The NPA has gone bankrupt! The end of an era for British Indie Film Makers

NPA I just got shocking news that the NPA (New Producers Alliance) has gone down. If ever there was a sign of the times, this is it. The NPA was started in the nineties by a group of film makers to help share knowledge and resources as they were not getting any love from the established British Film Industry – and they began a minor revolution which many of us owe a great debt to (it was before The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook and Shooting People for instance).

I even spent a time on the executive committee back in the day, so to hear of its demise is very saddening. I asked Stephen Follows, fellow producer and someone who was closer to the NPA in recent times, to give us his take on the situation.

The Lack of Support for British Film Producers

It was publicly announced today that the New Producer’s Alliance (NPA) has gone into administration. I don’t, and can’t, speak on behalf of the NPA and I am writing this as an independent film producer.  Until recently I sat on their Executive Committee but resigned towards the end of last year.  The NPA had lofty goals to help and support new producers.  As with most similar organisations it excelled in some areas and was lacking in others.  Whatever your personal feelings to what it did and did not do at least there was an organisation nominally focused on new producers.

With the NPA gone who is out there to protect, teach and inspire the next generation of British film producers? 

There are general filmmaking groups and organisations that run events and offer training but almost none aimed specifically at the needs of new producers.  The British film industry chronically needs one or more groups aimed at training and supporting new producers.

I know plenty of young new and wanna-be producers who are lost in their careers.  They don’t know where to turn for information and advice.  Most take the same journey – make a few shorts, take a few basic courses and turn up to industry events like Cannes.  After that they’re left to fend for themselves, learning on-the-job, making mistakes and figuring out as they go.

This is made all the worst when you consider the role of the producer.  The producer is meant to be the person with strategy and vision to take a project from idea/script right through to distribution.  They gather together a large group of people, all under the same banner and for the same goal. They ask massive favours, pull strings and demand the commitment of a huge amount of time and money from an army of people.  So to have their main source of knowledge and training to be ‘on-the-job’ is simply not good enough.

I can name 100’s of projects where producers have moved mountains only to discover they’ve made rookies mistakes and fallen into easily-avoided traps.  But by then it’s too late for that project.  When this happens it’s not just the producers who suffer but the large number of people they convinced to join them on this journey, the very people who trusted in the producer’s vision and invested in their belief in the project.  In short, everybody loses.

I’m not suggesting that by setting up a few organisations or groups that the world will change overnight but the overwhelming reason for this ever-continuing cycle of self-destructive projects is a lack of training and communication. 

I have learnt as much in conversations with established producers as I have on-set.  Hearing other producers’ problems, nightmares and law suits makes you more aware of what not to do!  (Sure, I’ve heard good stories too but there are far fewer, people tell them less often and are usually poor learning tools as they too-often start with “So I met this investor in a lift…”).

Recently I have been running free panel discussions for the NPA.  The format is simple – one topic, three knowledgeable guests, a chairperson and an eager audience of new producers.  When I started to organise these events I thought it would be hard to get great guests.  I thought that those already succeeding in their fields would be too busy or, worse, unwilling to share their ‘secrets’.  Far from it – nearly everyone I spoke to was willing to attend and to share their knowledge.  Completely unpaid, out-of-hours and for no reason other than to help the audience.  All it took was a small amount of organisation and suddenly a room of 100 producers could have access to the experiences and journeys of successful British producers and executives.

So what now for fledgling new producers?  The future is unclear and none too rosy.  British film does not suffer from a lack of filmmaking talent nor do these filmmakers lack ambition.  There is little-to-no support for producers as they start their career and move up the industry hierarchy.

The NPA going down is not a landmark event which signals the start of a decline but yet another example of the lack of support and training for film producers in Britain.

Stephen

www.stephenfollows.com

email here

N.B. For more established producers there is Pact (www.pact.co.uk) but their aim is more towards established companies.  Company membership costs between £500 – £75,000, on top of which members are required to pay a ‘levy’ from their film budgets.  The Pact Levy is between £750 – £9,000 per film, depending on the film’s budget.  It is telling that their lowest budget range is “lower than £1million”.  This lumps in no-budget, micro-budget and low-budget feature films into one uncomfortable grouping.  I would contend that Pact does not serve the need for new producers.

Thanks Stephen. Sad day, and is an important event when considering the BECTU debate on Thursday night. What on earth is the furture for indie film makers?

