This blog is a summary of comments made by five women, who spoke in panels at the BCre8ive/Digital Catapult Content Investment Forum in November 2017. They covered the full spectrum of participants (see HERE for other speakers) from public sector and private investment to freelancers and micro-companies. In this blog, the second of three, we look at what their experiences of content creation have been, and what lessons we can take forward for the future.
These range from film and VR to graphic novels, and illustrate the key problems new original ideas have in development, production and reaching the market. Their comments reveal the problems facing all start ups, and the unique opportunities available within the creative industries to build companies and reach global audiences.
Emma Hayley, founder of ‘selfmadehero’, a graphic novel publisher, talked about her first graphic novel project, a Manga version of Romeo and Juliet. She was sitting in on a friend’s stall at the London Book Fair, when an American publisher’s rep turned up for a meeting with someone one else. Taking the opportunity she pitched the idea, and left with a deal. She was now in graphic novel publishing, and ten years later she still is, and looking to expand.
In a more digital age and situation Deepa Man Kier googled VR in Belfast, and found the team she needed to create her first VR project and take it to SouthbySouthWest in the States. Deepa a full time visual artists was inspired by a VR experience to create one of her own, a classic case of pivoting, which was a central theme of the afternoon’s discussions.
In contrast, Harriet Rees, says she just doggedly pursues, over a number of years, her chosen film projects. Harriet is an example of the independent film producer, someone who collects a number of projects at an early stage, develops one or two, and then pulls together all the monies to make it happen. In Harriet’s case this was a UK Rom-Com, ‘Chalet Girl‘, for which she raised £6m.
These three examples of freelance individuals and micro-companies illustrate the vast range of possibilities to create IP and develop global opportunities. However, they also exposed some of the limitations experienced by creatives in the UK.
Limits to Creation
Becky Gregory-Clarke, from Digital Catapult’s “CreativeXR” programme spelt out some of the problems the new area of AR/VR is experiencing. There are several reasons for a lack of investment, she stated, ranging from lack of uptake by the public to lack of monetisation options. There is also currently a range of formats, and only one might win the race to popularity – so who do you back? However, the key to solving these issues was the creation of content to test audience reactions, and build a solid base, from which to expand any teams or particular IP.
This lack of investment was highlighted by Deepa, who though she had had some success with her first VR project there was no guarantee she would find funds for the second.
A situation echoed by Harriet, who described the number of different people she is having to pull together again to make her second film. As she said she is a “classic UK cottage industry” playing against major global corporations.
Selfmadehero has been publishing numerous different types of graphic novels now for ten years. However, even with this track record Emma is dependent on public monies to support some of her artists in the early stages of development. Also for over four years Emma has been thinking about expanding and using her IP rights to reach other audiences. However, so far she has not had neither the time nor the money to do so.
Looking for Solutions
The dominance of freelancers and micro-companies in the creative industries, as illustrated by the people above, poses distinct issues for any future expansion in the sector.
The first of these is the need to support R&D across the sector. Some tax breaks do apply – more on this in a future blog – but development funds as a whole are extremely limited. The new AHRC Cluster funds will in part address this – more in the next blog. Also the extra £1m for the UK Games Fund over the next 3 years will help some. However, compared with the £6m needed to create one film, or the thousands needed for the development of any one project from a mobile game to a graphic novel, increased development funding is critical to future creative success.
This was a point raised by Hazel Hutchison, a corporate fund director, who has been involved in investments in early stage Pret A Manger and Yotel plus some films. In her view she could think of no other industry sector where so many jobs were expected to be done by one person. Picking up on the example of the Danish Broadcaster, who had been behind the creation of The Killing, The Bridge and Borgan, she saw the need for sustained financial support for creative teams.
In this context there is clearly a role for venture capital funds and Angel groups to take projects from the development stage through to production and exploitation. The creation of incubator and Accelerator Labs, working on a portfolio model is an obvious approach to be explored in the coming months as we work towards the follow up event to the Forum on March 19 2018.
Phil Parker with thanks to Kevin Marks