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Britannia: behind the scenes

Druids and Ancient Britons battle it out with Roman invaders in Sky and Amazon’s big budget Britannia. Tim Dams reports

In many ways, Britannia symbolises the new era of high end drama production in the UK.

A tale of British tribes and druids uniting to resist the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD, this sword and sandals spectacular is clearly pitched at the global audience that has lapped up Game of Thrones.

A co-production between broadcaster Sky and streaming giant Amazon, it comes with the necessary big budget and high production values too, and was shot in Wales and the Czech Republic. Sky won’t reveal the exact figure, but the broadcaster bills the series as its ‘most ambitious ever.’ Amazon has US rights.

And finally, it boasts the kind of on- and off-screen talent needed to make a drama stand out on the international market – including writer Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Jerusalem), Star Wars producer Rick McCallum and actors Kelly Reilly, David Morrissey and Zoe Wannamaker.

A filmic approach
Britannia is also the first TV drama for British film producer Vertigo Films, which has dozens of features to its name including Streetdance, Monsters and Walking on Sunshine. Vertigo is just the latest in a line of film companies to produce for the small screen, a move that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago before the rise of high end television drama.

As such, says executive producer James Richardson, it was a baptism of fire for him and for Jez Butterworth, for whom Britannia is his first TV project too.

“You have no idea how much respect I have for my colleagues in the TV business,” says Richardson. “It’s the length of it. When you think it is all over, you have got the next script and episode to make and to edit. It is a relentless process.”

Richardson traces the genesis of Britannia back to a trip to the AFM (American Film Market) four years ago – a time when Netflix was on the rise and starting to disrupt the industry. “There was something in the air that said the indie film business was in a very different place, a declining space.” He and his business partner Allan Niblo decided there and then to launch a TV division.

It wasn’t just a business decision though, but a creative one too. “I had made 35 films and I felt I wasn’t getting inspired by film like I used to.” Film, he says, blossomed creatively in the 1970s. But it is rare to find films that are really surprising today, he says. “We have got this three act structure where you kind of know what is going to happen at the end of the first, second and third act.” TV drama is where the creative boundaries are being pushed now, says Richardson.

Richardson started to develop a project about the warrior queen Boudicca, which morphed into a project about the Romans, Celts and Druids – an area he felt had never been properly explored on screen. “I was pitching as a bit like Star Wars, but with ancient Britons,” he says.

At this point, he talked to Jez Butterworth (who happens to be his brother-in-law) about the project. “Jez is one of my oldest friends, and he is also married to my sister. We always said we would never work together.” But the pair started to talk about projects more seriously a few years ago. “With someone like Jez, he is so brilliant and extraordinary you kind of just have to surf with him, catch one of his crazy waves and see where you go with it. It’s incredibly exciting.”

“And he just said, I know what to do with this – it is going to be my first TV show.”

Butterworth was interested in exploring the ‘myth angle’ of ancient Britain, particularly the cultures that had been irrevocably altered by the Roman invasion, having been inspired by a book called A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong.

Britannia explores the lost world of ancient British tribes, imagining how they might have lived. But it is a freewheeling romp through the period, rather than an historical piece. The focus, stresses Richardson, is very much on story, not history. “We had a brilliant historical advisor, Jonathan Stamp, who had worked on Rome, and we asked him to tell us about the druids. He said the great thing about what you are doing – we know about 40% of what the Romans did, 20% of what the Celts did, and we know nothing about what the Druids did. You can do whatever you want.”

Richardson says that Vertigo, which has executive produced the series with Neal Street, approached Britannia as it would one of its movies. He describes Vertigo films, whether Bronson or Pudsey the Dog: The Movie, as ‘not normal, classical fare’.  “If we are making a show about Britain in 43AD, let’s make it look and feel very different and extraordinary – let’s challenge it and push it and tell a story that has scale, but not just visually. This show goes mental as it goes on – what you started watching at the beginning is totally different by the end.”

