Is independent Welsh film-making in danger?

Source: Jakob Owens (via Unsplash)

by Jack Robert Stacey

The international success story of Welsh media – with multiple blockbuster films and television series featuring iconic locations and characters – is facing growing concern about the long-term future of independent Welsh filmmaking.

A country of diverse vistas and some of the best creative talent in the UK, Wales has a noteworthy history within the modern creative industries. The Welsh government has long propounded the importance of national cultural production, working consistently with organisations like the Royal Television Society to give their wide-spread support for more development for local production of television and film. Although, the multi-faceted and constantly shifting structure of the creative industries, dictated most significantly by key players in the digital market (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube), exists beyond the Welsh Government’s direct area of influence. 

I see the crux of this unequal treatment towards independent digital production organisations, existing in a progressively unstable foothold in the shadow of the larger, vertically integrated corporations, as a result of pressure from industry consolidation; there is seemingly little room for these independents between the dominant key players who engulf the digital landscape. 

“The existing preferential treatment towards larger studios and international organisations needs to be completely subverted”

When looking at the history of independent films made in Wales, there are numerous titles that have reflected the creativity and perseverance of their creators in spite of adversity, with Louise Osmond’s Dark Horse (2015) and Richard Ayoade’s Submarine (2010) marking some of the most impactful films of the 21st century. A slight digression but, if you haven’t already… I urge you to watch these films whenever possible. 

As a response to the film industry becoming increasingly inhospitable for independent producers, the Welsh Government recently established ‘Creative Wales’; a new agency with aims to “drive growth across the creative industries, build on existing success and develop new talent and skills”. While ‘Creative Wales’ has a definitive focus on developing Welsh-based productions and talent, including the BBC’s His Dark Materials and Netflix’s Sex Education, it has received a critical reception for having a “narrow focus” on big-budget productions which further exclude independents from entering the industry in a meaningful manner.  The agency has a wider focus that centres its attention around the three “sub-sectors” of film and TV, digital and gaming, and music (not merely one aspect of our modern media landscape). I regard Creative Wales as an organisation that has side-lined Welsh independents in favour of the previously economically successful key figures. 

We reach the same crossroads as always, what can (or more importantly ‘should’) be done to address the struggling climate for Wales-based independent film companies? The existing preferential treatment towards larger studios and international organisations needs to be completely subverted, aiming directly to benefit smaller figures primarily while the sustainable, multi-million dollar companies take secure ‘back-seat’ positions. Obviously this will take some time to diffuse into the mainstream but, existing governmental agencies (like Creative Wales) can aid this transition through exclusively developing Welsh talent, severely reducing the ‘skill-gap’ in the international creative industry and, subsequently, reaffirming Wales’ position for both corporations and independents as the premiere location for film and tv production.

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