This is England: Come Film Here
It doesn’t take much for a Brit to start blowing their own trumpet. After all we are plagued by poor weather, distinctly average sports teams and bumbling politicians. Therefore with the British Film Industry on the up and Hollywood increasingly basing its biggest films in the very British Isles, is it time to raise the flag and say that the UK is the place to be? Are we basking in a unseasonable warm patch and will investment simply move the fickle movie dollars to the next new hot location willing to undercut Great Britain, and offer better tea and biscuits?
With the announcement that “Star Wars: Episode VII” is to begin production at Pinewood Studios in May, the UK seems to have landed yet another big name. Pinewood has long been the home of the “James Bond” franchise which has been lucrative to the British economy for decades. “Episode VII” however isn’t the first Star Wars film to be based within the UK. The original Star Wars Trilogy was filmed at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, while The Phantom Menace was shot at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire.
Much of this recent success can be traced to The British Film Institute which is a government-funded body that distributes millions each year in lottery profits to filmmakers. The BFI recently noted that the industry was benefiting from “long-term strategic investment in development.” Notably after the success of “Gravity” at the Oscars, Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to jump on the band wagon and praise the British successes, congratulating McQueen in a tweet and calling the wins for “Gravity” “a tribute to the brilliance of British special effects wizards.” Sandra Bullock too has been full of praise about her British experience while filming “Gravity”. She recently commented that “it was probably one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had, coupled with living in one of the most beautiful places…working with the nicest group of people, the kindest, most patient group of people I have ever worked with.” High praise indeed.
Yet she’s not the only person to be swayed by the appeal and zeal of the UK. Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” swapped the streets of Philadelphia for the stand in of Glasgow, with the filming logistics and costs being significantly easier and lower in Scotland than in the US. While bemused Scots may have looked on at the time, they won’t have sniffed at the fact that “World War Z” brought £3.33 million to the city’s economy in 2011. In addition, the Wachowski Siblings took “Cloud Atlas” and Scarlett Johansson’s recent “Under the Skin” north of the border. In 2011 alone, film, broadcasting and advertising productions brought in £20.15m to the economy. Johansson recently noted that she enjoyed the relative freedom of Glasgow during filming, wandering round unhindered and unscripted and while she didn’t chow down on too many deep fried Mars bars, really enjoyed the film. She said that “it was as if you had just picked us up and dropped us into the middle of absolutely nowhere…it was harsh and it was brutal and it was cold, it was wet and it was terrifying but we pulled through.”
But the UK isn’t the only place out there stealing business from the US. Notably Peter Jackson has chosen to base “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy, “King King” and “The Hobbit” trilogy in his native New Zealand, citing cheaper costs and favourable scenery. “The Matrix” based itself in Sydney, Australia, while “The Wolverine” also operated out of the land down under. This decision, surely helped by having Hugh Jackman on board, was mostly helped by the government giving $12.8 million to the film project. This boosted the usual 16.5 per cent location offset rebate to a staggering 30 per cent. However, the funding, rather than kickstarting something in Australia has been withdrawn and described as one off. As a result the knife has fallen and there were no international feature films located in Australia during 2013. The loss of funding has seen the Wachowski Siblings switch from Australia to a return to the UK to make “Jupiter Ascending” following their experiences on “Cloud Atlas”. Also the production of a Disney live action “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: Captain Nemo” hangs in the balance in the land of Oz.
Believe it or not, “Harry Potter” can take some of the credit for making the UK such a desirable location. If it wasn’t for all 8 big-budget films being made in England, perhaps there wouldn’t have been the chance to provide plenty of income and a decade-long training ground for British cast, crew, craftspeople and technicians. And there was me thinking he was just an annoying little wizard.
It would appear that all is rosy in the UK right now, but how long before Hollywood’s eye swings elsewhere? Is this all rampant capitalism or has the UK established itself firmly as a destination for film success?