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Film and TV Production Continues to Boom in the U.K.

An enhanced incentive and a dropping currency make Britain a highly appealing destination for Hollywood

Since the U.K.’s 25% tax credit was extended to include bigger-budget TV series in 2013, the country has become a production hotspot. At Focus, an event for production professionals that takes place Dec. 5-6 in London, U.K. participants will debate some of the issues involved in servicing the flood of mainly U.S.-financed shoots.

“We’ve got this perfect storm now with the tax relief having been delivering consistently for some years,” says Samantha Perahia, head of production U.K. at the British Film Commission. “The impact [of the extension of the tax credit to television] has been enormous.”

The influx of U.S. production has increased considerably since the Brexit vote, which led to a huge drop in the value of the pound. “We’ve seen our enquiries increase massively from our American clients, and that’s our main client base. It has been ridiculously busy,” Perahia says.

“Trying to bring a big production into Central London now is very difficult, because of the logistics, the lack of space and parking,” says producer and location manager David Broder, whose recent credits include Woody Harrelson’s “Lost in London.”

Traditionally U.S. movie productions have based themselves in or close to London, where most of the major studios are to be found, but the influx of big-budget TV shows, including “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander,” has encouraged series to locate themselves in different corners of the U.K. This in turn has spurred the development of regional production hubs, with new studios being constructed and local crew bases being established.

“The thing that has changed predominantly since 2013 is that [high-end drama] has opened up the whole of the U.K.,” Perahia says.

“People have looked to expand outwards,” says Broder. “I’ve shot in Wales recently and it is much easier; it is half the price, generally, of shooting in or around London. And the crews are there now; that is the difference with five or 10 years ago. It is a lot more cost-effective.”

Harriet Lawrence, a location manager whose recent credits include “My Cousin Rachel” (pictured above) and the 2018 release “Entebbe,” says one challenge is what producers expect can be turned around in the time available.

“Productions are generally getting bigger and probably slightly more demanding of what the location department can do. Our remit has grown, too, and there are more and more regulations [concerning issues like planning and the environment] that we have to comply with,” she says.

Lawrence underscores how helpful it can be to be involved with a production at the budgeting stage, as happened on “Suffragette,” on which she was attached six months before it was greenlit, looking for key locations. “It is immensely valuable to a production to know where you are going to shoot,” she says.

Producers are increasingly enhancing locations with visual effects, and the location manager and vfx supervisor often work closely together. “Rather than it being a separate entity that comes later, [the vfx department] is now involved at the start of production, and you work through it with them,” says Broder, who worked on Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG.”

Lawrence adds that nowadays she frequently has conversations with the vfx supervisor before the film starts shooting. “As the cost of effects has come down it means productions can use it more and more. For a period film, 15-20 years ago we would have had to have every bit of modern paraphernalia removed from the street, whereas now we can work with visual effects and they can deal with such aspects effectively and inexpensively. And it has become easier for them to drop an epic landscape to replace something more mundane.”

On period drama “My Cousin Rachel,” starring Rachel Weisz, the bulk of the action was shot at a 16th-century house near London, hundreds of miles from the sea. However, in the film the house appears to be close to the coast, which was done by placing bluescreens at the end of the garden. The vfx team was able to add the sea in post.

“We can now create amazing landscapes and situations that are a director’s dream,” Lawrence says.

My Cousin RachelA bluescreen allowed the vfx team to add a sea view behind the 16th-century house featured in ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (Photo: Courtesy of Harriet Lawrence)

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