The push into television looks to be paying off for Vertigo. The company is also making new police drama Bulletproof, starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke, for Sky, together with Company Pictures. Another project is soon to be announced, adds Richardson. “There is so much opportunity and disruption in TV, which creatively is the most exciting place to be.”

Distributor Sky Vision has invested heavily in Britannia, taking international rights outside the US and UK.  Sky was marketing the drama aggressively at last month’s Mipcom programme market, with a red carpet premiere screening and a lavish beach side party for international buyers.

The scale of funding now needed for standout drama means that the risks have increased for investors like Sky Vision. “It used to be that drama advances were at best top up funding and an advance against distribution rights. Now our advances have gone from 10% of budget up to 60%,” says Jane Millichip, managing director of Sky Vision, who stresses that “managing risk” is key for distributors. “Good is no longer good enough in the drama field. Only excellence is, and that means putting in more risk funding and producing brilliant drama.”

For Millichip, however, it all starts with the writing – and the involvement of Jez Butterworth as a writer and director, making his TV debut after huge critical success in the theatre with plays like Jerusalem, was a clear attraction. The ‘common thread’ that Sky Vision looks for in dramas, she adds, is really bold, flavourful worlds and precincts. “We are creating worlds that are very confident in themselves,” she says.

The writer is also key to drawing in top acting talent. “My big attraction to a drama like Britannia is the writing,” says the show’s star, David Morrissey. “If it is someone like Jez – he and Tom (Butterworth) are like showrunners – that is a great carrot, but also a level of comfort for me.”

“You are signing up with those people. And that is where you are putting your trust, and then you as an individual can get in there and get busy as well. You want to be part of the creative team – that is important.”

The drama boom fuelled by Netflix and Amazon that has given risen to large-scale projects like Britannia is, admits Morrissey, rich in opportunity for actors.
Television, he says, has become like a “long form novel” with multiple characters and storylines unfolding over many episodes which viewers can binge watch whenever suits them.

Viewers want to watch over many series too, and this has had an effect on acting talent. “For me, the one difference compared to ten years ago is that when I come into a TV project, they are probably looking for a three year option in your contract. In America if you go and do a TV pilot, you will sign a seven year deal – that has been the case for a long time. But now in the UK that is coming in a bit, particularly for a two or three year option. Britannia is a three year option, but whether they use you for three years …but you are not surprised if it comes at you.”

Morrissey says the other attractive factor about the drama revolution for actors is that it is “creative driven”, citing shows like Narcos, Gomorrah and The Crown. “You hear people talk about the creative licence they got to make their show – and it is true of Britannia as well.”

When the Romans invade Britain in 43AD, Kerra (Kelly Reilly), daughter of the King of the Cantii, is forced to put her differences aside with arch-rival Queen Antedia (Zoe Wanamaker) to face their invaders. The Romans, led by General Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey), are determined to succeed where Julius Caesar failed and conquer this mythical land at the far edge of the Roman Empire. As tribes and Druids unite to fight the Romans, Kerra spearheads the resistance against the might of the Roman army.

Co-produced by
Sky and Amazon
Production companies
Vertigo Films, Neal Street
Created by
Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth and James Richardson
Executive producers
James Richardson, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Nicolas Brown, Jez Butterworth and Anne Thomopoulos
Rick McCallum
Jez and Tom Butterworth, Richard McBrien

Posted 19 December 2017 by Tim Dams

Report: the huge growth of the UK's studios sector

New studios are going up all over the country thanks to the boom in TV drama. Tim Dams reports on the expansion of the UK studio sector

Last month, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan confirmed his backing for a new studio in Dagenham East – the first new TV and film production studios in London for at least 25 years. The move followed publication of a study, led by the economic consultancy SQW, which confirmed that there is more than enough demand for a brand new studio in London. The next step is to find investors to back development of the 20-acre site – nine acres of which is industrial land purchased from Sainsbury’s for £12m last year.

