Hollywood film-makers desert UK

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The Independent Online
THE HIGH value of the pound is threatening the boom in the British film industry by dissuading Hollywood studios from using UK facilities.

Last year seven Hollywood films accounted for 54 per cent of the pounds 465m spent making films in the UK, with 108 other films accounting for the rest.

Steve Norris, the British film commissioner responsible for attracting overseas makers, believes the UK will struggle to match that figure this year. "We might hit last year's total, but it looks unlikely."

He identifies the high pound, and more competition from countries such as Australia and Canada, as being responsible for the drop.

"At one time we were one of the few places to have the studios that could handle Hollywood productions but now other countries have built studios and they have weaker currencies and tax-breaks designed specifically for films. Canada gives tax-breaks based on the use of labour, which is often 60 to 70 per cent of a film's cost. And of course Canada has the advantage that locations there actually look like America."

When the British Film Commission was created in 1991 to market UK production expertise and locations, it was the first of its kind. Now 31 countries have their own equivalents. Hollywood producers will often use UK studios if, like the new Star Wars trilogy, most production is studio-based and the film does not have a US-specific setting. The location can also be decided by a film's stars. "If the leading man wants to get back to Malibu every night to see his new baby, that could have a greater impact than the value of the pound," said Mr Norris. "But the size of the Hollywood budgets are crucial, because they underpin the entire film industry infrastructure in the UK."

Britain's peak year for film production was 1996, when pounds 561m was spent here by domestic and international film- makers, up from pounds 300m two years earlier. And Britain's main studios say they are still attracting Hollywood business: "We have pencil bookings looking forward and have been consistently busy for the last two years," says Christina Sutch, sales and marketing manager for Pinewood, which is making Entrapment, starring Sean Connery. The next Bond film will go into pre-production at the studio in the next few months. "Obviously, we don't want the pound to get any stronger, but there are a number of factors which dictate whether a film comes here," Ms Sutch added. "Mainly if they have a location shoot, or need the size of our stages and the ability to expand onto new stages if the production grows." She believes there may have been a slight slowdown in productions this year because a threatened actors' strike in the United States prevented producers from starting projects at the beginning of the year.

Focus on Britain

Hollywood blockbusters made in the UK, 1997-98:

Lost in Space (above) New Line Cinema pounds 50m

Saving Private Ryan Dreamworks/Paramount pounds 43m

Star Wars: Episode I 20th Century Fox pounds 67m

Tomorrow Never Dies

United Artists pounds 67m

The Jackal Universal pounds 35m

Entrapment Fountainbridge Films/20th Century Fox pounds 50m

The Mummy

Universal pounds 45m

The Avengers (below) Warner Bros pounds 37m