On the eve of this weekend’s Oscar ceremony, there is a genuine sense of optimism about the British film industry.
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The business has, after all, come into the year firmly on the front foot. 2011 is acknowledged as the most successful year in over two decades for British film at the box office. Oscar winner The King’s Speech is the highest grossing independent British film of all time, earning £47.5m in UK cinemas and £266m worldwide. The Inbetweeners was a close second with UK theatrical revenues of £45m.
Inward investment filmmaking also remains strong, with the UK’s favourable exchange rate and the strength of its talent, facilities, locations and post production skills drawing in US studio shoots such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity starring George Clooney, Keanu Reeves starrer 47 Ronin as well as Snow White and The Huntsmen, Dark Shadows and World War Z.
There’s also a number of big UK features in the pipeline. After a four year hiatus, the latest Bond film, Skyfall, is in production. Working Title is readying a third Bridget Jones movie and has just shot Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley. Meanwhile, Mike Newell has been filming Great Expectations, and Dustin Hoffman has directed his first film here, The Quartet, for BBC Films. Other anticipated UK films this year include Aardman’s next The Pirates! as well as Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and sequel Streetdance 2. The BFI says it has invested £13.2m in 20 British productions since April last year.
British films, such as The Iron Lady and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, are also generating strong awards buzz ahead of the Oscars. And nine new British features, plus 11 shorts, premiered at last month¹s Sundance Film Festival.
“I am feeling positive about 2012,” says Framestore boss William Sargent, reflecting on the range of films being made in the UK. “People are feeling quite buoyant,” acknowledges Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission.
Despite the economic slowdown, producers are also hopeful that 2012 will see investment flow into the film industry. Crucially, the government announced in November that the film tax credit scheme will extend to 2015. The move was welcomed by the film industry, which credits the scheme with helping attract inward investment films and local features since its launch in 2006.
“I can’t tell you how valuable that is,” says the head of BBC Films, Christine Langan. “The news about the tax credit alone is fantastic.”
Changes to the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) also come into play in April, which are expected to encourage private individuals to put more money into films. The amount that companies will be eligible to receive through the scheme which can be used by UK producers to raise private financing for films will increase from £2m to £10m. The amount an individual will be able to invest will also rise from £500k to £1m. “The EIS schemes are going to be used to everyone’s advantage,” says Film London’s Wootton. “They are already having an impact.”
But the one thing that has really galvanised the film industry this year is the government’s film policy review, chaired by Lord Smith, and published last month under the title “A Future for British Film”.
There’s been a very supportive reaction from the film industry. It is hoped that the review will tackle the single biggest issue facing film-makers over the years namely the stop-start nature of the business reflected in the inability of British film companies to grow consistently.
Televisual spoke with Lord Smith just after the Review’s launch and he said, naturally, that he would like to see all of its recommendations implemented.
But he added that if he could pick just three points that would have the biggest impact, he said they would be: to recycle more of the financial success of films back to creatives; the proposal to bring producers and distributors together from the outset of a film’s life; and to encourage more broadcaster participation in film. “If those three recommendations were the only ones implemented, we would be some way along the road to success,” concluded Lord Smith.
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