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More articles from Scout & About: U.K.
Transfer of power in the U.K. | Snaring the Hollywood money | Educating Eastwood on mighty Blighty | Soho hothouse

Britain is still open for business. That’s the message the folks charged with enticing foreign producers to Blighty have been drumming ever since the shock abolition of the U.K. Film Council was announced in July.

The UKFC houses the British Film Commission and qualifies films for tax credits, which are worth up to 20% of U.K. expenditure for projects costing under $32 million and up to 16% for bigger ones.

No wonder the news of its demise caused a ripple of alarm in Los Angeles. In recent years, the U.K. has become Hollywood’s offshore platform of choice for shooting blockbuster projects, thanks to its tax credits, infrastructure, crews and talent base, cultural familiarity and newly favorable exchange rate.

But there’s nothing studio decision-makers hate more than local instability when choosing where to base a $200 million shoot. Reliability has always been Blighty’s trump card, compared to other foreign locations, which might appear cheaper on paper. Thus any hiatus in the service offered to incoming productions could be very damaging.

“For us, the important thing is continuity,” says British film commissioner Colin Brown.

Clint Eastwood, who recently shot “Hereafter” in London, and execs at DreamWorks, making Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” were among those who raised their voice in concern. One Hollywood exec wrote to the U.K. government asking if the tax credit was safe, and received a phone call from culture minister Ed Vaizey to reassure him — and to inquire whether the UKFC had solicited his letter as part of a campaign to save its own skin.

But amid all this fuss, the big projects have continued to come into Britain — so far. Studios are heavily booked through to the middle of next year.

“We’re not just open for business, we’re actually stuffed full with business,” says Adrian Wootton, chief exec of Film London. “I can’t think of a case where somebody hasn’t come into the U.K. because of the uncertainty.

“People all over the world have asked questions, and we’ve been having to combat misinformation. We’ve had to go out very actively with our colleagues at the British Film Commission and say that it’s business as usual, the tax credit is still there, the function of the BFC and tax certification will be retained.”

Plans are underway to transfer these key functions to other existing bodies, such as Film London and the British Film Institute. But it’s likely the BFC in its new guise will have to take a cut in its relatively modest $1.3 million annual budget. Film London and the BFI are also facing reduced public funding.

Budget cuts have already hit the U.K.’s regional screen agencies, which provide location services. One, Screen East, went bust; another, Vision+Media, cut its working hours. Talks are underway to reorganize the nine English agencies into three larger bodies — one for the South, one for the Midlands and one for the North — to achieve more efficiency.

In the key London region, where studios such as Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesden, Elstree and Longcross provide the base for the vast majority of film production, Film London and Screen South have already pooled their efforts to deal with incoming projects.

It’s a time of transition. But the value of inward investment is so great that all concerned are determined that foreign producers will notice the impact as little as possible.