Production figures certainly prove that demand for studio space is high. The production of high-end TV – shows that have a core expenditure of more than £1m per hour – is growing over time. In 2016, 450 scripted original shows aired on American TV, a figure that has doubled since 2010. (It is expected to be even higher in 2017). Netflix’s total spend alone on content is expected to be more than $8bn this year.

Many are choosing to shoot in the UK, attracted by the talent base, attractive tax benefit and the weak pound. The UK production spend of qualifying high-end television programmes was £726 million in 2016.

Around 65% of this expenditure comes from overseas, principally the United States, on shows such as Netflix’s The Crown and HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Studio bosses confirm that business is buoyant, with many benefitting from the rise of high end television drama – which has often made up for a collapse in lower budget film production. Elstree, is home to The Crown, Humans and Grantchester; The Crown uses three stages including George Lucas Stage 1 and the Backlot. Meanwhile, Belfast’s Titanic Studios hosts Game of Thrones, Space Studios Manchester is the base for Cold Feet and Bristol’s Bottle Yard has hosted Poldark, Trollied and Broadchurch.

The Dagenham East study found that TV and film productions typically need large, permanent studio spaces of at least 125,000 sq. ft of stages to meet their needs. But it concluded that demand is so buoyant that a number of major productions are having to be turned away.

Number 9 Films producer Stephen Woolley (Made in Dagenham, Their Finest, On Chesil Beach) said: “The UK is witnessing a real production boom for film and TV and it shows no signs of slowing, so new studio space to complement sites like 3 Mills, Pinewood and Shepperton is terrific news. When we shot Made In Dagenham we actually had to film part of it in Wales – if this site had been an option maybe we could have made the whole film in 
east London”

New studios are, of course, being developed in all corners of the UK to meet demand. In Northern Ireland, the £20m Belfast Harbour Studios project includes over 120,000 sq ft of studios, workshops and offices.
It secured its first production this summer, a Superman prequel Krypton for Syfy channel from Phantom Four in association with Warner Horizon Scripted Television.

Scotland looks set to get its first studio complex, after proposals for six sound stages on the outskirts of Edinburgh were approved this year.  The £230m Pentland Studios project will sit on a 106 acre site and offer studios ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet along with a water stage and workshop and office space.

A new studio, Wolf Studios Wales, is also being readied in Cardiff, in a deal between indie Bad Wolf and the Welsh government. Bad Wolf will film all of their upcoming shows in the studio including the series A Discovery of Witches and His Dark Materials.

There are also proposals to build more studios at Purfleet (Quartermaster Studios) and North Greenwich.

Meanwhile, existing studios are busy expanding. Pinewood recently applied for planning permission to build another three sound stages. This comes on top of the five it opened last July.

Elstree has finance and approval for a 21,000 sq ft stage on its backlot area. It also intends to build a smaller stage of approximately 11,000 sq ft.

Space Studios Manchester is in the midst of building a sixth stage, measuring 30,000 sq. ft., part of a £14m expansion plan. Leavesden Studios plans to extend facilities at its site by a quarter.

Not all TV dramas, of course, are heavy users of studios – many will be based at a studio, but will shoot on location.

Traditional studios also face competition from warehouses on industrial estates which have been adapted for filming. For example, a former council depot in Hartlepool is set to be converted into a film studio. Screen Yorkshire has converted a former aircraft hangar at Church Fenton into a studio, home to ITV hit Victoria.

Established studios stress their onsite facilities, such as art departments through to camera and lighting hire.  They are also air-conditioned and acoustically treated.

The studio building boom is predominantly focused on sound stages for drama and film, where record growth is taking place. By comparison, fully equipped TV studios – with galleries and shiny floors – are finding business more challenging. They may be busy, but many TV studio execs say that budgets for TV shows remain under pressure (although production aspirations are higher than ever) with studios taking a hit.

At the same time, running a TV studio is expensive; the cost of upgrading them to ever higher technical standards continues to rise.  Television studios say they are having to squeeze in ever more shows and to work harder to make a decent return.

