Jun 072012
 

Previously I have argued that statistical literacy is relevant to film studies because much research on the cinema presents quantitative information in numerical, graphical, and tabular forms, and it is therefore necessary to be statistically literate in order to understand research on film industries, film style, film audiences, and film perception (see here).

This week I want to focus on a further reason for developing statistical literacy in film studies I have touched on briefly before (see here): namely, the ability of film scholars to participate in an evidence–based policymaking process is compromised by a lack of statistical literacy.

‘Evidence-based policymaking’ has become one of the key phrases of the past 15 years, and refers to ‘a policy process that helps planners make better-informed decisions by putting the best available evidence at the centre of the policy process’ (Segone & Pron 2008). Statistics have been described statistics as the ‘eyes’ of policymakers (AbouZahr, Ajei, & Kanchanachitra 2007), while Scott (2005: 40) writes that ‘good policy requires good statistics at different stages of the policymaking process, and that investment in better statistics can generate higher social returns.’ Most people involved in a decision-making process will be using data collected, analysed, and interpreted not by themselves but by professional statisticians, sociologists, market researchers, economists, and so on. It is important to recognise that while we need to be able to understand the information presented to us as part of the making of policy we do not necessarily need to be involved in the research process itself. You can criticise research even if you are not a researcher, and you can criticise statistics in research even if you are not a statistician. It is necessary, therefore, to bear in mind the difference between ‘statistical competence’ and ‘statistical literacy’ I noted in my earlier post.

A distinction can be made between people who are users of statistics and those who are provider of statistics. Whilst it may be unrealistic for professional decision-makers and practitioners to be competent doers of statistics, it is both reasonable and necessary for such people to be able to understand and use statistics in their professional practice. Integrating statistics into practice is a central feature of professions. An increasingly necessary skill for professional policy-makers and practitioners is to know about the different kinds of statistics which are available; how to gain access to them; and, how to critically appraise them. Without such knowledge and understanding it is difficult to see how a strong demand for statistics can be established and, hence, how to enhance its practical application (Segone & Pron 2008).

Participating in a policy making process therefore requires – as a minimum – the ability evaluate research and to understand quantitative information presented in a variety of forms.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics put this very clearly:

The availability of statistical information does not automatically lead to good decision-making. In order to use statistics to make well-informed decisions, it is necessary to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to be able to access, understand, analyse and communicate statistical information. These skills provide the basis for understanding the complex social, economic and environmental dimensions of an issue and transforming data into usable information and evidence based policy decisions.

If you do not understand the information provided to you, the methodologies used, and the pitfalls of both how can you make a sensible decision about which policies have been effective in the past and how can you decide which will provide the best policy for success in the future? Or, as Florence Nightingale wrote, ‘Of what use are statistics if we do not know what to make of them?’

These issues are directly relevant to film studies and its relation to policymaking for film and film education in the UK. The DCMS policy review published in 2012 recognised ‘the need for a strong evidence base for film policy’ and recommended the establishment of a ‘research and knowledge function’ for the BFI in order to

a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.

Evidence-based policymaking has clearly arrived at the BFI, and statistics will inevitably be a part of this process. The BFI’s research outputs already have a substantial statistical component. Obviously, the statistical yearbook is the standout case here, but the Opening Our Eyes report (see here) and the recent policy review both use information presented in numerical, tabular, and graphical forms. These are intended to be used as part of the evidence base for subsequent policy making regarding film education and training (as articulated in the New Horizons document, see here), film distribution, and film production.

Other agencies also produce data-heavy reports. For example, Skillset notes that ‘research provides the evidence, authority and justification for all we do’ and includes large amounts of statistical information in its surveys. There is also much research available from the EU that is loaded with statistics. To these we can add trade publications (Screen International, Variety, etc) and academic research on the cultural economics of film (such as those papers collected together for last week’s post here). Again, this is information that is supposed to provide a basis for decision-making about UK film policy, and all of it containing quantitative information to be used as the desired evidence-base.

The ability to participate in debates is predicated on an assumption that those involved in this process are sufficiently statistically literate to be able to work with the available data and analyses thereof. However, statistical literacy is not a part of the film studies curriculum in the UK at any level. Consequently, film scholars who do not possess the required level of statistical literacy will not be able to fully engage with any evidence-based policy process. Furthermore, film studies courses are not producing graduates with the required skills to participate in debates on film policy in the UK and so this situation will not change. This cuts both ways:

  • If you’re not statistically literate, how are you going to know which questions to ask of the information presented to you?
  • If you’re not statistically literate, how are you going to communicate your ideas to those with ultimate responsibility for decision-making?

Since the BFI was re-constituted following the abolition the UK Film Council, film studies has to work harder to make its voice heard in the same quarters as industry bodies that have much more experience of lobbying government agencies and are much more effective at it. There is a risk that film studies will be overlooked: for example, in New Horizons ‘education’ tends to be equated with ‘training’ and academic film studies is largely absent, while the panel for the DCMS policy review did not include a single academic working on film in any field let alone film studies. Without taking statistical literacy seriously film studies will find it more difficult to make its voice heard, and risks being reduced to a passive observer of the policymaking process unable to engage in key aspects of the debate because of a lack of relevant skills in understanding the complex and varied dimensions of an issue.

The other side of this coin is that if the BFI is going to produce numerous reports containing large amounts of quantitative information and expects (deep breath) ‘stakeholders’ to participate in an evidence-based policymaking process then it needs to ensure those involved are sufficiently literate to work with statistics. Are film producers statistically literate? Is the Minister for Culture, Communications, and Cultural Industries statistically literate? Is Amanda Nevill statistically literate? The BFI has to take a lead in promoting statistical literacy in order to render consultation processes meaningful, and other film and education bodies have to follow.

The alternative is to have an evidence-based policymaking process in which no-one is able to communicate, understand, and/or challenge the evidence effectively.

References

AbouZahr C, Adjei S, and Kanchanachitra C 2007 From data to policy: good practices and cautionary tales, The Lancet 369 (9566): 1039-1046.

Scott C 2005 Measuring up to the measurement problem: the role of statistics in evidence-based policymaking, in New Challenges for the CBMS: Seeking Opportunities for a More Responsive Role. Proceedings of the 2005 CBMS Network Meeting, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 13-17 June 2005: 35-93.

Segone M and Pron N 2008 The role of statistics in evidence-based policymaking, UNECE Work Session on Statistical Dissemination and Communication, Geneva, 13-15 May 2008.


May 172012
 

Following on from the DCMS policy review for British film published in January 2012 (see here), the BFI has published its consultation document – New Horizons for UK Film – on the future development of education, audiences, filmmaking, and film heritage. The document can be accessed here.

New Horizons is focussed on three ‘strategic priorities:’

  • Expanding education opportunities and boosting audience choice across the UK
  • Supporting the future success of British film
  • Unlocking film heritage for everyone in the UK to enjoy

Associated with each of these priorities are a series of proposals about what the BFI is intending to do over the next five years in each of these areas. In today’s post I want to focus on the educational aspects of the plan.

First, the importance of moving image education is asserted as a first principle – which is exactly what the BFI should be doing:

Education is a key part of the foundation of a vibrant film culture and successful film industry.

Now, I don’t see how anyone can disagree with this statement, but it is indicative of a particular attitude that education serves industry and not the individual. This is the first problem with the role future plan: it is not clear what the anyone is supposed to get from moving image education. The value of film culture as expressed in New Horizons exists solely in relation to the economy. But when choosing a path through education students at every level base their choices on what will deliver the maximum value to themselves based on their own personal goals and interests. They do not base their decision-making on their relationship to some abstract concept like ‘the economy,’ ‘national identity,’ or ‘film culture.’ Film and media education is no different, but New Horizons does not make any argument as to why someone should choose to study film. This is a document promising results to politicians, but it doesn’t have anything to say to anyone who might actually participate in any of the proposed programmes.

Now clearly this is an unfair criticism of a document that is obviously intended for a particular audience; but making the case for media education to politicians will count for nothing if the BFI cannot emphasise the value to the individual in terms of what such an education will add to their life (e.g. employability, intellectual stimulation, pleasure, etc). The BFI is often unfairly criticised for being too focussed on industry, but here the complaint is justified.

A part of the problem is that ‘education’ is not defined in relation to film. For example, the BFI states that

Our aspiration is that film is part of the education of every young person in the UK.

But what does ‘part of the education’ mean? Does it mean using films in the classroom as a teaching resource or does it mean the study of film in a sense that those working within film studies would understand? These are two very different things. The goal of the BFI is

to create a unified (watching, making and understanding) new education offer for all 5-19 year-olds, aimed especially at schools and colleges.

Sounds good, but are we going to teach five-year old children to make films? Are we going to teach continuity editing as part of the reception class? No, of course, we aren’t; but I would like someone to explain to me exactly what it is a five-year old is to be expected to learn about the cinema. The plan makes reference to (but does not cite) research demonstrating

that children who regularly go to the cinema are three times more likely to attend more frequently as adults. Regular visits help to develop a lifelong relationship with film, growing the next generation of audiences and filmmakers, instilling a love of cinema-going. We will invest heavily so all young people can increase their appetite for a broad range of film.

There is no arguing with that, and I think the BFI’s plans sound very good if you start at the age of 14 or 15. It’s about that age that you start to make decisions about the types of music, literature, films, and so on that you like as you develop you own tastes, and exposure to new cinematic experiences at this critical stage will have a lasting effect. But what constitutes ‘a broad range of film’ to a five-year old?  Actually, what constitutes ‘a broad range of film’ for anyone? My rental list at Love Film is as long as my arm (and I’m a big guy), but I couldn’t say whether the titles I have selected represent a ‘broad range.’ I’m the sort of person who spends his time drawing graphs of the editing patterns in slasher films, so what chance do primary school teachers have?

