Brit bizzers confab on U.K. creative industries

Howard Stringer urges 'risk-taking' at Global Business Summit

Sony board chairman Howard Stringer, fashion designer Stella McCartney, “War Horse” author Michael Morpurgo and “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes were among heavyweight speakers assembled by the U.K. government at a conference Tuesday in London to promote Britain’s creative industries.

The Global Business Summit on Creative Content is part of a series of events designed to use the Olympic spotlight to attract investment into the U.K.

Panelists representing the film industry also included Working Title co-chairmen Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Bond producer Michael Wilson, “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman along with actor Rupert Grint and Warner U.K. topper Josh Berger, and Pinewood chief exec Ivan Dunleavy.

In a speech on commercializing creativity, Stringer called for the U.K. to understand “the importance of encouraging a culture of risk-taking.”

He also emphasized the need for a robust system to protect intellectual property, not just to benefit the creative industries but also the technology sector. “A pound lost in copyright infringement is a pound not available to invest in the next energy-efficient car battery,” he said. He called for more effort to promote the development of technology, and especially engineering skills.

But he also warned against allowing commercial pressures to erode culture, noting that when he was a producer at CBS in the 1960s, the network made 20 primetime documentaries a year, but that number today has dwindled to one. He suggested that the existence of British institutions such as the BBC and the West End stage act as an important bulwark to protect creativity.

Wilson presented the latest trailer for “Skyfall,” and enumerated the pros and cons of working in Blighty. The pros include: the rule of law, the tax credit, the English language, the talent and technicians, the post-production facilities and the studios. The cons are the cost, the weather and the exchange rate risk.

Bevan and Fellner discussed the advantages of being based in Blighty.

Fellner said: “We tried to turn being in the U.K. into a positive thing not a negative thing, in the beginning it was all about Hollywood. It’s actually a fantastic thing to be here in the U.K., it’s good to look east, not always be looking west.”

Commenting on the evolution of the business, Bevan said, “Distribution was absolutely king 25 years ago, now the balance has shifted. Access to distribution is easy, it’s the access to creative quality, or even to financing creative quality, that’s rare.”

McCartney was one of several speakers who referred to the close proximity of the U.K.’s various creative sectors to each other, and the collaboration between them, as one of the greatest factors in the country’s success.

Morpurgo described the haphazard and fortuitous series of chances that led to his book “War Horse” being turned into a play at the National Theater, and then into a film by Steven Spielberg. “I love the film for what it does to people who see it,” he commented, adding with a laugh, “Neither the film, nor the play, is as good as the book!”

U.K. culture secretary Jeremy Hunt went out of his way to commend the importance of state subsidy as the foundation for the success of the U.K.’s creative industries.

“The thing that’s special about the U.K. is the interaction between the subsidized arts sector and the commercial creative industries,” he noted. The commercial success, he said, was only possible “from having a foundation in a very strong cultural sector.”