BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts said at today’s Diversify conference that in the future the BFI might introduce diversity obligations for producers to receive their full amount of Lottery funding.
“Lottery money is a big responsibility and we can do more. There are a number of ways we can use it more effectively [in terms of diversity],” he said.
“I feel we should be placing more obligations on producers for a diverse workforce, because we can do that.”
He said that the BFI would start with some kind of “baseline audit” of the production workforce then take that data into roundtable discussions about what are the most high impact routes to success. Then the BFI could potentially “impose obligations on producers who get Lottery funding to diversify their workforce.”
For instance, the BFI could potentially withhold 5% of an awardee’s funding if they aren’t running a diverse film set. He added: “On-screen representation is appalling, we have to really think about that.”
Rioch Edwards-Brown of So You Wanna Be In TV? said that for her one crucial way to get new voices involved in the film business in front of or behind the camera was to connect directly with communities.
“There is not enough dialogue with community grassroots organisations, the missing link is more community involvement.”
BBC Academy’s Donna Taberer said their group had been able to get more diverse applicants by stopping buying ads in the Guardian and turning to Twitter and job centres instead.
Anna Higgs of Film4.0 also lamented the “particularly slow change in geographic and economic diversity,” pointing out that doing work experience for little or no pay in London would be prohibative for most Britons.
Roberts agreed that entrants in the industry “nine times out of ten have that cushion [financially] to get that experience.”
Broadcaster and athlete Ade Adepitan said: “It’s changing but not fast enough. It’s only going to change faster when decisionmakers are more representative of the society we live in.”
Chadha said her career got a boost by one woman nurturing her talent early on. “It’s someone in a position of power who said, ‘that’s an interesting voice.”
She asked if currently “are there enough people willing to take a punt on encouraging these new voices? The responsibility and willingness is not there.”
Even with her experience and success, Chadha said it was still a challenge to get films starring people of colour greenlit.
She expressed her frustration at a major UK funder recently turning down her project adapted from a mixed-race author’s novel. “That script got rejected because the material did not speak to any of the team in this organisation.”
Young actor/producer Dylan Duffus expressed his frustration: “As an actor, I can’t get no work. It’s a closed industry. You need to open the doors, open the windows, open everything.”
Roberts called on audience development through the new Film Nation educational programme, to encourage children and teenagers to watch all kinds of films. If that happens, supply and demand changes and distributors and exhibitors might take more punts on releasing diverse films.
Chadha agreed that there are commercial considerations. “You have to change things from the top. It’s about money, it’s always about money.”
She added: “You have to find a way to say, ‘how is this idea going to translate into people coming to the cinema to see your film.”
She said quotas would be a good idea, in her opinion: “You will never get enough change unless you say, 25% of programmes have to represent diverse Britain…if [commissioners] know there is a 25% quota, they will start looking at new talents and new voices, and we won’t be sitting here again in five years time.”