There is a tendency in this document for ‘film education’ to be equated with ‘skills and training’ (even though the proposals under the second strategic priority are primarily concerned with the latter), with no reference to academic film studies. One of the reasons for the distinction between the BFI and the UK Film Council was that the former had responsibility for film culture and film studies while the latter was industry-facing with responsibility for skills and training. Merging the two organisations also appears to have collapsed the distinction between education and training at the expense of the former. You can’t possibly disagree with investment in the training and development of the next generation of filmmakers in the UK, but is the case for film studies being made within the BFI?

The BFI states that it will

advocate the value of film education …

Good – assuming the BFI knows what ‘film education’ is. Again, we might ask to whom are the BFI advocating the value of film education? Based on this document the focus is clearly directed towards policymakers with no consideration given to making the argument to the public.

The low status of film and media studies in the UK is clear evidence that the BFI and other media organisations are failing to reach either audience. Certainly, promoting the value of film education to a Conservative Department of Education is a challenging prospect, especially when the Secretary of State for Education thinks that Latin is a vital addition to the primary school curriculum in the 21st century (as opposed to Mandarin or Cantonese because it’s those pesky Romans that are soon to become the dominant economic power and not the Chinese – oh no, wait, that’s not right).

Film studies and media studies are considered to be ‘soft subjects,’ and a report for the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange (here) found that leading universities in the UK do not admit students with qualifications in these subjects at A-level even though they teach degree programmes in these subjects. This suggests a lack of faith in the standards of education at GCSE and A-level in non-traditional subjects rather than an aversion to the subjects themselves. The reason traditional subjects are accepted by universities with fewer problems is that they have been around longer and admission tutors know what to expect from teachers who are part of a clearly defined lineage in providing instruction in those areas. A maths teacher at a school is the next in a long line of maths teachers working within a well understood field that every admissions tutor has direct and personal experience (because everybody has to do maths). In contrast, film and media studies have only been a part of the school curriculum in the UK since the early 1990s and have only really become popular in the past decade; many of the teachers delivering these subjects have come from other areas (mainly English) and will have little specific training in film or media; and university admissions tutors are unlikely to have direct knowledge of the subjects. The problem lies not in the subjects themselves, but in the quality of delivery and in the understanding of university admissions tutors. The Policy Exchange report failed to notice this aspect – but the BFI does recognise the problem and has made a proposal to specifically deal with the issue:

We will increase the number of film education specialists including teachers so they can work closely with young people to develop an appreciation of film culture and their creative talent.

Now this really is awesome. It needs to be accompanied by educating government and universities about film and media subjects, but you can’t go wrong by doing the opposite of whatever Michael Gove says.

David Buckingham defended media studies in the Guardian in 2009 (see here), but noted the problematic nature in defining the subject that also features in New Horizons:

On the one hand, it is chided for being not vocational enough: …yet on the other, it is condemned for not being academic enough.

If the BFI is going to advocate the importance of film education then it needs to decide what it means by ‘film education.’ You can find my definition of film studies here.

The BFI’s future plan is part of a consultation process in which the views of interested parties are invited. Again, this is a good thing and there is much here that is useful and sensible. I don’t disagree with anything in New Horizons. It all sounds very good. I bet there’s another plan in 2017 that says exactly the same things.


Mar 222012
 

A theme we will return to over the course of this year’s posts is statistical literacy in film studies.

In the recent film policy review published by the DCMS (here) it was noted that there exists an artificial division between the humanities and the sciences in education in the UK and that this unhealthy for the film industry in particular.

It was noted that some curricula already allow a wider range of subjects easily to be combined but that in general students were driven to either arts and humanities, or science courses. This was not in step with the kinds of skills and talents being sought by cutting edge, creative film companies or in the competitive arena of post-production and special effects.

The Panel recognises that it is vital to the success of the creative industries in the UK that pupils in secondary schools are made aware of the importance of studying arts and science in tandem rather than being pushed to choose between them. The Panel believes it is the synergy between these subjects that is crucial to the development of expertise in many of the creative sectors and especially in film. The Panel would like to see DfE building on proposals in Next Gen, the Review by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope undertaken for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) at the request of the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

The NESTA report can be accessed here.

The concerns of the film policy review are focussed on the need to develop a skilled workforce that can continue to make the UK a hub for production and visual effects in the global film industry, but the negative aspects of this separation can be extended to intellectual inquiry in general.

The separation between film studies and statistics can also be viewed as antithetical to the needs of the film industry. The cinema is an industry and as such requires individuals who not only understand how that industry works (which has traditionally fallen within the scope of film studies) but also understand statistics as used in economics, management, and marketing in that industry (which is most definitely not encompassed by the film studies curriculum). Arts and sciences should be taught together, and one way to achieve this in film studies is by developing statistical literacy in film scholars.

Statistics in film studies

The study of film is a diverse field comprising four distinct but related fields of inquiry: film industries, technologies, and film policy; textual analysis; ethnographic research on audiences; and the cognitive-psychological processes of perception and cognition (see here for more detail).

Statistics is relevant to each of these four areas and film students will encounter information presented in the numerical, graphical, and tabular form in whatever aspect of the cinema they choose to study. Statistical summaries feature in many film studies texts, in newspaper and magazine articles on the cinema, and in official reports and statistical yearbooks. Indeed, the DCMS report itself uses many different statistical methods (including some really horrible doughnut graphs). Film scholars will also encounter more advanced methods in research from disciplines such as neuroscience or economics where scientific and/or statistical knowledge  is commonplace.

To illustrate the use of statistics the following provides an example from each of the four areas identified above.

Film industries

Simonton DK 2005 Cinematic creativity and production budgets: does money make the movie?, The Journal of Creative Behavior 39(1): 1-15.

This paper examines the relationship between production budgets and box office success, awards, and critical acclaim, and uses statistical terms and methods including correlation, sample, variables, mean, standard deviation, range, Cronbach’s alpha coefficient, p-values, hypothesis tests, and tables.

Textual analysis

Wang C-W, Cheng W-H, Chen J-C, Yang S-S, and Wu J-L 2007 Film narrative exploration through the analysis of aesthetic elements, in  T-J Cham, J Cai, C Dorai, D Rajan, and T-S Chua (Eds.) Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Multimedia Modeling – Volume I . Berlin: Springer-Verlag: 606-615.

This paper uses statistical models to reveal the structure of narratives in films by analysing aesthetic features, and uses line charts, tables, flow charts, weighting functions, shape parameters, percentages, and sigma notation.

Audience research

Hardie A 2008 Rollercoasters and reality: a study of big screen documentary audiences 2002-2007, Participations 5 (1).

This paper presents the results of a questionnaire survey of audiences for documentary feature films, and uses a range of statistical methods, including percentages, bar charts, stacked pie charts, (horrible) pie charts, and tables.

Perception in the cinema

Mital PK, Smith TJ, Hill R, and Henderson JM 2011 Clustering of gaze during dynamic scene viewing is predicted by motionCognitive Computation 3 (1): 5-24.

This paper studies attention in viewing scenes in motion picture and uses a range of statistical methods and terms (alongside other scientific terms), including range, mean, non-linear statistics, Receiver Operating Characteristic curves, k-means clustering, histograms, line charts, tables, covariance, Gaussian mixture models, time series charts, standard error, and Bayesian Information Criteria.

Clearly understanding research on the cinema requires a relatively high level of statistical literacy, and yet I am not aware of any film studies programme that incorporates statistics as part of its tuition. Many reading the above papers will they have a grasp on what they were intended to achieve and the main results, but this is not the same as understanding why the methods used were chosen or being able to evaluate the design of a study. It is a serious failing in the instruction students receive on film studies degrees that they are expected to deal with numerical and graphical data on a regular basis without the proper training in statistical concepts and methods. For £9000 p.a. – or however much you are paying for your education – I would expect to get more than merely the gist of a piece of research.

Statistical literacy, mathematics, and the liberal arts

Statistical literacy is to statistics as art appreciation is to art

Milo Schield and Cynthia Schuman Schield

The concept of ‘literacy’ has come to mean the ‘idea of being able to find one’s way around some kind of system, and to “know its language” well enough to make sense of it,’ and foregrounds the notion of being able to ‘make meaning’ as either a producer or consumer within that system (Lankshear & Knobel 2003: 15). Education has become focussed on developing a range of literacies, such as scientific literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, and statistical literacy.

Statistical literacy may be defined as

the ability to understand and critically evaluate statistical results that permeate our daily lives – coupled with the ability to appreciate the contributions that statistical thinking can make in public and private, professional and personal decisions (Wallman 1993: 1).

Statistical literacy is directly relevant to the humanities, though it rarely features:

the ability to read and interpret summary statistics in the everyday media: in graphs, tables, statements, surveys and studies. Statistical literacy is needed by data consumers – students in non-quantitative majors: majors with no quantitative requirement such as political science, history, English, primary education, communications, music, art and philosophy. About 40% of all US college students graduating in 2003 had non-quantitative majors (Schield 2010)

One of the problems with introducing statistics into a humanities curriculum is that most students on humanities courses will have limited mathematical skills and/or low confidence in the skills they do possess. Many students may in fact be put off by the fact that film courses have some statistical content because they view it as mathematics. This problem has been widely recognised in the literature on statistical literacy, and although numeracy is a pre-requisite for statistical literacy advocates of statistical literacy stress that it is not the same as mathematics. For example, David S. Moore argues that statistical reasoning is one of the liberal arts because it is a flexible and broadly applicable mode of thinking, and prepares students.

