Can U.K. Keep Up With Demand Due to Amped-Up Incentives?

Can U.K. Keep Up With Demand

As Hollywood struggles to keep a leash on runaway production, recent tweaks to already robust U.K. film and TV tax incentives have created a boom in Blighty.

“We have an unprecedented amount
of inquiries we are dealing with,” says Adrian Wootton, chief executive of production and promotional agencies the British Film Commission and Film London.

From 2012 to 2013, movie production spending rose 7.5% to $1.81 billion, according to numbers from the British Film Institute, with 81% of the total U.K. production spending coming from films financed from outside the U.K. — mostly from the U.S. studios. These pics contributed $1.46 billion, an increase of 28% on 2012. The first half of 2014 saw U.K. spending on all films hit $1.3 billion, the highest since the first half of 2011, according to the BFI.

The boom can be traced to Britain’s attractive tax credit, which got sexier in 2013: It improved the rate of relief for larger budget pics, offering a 25% rebate of the first £20 million ($34.2 million) of qualifying U.K. expenditure, with the remainder of a budget still receiving a 20% rebate.

Additionally, it reduced the amount of minimum U.K. expenditure from 25% of a budget to 10%, making Blighty a much more attractive partner for co-productions, and allowing projects to take advantage of the country’s vfx and post sectors. Further, the government introduced a popular tax credit for high-end television and animation.

The U.K. is ranked third in the world in terms of the value of film production spending, behind the U.S. and Japan, according to research company IHS. Recent Hollywood productions shot in the U.K. include Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” at Pinewood-Shepperton; Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: Episode VII” (Pinewood); Warner Bros.’ “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “Heart of the Sea” and “Jupiter Ascending” (Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios);  Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” and musical adaptation “Into the Woods” (Pinewood). High-end TV series include Fox’s “24: Live Another Day.”

“I think we’re seeing a very buoyant industry,” says Pinewood-Shepperton’s director of strategy and communications Andrew Smith. “The current version of film tax relief has been incredibly successful. It’s easy to access, you get your money upfront, and modifications for the vfx sector are working well.”

However, says Smith, at present there is a lack of stage capacity, and this has resulted in productions being forced to book very early.

Pinewood is set to double in size after finally winning government approval for its $342 million expansion plan in June. Over the next 15 years, it will add 12 large stages, workshops and production offices — a timely boon for securing the future growth of the U.K. industry.

Wootton stresses that while the U.K. is incredibly busy, it is not full. “It’s very dependent on the size of project and how many stages a production wants,” he says. While studio projects gravitate to Pinewood-Shepperton, Leavesden, Ealing or Elstree, there is a range of smaller films shooting on location, he notes, and plenty of high-end television that can be accommodated.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time helping productions find and use non-traditional spaces such as factories and warehouses throughout the country,” Wootton explains.

Indeed, “24” was shot in the former Gillette Building in West London. The factory also was used for parts of last year’s “Red 2” shoot. “We’re looking at the schedule and timing for projects to see if we can match things, and by and large, we are fitting things in,” Wootton says.

The post-production sector has been harder pressed to keep up with demand.

According to Martin Poultney, commercial director at Goldcrest Post, scheduling particularly has been a challenge. Goldcrest has had to be more aggressive recruiting staff, which hasn’t been easy, since the post sector draws from a fairly small pool. “There are very few colorists out there, and a shortage of (recent) graduates with computer science degrees for vfx,” he says.

In addition to sheer volume, workflow changes are adding to the staffing issues in the post-production sector. “People are very reluctant to lock in pictures, and schedules seem to constantly slip and slide and move,” Poultney notes.

Wootton says the U.K.’s need to diversify and increase its production workforce is a shaping up as a long-term problem.

“We are going to need more skilled people than we have needed in a generation,” he explains. “This doesn’t look like a flash in the pan; this will take years.”

Leo Barraclough contributed to this report

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