Production hits wall in the U.K.

H'wood studio investment dries up in strike aftermath

LONDON — It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.

Film production in the U.K. has come close to a standstill in the past few weeks, as a succession of international pics have stalled in the midst of pre-production.

Films forced into hiatus include John Irvin’s “Byron”; “The Brontes,” from Gotham indie Winter Films; Bruce Beresford’s “Boswell for the Defence,” starring Michael Caine; Michael Cristofer’s “The Snow Goose,” starring Antonio Banderas; Mike Von Diem’s “Eliza Graves,” with Natalie Portman and Josh Hartnett for Icon; John Boorman’s “Knight’s Castle”; and David Mackenzie’s “Young Adam,” starring Ewan McGregor.

In most cases, key pieces of the financial jigsaw failed to come together in time. “I just don’t think you can jump the gun anymore,” says one producer. “The climate for financing is just too tough.”

Producers are scrambling to get their delayed pics back on track. David Cronenberg’s “Spider,” which started shooting last week, is one that succeeded, after being delayed by just a couple of weeks when Capitol Films stepped in to replace Cobalt Media Group.

To make matters worse, investment by the Hollywood studios, which was already sharply down in the first half of the year, has completely disappeared in the aftermath of the phantom strike threat.

Figures from the British Film Commission reveal that foreign investment in U.K. film and TV production was just £78 million ($109 million) in the first six months, down from $318 million last year.

“There isn’t a single art department working out at Shepperton Studios now,” says one veteran casting director, who herself is sitting at home after four projects fell apart that she was working on. “And that means nothing can be ready to start shooting until at least November.”

Steve Jaggs of Pinewood Studios blames much of the slowdown on a hangover from Hollywood’s pre-strike frenzy. “Studio projects were either brought forward to be finished by June 30, or delayed for some time,” he says.

But that doesn’t explain why independently financed pics are falling apart left, right and center. Each case is different, but several of the stalled projects fell victim to complex tax deals that failed to deliver. It’s also significant that none had a U.S. distribution deal in place.

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