Statistics is a general intellectual method that applies wherever data, variation, and chance appear. It is a fundamental method because data, variation, and chance are omnipresent in modern life. It is an independent discipline with its own core ideas rather than, for example, a branch of mathematics (1998: 1254, original emphasis).

From this perspective, the emphasis in early statistical education should be on statistical thinking rather than on statistical methods, prioritizing conceptual understanding rather than computational recipes. Though it may seem contrary to the goals of teaching statistics, a first course in statistics does not seek to develop statisticians. Rather it seeks to develop a set of skills and attitudes that allow scholars to be able to engage with the information presented to them. A list of goals for students in developing statistical literacy is provided by Gal and Garfield (1997: 3-5), and includes,

  • understanding the principles and processes of scientific discovery,
  • understanding the role of statistics in scientific discovery,
  • understanding the logic of statistical reasoning,
  • understanding statistical terms,
  • the ability to interpret results presented in tabular, numerical, and graphical form, and to be aware of possible source of variation and bias,
  • the ability to communicate using statistical and probabilistic terminology properly,
  • developing a critical stance towards research that purports to be based on data,
  • developing the confidence and willingness to engage with quantitative research.

The purpose in obtaining these skills is to become a statistical thinker ‘able to critique and evaluate results of a problem solved or statistical study’ (Ben-Zvi & Garfield 2004: 7).

A similar approach is proposed by Milo Schield who argues that statistical thinking is a form of critical thinking:

statistical literacy, critical thinking about statistics as evidence, is an integral component of a liberal education since a key goal of statistical literacy is helping students understand that statistical associations in observational studies are contextual: their numeric value and meaning depends on what is taken into account. The need to deal with context and confounding is ubiquitous to all observational studies whether in business, the physical sciences (e.g., astrophysics), the social sciences, or the humanities (Schield  2004).

By introducing the topic in this way to students who are already (or should be) familiar with critical thinking should make it easier to encourage them to engage with data-based arguments. It is in this context that we understand the epigram that heads this section. Another perspective is to view statistical literacy as quantitative rhetoric (Schmit 2010), which again focuses on ‘critical thinking, analysis of argumentation and persuasion, and an ability to interpret statistics in context.’

A direct parallel may be drawn between statistical literacy and media literacy. ‘Media literacy’ refers to the ability of individuals to access, understand, and create communications in a variety of contexts. It is one of the justifications for film studies and similar fields that it produces media literate citizens. Similarly, courses in statistical literacy aim to produce statistically literate citizens who are able to interpret, evaluate, and use quantitative information when it is presented to them. Since this information often comes to us via the media, statistical literacy and media literacy cannot be separated.

The role of employability in higher education may be defined as ‘equipping individuals to secure their own economic success’ (Denholm et al. 2003: 12) and covers traditional academic skills, personal development skills, and enterprise or business skills (Purcell & Pitcher 1996). Statistical literacy clearly falls within this definition, and selling such courses to students (who are paying a lot of money) needs to stress this dimension. Presenting statistical literacy within film studies in these terms is a direct response to the observations of the DCMS policy review noted above.

Statistical literacy is different from statistical competence, in which individuals function as data producers and analysers in producing original empirical research rather than consumers presented with a completed study. Naturally, we want students to develop the necessary skills that will allow them to produce high quality original research, and it is clear that much research in film studies will require the ability to design studies, collect and manage data, perform statistical analyses, and communicate those results. This depends on statistical literacy – just as you cannot write without being able to read, you cannot become competent in statistical methods without first understanding the role of statistics in empirical research, the ability to communicate ideas in tables, numbers, or graphs, or the willingness to engage with quantitative methods. Every film student needs to be statistically literate, but only those who wish to engage in quantitative research requiring the use of statistical methods need to master procedural skills.

However, I do think that every film studies post-graduate should receive some training in statsitical research methods.

Statistical literacy resources

There is a very large body of literature in the subject of statistical literacy. Fortunately, there are some excellent resource pages that gather this information and some of these are listed here.

The following papers referred to above can also be accessed freely online (other references are given below):

Gal I 2002 Adults’ statistical literacy: meanings, components, responsibilities, International Statistical Review 70 (1): 1-51.

Gal I and Garfield J 1997 Curricular goals and assessment challenges in statistics education, in I Gal and JB Garfield (eds.) The Assessment Challenges in Statistics Education. Amsterdam: IOS Press: 1-13.

Moore DS 1998 Statistics among the liberal arts, Journal of the American Statistical Association 93 (444): 1253-1259.

Schield M 2004 Statistical literacy and liberal education at Augsburg College, Peer Review 6 (4): 16-18.

Schield M 2010 Assessing statistical literacy: take CARE, in P Bidgood, N Hunt, and F Joliffe (eds.) Statistical Education: An International Perspective. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons: 133-152. (Excerpts can be accessed here).

Schmit J 2010 Teaching statistical literacy as a quantitative rhetoric course.

References

Ben-Zvi D and Garfield J 2004 Statistical literacy, reasoning, and thinking: goals, definitions, and challenges, in D Ben-Zvi and J Garfield (eds.) The Challenge of Developing Statistical Literacy, Reasoning, and Thinking. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 3-15.

Denholm J, McLeod D, Boyes L, and McCormick J 2003 Higher Education: Higher Ambitions? Graduate Employability in Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Lankshear C and Knobel M 2003 New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. Buckinghamshire: Open University Press.

Purcell K and Pitcher J 1996 Great Expectations: The New Diversity of Graduate Skills and Aspirations. Warwick: Institute for Employment Research.

Wallman KK 1993 Enhancing statistical literacy: enriching our society, Journal of the American Statistical Association 88 (421): 1-8.


Mar 082012
 

Back in May 2010 I looked at the Gini coefficient of the opening grosses in the UK in 2009 (see here).

The Gini coefficient (G) is a measure of the inequality of a statistical distribution, ranging from perfect equality when all the members of a population have equal share in some property such as income (G = 0) to perfect inequality when all the property is owned by a single person (G = 1). This inequality can be represented as a Lorenz Curve, which shows the cumulative proportion of a property belonging to the cumulative proportion of a population. This can be interpreted in reference to the line y = x, which represents perfect equality, and the further away the Lorenz curve lies away from this line the more unequal distribution.

The Gini coefficient and the Lorenz Curve are useful for comparing the inequalities of different populations, and so this week I compare the Gini coefficients of the total grosses of films distributed in five European countries – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – in 2011. The data used is from Box Office Mojo and all box office grosses are in US Dollars.

Table 1 shows the Gini coefficients for the total sample sizes and for the top 100 grossing films in each country. It is clear that the distribution of grosses in each country is very unequal, with the vast majority of the gross accumulated by a small number of films. The UK is more unequal than the continental countries. The highest grossing film in the UK in 2011 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) – grossed $117.23 million, accounting for 6.4% of the total accumulated gross. However, this was not the most dominant film in any of these countries: in France the highest grossing film was Intouchables, grossing $116.13 million and accounting for 9.5% of the total accumulated gross. Nonetheless, the overall distribution of the other four countries are less unequal, indicating that the UK box office tends to have fewer mid-range films. For example, it appears from the Lorenz curves in Figures 1 through 5 below that the comparatively high value of G for the UK is the result of the larger number of very, very low grossing films in the UK that are not present in the other countries and the very rapid shift to very high grossing films at the top end of the distribution. This is not present in Germany (Figure 2) or Italy (Figure 3), for example, which show much smoother transitions from the lowest to the highest grossing films.

Comparing the Gini coefficients for just the top 100 grossing films shows the UK to be no more unequal for this sub-group than France, Germany, or Italy. This sub-group does account for a higher proportion of the total gross than in these other countries but the distribution of grosses is no different from these three countries.

The Gini coefficient for the top 100 in Spain is much lower than the other countries due to the lack of a film like Harry Potter or Intouchables whose grosses are so much greater than those of other films. The highest grossing film in Spain in 2011 was Torrente 4 with $29.03 million (3.4% of the total accumulated gross), and the top 100 declines steadily with rank. This gives a different distribution to that seen in the UK, France, and Germany – see here and here for examples – which have a large drop off between subgroups of the top 100 grossing films, and between the top 100 films and the others on release.

The inevitable conclusion that follows from this, of course, is that there are a great many movies on release that no one is watching. The lowest grossing film in the UK is Fuk sau che chi sei (Revenge: A Love Story), which is listed as having a total gross 0f $45 (~£29).

Film policy in the UK is intended to remedy this problem by getting a more diverse range of films onto the cinema screens most people have access to (i.e. multiplexes), but the problem suggested by these results is the that of the squeezed middle. Showing Green Lantern in so many multiplex screens isn’t taking audiences away from thrillers produced in Hong Kong since no one is watching these films anyway. The films that suffer are films like Neds ($1.58) or Submarine ($2.37), which have limited opportunities to find an audience. This may explain why the UK film production sector is seen to be less successful in comparison to, say, France or Italy despite the fact that the UK is the largest film market in Europe. Film policy in the UK should be directed at reducing the inequality in the UK exhibition sector to a level comparable to that of the continental countries by boosting the earning power of the middle grossing films.

Table 1 Gini coefficients and total grosses for the total sample (N) and the top 100 grossing films in five European countries in 2011 ($US millions)

The Lorenz Curves for each country are in Figures 1 through 5, with the total gross shown in black, the top 100 grossing films in blue, and the reference curve (G=0) in red.