Many well known TV studios, like Fountain and Teddington, have closed after being sold to property developers – an indication that its owners think they can make more money elsewhere. The London Studios also closes next year when ITV redevelops the space.

The plans for a new studio in Dagenham are welcomed by producers because they address a real shortfall of studio space in the UK’s creative hub, London.  However, it is difficult to build new studios in the capital – the demand for housing land in particular is intense, constraining new supply. 
The authors of the report on building the Dagenham studio called it “a rare chance to build a world-class film studio within the boundaries of Greater London. It would support the long-term success of the UK’s booming film and TV production industries while also contributing to the ongoing regeneration of east London and the Thames estuary.”

It concluded that a studio with at least 125,000 sq. ft of stages at Dagenham could generate around 780 full time equivalent jobs and £35m of gross value added (GVA) per year for the economy.
The report concluded that some industry execs believe Dagenham might be a ‘hard sell’, given its distance from the west London heart of the London film business. The report also said that the social aspects of the area, such as its retail and leisure offer and its public realm, will need further thought as part of wider regeneration plans if it is to appeal to such workers. Other challenges need tackling too, not least a noisy railway line running along its southern boundary.

That said, there is strong political support for the project, plus the transport links are good too. The Dagenham studio would also be part of a regional film/TV cluster that included existing studios, such as 3 Mills and Maidstone, and proposed ones at Purfleet (Quartermaster Studios) and North Greenwich.

More importantly, there is the question of demand. Film London estimates that over the past two years the UK has lost between five and ten major productions due to a lack of large-scale (i.e. 125,000 sq ft-plus) studio space. It estimates that a new facility in Dagenham could accommodate anything between three and five of these projects per year.

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission, said: “This is a golden era for London’s screen industries, and the city’s success helps drive growth in film and TV production across the UK as a whole. However, such success brings its own challenges, and if we’re to maintain our position then we need to make sure we can continue to remain competitive and meet global demand.”

3 Mills

Set amid period buildings on an island in East London, 3 Mills has been busy thanks to high-end TV drama from the US and the UK. It also attracts animation features, plus theatre rehearsals. Facilities 9 filming stages (3,219 sq ft to 13,483 sq ft); 11 rehearsal spaces; production offices,62 seat screening room; make up, dressing and costume rooms; workshops  Credits The Royals (E!), Guilt (ABC), Jekyll & Hyde (ITV)

Bottle Yard

Series four of Poldark is now in production at Bristol’s Bottle Yard, which also recently hosted BBC4’s Eric, Ernie & Me. They add to a raft of dramas which have shot at the studios in the past year.  Facilities Eight stages from 7,000 – 22,000 sq ft; min height 27 ft, max 70 ft; green screen; back lot; costume & make up rooms; offices. Credits Broadchurch (ITV); Ill Behaviour (BBC2); Poldark, (BBC); The White Princess (Starz)

Ealing Studios

Ealing opened for business in 1902 and has been in use ever since - most recently with dramas like The Durrells and Taboo. Stage two was built in 1931 and is a classic sound stage, while stages 3A and 3B can combine into an 11,900 sq ft space. Facilities Five stages, ranging from 924 - 11,900 sq ft; wardrobes, dressing rooms, hair and make up rooms, prop stores,  workshops & office space. Credits The Durrells (ITV), Taboo (BBC1)


Elstree is popular because of its close proximity to London and because two of its stages are some of the biggest in the UK. Facilities Seven film and TV stages. Its two biggest stages are 15,770 sq ft each, and 50ft high. Studios have production galleries, wardrobe, make-up and dressing rooms. Credits The Crown (Netflix), Grantchester (ITV), Humans (C4)

Pinewood Group
Iver Heath

Pinewood now has 40 film and TV stages across three sites: Pinewood, Shepperton and Cardiff. Five new stages opened last July at Pinewood. Facilities 40 film and TV stages; digital and post services; three dedicated TV studios; water facilities; sets and props. Credits When Bowie Met Bolan (Sky Arts) The Collection (Amazon); The Child in Time (BBC1)

