Netflix is rolling out the red carpet in Leicester Square, London, on Tuesday for its first original UK production, a £100m drama about the life of Queen Elizabeth II.
The first two episodes of The Crown, starring Claire Foy as the monarch and former Doctor Who Matt Smith as Prince Philip, are getting a limited theatrical release before the global launch of the 10-part series online on Friday. A second series is already commissioned.
This grand opening is a sign of the boom in UK television and film production, highlighted in official government figures last week as one of the best performing sectors of the UK economy and helping to maintain growth in a time of post-Brexit vote uncertainty.
Other forthcoming attractions in the run-up to Christmas, funded by the US money pouring into the UK production industry, include Amazon’s Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May vehicle The Grand Tour; the Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and Star Wars: Rogue One.
“We are in the midst of a new era of super international programming,” says Wayne Garvie, chief creative officer at Sony Pictures Television, the Hollywood studio that owns Left Bank Pictures, the UK producer of The Crown. “Programmes commissioned either wholly by digital platforms or by various broadcasters. They all want stories which resonate with global audiences. Whether it’s The Crown or The Grand Tour, British producers are leading the way fuelling a remarkable growth spurt in the UK production sector.”
The Office for National Statistics last week credited the services sector, of which film and TV is a part, for the UK’s surprising resilience since the Brexit vote. The transport, storage and communications sectors increased 2.2% in the third quarter, versus just 0.6% in the second quarter; and within this film and TV programme production grew by 16.4% in the three months to the end of September, outstripping other industries within the sectors. Overall UK GDP growth was 0.5% in the quarter.
The production boom is being driven by projects such as The Collection, Amazon’s fashion drama, which was partly shot in Wales, with backing from the Welsh government, and Outlander set in Scotland; HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones put Northern Ireland on the tourist map.
British Film Institute figures show that £728m was spent on high-end TV productions in the UK in the year to the end of June. In 2015 the UK independent production sector’s revenues hit an all-time high of £2.8bn, boosted by £851m of foreign investment, including money from Netflix, Amazon, HBO and other broadcasters.
Jay Marine, European chief of Amazon’s Prime video service, says that although The Grand Tour was filmed all over the world it was produced from the former Top Gear team’s London office; there is “no way this show would have been made anywhere else”. Amazon has reportedly shelled out £160m for three series of the show, which launches online on 18 November. “We’ll continue to invest more in British productions like this as we develop our collection of original and exclusive shows,” Marine adds. “No one will be surprised to hear that many of the best creatives are to be found right here in the UK.”
The UK film production industry is in equally fine fettle, says the BFI, worth almost £1.5bn last year, the second highest amount since it started keeping records in 1994. More than 80% of that was “inward investment” from overseas, where the UK has been chosen for reasons such as talent, production or tax breaks.
Like Clarkson fans, Harry Potter obsessives have marked down 18 November as a huge day, with the UK opening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The $225m film was shot at Warner Bros UK’s Leavesden studio.
The Star Wars prequel, Rogue One, was shot at Pinewood Studios. “It is really pleasing to see strong growth but we want to do more and share that ambition with the rest of the sector,” said Ivan Dunleavy, chief executive of Pinewood, which also invested in The Collection.
The boom has in part been fuelled by the introduction of tax credits for high-end drama TV, shows that cost more than £1m per episode such as Game of Thrones and The Crown, and longer-standing breaks for films that pass a “cultural test” or are a qualifying co-production. These carrots have helped stop big-budget film and TV productions going to cheaper locations, such as eastern Europe, bringing in increased investment and attracting new players like Netflix and Amazon.
HMRC figures show that £340m was paid to 530 claims for film tax relief in the year to the end of June, and £96m for 115 claims relating to high-end TV. Another £45m was paid out relating to video games developed in the UK.
The Creative Industries Federation says the sector has been the fastest growing part of the economy since the crash of 2008, but warns that there is cause for concern over the impact of Brexit.
John Kampfner, its chief executive, points to potential issues such as a skills shortage and the loss of “talented Europeans”, and “keeping a seat at the table” to make sure the UK can protect intellectual property rights for UK creators.
“This is a golden era for British TV and film production,” said Tom Watson, Labour’s shadow culture secretary. “UK shows are finding huge audiences overseas, our talent is being exported around the world and Britain has a global reputation for excellence that means producers, directors and studio executives want to work here.
“That is an economic dividend we can’t afford to put at risk. The strength of our creative industries gives us a cultural clout few other countries can match. It’s vital that the creative industries, which account for one in 11 jobs in the UK, are at the heart of Theresa May’s post-Brexit industrial strategy.”
Made in Britain
HBO’s Game of Thrones The show has a reported $6m per episode for a 10-part series. Budgets have been as high as $10m for the movie-quality epic Battle of the Bastards, the penultimate episode of season six. Shot in various locations in Northern Ireland, including Belfast’s Titanic Studios.
Netflix’s The Crown Reported £100m budget for two series of 10 episodes each. The £5m an episode average puts it in the same realm as Game of Thrones. Filmed in London, Scotland and at Elstree Studios.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story The Star Wars prequel, released in the UK on 15 December, used Pinewood Studios. No budget has been revealed; however 2015’s The Force Awakens, also filmed at Pinewood, had an estimated $245m budget. Speculation has thus put the smaller spinoff at $120m-$150m.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them JK Rowling’s exploration of the world of Harry Potter has a reported budget of $225m. It was shot at Warner Bros UK’s Leavesden Studios and in locations including Liverpool. The film, envisaged as the first of a series of five, opens on 18 November in the UK.
Tax breaks and talent fuel UK’s creative industry boom – The Guardian