Figure 1 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in France in 2011

Figure 2 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Germany in 2011

Figure 3 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Italy in 2011

Figure 4 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in Spain in 2011

Figure 5 Lorenz curve for the total gross of films released in the UK in 2011

An online module for calculating Gini coefficients and Lorenz curves can be accessed here.


Feb 232012
 

This week it was announced that Twickenham Film Studios in west London is to close just one year shy of its centenary. Among the many films to be shot at Twickenham are Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Repulsion, Help, Alfie, Superman, 1984, Bladerunner, and The Iron Lady. You can find articles on the closure of Twickenham from the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC, Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

So this week I though we would have a collection of papers looking at movie studios, focussing how they have operated in the past and how they operate today. This is an area reasonably well covered in film studies, but there is also a lot of interesting research done in management and business schools, and economics and geography departments that should also be used by film scholars.

Corts KS 2001 The strategic effects of vertical market structure: common agency and divisionalization, Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10 (4): 509-528.

I examine the release date scheduling of all motion pictures that went into wide release in the US in 1995 and 1996 to investigate the effects of vertical market structure on competition. The evidence suggests that complex vertical structures involving multiple upstream or downstream firms generally do not achieve efficient outcomes in movie scheduling. In addition, analysis of the data suggests that the production divisions of the major studios act as integrated parts of the studio, rather than as independent competing firms.

DeFillippi RJ and Arthur MB 1998 Paradox in project-based enterprise: the case of filmmaking, California Management Review 40 (2): 125-139.

This article describes field research into the creation of an independently produced UK-US feature film.

Finney A 2010 Value chain restructuring in the global film industry, The 4th Annual Conference on ‘Cultural Production in a Global Context: The Worldwide Film Industries, Grenoble Ecole de Management, Grenoble, France, 3-5 June, 2010.

The global film industry is currently experiencing a significant restructuring of its existing value chain. This digitally-driven restructuring provides a dynamic framework for business strategy analysis, with potential lessons and future indicators that have wider implications for global film strategy. To date, academics, industry commentators and practitioners have exclusively focused on the disruptive aspects of changing user behavior; the ‘free’ versus ‘paid’ business models for distribution of filmed content via the Internet; the collapse of ‘windows’ within the exploitation chain; and the actions of Hollywood, an entrenched oligopoly comprising six studios. A key sector of cultural and commercial significance that so far has been excluded is the non-Hollywood film industry- the ‘independent’ film sector. The independent film value chain (FVC) is considerably more fragmented and vulnerable when compared to the studio system of content creation. This paper establishes in what ways the chain models differ, how changes in business models and exploitation are affecting recoupment, and therefore film financing models, and then examines and posits a range of methodological and qualitative approaches to study this ‘current restructuring’ dynamic. While the author’s main focus is on the value chain prior to exploitation, it should be acknowledged that the advent of rapidly compressed exploitation windows has a reflexive impact – both commercial and cultural – on the architecture of film content creation. This article is intended as a precursor to the author’s ensuing doctoral research into film value chain restructuring, rather than a definitive piece of academic research in of itself. Therefore comments and advice on global value chain restructuring – with the film industry serving as the research case study – are encouraged and welcomed by the author at this early stage of research and analysis.

Goldsmith B and Regan T 2003 Cinema Cities, Media Cities: The Contemporary International Studio Complex, Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy and Australian Film Commission.

This comprehensive study of contemporary international studios considers the circumstances in which the rash of studio complex building and renovating has occurred in places as diverse as Rome, London, Berlin, Prague, Toronto, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

Miller D and Shamsie J 1996 The resource-based view of the firm in two environments: the Hollywood film studios from 1936 to 1965, The Academy of Management Journal 39 (3): 519-543.

This article continues to operationally define and test the resource-based view of the firm in a study of the major U.S. film studios from 1936 to 1965. We found that property-based resources in the form of exclusive long-term contracts with stars and theaters helped financial performance in the stable, predictable environment of 1936-50. In contrast, knowledge-based resources in the form of production and coordinative talent and budgets boosted financial performance in the more uncertain (changing and unpredictable) post-television environment of 1951-65.

Robins JA 1993 Organization as strategy: restructuring production in the film industry, Strategic  Management Journal 14 (S1): 103-118.

Few changes in the structure of firms have attracted as much attention during the last decade as the movement away from integrated production and toward cooperative relations among independent organizations. Despite recent emphasis on these strategies of ‘disaggregation’ and ‘network’ organization, little quantitative research exists on the impact of this type of reorganization on economic performance—at least in part due to the difficulty of obtaining appropriate data. The economic impact of disaggregation is examined in this paper using data on film production in the period after World War II.

Storper M and Chistopherson S 1987 Flexible specialization and regional industrial agglomerations: the case of the US motion picture industryAnnals of the Association of American Geographers 77 (1): 104-117.

In the contemporary motion picture industry, production is vertically disintegrated, organized around transactions among a network of small firms. In this regard, motion picture production resembles other industries whose production organizations can be characterized as flexibly specialized. In this theoretically informed case study, we trace the transformation of the industry from vertically integrated to vertically disintegrated flexibly specialized production and elucidate how this transformation affects the spatial location of production activities and labor market dynamics.


Jan 192012
 

This week the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport published the latest review of film policy in the UK. The report is titled A Future for British Film: It Begins with the Audience, and you can access it here. This week’s post covers just a few first impressions I have formed having read the report once. A more detailed and more considered reflection on the issues raised will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

This is the first wide-ranging report on film policy in the UK since A Bigger Picture was published in 1998, though there have been numerous reports covering  a broad range of topics in the past 14 years. This report should of course been undertaken before the dismantling of the UK Film Council because now it is a case of tailoring policy to the institutions we have rather than being able to flexibly adapt to new demands. And it is the new that wrecks policy maker’s fun. A Bigger Picture was almost immediately rendered obsolete by the arrival of digital technology. 3D was old technology in 1998, and now its at the top of the box office charts.

So, first impressions.

1. I like the demand-side approach rather than the focus on production typical of these sorts of reports. The report doesn’t ignore production, but the re-orientation of film policy away from ‘lets produce more British films that on-one will see’ to ‘let’s get people watching films the British films that are available’ is much needed. British film production has been reasonably healthy since the mid-1990s (at least compared to the dark days 1980s), but a long-standing problem is getting screen time in a multiplex dominated market. There’s no point making films people can’t see and there’s no point in making MORE films can’t see which has been UK film policy since 1985. There’s always the possibility that some more British films will make money and so reduce their demands on lottery funding.

The only concern is that focussing resources on independent and specialised film will produce limited benefits from a lot of investment. Audiences for these types of films are smaller than audiences for mainstream cinema, and so there may not be much growth in audiences to be had. The report says that it is important to increase audience choice, and who would disagree with that. But how do you measure the potential for audience growth of specialised films? How do you judge how much money to invest in developing this audience given that audience growth might be quite small? And what if the audience doesn’t want to watch these films?

And how do you get cinema chains to stop showing crap like Green Lantern? Especially when it turns out the average occupancy rate of cinema auditoria in the UK is 20 per cent! Solving the problem of too many bad Hollywood films on British cinema screens would go much further than anything the BFI could ever do. The problem of release windows is recognised in the report and reforming this aspect of the UK film sector in a distribution-led industry will have more impact than simply focussing on production. This is to be applauded. But release windows are determined in Hollywood by multinational corporations who have the power to dictate terms to exhibitors, and why should they care about a policy framework that offers no advantage to them? US producers come to the UK for the quality of the filmmakers, the facilities, and the tax incentives. Where are the incentives for distribution that will make them care?

2. I also like the commitment to ensuring the important role of the BFI Research and Statistics Unit in recommendation 53 (see below), though the suggestion the BFI establishes a ‘research and knowledge’ does raise the questions, doesn’t the RSU already exist and isn’t already fulfilling this function? I’m also a little confused by the recommendation

the BFI be designated a ‘producer of official statistics’ under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007, as was the UK Film Council up until 2011.

Wasn’t this function taken over by the BFI? And if not, why not?

But a revved up RSU means more statistical fun for me, and that’s something to look forward to.

3. I don’t like the make up of the panel that produced the report:

  • Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Chairman)
  • Will Clarke, Independent film distributor, founder and former CEO, Optimum Releasing
  • Lord Julian Fellowes, Oscar® winning writer and actor
  • Matthew Justice, UK film producer and Managing Director, Big Talk
  • Michael Lynton, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Sony Pictures Entertainment
  • Tim Richards, Chief Executive, Vue Entertainment
  • Tessa Ross, CBE, Controller of Film and Drama, Channel 4
  • Libby Savill, Head of Film and Television, Olswang LLP
  • Iain Smith, OBE, film producer and Chair, the British Film Commission Advisory Board

There is, of course, no reason why any of these people should not have been involved in the review process, but who is missing from this list?

That’s right, academics. There is no one from film studies specialising in film industries, film policy, or British cinema; and there is no economist, sociologist, or geographer specialising in film/media/creative/cultural industries.

There is a great deal of research on the film industry in the UK and yet very little of this is cited by the report. The report contains a list of references 108 references, including a handful to Margaret Dickinson and Sylvia Harvey, Rob Cheek, Maud Mansfield, and Joe Lampel. (None of these references are properly referenced. If this were submitted by a student you would fail it on grounds of not having a proper bibliography. It really is awful). There are no references to the wider body of research of the film industry in the UK, and this is curious because one of the recommendations addresses precisely this issue.

53. The Panel notes the need for a strong evidence base for film policy and recommends the BFI establishes a ‘Research and Knowledge’ function to a) collaborate with industry and stakeholders to generate robust information and data on which to base policy interventions, b) assist in the design of BFI policy and funding interventions from the outset to produce learning that can inform future policy, c) actively disseminate results and learning from funding interventions, and d) over time build and maintain a valuable and accessible knowledge base for the benefit of the public, the BFI, Government, industry, academia and all other stakeholders in film.

