Edinburgh Fringe economics scrutinised in new film

Thursday 10th June 2021, 12:42pm by Jay Richardson

Dominic Frisby.

Jimmy Carr and Al Murray are among the comedians featured in a new documentary about the economics of the Edinburgh Fringe, as its creator warns about the arts festival's future in the wake of coronavirus.

Written and presented by stand-up and financial writer Dominic Frisby, Father Of The Fringe explores the links between the arts festival and the principles of free market economic theory laid down by 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, and also features Shazia Mirza, Henning Wehn and Arthur Smith.

Tickets for the 2021 festival, scheduled for 6th to 30th August, will go on sale on from the Edinburgh Fringe box office from the 1st of July, despite huge uncertainty about how the event will happen.

Current Scottish government guidelines maintaining the indoor two-metre rule mean that many venues cannot afford to open.

Yet tickets are already on sale for the likes of Wehn, Jason Byrne and Daniel Sloss at The Corn Exchange, a large venue away from central Edinburgh. And organisers at the Fringe Society anticipate that live, in person shows will be complemented by live performances online and on-demand shows which can be watched anytime throughout the festival.

However, "Covid-19 and the regulations that followed have killed the Fringe stone dead" argues Frisby, who regularly writes for MoneyWeek and co-hosted channel Dave's 2015 crowdfunding investor show Money Pit with Jason Manford.

He told British Comedy Guide: "It's incredibly sad. The Fringe's future will depend on Covid and the reaction of authorities to it.

"It took the cumulative effect of 70-odd years of incremental growth for the Fringe to become such a vast and wonderful event. It will take many years to get back to what it was, if it ever will."

Father Of The Fringe is directed by documentarian Alex Webster, whose credits include working with Louis Theroux for the BBC, and who hosts the Escape From Lockdown podcast. It is based upon a lecture Frisby gave at the 2019 festival at Panmure House, where Smith, often described as "the Father of Capitalism", lived and discussed ideas with other eminent figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

"The history of the Fringe is so powerful, such an incredible success story, that it really enthused all who saw [the lecture]" Frisby adds. "People kept saying turn it into a doc."

Shot in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the film is currently in the final stages of production, thanks to an anonymous benefactor.

"In August 2020, after Covid had killed the Fringe, Alex and I decided we would turn my lecture into a doc in the year the Fringe wasn't happening" Frisby explains. "With the general shortage of content at the time, we thought there might be an opportunity for outsiders who could produce quality work, so we went ahead and shot it.

"Unfortunately, despite the stellar line up we put together, the closed shop that is British TV remained closed. Emails disappeared in the void, numerous Zoom meetings didn't go anywhere, the BBC et al weren't interested. And without an outlet for it we didn't have the capital to get the film finished.

"Then a multi-millionaire video games entrepreneur, who had had a near-death experience with Covid, and stumbled across some of my YouTube videos, got in touch to thank me for the laughter and joy they had brought him while he was at death's door. He said he would like to help me, so we said we had this film but we needed a bit of capital to get it over the line - to cover the cost of all the post-production, the music, archive footage etc - and the very next day the money was in my account.

"Moral of the story: even if you're not one of TV's chosen few, if you put stuff out there, and it's decent enough, good things can happen."

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