Film-making only for wealthiest as accessible routes disappear, MPs told

<span>Myriam Raja, who directed several episodes of Top Boy, said she would not have been able to sustain a career in film without accessible routes such as Channel 4’s Random Acts.</span><span>Photograph: House of Commons/PA</span>
Myriam Raja, who directed several episodes of Top Boy, said she would not have been able to sustain a career in film without accessible routes such as Channel 4’s Random Acts.Photograph: House of Commons/PA

Diverse and working-class film-making talent is struggling to get a foothold in the UK because routes into the sector have been eroded over the past decade, industry figures have told MPs.

The situation is making a career in film possible for only the wealthiest, experts told the culture, media and sport committee on Tuesday. It heard evidence from film-makers, educators and skills providers including Myriam Raja, who graduated from the National Film and Television School in 2018 and has directed several episodes of Bafta-winning drama Top Boy.

She said: “I started at 14, where I went to an after school film club and then I went on so many schemes that just aren’t around now.”

Raja created a film for Channel 4’s Random Acts, a series that ran from 2013 to 2017 and produced short films that were a platform for “established names and new artistic talent”.

The disappearance of Random Acts and other film development projects, such as the BFI’s short film project First Light and Microwave, the low-budget feature film initiative that helped establish Danny Mays and Riz Ahmed, has taken away a key route into the industry, according to Raja.

She said: “That’s how I got my foot in. If those schemes or Random Acts wouldn’t have been around I wouldn’t have been able to sustain a career.”

Dominique Unsworth, who runs the Berkshire-based arts organisation Resource Productions, where Raja made one of her first shorts, said although the UK film industry has benefited from American production companies investing in the sector, the grassroots development of new talent has declined over the last decade.

“I think we’ve somewhat lost our way in terms of the programmes that Miriam went through, and I went through, which enabled us to make low-budget short films, and to learn skills, build our networks and create that infrastructure,” she said. “Where did those programmes go? We haven’t seen them for the last 10 years.”

Another key issue raised was the loss of accessible development funds for film-makers.

Unsworth said when Resource Productions made a £1.5m feature last year, the key funder wasn’t an arts organisation or a streaming platform but the Rothschild Foundation charity.

She said: “That’s the state of financing in the country, we’re reliant on independent trusts and wealth to donate. We do not have that pathway because it’s been eroded from short film up to low budget. That’s where the work is done, that’s where you learn to work.”

New research by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre has shown that six in 10 of all arts and culture workers in the UK now come from middle-class backgrounds compared with just over 42% of the wider workforce.

The class divide in film was stark: 8% of creatives are from working-class backgrounds, while over 60% of people working in film, TV and radio are middle or upper class – the biggest disparity in a decade.

MPs also heard that people are leaving the industry in droves, partly because of job losses – like the swingeing cuts ITV announced on Tuesday that will mean 200 roles disappearing and significant redundancies at Amazon’s Prime Video.

The cuts across the industry have been caused by the lack of work after the US actors’ strike, an advertising downturn and the increased cost of production, according to the head of the Bectu union, Philippa Child.

Marcus Ryder, the chief executive of the Film and TV Charity, said that his organisation has seen a sharp increase in the number of film workers asking for forms of financial aid.

He told the committee his charity usually gives out £300,000 annually in support grants but last year that figure rose to £1m. “That’s an indicator of how much more people are suffering and how precarious their finances are,” he said.