It seems odd to recommend that we need a strong evidence base when the existing available research is largely ignored. This problem was raised at the symposium on research and policy making I attended last October (you can read about it here), and it’s nice to see the above recommendation in the report as it means there is a greater chance progress will be made in this area. But this type of report is precisely the sort of situation in which this type of research should have been used, and it would have been nice to see the panel take the opportunity to do just that. Otherwise, what’s the point in doing research?

But what I really don’t like about recommendation 53 is that it envisages academia as a consumer of data produced by the BFI’s ‘research and knowledge’ function rather than being fully integrated into the policy making framework. Academics shouldn’t be sat on the sidelines of film policy. Any future panel reporting on film policy should include academics among its membership – if only to recommend the relevant research outputs to the rest of the panel. It is the BFI’s responsibility to make sure this is achieved sooner rather than not at all. Who else do they think is going create and fulfil the ‘research and knowledge’ function?

It seems odd to say it, but I think the case for film studies could be put to the BFI more strongly.

4. Finally, this report presents a great deal of statistical information and therefore makes the assumption that its readership will be statistically literate enough to understand it. I raised the issue of statistical literacy at last year’s symposium but didn’t get much of response. Given the use of tables, graphs (which I do NOT like), and numerical summaries in this report it is not an issue than can be ignored. The place of statistical literacy in film studies needs to be addressed by the BFI, and I will have more to say on this topic over the next few weeks.



Nov 032011
 

Last week I attended a symposium at NESTA, hosted by the University of Hertfordshire, with the BFI and Available Light Advisory, on the relationship between research and policymaking for film in the UK. This event brought together some 60-odd academics, consultants, and policymakers to discuss how to bring these two groups together and how to move forward in developing film policy in the UK. As you will see from the names below, a diverse group of people contributed to the various panels; and, where available, I have provided links to the web pages of those who were involved. A report on the symposium is promised for a future date, but you can read Robin Macpherson’s discussion of the event here. In this post I report on the symposium, before going on to make some observations about the role of film studies.

Opportunities, failures, and successes

To start at the beginning, Carol Comley (BFI) described the current processes of policymaking for film in the UK as ‘suboptimal’ due to the lack of an evidence base that can inform film policy. This was followed by Keith Randle and Neil Watson discussing the research and policy environments as they stand at present. Under the Research Excellence Framework and the current rules of the research councils, it is necessary for academics to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of their research. There is then a need for academics to demonstrate the contribution their research can make to the real world and a need for policymakers to be in possession of in order to achieve that elusive goal of a sustainable film industry in the UK.

Given the urgent nature of the needs of researchers and policymakers, why have we not yet seen them working together? In a panel hosted by Jim Barratt, and featuring John Hill, Jonathan Breckon, Hasan Bahkshi, and Rob Cheek, several reasons were identified for this failure to collaborate:

  • policymakers and academics operate on different time scales, with the former needing research at time scales much shorter than the latter are comfortable producing it
  • a lack of empathy and trust – even ‘cultural conflict’ – between academics and policymakers
  • the false split between economics and culture, and a failure to recognise that film policy is both industrial and cultural
  • the impact of government cuts, reducing the number of opportunities for consultation and collaboration
  • a lack of engagement by researchers with the film industry
  • little demand from the film industry for research

Additional problems were identified by others present. Ian Christie noted that film academics typically lack experience of the film industry they are researching; while Andy Pratt noted that the audio-visual industries were not at the cutting edge of research in economics and lacked credibility leading to researchers to avoiding the subject as it may not enhance their career. As a result of these factors, it was noted that there is little research on filmmaking in the UK, with too little applied research and a dearth of experimental research.

At the same time, this panel was concerned to stress that academics could make a contribution to film policy. John Hill argued that one of the major contributions researchers could make to film policy was to take a longer view and thereby overcome the lack of historical awareness among policymakers. Later on David Steele, former Head of Research & Statistics Unit at the UK Film Council, stressed that academics bring with them an in-depth knowledge of their field, knowledge of the literature on a particular topic, and state oft he art knowledge. Jonathan Breckon (AHRC) discussed the shift to funding larger and longer term research projects, and emphasised this as a way to distinguish academic research from the work of consultants.

A subsequent panel chaired by Maud Mansfield, and featuring David Steele, Ian Christie, Susan Rogers, and Tamsyn Dent, provided examples of how collaboration between and discussed some of the achievements and problems to which such research leads. Ian Christie and David Steele discussed the recent report from the BFI, ‘Opening Our Eyes’ (see here). Christie stressed the virtues of involving consultants in the research process as they are able to act much more quickly and decisively than academics. He also expressed the opinion that film studies had failed to grapple with important issues and to impose itself on the research agenda, of which more below. He went on to state that film studies had generated too much qualitative research that could provide only a limited range of answers to a limited range of questions, and that there had been too little quantitative research. Screenwriter Susan Rogers and Tamsyn Dent discussed past and current research projects, and the problems of gaining access to people working in the film industry in order to conduct research along with just how much this can reveal the cinema in the UK.

Data analysis

After lunch, a panel titled ‘Making use of data,’ chaired by Paul McDonald (University of Nottingham), looked at the problem gaining access to data about the film industry. Phil Clapp pointed out that the film industry was data rich and knowledge rich, but that access to commercially sensitive data was a fundamental problem. He also articulated a need, raised by various others of those present, for a coherent database of stats and research on film industry; and echoed an earlier demand made by Angus Finney for data rather than statistics. Sean Perkins, from the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit, discussed the need to change from a ‘push’ model whereby the RSU distribute statistics to a ‘pull’ model whereby the impetus comes from researchers for data that can be provided via the RSU. It is worth noting that Screen Australia has a facility to do precisely this (see here), and this is an approach that could be adopted in the UK. Richard Philips took a different line, pointing to the limitations of quantitative research and stressing the need for action research within the industry. He also stressed the need to determine exactly what it is we want to know and who wants to know it, as this will largely determine how we go about deciding what research to do. Finally, Michael Pokorny noted that we spend too much time focussing on understanding success in the film industry and that we devoted too little attention to understanding failure (with the exception of Sex Lives of the Potato Men). Consequently, we do not have a very rounded view of the state of the industry, and you cannot make policy without the proper perspective.

In the discussion following this panel I raised the issue of statistical literacy in film studies. It is all very well producing work such as the RSU’s Statistical Yearbook or in making data sets available to researchers if people do not know what to do with them. This was obviously not going to be such a problem for the economists in the room, but as I have argued elsewhere (here) statistical literacy is a pressing concern in film studies that needs to be dealt with. We also should not assume that policymakers or people in the industry know how to make use of data. Richard Phillips responded to this by pointing out that an over-reliance on statistical analyses of quantitative data provides only a partial view of the industry and does not necessarily answer the questions the industry wants to ask. Which is true, but doesn’t deal with the problem at hand. Others present were more sympathetic and also recognised the problem of a lack understanding of how to make use of data. The Royal Statistical Society found last year (almost a year to the day, in fact) that the majority of people in the UK had little understanding of statistics even though they encounter them everyday (see here), and the same is true of film studies. It is nice to know that there are others who find the lack of statistical literacy in film studies troubling, and that I’m not just shouting into the wind. The question is what can we do about it.

Research Agendas

The final three panels of the day looked at three different research agendas – audiences, talent, and economics – that addressed various issues of how to go about researching these areas, what we know, what we don’t know, and what we should know. Many of the issues raised in the earlier part of the day were discussed and elaborated.

With regard to audiences, Terry Ilott and Finola Kerrigan again raised the tension between market and academic research. Martin Barker noted that one of the problems from the point of view of the academic community is that there is no follow-up on the way in which research is used. Researchers are effectively cut off from the fruits of their labours and do not have an opportunity to assess its impact. He also stated a need for portals through which data is made available to researchers. Pete Buckingham (BFI) noted that the public money spent on research was not used to ensure publication of research. This is a source of continuing frustration in the UK, and in order to make progress we need to follow the American model whereby publicly funded research is legally required to be in the public domain. Its common practice elsewhere and it is not difficult to achieve, so there is no excuse for this not to happen in the UK. Adam Cooper discussed the work of Film: 21st Century Literacy.

The panel on talent was chaired by Keith Randle, and featured Doris Eikhof, Rosalind Gill, Debbie Williams (EM-Media), and Dan Wilks (Skillset), and discussed the nature of their research (which you can find out about from their webpages) and the problems of doing research on film talent. Some obstacles identified by Dan Wilks were that people in the industry were suspicious of questions from researchers and see little value in providing data for the benefit fo the wider industry. As had been noted earlier in the day, the problem was one of engagement. In the following discussion Terry Ilott raised an interesting question: by what theory are we informed when creating a talent policy for the film industry? I do like simple questions – they are usually the hardest ones to answer.

The economics panel was chaired by Andy Pratt, and featured Angus Finney, Joe Lampel, John Newbigin, and John Sedgwick. Angus Finney raised the issue of who is going to lead research, a point later picked up by Terry Ilott and Andy Pratt. John Newbigin also raised this topic in a different way by asking, what sort of research consortia we need in order to conduct meaningful research projects? Joe Lampel stressed how little we actually know about the process of film development; and , in contrast to Ian Christie’s view of film studies lack of quantitative research, argued that we need more interpretative work on the economics of the film industry. John Sedgwick presented some results on the profitability of Hollywood films and the predictability of grosses in an effort to overturn the accepted wisdom that ‘nobody knows anything’ about the film industry, and to show that as Hollywood films are increasingly profitable someone must know something and that by analysing data we can know things too.