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author
www.livingspirit.com
mail@livingspirit.com

, , , ,

4 Responses to The NPA has gone bankrupt! The end of an era for British Indie Film Makers

  1. Daniel Cormack March 17, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    As I understand it, the NPA was originally set up by a bunch of refuseniks who didn’t want to be “represented” as employers by PACT, but rather wanted to make genuinely independent films, ie. independent of and outside collective agreements made by PACT with the unions.

    At some point along the way this organisation representing *independent* film became *dependent* on a UK Film Council grant. I suspect that the UK Film Council made it clear that the grant would not be renewed (the funding from last year runs out in March) as income from membership was not the main source of the NPA’s income.

    The UK Film Council “strategic partnership” funding had to some extent put it at odds with the original founding impulse. The result was an organisation which was somewhat confused about what it stood for and what its role was. Crucially, it was also disengaged from its own members in various ways.

    I’m not sure that the kind of top-down publicly-funded membership organisation the NPA had become is appropriate for this day and age.

    TBC…

  2. Richard March 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    This isn’t good for independents, but hopefully other organisations will step up to fill this gap.

    BTW: According to the NPA’s mail-out to members it has ceased trading. That’s the first step to be liquidated, which is completely different to entering administration.

  3. Lookman March 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    When I looked at PACT I drew back immediately. It was no place for a start-up producer.

    I liked the easy feel of the NPA. I had been to several meetings. The course I attended by Anita Lewton has proved invaluable to get the pulse of the industry.

    Thanks NPA

  4. Jonathan Stuart-Brown August 27, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Let’s get some perspective. I was around some of those in 1995-6 who were setting this up. To me it just sounds like this has a chance to start again, but with the web to make it much easier.
    It can be reborn in THE BIG SOCIETY where people again put love of the craft and love of helping others before grasping for money.
    The people are still there and the old regime can point them to a new website.
    Keep it simple, costs low, and where is the problem of a new body (one phone, one room office, one website) taking this back to basics ? Get the mailing list, offer them the chance to join the new organisation, Organise meetings (easier now than in mid 1990s because of web). Moreover if there to serve, then Put the info on the web for free and do youtubes of meetings, advice, check lists, avoidable common mistakes. Of course if people want to turn this into a business and make £, get staff wages, attempt things that they can not afford THEN it will not succeed unless it charges and then focuses on selling the service to ever more customers. If it is to help others, where is the problem ?
    The bigger question is how much damage has UKFC done ?
    In Hollywood people work for FREE to get in the industry. They work in Development in Name Company Departments after three years for $500 a week because their next job can be producing a movie or greenlighting a movie.
    This ethos is vital.
    The sub £200 000, especially sub £20 000 film shoots, depend on getting a lot of people who will effectively work for showreels. Who will work for tea and coffee and a biscuit. However, it gives legions of new actors and crew the break which helps them get agents and paid TV and film jobs.
    People should see it as am dram or work experience. Once you get a UKFC handing out grants, the new access to the industry of the most committed and most passionate talent just stops. Everyone gets a good pay day even if they are not interested in a career in film. The drawbridge gets pulled up on the truly committed if they are not truly connected. Sadly professions where you can earn tens of millions a year at the top, usually require you to work for free until you get established. If you are born into film industry contacts, then you are the exception. For new no contact entrants, you need new producers offering showreels for free. Besides you might be working with the next Spike Lee or Tarantino. One guy held the camera in Spike Lee’s first cheap movie and went on to make millions as a cinematographer. Those who risk working for free for the love of doing the work can once established get substantial rewards. Stand up comedy acts all start doing free spots, often 60 to 100 before a paid gig of £30. But thereafter the monies can easily accelerate to £200 a gig in months and most stand ups get TV spots within two years of starting out. Those who twinkle can then get £40 000 a night for live acts. £240 grand a week is not bad, but all founded on free spots.
    NPA started as enthusiastic passionate film makers offering hopefuls a chance to move from longing to work in films to saying truthfully they had worked in or on a film.
    For those who last, the money eventually comes. Even in the 1980s an actor who worked only one week on an ITV show pocketed £5000. He was not then or now a famous actor. Showreels matter and New Producers provide them.
    http://www.savethebritishfilmindustry.com/

Leave a Reply

tumblr statistics