Screen Agencies as Cultural Intermediaries:Negotiating and Shaping Cultural Policy for the Film and TV Industries within Selected Small Nations

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Journalism Media and Cultural Studies

Abstract

This study provides the first large-scale comparative study of screen agencies within seven small European nations. It assesses their impact on the outputs of our film and television industries and grows out of previous research of these nations and their creative sectors. It deepens and extends our critical understanding of the making of creative content and the ways in which cultural policy is shaped and enacted.

The value of screen agencies as an object of study lies in their intervention in both economic and cultural goals for a country. Through their decision-making, allocation of resources and programmes of support, they potentially exercise significant power over their nation's cultural assets and outputs. Yet this power and the consequences of its application largely go unacknowledged by academics, unchallenged by screen professionals and invisible to audiences.

The purpose of screen agencies is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public funding for screen-based industries, a sector well known for its distinct forms of public value but inherent riskiness. The agency model has become a legitimated and transferable policy structure with most Western nations having some form of screen agency network. Their most visible support is their direct funding of creative projects, a role that has become more pronounced as complex forms of co-production and co-financing become increasingly normalised within the production process. Here, the agency attempts to evaluate the riskiness of the project relying on its internal expertise about what will 'sell'. In this way the agency becomes an investor in the industry on behalf of the government and its taxpayers.

A further role is to promote the quality of the country's creative capacity outside its borders. Screen agencies play a leading role in attracting lucrative forms of large-scale inward investment such as a Hollywood movie or big-budget television drama. To do this screen agencies are key lobbyist of government in areas such as fiscal incentive schemes (e.g. the UK's 'High End TV Tax Relief scheme' or 'Section 481' in Ireland).

Finally, screen agencies often have a mandate to protect and promote the cultural heritage of a country including its language. The screen agency acts as a cultural gatekeeper ensuring 'appropriate' stories are told about and for the country, irrespective of their commercial potential. This can be delivered through its funding strategy, but also activities such as skills development or hosting screen archives relevant to that locale.

Valuable research has been carried out on individual institutions (cf. Schlesinger et al 2015, Oakley et al 2014) and on the cultural policies from which these agencies emerge and are embedded (cf. Hesmondhalgh et al 2015, Bondebjerg 2016). However, in focusing on individual contexts the opportunity to discern commonalities and distinctions in the work of these agencies is lost. Furthermore, it limits a comprehensive understanding of cross-national approaches to cultural policy and provision. While individual context is important, many of the challenges regarding the riskiness of cultural production, the competitiveness of the global television and film industry, and the power exercised by Anglo-Saxon markets is common to many of the countries in this study.

For this reason, we specifically draw on Bourdieu and his work on cultural intermediaries as the theoretical basis in order to reinvigorate questions of power within the process of cultural production. It is this question of power that also focuses our attention on the context of small nations who face specific structural challenges relating to their sustainability of their screen industries due to a smaller market for box office, advertising and license fee revenue. Here, the agency assumes an even more significant role navigating local expectations and a highly competitive, but potentially valuable, international market.

Planned Impact

There are a number of areas for impact beyond HE:

1.Policy Impact
This is an era of change for both the screen sector (e.g. emergence of digital technologies) and for cultural identity as the political landscape shifts (e.g. post-Brexit). In this context effective policy-making will be even more important. This research contributes to that by securing rigorous and timely international data that will inform policy-making and facilitate evidence-based interventions. Assessing the effectiveness of screen agencies will provide policy makers with data on the conditions in which cultural goals and economic sustainability can be met, along with specific detail on the strategies that worked in these terms. This would provide new knowledge in a specific area of policy intervention sharpening the efficacy of cultural and economic decision-making in the sampled nations.

This research is part of our ongoing commitment to establishing an agenda for knowledge exchange and collaboration between academia and the wider public sphere. Both the PI and CI have used previous research to feed into policy consultation including the DCMS consultation on contestable funding and the Welsh Government's review of the broadcaster S4C. Continuing this agenda is one of the foundational elements of this project hence it is inscribed in the objectives for the research.

2.Cultural and Economic Impact
As publicly-funded industry bodies, screen agencies deliver directly on the economic development of the industry and nation through, for instance, the training of talent and skilled labour and by building sustainable markets through indigenous and inward investment. The research aims to realise economic impact by providing stakeholders with critical analysis of comparative qualitative and quantitative data that reveals how local economic and industrial goals are achieved in a competitive international market.

Ensuring cultural vitality and authentic representation on screen is a central ambition for governments and demanded by audiences. It is through the supply of diverse creative content that multiple cultural ambitions are fulfilled (e.g. supporting a minority language, representing indigenous identity, preserving the screen heritage of a nation). Cultural impact will be achieved by sharing with stakeholders in-depth case studies that showcase the value of small nations' output in terms of cultural vibrancy and diversity in an industry dominated by Anglo-Saxon nations.

