (£1.38 billion in 2021). There have also been a number of progressive initiatives announced, such as the Freelance Charter, created by the Coalition for Change, which works to improve freelance working practices, as well as We Are Parable’s Momentum 2022, a nationwide mentoring, training and mental health programme for Black filmmakers and content creators.

With all this change, why is it that I, and many of my peers, are still broke as f***?

When I incorporated my company, Polari, on 28 February 2020, I was being supported financially by the Film and TV Charity’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund – a godsend to me as I sought to return to the creative industries following some serious mental health issues the previous summer. Little did I know what was looming over the horizon as we plunged into lockdown three weeks later. No big deal, I thought, as I focused all my efforts on developing my first feature documentary, OTHER, and improving my skill set by taking a Producing Certificate with London Film Academy (paid for with a ScreenSkills bursary). Eventually, the COVID-19 fund ended, and I relied (still do) on universal credit to support me as I pressed forward trying to get my projects off the ground, hopefully guaranteeing some stable income so I could better support myself.

It is now December 2021, and I continue pitching and struggling (as many do) to find investment for my projects. But that isn’t the issue. The issue is that from where I sit, I see a big gap in support for creatives as individuals. Now, it’s easy to suggest working part-time as a barista while you work on your films (done that), or to “pick up your phone and start filming” (also done that), but when it comes to building longevity as both a creative entrepreneur and a freelance filmmaker, the pool of support begins to dry up.

Technically, under the eyes of the government, I am a company director, who’s unemployed due to not being on a salary from my company, yet who doesn’t have enough revenue to gain support from business grants, loans, and so on. And when you’re spending months on end in meetings about your projects that, with a little help, could begin to nurture a new business, creating jobs and opportunities in an industry that is allegedly skyrocketing with demand for content, it’s hard not to feel dejected and isolated from the industry altogether. Even the government’s flagship jobs programme, the Kickstart Scheme, has fallen short by putting an unnecessary age-bracket on many of the amazing creative opportunities that have surfaced.

There is hope, though, and I’ve always found it crucial to talk about money (or the lack thereof) in order to demystify this idea of a “glitzy film biz” so that we can share opportunities to get our hands on cash that will boost emerging businesses, and ideally help funders begin to see creative entrepreneurs as worthy of support over single projects. The closest I’ve come across so far is from Creative UK and their Creative Enterprise initiatives.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, struggling to make ends meet while building a career as a filmmaker, there are a handful of places from which you can receive financial support while continuing to develop your career at the same time, such as a Stop Gap Award (Film and TV Charity), the Developing Your Creative Practice Grant (Arts Council), and don’t forget that local councils often have specific pots of money for individuals, creatives, entrepreneurs and/or small businesses, so be sure to check your council’s website by entering your postcode here. Additionally, there are creative labs/schemes that can offer bursaries and other kinds of financial assistance, so be sure to subscribe to the BFI Network Newsletter for various opportunities, and check out the following networks (where applicable):

I LIKE NETWORKING- A platform which aims to support women and non-binary professionals looking for a career in the creative and cultural industry and those who already work in the field but feel stuck.

Creative Access - Helping under-represented individuals thrive in the creative industries.

Overall, I believe we need to find a way to nurture the careers of filmmakers (especially producers), on whom the future health of the industry depends. After all, as Peter Kostense explains, “Bigger films are made by people who started with smaller films. If those smaller films cannot be made any more, ultimately there will not be bigger films.”

 

Luke Davies is a Creative Producer and the founder of Polari, a creative company which champions stories and artists that honour the boundlessness of queer lives. He was chosen to attend the BFI x Film Hub North Creative Producers School (2019) and nominated for an RTS Futures Award (2020) for his short film Tomorrow. His first feature-length documentary, OTHER (Polari x Whipped Sea), is currently in production, and he will be releasing Polari’s first short film, What Would Julie Do? starring Julie Hesmondhalgh in 2022.