Space Studios

A purpose built production stage complex, Space Studios Manchester is investing £14m to expand. A new 30,000 sq ft sound stage opens by the end of the year. Facilities Five stages (9,000-11,000 sq ft); dressing and make up facilities; laundry; prop storage; workshops; offices; canteen. Credits Cold Feet (ITV); The A Word (BBC1)


Best known for hosting Game of Thrones, Titantic Studios is based on the site of a former shipyard in Belfast. Facilities The Paint Hall - four 16,000 sq ft “cells” set out in a square and connected by an internal road and streets. The Hurst and MacQuitty stages comprise two 21,000 sq ft spaces with an eaves height of 43ft Credits Game of Thrones (HB0)


With a good location, a boutique atmosphere and excellent facilities, Twickenham is a popular home for UK indie features and high-end TV drama. Facilities Three sound stages; three Dolby Atmos sound mixing theatres; one Foley/ADR theatre; 2K/4K Baselight theatrical and TV grading facility.Credits Black Mirror (Netflix), Howard’s End (BBC2), Josh (BBC3), Hold the Sunset (BBC1)

Warner Bros

Originally a WWII aircraft factory, Leavesden began a new life as a film studio in 1994 – going on to be the base for all eight Harry Potter films. Warner Bros bought the studios in 2010 and has invested heavily since. Facilities 13 sound stages; 100 acre clear horizon backlot; external water tank and indoor heated water tank; offices, dressing room, workshops, mill. Credits Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Wonder Woman, Justice League; The Conjuring 2

Wimbledon Studios

Wimbledon offers two stages close to central London. It’s also home to a purpose built, permanent exterior street set which has terraced housing, a fully dressed pub, shop and takeaways. Facilities Two sound stages: Studio 1 is 7,000 sq ft, Studio 2 is over 8,000 sq ft; office suites; workshops; costume facilities; dressing rooms; hair and make up facilities. Credits Bad Education (C4), Drifters (E4), Cuckoo (BBC3)

Posted 14 December 2017 by Tim Dams

Focus 2017 report: the impact of the global production boom

From high-end TV dramas such as The Night Manager, The Crown and Game of Thrones to big budget movies such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Justice League, there has been a well-documented boom in international production in recent years.

Money has poured into film and TV production, with tech giants such as Netflix and Amazon backing lavish shows that are shot all over the world.  It’s not just scripted content though; video production of all kinds is on the up, whether factual TV, commercials or branded content, as consumers around the world embrace new ways of viewing content on mobile platforms. Demand for talent and crew as well as production services and facilities has shot up as result.

The impact of this global production boom was the big talking point at FOCUS 2017, the annual show for the creative screen industries held at the Business Design Centre in London (December 5&6) which has Televisual as a media partner.

Exhibitors at the show included film commissions, location providers, service companies and production technology outfits from over 60 countries. They were all there to tap into this production boom, looking to attract the interest of hundreds of attendees, such as producers, directors, location managers, unit managers, financiers and writers for films, TV, commercials and branded content. (Delegates this year included Spectre executive producer Callum McDougall and Star Wars: The Last Jedi supervising location manager Martin Joy).

One of the reasons so many exhibitors from around the world were there is that the rewards for attracting a high profile project are greater than ever in this era of big budget production. Securing a location shoot for a show like Game of Thrones, with its reported budget of $10m an episode, is a major prize, and can significantly boost a local economy, providing spillover employment and spend throughout a region.

All this explains why there was, for example, a large contingent of Sri Lankan companies at the show. One of them, production service outfit Asian Film Location Services, was keen to explain the merits of shooting in a film-friendly country that in the past hosted features such as The Bridge of the River Kwai or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but lost out as a result of the Civil War which finally ended in 2009. “We’re now going out to tell the world that Sri Lanka is operating as normal,” says director Jayantha Jayatilaka.

