Some of the world’s greatest directors launched their careers with an idea, a few thousand pounds and some friends with spare time on their hands. Those same friends would often go on to make up the bulk of the audience.
But Netflix is giving Britain’s next big thing a chance to show their debut feature to the single biggest viewership the world has ever amassed – and is giving them a seven-figure sum to make it.
An unknown director, producer or writer will be given £1.5m and a global launch on the streaming service, in an effort to discover a future generation of “bold, distinctive” UK storytellers.
The scheme, to be announced on Wednesday, will allow the directors to make anything from crime thrillers and sci-fi to romance and comedy, driven by the principle that “daring” film-making can “drive commercial as well as critical success and can emerge from all backgrounds”.
At least one project will be picked from six shortlisted film-makers, who will each have received £30,000 to develop their projects over a year, with intensive training from industry mentors.
Netflix will accept applications from across the creative spectrum – theatre, TV, video gaming, online content, commercials, graphic novels, music promos and short films.
The programme, titled Breakout, will be open to film-makers who have not yet made a feature but whose work has already attracted industry or public attention.
One of the biggest challenges for any film-maker, particularly a first-time one, is raising money for their film.
Hannah Perks, Netflix’s manager of UK films, said the £1.5m budget would allow them to focus on the creative side. “They’re not going to have to think about putting that financing together – and their film will be shown on Netflix globally. It’s every film-maker’s dream to have a global release.”
Breakout will proactively encourage submissions from underrepresented groups to reflect the full range of voices in modern Britain.
Perks singled out for praise productions such as His House, an acclaimed horror film about the plight of Sudanese refugees in a spooky council house, a debut feature by the British writer-director Remi Weekes, who had previously made shorts and commercials.
She said: “Although it’s about new talent, it’s about people who are film creatives, but who might also have worked in advertising, music videos or photography, and who haven’t had a chance to make a feature film but who have ideas. It’s about giving them a really healthy budget to make something that can be on Netflix and hopefully kickstart their career as film-makers – especially British film-makers, making commercial films our audiences love.
“We haven’t got as many British films as we’d like on the service. That’s a key reason why we’re doing this. We want to get more British film-makers, up-and-coming film-makers.”
The programme is a collaboration with Creative UK, which supports the creative industries. Paul Ashton, its head of film and television, said: “Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not, and from our very first conversation it was clear that Netflix shared our desire to offer career-changing opportunities to film talent in the UK.”
Netflix, which is streaming in more than 30 languages and 190 countries, is the UK’s the most popular streaming service, with an estimated 14 million subscribers at the end of last year. Last September it announced it would provide training opportunities on its UK-based productions, including Sex Education, The Witcher and Top Boy.