3. Impact on public life in Wales
Given the location of the project team, it is envisaged that there will be particular impact within and for Wales. The Welsh government has made the creative sector a strategic priority and has built some capacity in this area, for instance the support given to the BBC in developing Roath Lock studios (the UK's largest dedicated TV drama studios) and to Pinewood film studios, amongst others. The question now shifts to one of sustainability: how does Wales (along with other small nations) leverage these investments and successes into a sustainable and robust sector for the long term. The creation of a new screen agency, Creative Wales, with a remit to support creative talent development and promote the country and its production base across the UK and the world, is part of this agenda. Therefore this research will contribute to this future by strengthening decision-making relating to the organisational structures of public support. This is already happening as a result of the work of the PI and CI in sharing their empirical research and expertise with Welsh policy-makers, however, funding will allow this to be extended further and to furnish new insights on the diversity and commonalities of screen agencies across other small nations.

Publications

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Description While the research is ongoing, a number of insights are emerging. Our research highlights how screen agencies and film funds play a key role in the assembly and allocation of disparate financial, logistical and talent resources, often in temporary ways in response to industry demands. It emphasises that in doing this, many agencies have shifted from being exclusively funding bodies to being more rounded development agencies supporting both domestic production and attracting inward investment. This can be viewed within the wider shift from cultural to economic objectives in screen policy (Mingant and Tirtaine 2018; Hammett-Jamart et al 2018) and in response to the growing power of mobile transnational content producers and distributors like HBO, Netflix and Amazon Prime (McElroy and Noonan 2019). Many agencies (though not all) are now tasked with promoting the screen sector in line with economic rationales to increase and build the sustainability of indigenous production. Their role can involve more investment decisions, labour market interventions, nation branding and capital investment.

Furthermore, the research points to a number of emerging agendas for screen agencies including: expansion of expertise and funding to establish more diverse production cultures and efforts to reconfigure a new map of screen production through regional redistribution of funding and resources. We also recognised a considerable change in their understanding of screen and the ways in which new forms of screen technology including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and gaming now feature in the remits of some agencies. In this role screen agencies attempt to be disruptive innovators in a converged media landscape but must do this within the limits of public support. Their activities include offering a gateway to capital, especially in relation to development funding, and professionalising these sectors through talent development and political lobbying.

In this transition screen agencies have had to develop new funding models, structures and assessment criteria which are distinct from those used to support their traditional remit, film. Merging different areas of screen has led to some tensions linked to different business models and perceived cultural hierarchies. As one interviewee posited on the internal approach to game support within his agency: 'We don't want to have movies and also a bit of games; we want to have movies and games'. Therefore, the research points to the practical challenges and rewards for cultural policymaking that attempts to stimulate innovation and transition emerging technologies into commercially and culturally important resources. While the expansion of screen agency activities is an outcome of a converged digital landscape, this research concludes that they are a key node in the delivery of innovation within media industries, though this is not without its own challenges.

The research also presents the value of comparative research to the media industries research agenda. Our methodological approach necessitated multinational, multi-sited and multi-method research (including policy research and interviews). Our work routinely travels into and between several small nations including: Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium and Croatia. At times this was a challenge as we sought to develop robust and analogous quantitative data and because of the considerable commitment needed for international fieldwork and cross-border dialogue. However, the value of comparative research is clear to us as a way providing a more nuanced understanding of the multi-layered geographies of cultural production and as a route to attending to urgent questions of power at a time of content abundance and industry disruption.
Exploitation Route This research contributes to policy making by securing rigorous and timely international data that will inform policy and facilitate evidence-based interventions. Assessing the conditions in which cultural goals, economic sustainability and social justice can be met, will sharpen the efficacy of decision-making in the sampled nations. The research team have already provided evidence from the research to the National Assembly of Wales, Ofcom, the BBC and the House of Lords in their respective reviews into the challenges and opportunities facing stakeholder in the creative economy.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

URL http://www.smallnationsscreen.org
 
Description Citation in House of Lords report "Public Service Broadcasting: as vital as ever"
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201919/ldselect/ldcomuni/16/16.pdf
 
Description Citation in report on Inquiry into Film and Major Television Production in Wales, National Assembly for Wales
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://senedd.assembly.wales/documents/s88344/Report.pdf
 
Description Oral evidence to Small Screen, Big Debate inquiry at National Assembly for Wales
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://record.assembly.wales/Committee/5710#C246729
 
Description Workshop on 'Devolution of broadcasting' at the National Assembly for Wales
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
URL http://senedd.assembly.wales/mgIssueHistoryHome.aspx?IId=26660