Why do so few funders support film making? This was the question I raised in a Latest from Alliance post last September, reflecting on my recent day at Good Pitch UK 2010, where eight documentary film makers ‘pitched’ films in various stages of production.
One answer to my question might be that it’s very hard to tell how much impact funding a film will have. BRITDOC Foundation’s recent publication of the first-ever social impact evaluation of a film, The End of the Line, about the extent and consequences of over-fishing, is a first step in addressing this problem.
As the executive summary of the report notes, the film absorbed considerable resources. Funding of around £1 million raised for its production, distribution and associated campaign proved insufficient and extra funds were subscribed by backers like Greenpeace and Waitrose, while many of those involved in the production and outreach worked on a pro bono basis for the four-year period of the film’s production.
But it was worth it, concludes the report, largely because the director, producers and writer of the original book built the aims of the film into the film-making process from the start. The team homed in on celebrities, business owners, politicians and journalists, in fact decision-makers and opinion formers of all stripes, invited them to screenings and followed up with meetings and requests.
As the report observes, ‘studying the social impact is still a nascent process’, so how did they go about it? Confining themselves to the UK, the authors looked at the film’s impact in five areas: public awareness, consumer attitudes, corporate policy, political action and impact on the film’s partners.
And what happened? Only 2 per cent of adults in the UK saw the film but 9 per cent heard about it. A year after its release, more people in the UK were concerned about the issue of over-fishing and were eating fish from sustainable sources (though, as the authors concede, it’s impossible to say whether the film can claim responsibility for this). On the other hand, many household business names, from Pret a Manger to Whiskas catfood, switched to using sustainable sources of fish, citing the film for this change of policy. The team, says the report, are close to securing a public-private partnership to safeguard a new marine reserve in the Indian Ocean which could make a big contribution to preserving the region’s biodiversity. On the negative side, one of the film’s aims, a ban on fishing bluefin tuna, has not come to pass.
Whatever the results of this report, the very fact of its being made is likely to have wider implications. As the report points out, film and TV documentaries are increasingly seen as an important way to communicate social issues and to influence change. One consequence of this is that filmmakers are able to draw on a wider range of backers than their traditional sponsors, backers such as foundations and NGOs that are interested in the film because it has goals other than box office success. Such backers are likely to want to find ways to determine whether it has achieved that goal and this report sketches out an approach to help them do so.
To read the full report
For more information
To find out about Good Pitch NY 2011, to be held on 20 May at the Ford Foundation, New York, go to http://britdoc.org/real_good/gpny2011