A brief(ish) explanation of the BIFA voting process.
You might not be surprised to discover that behind the bright lights, smiling film stars and jubilant celebrations of the BIFAs lies a hidden world whose glamour level is diametrically opposed to that of the ceremony, but whose importance cannot be understated. This, of course, is the actual process of organising the awards and deciding who wins: opening entries, gathering voters, watching films and casting votes. Much of this process involves pasty administrators pouring through spreadsheets and doing complicated sums, but it’s a process that’s been finely tuned over 19 years to allow us to say that our nominees and winners really are the best British films of the year, chosen by a group of film professionals who are representative of the industry they work in.
Well, here it goes - the complicated beauty that is the BIFA Voting Process, from choosing who votes to choosing who wins.
Part 1: The Voters
Before we begin collecting any films, we need to assemble our diverse and experienced pool of voters. Their job is to watch, give us professional feedback and then finally, cast their votes. Can anyone be a BIFA voter? Well, to put it simply, no. Just as the films we present are the best in the business, so are our voters. We currently have around 300 voters registered with us, around half of whom are active in any one year.
The BIFA voters we assemble are:
- Experts and representatives of the film industry comprising of directors, actors, producers, writers and other heads of departments, as well as distributors, sales agents, developers, agents etc.
- A healthy mix of old fogeys and young, emerging (but still accomplished) talent.
- Diverse. Part of our mission statement is to celebrate diversity in British film and to help build a more diverse and inclusive industry, so we’re determined to have a diverse voting pool. We aim to make underrepresented voices be heard stressing the important of a diverse and fair cohort of voters.
Peruse this year’s voters here.
Once registered, BIFA voters are divided into ‘subgroups’, with around 20 voters per group. Each subgroup is generally responsible for a single award category - so we have a subgroup for Best Documentary, a subgroup for Best Short, etc. The subgroups meet every 2 weeks from August to October to discuss the entered films and exchange opinions.
In late September and mid-October, BIFA voters take part in two rounds of voting: one narrows down the list of entries to long lists in each category, the next narrows down the long lists to the nominations. More about this in the Voting section later on...
Part 2: The Films
How does a film snag a shiny BIFA trophy?
- A films must be entered to be considered - this is done by either the distributor, the sales agent or the filmmakers themselves. It is up to the entrant to decide what category they would like to present their film to, and while BIFA voters can also suggest that a film be put forward for other categories, the final decision is always the entrant’s.
- Once a film has been entered to BIFA, it has to pass our various eligibility tests (more of that here). We then deliver screeners to the voters in the subgroups in which the film has been entered. The voters normally have around four weeks to watch all the films in their categories before they have to vote. During that time, they attend meetings every two weeks and give detailed written and verbal feedback on what they’ve watched, carefully considering how a film might fit the criteria for each category.
- After the preliminary reviewing period - ensuring for fairness that each film collects a minimum number of views from the voters - we start the voting rounds.
Part 3: The Voting
BIFA voting happens in two or three rounds, depending on the category:
Round One: Late September. Narrows down all the entries to long lists of around 15 films in each category. Voters much tell us what they have seen and not seen, and must watch a minimum proportion of the film submitted to their subgroup in order to cast their votes. We release some of the long lists into the wild, because our voters find so much promising new talent, they want to make sure everyone knows about it
Round Two: Mid-October. Narrows down the long lists to the nominations (5 films / people in each category). Voters must watch at least 75% of the films long listed in their subgroup in order to place their votes.
Round Three: Mid-November. This round is only for the Best British Independent Film category. All 300 of our voters watch the 5 nominees and vote for the winner.
Our voting system takes into account how many voters watched a film as well as how many voted in order to ensure that less high-profile films aren’t lost amidst the noise of the more well-known titles. We also ask voters to rank their preferences and we take that ranking into account when splitting ties using the single transferable vote system (excellent video that explains how this works here).
Picking winners / Jury voting
The last stage of the process is picking the winners from the nominees. This is done by independent juries made up of highly experienced film professionals (and often someone from another field - a writer or musician) who watch everything and discuss each film at length.
Finally, once the juries’ votes are in and counted on the Friday before the ceremony, our figures are verified by our accountants, RSM. Three days later, the awards have been handed out and we’re ready to do it all again for the next year!