Perhaps what we need as a David Hilbert-type figure to given direction to research in the cinema:

Wir müssen wissen. Wir werden missen.

Summary

Terry Illot argued that there should be some provision for funding research, presumably of the type mentioned above in relation to Screen Australia, and that it is necessary adopt a ‘door open’ policy for interesting research. He also suggested the intriguing idea of a research levy to overcome a lack of resources. Finally, he set out a series of needs: leadership, responsibility, accountability, and an agenda to give direction to research. Again, there is a Hilbert shaped in hole to be filled. Keith Randle also stressed the need for follow-up on the day’s activities. In his summary, Andy Pratt focussed on the need for a brokerage role to create a continuing conversation between interested parties and the legitimacy of multidisciplinary research. As Rob Cheek had noted earlier in the day, one of the problems in bringing academics and policymakers together is that little attention is paid to managing the relationship between them.

Some Observations

In reflecting on this symposium I wish to pay particular attention to the view articulated by various of those present that there is a lack of a common framework for the study of film that will bring researchers from different disciplines and policymakers together; and the opinion of Ian Christie that film studies has largely failed as a discipline.

In a post from 2009 (see here), I set out a definition of film studies that was based on a division into four related types of analysis:

  • Industrial analysis: the political economy of film industries; the organisation of film industries; technologies of film production, distribution, and exhibition; practices of film production, distribution, and exhibition; government policies; etc.
  • Textual analysis: representation and the symbolic meanings of film; film form; film style; narrative/non-narrative structure; etc.
  • Ethnographic analysis: the composition of audiences; rituals of cinema-going and film experiences; cultural meanings and issues of identity; etc.
  • Cognitive-psychological analysis: the viewer’s perception of a film; communication and information in the cinema; psychological processes of meaning-making in the cinema; the psychological basis of the viewer’s response to a film; etc.

Films can be analysed as institutionally produced commercial commodities that function as cultural artifacts inscribed with meanings which are then consumed and interpreted by audiences, whose experience of the cinema is predicated on cognitive-psychological processes of perception and comprehension. Film Studies can be defined as a research programme analysing films in institutional, textual, ethnographic, and cognitive-psychological terms.

This is, I think, a basis for determining the necessary framework that will allow our understanding of the cinema to move forward. I do not think that you can separate the four types of analysis identified above. You cannot understand how audiences respond to a film without first understanding how they watch a film. You cannot understand how film style operates without understanding how we watch and respond to films. You cannot understand which films get made and which do not without Film studies is by its very nature multidisciplinary, and . That is why I think it is such a fascinating subject, and why students should be enthused about studying it.

I do not think that at present we are close to realising the full potential of the discipline. I share the opinion of Ian Christie that film studies has failed to make meaningful progress in our understanding of the cinema. As I have discussed elsewhere on this blog (here and here), the type of research programme that was discussed at the symposium was the norm for researchers interested in film and television prior to the 1970s. It was empirically driven research concerned with how viewers experienced and comprehended the cinema, at the behaviour of audiences, and at the social impact of cinema. It has taken some FORTY YEARS to get to a situation where, with the BFI’s ‘Opening Our Eyes’ report, we have finally have some similar research that will inform our understanding of the cinema in the UK. Of course, empirical research on industries, audiences, and the perception of viewers continued to be conducted after 1970 by psychologists, sociologists, and economists but not in film studies: the type of research we are talking about is much more common in the empirical strand of media studies, and is to be found in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media rather than in Screen.

Let’s be explicit about this: in my opinion, it is film studies that is the problem with the study of film. The study of film was diverted from an empirical and experimental approach by its institutionalisation as film studies in the early-1970s that simply ignored decades of prior research and which set off into the tedium of Theory. Forty years of film studies, and one of the common themes of many of the speakers at the symposium is that we know so little. That cannot be acceptable. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the successes and failures of film studies in order to explain how we have ended up in a situation like this. What do we actually know about the films, about film industries, and about audiences and viewers? What do we need to know? I know that David Bordwell and Noel Carroll took on Theory the in Post-theory: Re-constructing Film Studies fifteen years ago, but its impact in many areas has been rather limited: film studies isn’t that different to when I was an undergraduate in 1995-1998. What I want to know is, where is our Hilbert to shape our research (and teaching) agendas? (It is also worth noting that Post-theory does not discuss pre-film studies research on the cinema either).

If the BFI wants to be seen as a ‘knowledge organisation’ whose expertise is not confined to the interpretation of texts, then it is necessary to start with a new approach to the study of film based on a framework that encourages (in Einstein’s phrase) ‘many-sided thinking,’ and not one that will lead to just more bloody film studies.


Oct 272011
 

Yesterday I attended a symposium at NESTA on the relationship between research and policy making for film co hosted by the University of Hertforshire, Available Light Advisory, and the BFI. A detailed review of the event will have to wait for a later post, but until then here are some papers on the British film industry and the policy environment in which it has operated over the  past decade and a half.

As ever, the version of the paper linked to may not be the final version that was published.

Adams J 2011 UK film: new directions in the glocal era, Journal of Media Practice 12 (2): 111-124. (NB: the link takes you to JMP Screenworks).

As the British Film Institute (BFI) takes over responsibility for film policy and lottery funding from the UK Film Council and the Government announces the UK Film Policy Review, this article argues that film policy requires a fundamental change of direction for the 21st Century. First, it proposes that the concept of a UK film ‘industry’ should be radically redefined in response to the complex and diverse digital production models developing both regionally and globally. Second, that the best way to nurture and promote homegrown talent is through an integrated approach to production, distribution, exhibition and education. Third, public funding for film (other than tax breaks and incentives for incoming production) should be directed away from the mainstream to support public-private sector creative partnerships in the regions, in line with an emerging politics of localism. In an age of cross-border media flows, the paper proposes a holistic strategy for UK film based on dispersed creative hubs with global reach, with a much greater role for Creative England than is currently envisaged. Examples in the paper are mainly drawn from activities in one of Creative England’s newly designated regions (‘the Bristol hub’).

Blair H, Culkin N, and Randle K 2004 From London to Los Angeles: a comparison of local labour market processes in the US and UK film industries, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 14 (4): 619-633.

Addressing the issue of the embeddedness of labour markets, this paper compares the processes of finding employment in the film industry within two local labour markets. Drawing on studies of freelance film crew in the London (UK) and Los Angeles (US), the paper concludes that the importance of social networks in job mobility in both contexts is a consequence of common production structures. However that common labour market practice varies in each geographical space as industry processes and structures are mediated by local institutional contexts.

 Garnham N 2005 From cultural to creative industries: an analysis of the implications of the “creative industries” approach to arts and media policy making in the United Kingdom, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 11 (1): 15-29.

This article analyses the cultural policy implications in the United Kingdom of a shift in terminology from cultural to creative industries. It argues that the use of the term “creative industries” can only be understood in the context of information society policy. It draws its political and ideological power from the prestige and economic importance attached to concepts of innovation, information, information workers and the impact of information and communication technologies drawn from information society theory. This sustains the unjustified claim of the cultural sector as a key economic growth sector within the global economy and creates a coalition of disparate interests around the extension of intellectual property rights. In the final analysis, it legitimates a return to an artistcentred, supply side defence of state cultural subsidies that is in contradiction to the other major aim of cultural policy – wider access.

Humphreys P 2008 An examination of the preservation of cultural policy toolkits at the national level: the French and UK cases, 58th Political Studies Association Annual Conference: Democracy, Governance and Conflict: Dilemmas of Theory and Practice, 1-3 April 2008, Swansea.

This paper examines the impact of globalization, new media and deregulatory pressures on the ‘cultural policy toolkits’ for the television sector of France and the UK. It is concerned with regulation intended to promote cultural diversity in the media, namely public service broadcasting, media ownership rules, and culturally protectionist measures such as subsidies and programme quotas. It explores whether there is evidence of a (de)regulatory competition (‘racing to the bottom’), and alternatively whether there has been any adjustment of regulatory standards upwards. The picture is mixed. There is evidence of competitiveness motivated deregulation of media ownership rules in both cases. Other than that though, the countries’ cultural policy toolkits appear robust and demonstrate a striking degree of path dependent policy-making. Some aspects of UK television policy are certainly redolent of deregulatory competition and the UK approach has progressively relieved the private sector of the kind of regulatory burdens imposed by the French approach. By contrast, the French adaptation of their system of programme quotas and subsidies to the digital age could be seen as upward regulation. France, however, remains a paradoxical case. It exhibits a particularly strong political commitment to a distinctive and elaborate regulatory and interventionist cultural policy toolkit. It has championed a global struggle to defend national cultural identities in the face of the domination of American production. Yet, public service television and national television production are weak in comparison with its more liberal neighbour.

Magor M and Schlesinger P 2009 ‘For this relief much thanks:’ taxation, film policy and the UK government, Screen 50 (3): 299-317.

