Low & Micro-Budget Film Production in the UK (UKFC report) - a summary

Jon Williams

Boss Bad Lad
Cast & Crew
Data on UK no/micro-budget film-making is very hard to come by. A UK Film Council report from June 2008 gives some idea as to the numbers being made, the quality, and the problems they face. Unfortunately the UKFC and the Regional Screen Agencies seemed to totally ignore their own findings.

The report covers low and micro-budget UK features completed between 2002 and 2007.

62% of the films were made on a budget of less than £99,999, of which 48% were on less than £50,000.

The number of low/micro budget films produced for the period was 428 of which 265 made on budgets of less than £99,999.

The number of films for which there were firm production details was 357. Of these 179 were produced in London and a further 50 in the South-East (64%), and 128 in the rest of the UK.

In 70% of cases the films were first features for both the director and producer.


For the 48% produced on less than £50k not one single film received any funding from the UK Film Council. 4 received some RSA funding. Most were made on self-finance and free goods and services (mainly locations and facilities). 58% of the films involved cast and crew fee deferrals (47% for films over £250k).

Sales agents

21% of less than £50k budget films had sales agents. Virtually all of these being films made in London and the South East.

Theatrical Release

Background overview of UK box office: In 2007 North American distributors, or subsidiaries of North American distributors took over 92% of the box office. ICON took 2.3%. Other British distributors are not separately listed and are thus part of the "Other (63 distributors)" category which had 5.5% of the box office which was less than £50 million for the year. The Film Council hailed this as a good year as this 5.5% was better than the average 3% or so for the previous four years. These 'others' released 329 films, making an average box office gross per film of £150,000.

10.5% of films made for less than £250k were released theatrically - 5% for less than 50k budget. Most of these applied to films made in London and the South East. ‘Theatrical Release’ should be put in inverted commas; in most cases this involved the booking of a minor London screen for one week in order for the film to be reviewed as ‘one of this week’s new releases’. It is a fact that, regardless of budget, British films that have not been produced or acquired by the US majors fail to get not just a nationwide release, but any meaningful sort of release at all. British regional films are doubly disadvantaged as they are not well placed to play the game of the ‘one week London release’ and are thus ignored by the national press. This also means that they often receive poor regional and local media coverage of a ‘local man makes film’ nature.

Of all the 357 films surveyed only 6 reported earning more than £50,000 at the UK box office.

Foreign Theatrical Release

For films below 50k budgets 1% received a foreign theatrical release.

The following key problems were identified:

  1. There is no dedicated network of cinemas and other suitable venues for such films. (whereas there is a major network of arthouse screens that receive substantial EU subsidies to show non-British European films – jw)
  2. Unlike in many other countries, British film festivals do not place any major focus on British independent films, so these films suffer from lack of exposure.
  3. The cost of advertising.
  4. British distributors do not champion British films (– in fact the majority of small UK distributors make much of their living from collecting European subsidies for handling non-British European films. – jw)

And to this list one could also add the fact, despite a huge increase in the number of films being screened, British television also appears to display no commitment to British filmmaking.

Isn’t it the problem that British low-micro budget films just aren’t any good?

In order to test this often repeated position the report’s authors selected a sample of films which had not received any major UK festival exhibition, nor a theatrical release, nor representation by a film sales agents – i.e. films theoretically at ‘the bottom of the pile’. These were screened to an a panel of experts consisting of specialist cinema programmers, festival programmers and sales agents.

The panel’s conclusions were that 15% of the films they reviewed were “strong enough to merit wider exposure and a theatrical release (of one scale or another)”.

This led the report to conclude that as many as 50 films “had been overlooked and the progress of the filmmaker’s careers diverted or delayed as a result”.

BRIFFA’s conclusions and recommendations

Low/micro-budget UK film production is overwhelmingly taking place not because of, but in spite of the UK Film Council and the Regional Screen Agencies. But this is hardly surprising as both the Film Council and the RSA’s were created on the basis of a model for UK film production which pre-dated the revolution which has taken place through digital technology. In the longer term a detailed independent evaluation and audit of these government/lottery funded bodies is of pressing importance. But in the meantime there are useful steps which can be undertaken:

1. Many low/micro-budget filmmakers value the independence which comes from working ‘outside of the system’. However many would value assistance when it comes to final completion, in areas such as final audio post-production, grading and mastering.