So too was Uganda’s Talking Film Productions, which has worked on features such as Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe and Marvel Studio’s upcoming Black Panther. Derrick Kibisi’s company offers a full range of services from securing locations to casting and moving gear in and out of the country. For a long time, Uganda was known as Idi Amin country, he explains. But that’s changing, and more productions are drawn by Uganda’s landscape, security, good weather, friendly people and competitive prices. “The only thing it lacks is incentives, but it is still the cheapest place to shoot in East Africa.”

Even Film LA, based right at the heart of the global film industry, was at FOCUS. The Los Angeles region is vying to win back many of the Hollywood films that shoot outside the state, attracted by generous government incentives and cheaper labour rates. “We’re here to let people know that California is competitive again,” says Film LA’s Paul Audley, citing its tax credit and a single shooting permit that covers 20 cities in the state. It’s Audley’s third year at FOCUS; in his first year he says he attracted a $30m film to Los Angeles. “It’s my only foray into Europe and a good place to be and to meet people.”

Other stands showed off the latest in new production technology from around the world, explaining how they can help film-makers. Netherlands-based WeMakeVR was at the show, displaying its virtual reality experiences. VR, says lead producer Diede Bron, is great for showing locations, saving on travel costs. Because it is seen as so cutting edge, VR is also gaining popularity for commercial shoots, for brands such as Tommy Hilfiger.

There were plenty of financial and tech companies at FOCUS too, offering clever solutions to help make productions more efficient. Fair FX, for example, is an expenses management platform; it allows productions to hand out pre-paid debit cards to travelling cast and crew, instead of cash. “It’s the most cost effective way of doing expenses,” says chief commercial officer James Hickman.  Tripgrid, meanwhile, uses technology to help productions to organise complex international travel schedules. “It means you never need get a call from a crew member saying, ‘Help, what time is my flight?” explains Tripgrid’s Bartek Podkowa.

There was also a strong UK presence at FOCUS, with companies selling specialist services to the film and TV industry such as logistics, security, legal advice and travel expenses management through to locations, temporary studios, drone filming and lighting gear.

Many of them agreed that the industry is enjoying a purple patch, and that they have benefitted as a result. Tony Scott, operations director of logistics provider Dynamic International, says it’s the busiest period in his company’s 30-year history. It sent out a convoy of 56 vehicles to Tenerife for the movie Jason Bourne. It has also been shipping and arranging customs clearance for kit and equipment for the last six seasons of Game of Thrones, which shoots in Northern Ireland, Croatia, Iceland, Morocco and Spain. “It’s a boom period,” says Scott, citing the rise of the streaming platforms and explaining that terrestrial channels have upped their game too as a result.

The boom has also rippled through to companies such as Above the Line, which offers security for film and TV productions in studios and on location. The company had 150 security guards a day working on Jurassic World. Its offer extends from traffic management through to terrorist training management control. “It’s very busy because there are so many films coming over here,” says Above the Line’s Lamorna O’Toole. “And next year is shaping up to be very good too,” she adds, citing features such as the next Star Wars. 

The pros and cons of this boom was explored in depth at FOCUS’s programme of seminars and keynotes.

Many of the speakers acknowledged that TV appears to be supplanting film, once considered the highest of the screen artforms. Producer Robert Jones (The Usual Suspects, Dirty Pretty Things, Babylon) said: “TV has matured and developed in a way that is easily comparable to film in terms of its scope and ambition and its production values. It represents an enormous creative playground and challenge.” Writer/producer Dominic Minghella (Knightfall, Doc Martin) added: “Great movie talent is moving into television, and the distinction between film and TV is becoming blurred.” It was a point picked up by David Shepherd, the director of the Vancouver Film Commission: “Feature film was the Holy Grail, but that has now flipped. Now high end TV is the bedrock of the industry. For us, it is all about building the crews and multiplying the resources to take care of what they need.”

All were quick to acknowledge that demand for content is booming. “There is an absolute insatiable demand for content which doesn’t seem to be waning at all, as more and more platforms are opening up,” noted agent Elaine Steel.

