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U.K. film biz woos H’wood

Confabhopes to strengthen partnership across pond

Touting their experience, their technical expertise and their major tax relief opportunities for the U.S., more than 65 companies representing Britain’s film services industry descended on Hollywood this past week for the inaugural U.K. Showcase.

Confab was organized with the hopes of strengthening a “great partnership” between American and British filmmakers.

Tax incentives have been an especially strong selling point in recent years for Hollywood producers, who have written off anywhere between 7% and 15% on such “sale-and-leaseback” films as “Chocolat,” “Dirty Pretty Things” and “The Magdalene Sisters.”

Other trans-Atlantic co-productions shot substantially in the U.K. include “Gladiator,” the “Tomb Raider” pics and the forthcoming “Alexander” and “Batman Begins.”

Special link to U.S.

“This great partnership that we talk about, it’s because we’re the two best, and also because we speak the same language,” said Showcase director Mike Fraser, VP of BKSTS — The Moving Image Society and cinema consultant of digital post-production house VTR. “America talks to us in English, and we talk to the rest of Europe in the same time (zone), and that’s how it works.”

Under a sale-and-leaseback transaction, a producer sells a master negative to a U.K. bank, which then leases it back to the producer for 15 years, allowing the producer to write off pic’s acquisition cost against its income in a relatively short time. The two most recent James Bond and “Harry Potter” installments were sale-and-leaseback films.

Tax relief aside, U.K. Showcase also served as a spotlight for British craftspeople to air their wares. Fraser seized upon “Harry Potter” as a prime example of multiple British visual effects houses working seamlessly on the same project.

Wednesday concluded with a panel, moderated by Daily Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos, in which experts debated the merits of digital intermediate, which allows for near-limitless color and image adjustment after lensing has finished.

‘A new Pandora’s box’

“Every time there’s a new technology, it’s a new Pandora’s box. You can’t be afraid of overdoing or abusing it,” said cinematographer Robert Primes, a champion of DI technology. “Everything can be abused. The zoom lens can be abused.”

Gaydos cited Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake,” shot on DI-friendly Super 16, as an example of a non-effects-driven film that made subtle but effective use of digital tweaking.

“When you open up the door to all this freedom in manipulating images, the danger is that you lose the authentic human experience of film,” Gaydos said. ” ‘Vera Drake’ is a movie where you don’t feel that this is anything but 1950s Islington.”

While conceding that DI can raise a film’s budget anywhere between £60,000 and £100,000 ($111,000 and $185,000) depending on its format, Fraser said the technology, which accounts for 40% of U.S. productions, will soon catch on.

“I think within five years, there’ll hardly be a film that is not digitally post-produced,” he said.

Four-day conference, which wraps today at the Renaissance Hotel at Hollywood and Highland, was presented by BKSTS with support from U.K. Film Council and U.K. Trade & Investment. It will be held biannually.

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