2. Exhibition and marketing involves many costs which cannot be deferred. For example:

  • Theatrical exhibition requires BBFC certification which, as the Act states, is for the purposes of controlling the access of children to films. However low/micro-budget British independent films only get theatrical exhibition (if at all) in non-mainstream venues such as specialist cinemas, arts centres or on improvised screens in the backrooms of pubs and clubs. Children do not have access to these venues; thus BBFC certification is irrelevant and effectively acts as a tax. But not only that, for a film to be sold on DVD or download by any British retailer a further BBFC certificate is required, again to control access by children. But these films rarely get access to the mainstream High Street market and are thus only available by credit card payment from the internet – i.e. by an 18+ audience. As a result many are only available from foreign-based internet companies and, once again, it’s British business which loses out. It should be born in mind that BBFC costs, depending on the length of the film and the quantity of the ‘extras’ which bring important added value to DVDs can easily be in the region of £3-4,000 i.e. as much as the total cash cost of many ‘no-budget’ features. The scrapping of this irrelevant restriction would allow filmmakers and venue providers to directly negotiate with each other on the same footing as theatre companies and musicians.

  • Advertising and marketing. North-West vision and Media, for example, offer filmmakers £1,000 bursaries to attend the Cannes Film Festival for the purposes of marketing their films to sales agents and distributors. This is probably the case with many other, if not all RSA’s. For the regional independent filmmaker the marketing side of going to Cannes turns out to be a depressingly pointless experience. Actually it’s not sales agents and distributors that the film needs to be marketed to, it’s exhibitors and audiences; and this requires the production of posters, flyers, information sheets and press packs. In short RSA’s should be supporting the promotion of their region’s filmmakers within their region.

3. Film Festivals dedicated to show-casing British independent films need to be actively encouraged and supported. For example many American film festivals place the emphasis firmly on films made in their own state, whereas in the UK such a policy is only followed by the very impressive Cornish Film Festival.

4. Digital television has dramatically increased the number of programming hours devoted to the transmission of American films, but not to British ones. France requires that 60% of films shown on television are of EU origin of which 40% must be French. Many areas of British public service broadcasting are subject to quotas relating to both content and production – for example when UK Film Council CEO John Woodward was CEO of PACT (the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television) he successfully lobbied for the introduction of a quota requiring the BBC and ITV to buy 25% of their programming from independent producers. But, despite having been in post at the Film Council since 1999, John Woodward has so far failed to campaign for any quotas that would benefit British and European filmmakers.


What is especially interesting is how the new ‘restructuring’ (same people in charge with a few new Tories thrown in) proudly proclaims its first success as a ‘non-film sector’ initiative ! Yet another glorified jobs for the elite quango masqueradintg under the term ‘film’ because it sounds good.

Why don’t more film-makers call time on these people?

Small companies working in fields such as TV, games, mobile and broadband, will collaborate with a host of ‘commissioners’ partnering up for the scheme, to develop new market propositions and content. Participating companies range from broadcasters, publishers, public services and technology providers, and include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Cisco, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, The Peel Group (owners of MediaCityUK) and Santander.

Funding will be allocated by Creative England and additional support will also be provided by the private partners, such as access to market expertise, support for business development and financial health checks.

Caroline Norbury, CEO of Creative England, said: “Within a month of kicking off the new agency, we are delighted to be able to announce funding for our first non-film sector initiative. Creative England’s core mission is to unlock potential for small businesses in the creative industries, and help them seize the massive opportunities presented by the digital revolution. Digital Champions will help put SMEs in touch with large established companies, to collaborate, experiment and innovate, and ultimately grow. We are pleased that our bid has been successful and we look forward to announcing further details to industry soon.”

From their funding guidelines;


“We regret that we are unable to accept applications which:

are film-making projects

support student work

include significant capital expenditure

are already covered by existing agreements with other funding bodies as part of an on-going programme of delivery

have already started “


Unbelievable how they get away with it. A Govt film body which OPENLY SAYS it wont support film making projects !!

Of course theres there usual utter bullshit that you can apply to pay for ‘advisors’ and ‘mentors’. etc eg; line their pockets with fees paid to thwem and their cronies from the taxpayer.