In 2006, the Treasury introduced a new Film Tax Credit for British productions. Fiscal incentives in the form of tax credits are now regarded as fundamental to the sustainability of the British film industry. In addition to benefiting indigenous filmmaking, an attractive tax credit structure is seen as promoting inward investment, chiefly from the USA, and is seen as important for maintaining the work force and organisational capacity in the British film industry. Securing the continuity of the skills base is at the heart of the UK Government’s drive to make the ‘creative economy’ better fitted for global competition. However, in that broader context, film has been – and remains – a special case, as it is not presently Government creative economy policy to use fiscal measures for other industries. We argue that in seeking solutions to longstanding problems of ‘sustainability’, contemporary UK policy is conditioned by its long history of economic intervention in film production – and has been an important precursor of today’s creative industries policy. Furthermore, in current global conditions, it is crucial to consider the fundamental cross-currents set in train by the competing demands of US inward investment and EU regulation. By undertaking interviews with key players as well as examining evidence in the public domain, this article analyses the complex politics that has shaped the implementation of this policy. We argue that film policy research needs the added depth that such sociological analysis brings to the table. In particular, this empirical approach gives insights into how the low politics of lobbying and inter-departmental rivalry shape present policy outcomes.

Redfern N 2007 Defining British cinema: transnational and territorial film policy in the United Kingdom, Journal of British Cinema and Television 4 (1): 150-164.

Since 1995, film policy in the United Kingdom has comprised two strands: selling the UK as a ‘film hub’ of locations, skills and services to the international film industry, and the emergence of a different kind of institutional intervention geared towards nurturing regional film industries and regional film cultures. In this contribution to the debate about film policy in Britain, I want to explore the relationship between the transnational and the territorial in British film policy since the mid-1990s. I will argue that policy makers in the United Kingdom have sought to construct a British national cinema through encouraging productions to come to the United Kingdom by enhancing the locational non-substitutability of the British film industry, and that these functions have been devolved to the Regional Screen Agencies since 2000. The British film industry that is emerging from this process is a hybrid space of interactions between a trans- national film industry which crosses national boundaries, and a highly territorialised national film industry which is increasingly organised at the regional level. In this contribution, I will describe three possible interactions between the transnational and the territorial in contemporary British cinema.

Redfern N 2010 Connecting the regional and the global in the UK film industry, Transnational Cinemas 1 (2) : 145-160.

Film policy in the United Kingdom is comprised of two complementary strands: the development of regional production clusters and the positioning of the United Kingdom as a film hub in the global film industry. This article examines the relationship between the regional, national and global scales in feature film production in three UK regions Northern Ireland, Scotland and the South West of England from 2004 to 2006. The results indicate that connections between the regions of the United Kingdom and the global film industry are limited, and that where they do exist these connections are either directly to or mediated through London, which functions as the dominant centre of distribution and finance and therefore decision-making in the UK film industry. Northern Ireland, by virtue of its cultural and economic relationship to the Republic of Ireland, stands out as a region in which its connections to other major decision-making centres are as important as its connections to London. The results suggest that while UK film policy has sought to redistribute the productive capacity of the industry, the autonomy of regional production centres remains limited.

Pratt AC and Gornostaeva G 2009 The governance of innovation in the film and television industry: a case study of London, UK, in  AC Pratt and P Jeffcutt (eds.) Creativity, Innovation and the Cultural Economy. London: Routledge: 119-136.

The focus of this chapter is innovation and creativity in the film and television industries in London. One might expect to observe, in the case of film and television industries which encompass some of the most socially and organisationally embedded organisations that have embraced digitisation, a clearer case of the impact of digitisation in on innovation. However, it is also good to adopt a cautious approach to the role of technology or the necessity of organisational and/or technological convergence that may follow.

It is possible to make a film, or a TV programme, on a laptop or a mobile phone; but, such practices are marginal. Where they are adopted their use is commonly strategic, in order to achieve other organisational aims such as simple cost reduction or novelty. The film and television industries are ‘poster children’ for digitisation and innovation; the question is, whether such changes are superficial, in the sense of new delivery systems for the same old production model, or, a substantial transformation of the process. Complex regulatory structures and market structures mean that innovation is a more organic and systemic process rather than the ‘big bang’ that is it commonly represented as. In this chapter we argue for the need to account for the complex interrelationship of technologies, organisation and regulation. Moreover, that the roles of technology (digitization), organisation (the fragmented small firms), and governance (deregulation) cannot be generalised and will be resolved, necessarily, in particular spaces and times resulting in unique locational outcomes.

If one examines the UK FTV at a macro-scale considerable success of both TV sales and film production (receipts) can be identified both relative to the size of the UK economy, and by comparison with other economies. How do we begin to understand this relative success? One answer might be innovation or improved competitiveness; however, arguably such ‘catch alls’ disguise as much as they reveal. This chapter approaches the problem by shifting analytic attention to the micro-scale and to organisational concerns in order to explore ways in which similar technologies or innovations may produce quite different industry outcomes in terms of practice. The chapter is structured around this argument; we begin by prefacing this with a discussion of innovation and creativity and next elaborating how this is worked through in the case of the film and television industries.

Finally, here are some recent reports on the UK film industry:

Mansfield M 2009 A Report on the British Film Industry for Shadow DCMS.

Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, The British Film Industry, HC, 667-I, 9 September 2003.

Select Committee on Communications, The British Film and Television Industries – Decline or Opportunity?, HL, 37-I and 37-II, 25 January 2011. The two volumes of this report include the summry and conclusions in part I and the transcripts of the hearings in part II.


Sep 222011
 

Last Friday the BFI launched its report on the cultural contribution of the cinema to the UK. I was unable to attend the launch, but the report is no available online here.

The motivation for this report is partly to do what is says and explore the contribution to British cinema, but it is also necessary to justify the UK’s economic film policy. Under EU law, financial support in the form of tax relief or lottery funding can only be provided for the representation of regional and national cultures and NOT for competitive economic advantage. Therefore, by establishing the importance of the cinema to British cultural life everyone gets to pretend that economic film policy in the UK is cultural and not economic at all.

Leaving that collective self-delusion aside, let’s focus on the cultural aspects of the report. The problem here is that we have what is largely a marketing report that does not really address the question of ‘cultural contribution.’ Films, we are told, are one of the ‘most popular entertainment and leisure interests,’ but popularity is not a measure of cultural contribution. One of overriding problems I have with this report is the lack of detail. The list of films that are often mentioned as having a ‘significant effect on society or attitudes in the UK’ is frequently used as a basis for drawing conclusions about the relevance of the cinema in British cultural life but this effect isn’t qualified beyond the personal anecdotes of some of the interviewees. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the number of interviewees is small: ten paired interviews were conducted giving a sample size of 20 participants from major cities in Scotland (Glasgow) or England (Manchester and London). Perhaps no-one in the UK lives east of the Pennines (thereby plunging me into a severe existential crisis); or perhaps no-one in Wales or Northern Ireland goes to the cinema. I recognise that measuring how a film affects society is difficult, but then this at the core of what the report is trying to do and it never really achieves it. We can certainly see how Cathy Come Home affected the UK, leading to the founding of Shelter; but what was the ‘significant effect’ of Trainspotting? This is never explained. I also recognise that it is a lengthy and costly process, but if you’re going to justify national film policy based on research it should be national research.

One aspect that has been commented upon in a number of news articles based on this report (and which I therefore assume was part of a press release) is that people are more interested in the cinema than they are in religion. Specifically, 32% percent of respondents indicated they were interested in religion compared to the 84% who were interested in the cinema. The question we really want to ask here is why religion was included in the survey at all. Does the BFI think that religion is a form of popular entertainment and leisure interest comparable to the cinema? In what ways is an interest in films comparable to an interest in religion? Surely we cannot be expected to interpret this as meaning that the people of the UK are 2.5 times more interested in the cinema than religion, because this is how it has been presented in reporting typical of the standard you can expect from the British press. This is really a measure of popularity and not a measure of contribution at all: the contribution of the Church of England to the cultural life of the UK is far greater than that of the cinema, even if no one appears to be interested in it any more. I may be an atheist but, dear God, this was a stupid question to ask.

A further confusing statement is that a ‘strong interest in film correlates with a stronger than average interest in many other forms of leisure and cultural pursuit,’ because no correlation coefficient, correspondence analysis, correlation matrix, or any other statistic is presented. Correlation is a statistical term, and in the context of this report that presents such a large amount of data in terms of graphs, percentages, and other measures, it has no meaning. Nor is there any evidence presented to link strong interest in the cinema, strong interest in other arts, and increased levels of participation. It is simply asserted that

higher interest in a range of other social and cultural activities tends to follow through into higher levels of activity (Figure 5), with more people very interested in film also going more often to the theatre, concerts, pubs and clubs than those with no interest in film.

The reference to Figure 5 leads us only to a series of bar charts that present frequencies and not correlations. This is just poor research, and a better approach would have been to perform a correspondence analysis on this data. (This is exactly what Pierre Bourdieu does in Distinction to answer exactly the same sort of questions). If nothing else, this would have presented us with only a single graph to deal with rather than thirteen separate bar charts.

The same is true of the words associated with different forms of entertainment (Figure 11). The endless bar charts have by now become somewhat tiring and the plots of the first and second principal and first and third principal axes of the correspondence analysis of this data would have made life so much easier (Figure A). To interpret these plots, points in the same data set that are near each other have similar profiles in terms of the attributes assigned to them while points in the same data set that are distant have different attribute profiles; and points in different sets that lie away from the origin and in the same direction are related. In both plots we see that film (FIL) lies along the same direction as escapism (ESC), and so the cinema is strongly correlated with this attribute.

A1: Dimensions 1 and 2

A2: Dimensions 1 and 3

Figure A Biplots of the correspondence between entertainment/leisure activities and attributes associated with them, based on percentages in the BFI ‘Opening Our Eyes’ report. For the detailed numerical summary of the analysis see here: BFI CA Summary.

As we would expect, pubs/clubs (PUB) and dining out are similar and news (NEW) is strongly correlated with the attribute ‘informative’ (INF). Interestingly, art galleries and museums (GAL) lies along the same axis as exciting (EXC) in both plots, and playing sport (SPP) produces similar results to going to the theatre (THE) but watching sport (SPW) does not. Also, pubs/clubs seem to correspond with thought-provoking (THO).

