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Top U.K. Producers Discuss How Upcoming European Union Vote Will Affect Future Projects

On June 23, the U.K. will hold a referendum to decide if it remains a member of the European Union. Polls show the result is too close to call. Those in favor of staying believe Britain is stronger economically and more secure as part of the E.U.; those who want to leave think the U.K. needs to wrestle back sovereignty over its borders and laws.

The British film and TV industries overwhelmingly support staying with the E.U.; a poll of members of the producers’ body PACT found that 85% intend to vote “Remain,” while a poll of the Creative Industries Federation, which represents people working in TV, film, architecture, fashion, design, and other fields, was 96% in favor of staying.

Variety asked some top producers to discuss how the result will affect them.

Pippa Harris

“From our point of view, it’s a no-brainer to remain in Europe. ‘Penny Dreadful’ is a quintessential example of what it means to be able to collaborate across borders in Europe. We developed the show [in London], but we [shot] it in Dublin, with many Europeans alongside our British cast and crew.

“When you went on the set of that show, it felt like the best possible example of what European cultural collaboration is all about, which is being able to move freely around Europe, to work with the people you want to work with, and create exceptional television. … I know the people in film and theater would say the same.”

Pippa Harris is executive producer of Showtime’s just-ended “Penny Dreadful” and the BAFTA-winning “Call the Midwife,” and chair of BAFTA’s film committee. She is Sam Mendes’
business partner.

Stephen Garrett

“Leaving the E.U. would be fairly catastrophic for the creative industries in Britain in general, and for film and TV in particular. It would be a hugely retrograde step at a time when our membership of the E.U. entails almost entirely beneficial consequences.

“On the TV side of the business, there are stringent quotas for European content, which as E.U. members we qualify for. If that door suddenly shuts and the material we make no longer qualifies as part of the European quota, the most important market for British content outside of the U.S. just disappears at a stroke.”

Stephen Garrett is an executive producer on the BBC/AMC spy drama “The Night Manager.” He’s also developing the supernatural series “The Rook” for Hulu with Lionsgate and “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer’s Fickle Fish Films.

Jane Tranter

“For the majority of the world, when they think about coming to work in the U.K., they like it because it is part of Europe.

“If the U.K. is going to become disassociated with [Europe], it will be a big turnoff for a lot of the American investors, and it will make the U.K. feel out on a limb, an isolated island, while the rest of Europe continues to work well together to create great crew supply, great studios, and all of those support systems that go into making a production. Our productions in turn will become smaller and less ambitious, as Europe joins together to gain strength through collaboration and some attractive production grants.

“To be balanced about it, there would be an advantage — I look for the silver lining in everything — if we were to leave. We would no longer have State Aid rules [which govern how national authorities spend E.U. funds and on whom], and that would empower us to be able to deal more directly with the U.S., and to work with the public sector in a slightly different way. And I guess that ties in with the idea that ‘wouldn’t it be great to leave because we could all be free to do whatever we wanted.’ But I think the arguments for ‘Remain’ are much more … nuanced. They are subtler and much more cultural.”

Jane Tranter is producing the BBC/New Line Cinema TV series “His Dark Materials.” As a BBC senior executive, her credits included “Doctor Who” and “Da Vinci’s Demons.”  

David Heyman

“It won’t affect, I suspect, American films coming here, but it will have an adverse effect on international movies and TV dramas being made in this country, and also affect our ability to make them in the rest of Europe.

“One of the reasons the U.K. attracts such a tremendous amount of VFX work from the U.S. and beyond … is because of the quality of people we have working here, and some of those people are non-U.K. E.U. members. Not only do such artists help attract the work (which benefits the U.K. workers) and bring their tremendous talent to the productions, but they also transfer their training and skills to young homegrown animators.

“You could say these positions could be filled by British people — well, no. There would simply be a hole in the talent pool.”

David Heyman is the producer of the Harry Potter movies, “Gravity,” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Jeremy Thomas

“I’ve made films in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia. I’m very much an internationalist. I always have been. It’s the way I look at the world. I don’t look at Britain in isolation. I love being British, I love being European, and I love being a world citizen.

“Producers don’t flourish without co-productions in Europe. There will be a realignment of all of the co-production treaties if Britain leaves the E.U., as well as the reintroduction of [trade barriers] like withholding taxes and customs duties. It will make everything more difficult. Working with multinational crews, as I have done since the 1970s — it became much easier when Europe became integrated.”

Jeremy Thomas has been an independent film producer since the 1970s, most recently of “High-Rise.” He won an Oscar in 1988 for “The Last Emperor.” 

Rebecca O’Brien

“From a personal point of view, I think it would be really dangerous and an extremely bad idea…. The value of being part of Europe is untold when it comes to the work that I do, and I’m very much dependent on our European partners. That’s not to say that work would stop, but in lots of ways it would begin to make our lives much more difficult.

“When we’re not seeking to finance 100% from the U.K., we have to look to Europe and if that option becomes more difficult, then we have just shot ourselves in the foot, haven’t we?”

Rebecca O’Brien is the producer of Ken Loach’s films, including this year’s Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake.”

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