Tax breaks worth over £ 4 billion over six years have helped fuel a boom in UK film and television production that has transformed the country into a global entertainment hub, but also raised concerns about the lack of staff and facilities.
British Film Institute data shows spending on premium movies and TV this year will easily surpass previous records as groups like Netflix, Disney and HBO look to British talent to meet the voracious demand. streaming video.
The last opus of the Batman, Impossible mission and Indiana Jones the films are among the many Hollywood releases filmed around the country, but the biggest increase has been in scripted television.
Local businesses have created several global successes, including Peaky blinders and Course of action, while international producers have recently shot dozens of big budget series such as Bridgerton and The witcher in the countryside.
Ben Roberts, managing director of BFI, said the UK had become a “first port of call” for the world’s largest media companies.
The onset of the pandemic caused a hiatus, but crews quickly returned to the sets when restrictions were relaxed. Total spending on premium movies and television is expected to exceed £ 5 billion this year, more than double the 2015 total and almost six times more than in 2007, when the tax break was cut. introduced.
Production companies can claim up to 25 pence from HM Revenue & Customs for every £ 1 of qualifying expenditure. Since its introduction, the system has been extended to related industries such as animation, children’s television, and video games.
Financial Times estimates based on BFI figures show that high-end film and television productions alone have been eligible for around £ 4.4bn in discounts since 2016, of which around £ 940m over the course of the first nine months of 2021.
“There are a lot of jurisdictions around the world that offer very competitive tax breaks, and some of them have become more competitive,” said Roberts. But he added that other factors, including the English language, also made the UK attractive.
The threat of industrial action by Hollywood workers has further encouraged American companies to consider Britain, executives said.
The boom is expected to continue next year, when Amazon is expected to start filming. The Lord of the Rings. The streaming giant has ditched New Zealand in favor of the UK for its second season.
However, the arrival of such productions put a strain on the filming infrastructure. Studios such as Pinewood and Shepperton are booked by larger companies who enter into increasingly long leases, creating a problem for smaller budgets.
“I’ve heard of farmers being approached to convert barns” into production facilities, said Ryan Dean, an entrepreneur who plans to open a development studio in West London next year. “People in desperation turn to anywhere and everywhere.”
Large real estate developers also see an opportunity to fill the void. Among the ongoing projects is one of Europe’s largest television and film production centers in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, funded in part by Blackstone, the US investment group.
James Seppala, Director of Blackstone Real Estate Europe, said: “Infrastructure has not kept up with the explosive growth in demand. There is hardly any studio space across the UK at the moment.
Even more serious is the availability of workers behind the scenes, although at least part of the staff shortages are due to a temporary disruption from the coronavirus. Make-up artists, lighting engineers and production accountants are some of the most requested positions.
Julian Bellamy, Managing Director of ITV Studios, said the boom was “fundamentally great news for the UK”, but “there are challenges that come with it”.
“There is no doubt that there are pressure points, for example around talent shortages,” he said.
The influx of foreign capital is also changing the UK production ecosystem, which has long been supported by the BBC and other national networks.
Public service broadcasters are required to place orders with smaller producers and allow them to retain potentially lucrative intellectual property rights, allowing them to sell hits overseas. The likes of Netflix are not subject to such obligations.
Lucas Green, Global Head of Content Operations at Banijay, owner of UK production companies such as Tiger Aspect and Shine TV, said: “It’s about making sure that if you’ve invested the time and money, you control the fate of those successes. This has always been the key to the UK’s fertile creative landscape.
Despite the challenges, few in the industry see much downside to this boom.
London and the South East have long been the most important center, but other regions have also capitalized. During the last years, Game of thrones was filmed in Northern Ireland, the foreigner in Scotland and Sex education in Wales.
The sector is an increasingly important employer. The production of screens benefiting from a tax break generated around 156,000 full-time jobs in 2019, up nearly a fifth from 2017, according to the BFI.
Its report found that, combined with related sectors supported by creative tax breaks, the total overall contribution to UK production increased by more than half between 2016 and 2019, to reach £ 13.5 billion.
Rishi Sunak, Chancellor, hailed the boost to the economy. He said in a statement: “Our tax breaks make the UK an attractive place to film and are stimulating a wave of private investment.”
Bellamy of ITV Studios said the competition for talent and facilities was a “quality issue.” The company last week unveiled plans to double its production of big-budget scripted dramas over the next five years.