Big data and diversity at heart of new BFI UK filmography
The British Film Institute has launched a live, evolving database online that captures the role of all personnel - cast and crew - involved in the production of every UK film. The database stretches back to the very first British-made film from 1911, right up to the present day and into the future.
The BFI Filmography aims to be the world’s first complete and accurate living record of UK cinema, enabling anyone to search and explore British film history for free. The information has been culled from the credits of over 10,000 films, beginning with the first UK film released to cinemas in 1911 - Rob Roy, “a Scottish film”, as Heather Stewart, BFI creative director, commented at the launch event. In total so far, the names and roles of over 250,000 cast and crew have been logged.
The result of a five-year project, the filmography has produced, as Stephen McConnachie, BFI head of data, described it, “a lot of data, unique data. The data will grow every week from now until the end of time.”
The filmography is solely concerned with feature films, the definition of such being any work that runs for 40 minutes or longer (the same definition as used by the Oscars). The data is presented online in straightforward, engaging, graphical terms, in a variety of ways, and the user is free to explore and interrogate the data however they see fit.
Information can be viewed either at an abstract level - viewing total UK film production output per year, for example (1990 was the lowest year, with only 26 UK films made, while 2015 became the second most productive year since 1936, with 254 films) - or by zooming in, drilling down through years and months, to individual film titles, directors, actors and crew members.
The filmography contains 130 genres, the largest of which being ‘Drama’ with 3,710 films. Laughter trumps love in the cinema, with nearly four times as many titles as romance: 2,347 ‘Comedy’ films versus 625 ‘Romance’ films. More films are also made about ‘War’ than any other subject (582 films) and only 146 have ‘Sex’ explicitly stated as a theme.
The most featured UK film character is Queen Victoria, appearing in 25 films, followed by Sherlock Holmes (24 films) and James Bond (21 films). UK filmmakers have also historically been more interested in ‘Europe’ (527 films) than ‘Great Britain’, (431 films).
Speaking at the launch event, Stewart spoke about the depth and breadth of the BFI archive, which has been active since 1934, and promises “years’ worth of yet more data”. Despite donwplaying the concept of ‘big data’, Stewart went on to highlight the unbroken, “longditudinal” nature of the BFI’s dataset saying, “the data we’ve got here today isn’t big, but it is complete”.
Given the opportunity provided by the archive to analyse this big data set, Stewart hopes the project will appeal to the population of the whole nation and that any findings that emerge from analysis of the data will encourage and attract new entrants to the UK film-making industry: “We really want to see diverse talent”.
To this end, the BFI is partnering with research operations, such as Nesta at launch, to drill down into the data and pull out new insights into the history of UK film.
The filmography database also allows historical anomalies to be revisited, such as addressing the new genre of ‘Queer cinema’, which simply didn’t exist in the past. The BFI can now go back and retrospectively complete data fields that just weren’t considered back then, building up a more complete picture of British cinema’s evolution.
The BFI dataset will also be overlaid with diversity data to understand the role specific minority groups have played in UK cinema over the decades and identifying positive trends, such as rectifying the historic lack of black leading actors, even as recently as 10 years ago.
The role of women in UK cinema is also under scrutiny, with the total percentage being approximately the same today as it was in 1931 (around 31 per cent). Nesta’s data analysis has also revealed that women are still not accurately represented on screen and are more often cast in gender stereotypical unnamed roles (such as prostitutes, housekeepers and nurses). Women also tend to have shorter careers and on average make fewer films than male actors. It is behind the camera where there has been most improvement in the gender balance, with the percentage of crew members who are women rising from 3 per cent in 1913 to 34 per cent in 2017.
“With the creation of the BFI Filmography, with a complete data set from 1911 to the present day, we now know for the first time ever, exactly how many films have been made and released, when and by whom,” Stewart said.
“At a time when the UK film industry is burgeoning, the BFI Filmography is an invaluable resource for anyone with an interest in film, providing evidence that can help inform policy, the future of the industry and its workforce.”
· Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond most featured characters
· Judi Dench is now the most prolific working female actor with the release of Victoria and Abdul this month
· Michael Caine is the most prolific working actor
· Kate Dickie revealed as the most credited female film actor of the current decade, followed by Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor Who
· Jim Broadbent is the most credited actor of the current decade
· Gurinder Chadha is the most prolific working female film director and Ken Loach is the most prolific male
· 'Man' is the most common word in film titles