The attributes do appear to spread out into a number of subsets. Emotion (EMO) and Inspiration (INS) appear to be related, as do exciting and informative. Relaxing (RLX), entertainment (ENT), escapism, and thought-provoking appear to have profiles more similar with another than with the other four attributes. This relationship is apparent in both plots. Television (TEL) appears to be associated with no particular attribute, contributing nothing to the variation in dimension 3.

Note that religion (REL) in the first plot is unrelated to the profiles of the other forms of entertainment and leisure activity and contributes nothing to the variation of the second plot (CTR = 0.00), and it would be better if this category had not been included in the survey at all.

A further problem arises when we look at the section on what films people are watching. Blockbusters emerge as the most frequently watched type of films, but as these types of films dominate the UK exhibition market what else did you expect?

The information on the factors that people use to decide on what to go and see is much more useful. There is a fairly large body of literature on this topic for Hollywood cinema (and you can find some information on this topic here), but there is a lack of research in this area for the UK (but see here). This is also the case for sources of information on films on release. Hopefully, this information will lead researchers to explore these areas in more depth, because we really know very little about film audiences in the UK compared to what we know about the US.

The section on opinions about the proportion of films distributed in the UK on specific subjects (Figure 17) can be ignored. I don’t quite see the point of the question about whether there are too many films about homeless people – this seems a needlessly specific question that doesn’t really have anything to with the cinema. I’ve never seen a British film about a quantity surveyor, but they didn’t ask about that. How would making films about the homeless contribute to British culture? If this were to prompt filmmakers to start making films about the homeless, asking the question again would increase the number of responses for too many as the public becomes bored by a glut of such films. This part of the survey does not appear to take into account the films currently on release that would influence the respondents. It is a silly question that tells us nothing about anything.

More interesting is the revelation about how audiences perceive stories as being related to national identity rather than the source of the production:

Respondents saw films with British stories set in the UK as close to ‘entirely British’, even if they were partly produced or financed from the USA. Films about non-British people set outside the UK were seen as being mainly of another nationality. This is illustrated at the borderline by Slumdog Millionaire which, though an independent British film, was seen as being slightly more of ‘another nationality’ (Figure 19). Some interviewees saw it as a British film set in a non-UK location.

Now this is interesting information that can make a substantive contribution to the study of British national cinema and will, I’m sure, feature in many books and articles on the subject. The analysis based on the seven-point rating scale (Figures 19 and 20) is interesting but I have problems with the statistic used: the average position on the scale appears to be the mean and the use of a continuous measure for ordinal data is problematic. Either the mode or the median could be more appropriate because we cannot be sure that respondents interpreted the phrases used (‘entirely British’) in the same way or that the differences between the categories are equal. (There is no reason to assume that responses to this scale would be normally distributed so some additional justification for relying on the central limit theorem should have been provided, particularly given the possibility of central tendency bias).That said, the differences in the score between Slumdog Millionaire on the one hand and St. Trinian’s and The Full Monty are the real gem in this report. As scholars of British cinema we should be exploring this in great depth.

The section on the regions of the UK brings us back to the endless bar charts, and as before a different approach might have reduced the cognitive burden and eye strain on the reader. Generally, these results reflect the responses given to a question asked as part of the 19th British Social Attitudes Report published in 2002, which found that regional identity in England increased with distance from the capital and a high level of identification with the metropolis in London. This would explain why people in the North of England, the North West, and Yorkshire and Humberside want to see more films based in their regions relative to the regions in the south and the east. It is surprising to see that the percentages for ‘Too many’ and ‘About the right amount’ for the South West are consistent with East Anglia and the South East, as this region tends to have a relatively higher sense of regional identity. This is an interesting result that could be followed up.

Overall, this report is just like every other report produced by an official body that you’ve read: relentlessly upbeat, and riddled with oddities of design and analysis. There are some really interesting points to be found, and if this report is going to make a real contribution to our understanding of British film culture it will be as a starting point for researchers to try to get behind the data.

Finally, the best news of all: the detailed responses and the full data sets are being made available by the BFI, and can be accessed here. This means hours of endless fun of doing your own analysis on the data.

References

Heath A, Rothon C, and Jarvis L 2002  ‘English to the Core?’ in A Park, J Curtice, K Thomson, L Jarvis, and C Bromley (eds.) British Social Attitudes: The 19th Report. London: Sage: 169-184.


Jun 232011
 

Creative England has been established as the that replaces the Regional Screen Agencies. The first action of the new body was to undertake a consultation process on its Strategic Priorities for Film. The results of this process were published as digest on June 13.

I want to comment on two things in this post: the findings of the consultation exercise and the graph produced in this document.

Creative England: Summary of Findings

The consultation process including written submissions, responses to an online questionnaire, as well as meetings around the country with

The first statement made is:

Of those who expressed an opinion, 65% either agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones. Only 15% disagreed or disagreed strongly. However a large number of respondents either answered ‘don’t know’ (19%) or skipped the question (48%).

The headline figure of 65% agreement with the strategic priorities was announced on the News page of Creative England, but on closer inspection we note that just over half of respondents actually answered this question. The low response rate suggests apathy at best. Creative England states that it received 476 responses but only 52% expressed an opinion regarding the strategic priorities of Creative England, which is 248. Of these, 65% supported the strategic priorities – in other words, of 476 respondents, only 161 or 34% ‘agreed or agreed strongly that the strategic priorities in the document were the right ones.’

The breakdown of respondents (see below) reveals one disturbing fact: only 2% of those to reply to the consultation document were distributors. Given the fundamental role of this sector in the film industry, it is clearly woefully under-represented in this process. Sales, however, does tend to be ignored by policy makers. In April 2011, an article in Screen International reported that during the process by which the UK Film Council was abolished and responsibility was handed tot he BFI, Film Export UK was unable to secure a meeting with Ed Vaizey, the Cultural Industries minister:

Despite many attempts, representatives of Film Export UK have failed to win an audience with Vaizey and only recently managed to secure a meeting with the BFI which has assumed many of the UKFC’s responsibilities including oversight of development, production and distribution funding from the National Lottery.

The failure to develop distribution is the major problem in the UK film industry, and that will not change any time soon.For example, the digest includes the following statement:

Staff should be experienced beyond production, for example there needs to be expertise in diversity, procedural transparency and sector specialists in exhibition, education and film archives.

Distribution and sales are not mentioned.

Overall, the impression from this document is that eleven months after the announcement that the UK Film Council was to be abolished, six months after the announcement of its replacement, and three months after it ceased trading, we still do not have any concrete plan for regional film policy in the UK. The recurrent themes that run throughout the comments is that people want to know what will happen and how Creative England will work in practice. After almost a year, this uncertainty should have been resolved and the references to reassurance. For example, the comments express a vagueness, particularly regarding the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England:

Comments were made about the lack of a hub in the eastern half of England, but most comments merely pointed out this risk and sought reassurance that ‘something would be done’.

Well you would hope that ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ would be done.

One subject missing from the consultation document is that of research and statistics. Although one of the current themes is that ‘Decision making must be evidence based and clear,’ we have no detail on how this evidence will be collected. By the end of this month, the BFI will have assumed full responsibility for the functions that were once fulfilled by the Research and Statistics Unit of the UK Film Council, but we still lack details on how this will relate to the creative hubs of Creative England.

You can read the views of the British Screen Advisory Council on film statistics here.

Remember Creative England will not be up and running until 1 October 2011. Variety reports on the appointment of an interim director here.

An evil and misleading graph

There are many issues in the consultation process for Creative England that need to be resolved, but the thing that made me really angry was the graphic they used to illustrate the breakdown of respondents in the exercise. This graph is reproduced below.

Figure 1 An evil and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise

There are so many things wrong with this it is difficult to know where to start:

  • There are far too many categories here to comfortably fit in a pie chart.
  • Tilting a chart creates a false perspective, overemphasizing sectors  that appear at the bottom and which seem to be larger than they are. The sector for filmmaker/film production freelancer would appear to be bigger than the sector for production company, when the opposite is true. Equally, the sector for education/youth organisation appears larger than exhibitor, even though it is smaller.
  • Adding a third dimension to a chart rarely improves matters: it requires extra work from the reader while providing no extra information, and is potentially misleading.
  • Similarly, exploding a pie chart may be useful to highlight a single sector relative to the rest of a chart, but exploding the whole chart adds no extra information and just makes the whole thing harder to follow.
  • The labeling is dreadful: look at the label for Training, hidden away there under the arrow Archive.

If you are a researcher or student working in film studies, then all you need to do is to remember this simple rule:

NEVER – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – WILL YOU PRODUCE AN EXPLODED 3-D PIE CHART

If you want to see how bad pie charts can be, then a visit to Junk Charts is in order. Pie charts do have their uses – as William Playfair and Florence Nightingale so effectively demonstrated – but there are better ways of presenting the information in Figure 1 than an exploded 3-d pie chart. For example, a table listing the percentages of respondents in each sector in order of size from largest to smallest would have been much easier to understand and is probably the best option. Alternatively, a horizontal bar chart such as the one in Figure 2 could have been used. You could even do away with the horizontal axis and put the data labels at the end of each bar in order to show the percentage in each category.

Figure 2 Not an evil graph and misleading graph of the response to Creative England’s consultation exercise

Let us hope that this poor use of statistical graphics is not a harbinger of decline in the standard of statistical analysis of the UK film industry now that Creative England has been set up. Of course, this will have to be a part of the next consultation.