Since the beginning of motion picture history, Britain has made some of the greatest contributions to the industry. People like Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock amongst many others have pioneered the techniques and styles that are so ubiquitous today. Yet, both of those men decided not to remain in the UK, instead opting for a life and career in Hollywood. That was seventy plus years ago, yet the situation remains the same, with many of the British film and acting talent going across the pond to bigger and better things.
Looking at this phenomenon in isolation, it makes sense. That’s where the big studios with the big-budget production films and of course, the big money is. Yet, over the years and even more so today, American studios make wide use of Britain for shooting films. High-end Facilities like Pinewood and Shepperton studios are frequently used for the latest blockbusters like Star Wars and James Bond. Major studios like Netflix and Sunset Studios have started building production facilities in Kent and Hertfordshire respectively, with a combined estimated value of £700 million. Some of the best Special Effects companies are based in Britain. It’s clear that Britain has the personnel and capacity, but it is at the disposal of US studios.
The main reason for this is because Britain provides a generous tax relief of up to 25% for companies who choose to produce their films in the UK, payable on up to 80% of the total costs. For the American Studios, it’s a sweet deal.
That isn’t to say that Britain does not make films of its own, because it does, however it’s not surprising that only £119 million was spent on domestic films; with £24 million in funding coming from the BFI (British Film Institute) and £14 coming from Film4, both state-owned funds that are more interested in cultural works and not more commercial endeavours made for a mass-audience.
I think it is a great waste that we have the capacity but not the films to show for it. The Government must incentivise the creation of British based and British owned film companies that are able to put out high-end productions that at the very least can outcompete the major US companies for the domestic market. If we look across the channel at France, they have the most successful film industry in Europe, with around 45% of cinema admissions (a box office of around €500 million) in 2018 being for French Language films produced in the country. Clearly, with enough support and incentives that prioritise British Filmmaking, we can have a thriving and entertaining film industry that adds not only to our economy but to popular culture.