As a result, there are more opportunities for producers to create and sell new projects to a host of new buyers, such as Apple, Facebook, Hulu and YouTube Red. Some even acknowledged that they were struggling to keep up with demand. Einar Sveinn Thordarson, partner at Icelandic production services outfit Pegasus Pictures, has worked on shows such as Game of Thrones and Fortitude in recent years. Citing Iceland’s population of 320,000, he said that if more than three big TV projects shot in the country, “we are depleted.”

But competition has intensified as more companies look to tap into the production boom, with many film indies pushing into the TV market. Scott Free Films executive producer Carlo Dusi said the TV drama boom had pushed up prices for crew, talent and facilities, making it harder to produce independent films. Many speakers warned that the boom was only benefiting top level talent, particularly writers, stars and showrunners, whose names can help sell a project in such a crowded marketplace.  Others feared that big scale projects were drowning out innovative, local dramas which struggle to stand out. “I feel like everyone has been hunting for projects like The Night Manager as far as UK broadcasters are concerned,” noted Katie Spence (Peaky Blinders, Luther), the managing director of Fifty Fathoms.  Nicolas Brown, the director of film and TV at Neal Street Productions (Penny Dreadful, The Hollow Crown) added that very few shows are now made for a budget of less than £1m an hour.

There was also an undercurrent of fear that the tech giants are slowly but surely disrupting local broadcast ecologies with their big spending ways. “Eventually they will commission direct and own everything. The UK is in grave danger of becoming a service industry for them,” said agent Elaine Steel.

Other speakers stressed that the content boom isn’t just confined to film and TV. Lindsey Clay, the chief executive of TV advertising body ThinkboxUK, noted that TV advertising revenues had increased in each of the seven years leading up to Brexit, when growth had ground to a halt.  But the outlook for next year is more positive, she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic for 2018,” said Clay. Meanwhile, Steve Garvey, the founder of Moving Image, talked about the growing demand for corporate film and branded video in recent years.

This content boom has, however, revealed shortcomings in the skill bases in lots of countries, with many productions struggling to find experienced and trained  crew. Rob Alcock, head of training at the BBC Academy, cited key skills shortages in four specific areas: digital, production leaders such as executive producers, craft based skills and broadcast engineering. “This is an industry marred by dependency on short term contracts, which impacts on training,” said Alcock. “Where in the system is the time and money being spent on training people?”

His point was picked up by Magnus Temple, chief executive of The Garden (24 Hours in A&E), who said that attracting and retaining talented staff is a major challenge for his TV indie. “Rarely a day goes by without some conversation about retraining or developing talent.”

The chief executive of Directors UK, Andrew Chowns, said the film and TV employment market is malfunctioning, citing long hours, job insecurity and lack of diversity. The industry, he said, was fortunate to be trying to deal with this during a boom time. “Every studio, warehouse and airbase is full – demand is exceeding supply,” he said. Despite this, hirers were reluctant to move out of the circle of people they trust to search for new talent. “There is a lack of confidence in trying people who are new or unfamiliar.”

Inevitably, Brexit was also a key talking point, although views were split on what it means for production.

Dan Films producer Julie Baines said that all producers are desperately worried about Brexit. “It impacts right across the board, from development through to distribution.” Others, however, said Brexit had not affected business – yet. Rob Stapledon, director commercial banking at Arbuthnot Latham & Co, who acts for many media companies, said: “From my perspective, in all honesty, I haven’t seen that much impact to my UK clients. Everybody has just been getting on with it.” Ben Barrett, the joint managing director of programme funding outfit Drive, said “Day to day, we’re not seeing any differences.”

Looking ahead, though, there was concern from many producers that Brexit would affect the free movement of people and the ability of the UK to attract talent from Europe to work on projects.
This is rightly a worry for the British industry, and one that is made all the more stark at a show like FOCUS where so many countries and companies compete to attract footloose, big-spending international productions.

Posted 14 December 2017 by Tim Dams
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