Creative England Chief: Hard Times Ahead for UK Entertainment Industry

There’s no money left in the pot, so we make the most of what’s left


After coming into existence just two months ago — following the six-month limbo created by the British conservative government’s abolition of the UK Film Council and its nine Regional Screen Agencies in 2010 – Creative England is beginning a new path of public-sector entertainment industry funding, talent development and is encouraging fresh digital content production.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog at TheWrap, you’ll know I joined many disheartened film industry workers (including Clint Eastwood, who wrote Prime Minister David Cameron this time last year to suggest he reconsider dumping the UK Film Council, after the PM consulted no one before doing so) in doubting that slimming and centralization was the right way forward for British film or, indeed, promotion abroad of the UK as a movie location. See my August 2010 article: Did the UK Film Industry Die In Secret Last Week?

I later went on to be slightly less knee-jerk and more strategically philosophical — even long-term hopeful — at the announcement of a new non-profit organisation for the entertainment industry called Creative England. See my December 2010 blog: Slicing Up The UK Film Industry Pie – Will This Reform Work?

The Creative England agency is now up and running. So I thought it only right for me to get in touch and explore how they intend to help build a new future for film funding, promotion and talent in the UK.

Its busy new CEO, Caroline Norbury, agreed to answer some questions.

Experienced producer, director, BAFTA member and former Regional Screen Agency chief executive, Norbury believes Creative England has a “a real opportunity to link up support for content sectors; not just film, but creators working across a diverse range of TV, games, digital and new media.”

And that, in essence, is how Creative England will differ from the UK Film Council: the future of creative development and funding in not just in film, but in supporting a range of entertainment media and the people producing content for these; inside and outside of London.

This widening of the media net could be seen as Creative England spreading itself too thin — acting more like a watery undercoat to the creative industry — and that it will have no impact on the UK’s entertainment development.

Norbury, however, disagrees. She says the entertainment landscape “has changed so we need to change and adapt in turn, looking at what we fund and how we fund it."

In other words, there’s no money left in the pot, so we make the most of what’s left. It’s a refreshing and positive approach in these Dickensian hard times.

“We’ve been successful in securing £5m ($7.8 million) in funding from the UK Government to deliver a new scheme, ‘Digital Champions’, which will support regional content-creating small and medium Enterprises in the wider creative industries,” Norbury explains in her exclusive Q&A with Anthony Burt for TheWrap.

Although £5m ($7.8m) is a mere droplet of cash — spent in the blink of an eye on half an episode of a TV pilot in the U.S. these days — the British film industry is very different to the American one.

Norbury is keen to point out that in UK public sector funding “we have less money to work with, compared with the past 10 to 15 years, which means we need to make it go further.” And that means concentrating more on handing development money to talented people already doing the work, to ensure they keep doing it; that they keep breaking new ground.

Creative England’s new approach to building a wealth of online, mobile and “cloud” content — in a funding scheme that will roll out in spring 2012 — as well as a soon-to-be-announced special talent development program, are the organization’s new entrepreneurial springboards and a way to jettison the problems of the past year.

“Rather than cling on to what has gone before,” Norbury explains in a resilient attitude reminiscent of any successful American studio boardroom, “It’s far more important to look forward, to make sure that we build on, and learn from, the best of what’s gone before. 

“Talent development is one of our three core film priorities: We know that providing support for new voices in the regions outside London is really important to the UK’s national film industry. We aim to back the brightest new, emerging and established talent in the English regions, and that includes writers of course!”

Creative England, then, will now work alongside the British Film Institute, Film London and the UK Government’s Culture, Media and Sport Department to make a new start in re-energizing the British creative industries in a time of universal austerity.

It will be, Norbury admits, a challenge. But one she and her new team are up for. Even though Creative England will mean less regional support for "entertainment-makers," Norbury feels they are “unified” in ensuring everyone has an opportunity to express themselves.

“If you’re talented, and you want to progress your idea, it shouldn’t matter if you don’t have a London postcode, you should be able to access a good opportunity for development,” she says defiantly. “If something drives you and you are committed and passionate about it, then pursue it and don’t be afraid to approach anyone for help.”

So there we have it British creative-types: there’s no excuse anymore. There is new public sector creative industry support in town. So start making your multi-media dreams come true!