LONDON — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has just finished shooting at Pinewood Studios, and the next “Star Wars” pic is already booked in to shoot at Pinewood as well, Ivan Dunleavy, CEO of U.K. production facilities company Pinewood Shepperton, said Monday.
Dunleavy called on the assistance of R2D2 to get his point across during a speech today at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry, which represents employers from across all sections of the British economy.
As he began his speech Dunleavy, whose main studios facility, Pinewood, is the production base for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” called R2D2 onto the stage. “Don’t be bashful now. You’ve dealt with much scarier crowds than this one…,” said Dunleavy. R2D2, bleeping, then brought Dunleavy’s script on stage.
Dunleavy went on to explain that “the showbiz side of filmmaking occupies a very small part of my time at the Pinewood group.” He added: “In fact what’s really interesting about Pinewood is that when you brush away the stardust, what you find underneath is essentially a manufacturing business. But quite a special manufacturing business.”
He said that the film business “lies at the heart of one of the fastest-growing industrial sectors that the U.K. possesses.” That sector was the creative industries, he said, which as well as film and TV, included things like advertising, fashion design, music, the performing arts and computer software.
He said that the creative industries are worth over £70 billion ($111 billion) a year to the U.K. economy, according to the government. The sector employs over 2 million people, he said, and has continued to grow right the way through the financial crisis. He added that it’s now growing much faster than any other part of the U.K. economy — up by nearly 10% in 2012.
He said the U.K.’s film business lies at the heart of the creative industries because “we buy in skills and services from pretty much every other part of the creative industry. Performing arts, obviously. But also music, design, software-engineering and so on,” he said.
He emphasized the close relationship between film and television, “swapping ideas, people and skills,” and added that the films the U.K. makes “drive very significant revenues when shown on TV.”
The U.K. film industry directly contributes £1.6 billion ($2.54 billion) to the national GDP, and generates around 44,000 fulltime equivalent jobs – more than the fund management business or in pharmaceutical manufacturing, he said, quoting research undertaken by Oxford Economics.
He said you could also add in the “multiplier impacts from film industry procurement,” and there were also the wider impacts on culture, tourism, trade and merchandising.
“When you do that, the jobs figure rises to more than 117,000 full-time equivalents. And the contribution to GDP goes up to £4.6 billion ($7.3 billion),” he said.
“When you think of the film business you may think of glamour, red carpets, and stars,” he said, but that for “every star who comes through the gates at Pinewood… there are, literally, hundreds of people working long hours to produce world-class content.”
He added that the new Bond movie will shoot soon at Pinewood.
“One of the signature things about Bond movies is that they don’t use much CGI. What you see in Bond is not the result of the coding expertise of software engineers. What you see is what actually gets built in the vast 007 stage at Pinewood. And what gets built there is huge,” Dunleavy said.
“And that means lots of jobs for plasterers and painters and carpenters and electricians and riggers.
There were more than a thousand crew on ‘Skyfall.’ That’s bigger than an army regiment and explains why the credits include 16 separate people just looking after transport logistics,” he said.
He added that Kenneth Branagh recently finished filming “Cinderella” at Pinewood.
“In the movie, there’s a scene with an array of wicker baskets. Now you could just nip down to IKEA – who do a very nice line in wicker baskets. But somehow they wouldn’t quite fit the fairytale feel the designer wanted. In the end they were hand-crafted by British basket-weavers,” he said.
“Who would have thought that the British film industry would be helping to drive sales for the basket-weavers of the West Country?”
He also spoke about the high-end CGI and VFX available to filmmakers in the U.K., referencing “Gravity,” which was mostly shot at Shepperton studios.
“This underlines the fact that the U.K. film industry isn’t just living on the artistic and craft skills that underpinned its past glories. It has also built new skills that put it right out there on the leading edge of the new digital economies — making the film business a serious player in the U.K.’s ambition to be at the heart of global digital technologies,” he said.
Dunleavy also spoke about the difference that tax incentives had made to the U.K. film business, but added they “generated a big pay back.” For every £1 ($1.59) the industry gets in tax credits from the government, the film biz created £12 ($19.1) in the economy, he said.
He welcomed the extension of the tax incentives to U.K. animation, video-games and high-end TV drama.
He went on to speak about the contribution the film biz made to the net U.K. trade position.
“In 2010 – the last year we have figures for – exports from the core U.K. film industry were more than £2 billion ($3.18 billion), and the net contribution to the U.K. balance of payments was more than £1.5 billion ($2.38 billion). I fully expect those figures to rise at the next count,” he said.
According to Oxford Economics, films depicting the U.K. contribute to 10% of the U.K.’s revenues from overseas tourism, he said.
He added that there were constraints to further growth in the film biz, such as a potential skills shortage.
“My own reckoning is that in 18 months this skills shortage will be upon us. And it’s right across the skills range — from craft skills right through to high-end digital skills,” he said.
“Now we’re not sitting at Pinewood wringing our hands about this. We’re doing lots of things to deal with this issue ourselves,” he said, and went on to speak about the apprenticeship schemes and educational programs that the company supported.
He urged the CBI to “press government to do more to support many different kinds of training and apprenticeships – practical business skills.”
He also called on more effective action by the government in the promotion of exports.
“We need to ramp up the effort if we’re to turn that opportunity into something tangible that will allow us to sell more U.K. movies into the fast growing markets like China and other new economies,” he said.
Summing up, he called R2D2 back to the stage. He said R2D2 was built in the U.K. 37 years ago. “Since then he’s spent a lot of his life in foreign studios. But now he’s back home. The seventh ‘Star Wars’ movie just finished shooting – at Pinewood. And I’m delighted to be able to tell you that a new ‘Star Wars’ movie is already booked in,” he said.
“If we want to keep R2D2 and his friends here, then we need to see sustained government action to keep U.K. film a thriving and fast-growing industry, an industry to do Britain proud.”