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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Is the British film industry just another Hollywood backlot?  It's no secret that the US is the largest film industry in the world in terms of revenue and expenditures.  The US film industry is so large, in fact, that it stretches into many countries including the UK.  In 2007, the UK introduced the UK Film Tax Relief program attracting many American studios to create blockbuster hits across the pond.  An issue with this is so much of the spending on films is done by Hollywood, that all the profits made on the film then go back to the American studios and nothing goes to the British film industry.  In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter reported that 11% of American films were shot in the UK.

Matthew Vaughn, director of Kingsman: The Secret Service stated in an interview with BBC Radio 4 that he believes the British film industry isn't an industry at all, but more of a “service provider” due to Hollywood collecting all the profit from the box office on films in the UK.  Kingsman features a very large British cast and crew while paying tribute to British spy films.  No company in the UK was willing to give funding for the film so American company, Twentieth Century Fox, took hold and because of that all the money made goes back to the US industry not the UK.  Along the same lines, the Harry Potter series, filled with British cast and crew, is owned by Warner Bros. studios and they take back all the money earned.

Taking a closer look at the third installment in the Harry Potter series, the special effects in Prisoner of Azkaban far outshines the first two in the series.  With the first coming out in 2001, the second coming out in 2002, and this one coming out in 2004 there isn't a huge time gap where the effects could have been improved on so much.  The technology used for the films wouldn't have changed enough for that to be the only reason for the difference in quality.  For the time, the first two films had great special effects, but there is no comparison while looking at the third.

Prisoner of Azkaban brought more life into the halls of Hogwarts as well as the surrounding forest and creatures dwelling within.  The dementors were done so well I forget they are just things created with effects and not a person acting.  The werewolf transformations are also so mind blowing I feel like they could have been real, other than the fact werewolves are a piece of fiction.  Without the help of the American studio, Warner Bros., Harry Potter may have never been painted on the big screen.  Even if the series was produced as a low-budget British film, it never would have gotten the success it did reaching America and several other countries.  Unfortunate for the British industry, even with all the ties in the UK with the cast, crew, and locations, all profits went right back to America.

Director Edgar Wright spoke in an interview about how he believes the tax relief was good for Hollywood, but bad for smaller budget British films in the UK.  For those smaller budget films, it is harder to find a good crew because of Hollywood recruiting them for American films being shot in the UK.

“While the BFI proudly boasts of £1.5 billion ($2.36 billion) being spent on UK film production in 2014, the majority of that spending came from American studios.  An industry that relies almost entirely on investment from another country, with the profits going back to that country, can hardly be described as self-sustaining. If companies like Disney elected to stop shooting films in Britain, the effect on the country's largely freelance work force of film industry professionals would be devastating.” (Shaw-Williams).

Not only are American films now flooding with British crew, but there are a lot of British actors taking on the big screen in Hollywood.  A couple examples are Tom Holland in Spider-Man, Henry Cavill in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange, and many more.

There are also some arguments that Britain does have a film industry and that the debate should be on whether it's successful or not.  Most British films don't get funding from studios but rather from the tax break.  Independent films have two main sources of funding, FilmFour and the BFI.  British indie films are mainly funded by single investors.  This difficulty in finding funding makes it very hard for people to stick with the business.  It's very easy to give up after being told no time and time again.  Getting a big break working on a Hollywood blockbuster is just what some in the British film industry need to keep going in the business.

There have been a lot more British directors finding success in America than there have been American directors heading to Britain.  With Alfred Hitchcock being the most distinguished British director taking over Hollywood and making a good amount of his most prominent features there, there are also quite a few others following in his footsteps.  A few of these directors are Charlie Chapman, Danny Boyle, Sam Mendes, Alan Parker, Carol Reed, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and more.  From the American side directing British films there is, most notably but not limited to, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick, and Joseph Losey.

Although Vaughn has worked with Hollywood films, and they are a big reason he didn't give up on directing, he isn't so keen on American films invading the British industry.

“I'd love for the industry to grow, to be more self-sufficient.  If Hollywood doesn't come here, what's left?  The rules are changing pretty quickly, and I don't want to be like the guys running the record business and suddenly seeing Steve Jobs has stolen it, because Hollywood's like a bunch of pigs in a trough, not realizing that food is running out and just eating it as quickly as possible… We make the best movies in the world – commercially and artistically, look at the Oscars – so why are we not building an industry around this absolute talent we have?” (Vaughn).

It really is a shame how difficult it is for British films to be produced without the help of a foreign studio.  If the same funding were available but directly from the UK, the British film industry would be so culturally rich and booming, there would be no place for American studios across the pond.

A big reason for American studios digging their claws into British soil is because they were required to invest in the British film industry in order to get the tax break and to show the films in the UK.  BBC critic Mark Kermode argues that the real issue with film in the UK isn't exactly the funding but more of the distribution.  He also believes that both the UK and the US film industries are complicatedly interlaced.

British director Christopher Nolan has made a big splash in Hollywood with many big hits.  Including, but not limited to, The Dark Knight, Inception, and his newest hit still in the theatre Dunkirk.  The first two examples listed have a large American cast and without knowing Nolan is the director and is British, feel like completely American films.  The newest film Dunkirk has a British cast and partially British crew, but still feels like a Hollywood war flick.

British films that aren't taken over by Hollywood are rich in culture.  The European Governments will fund filmmakers if they promote their own culture.

“Key films in the national cinema of the 1980s are fascinated by the private property, the culture, and the values of a particular class.  By reproducing these trappings outside of a materialist historical context, they transform the heritage of the upper classes into the national heritage: private interest becomes naturalized as public interest . . . In each instance, the quality of the films lends the representation of the past a certain cultural validity and respectability.” (Higson 608).

One of the ways for American films to receive the tax incentive is by passing a British cultural test which is as easy as incorporating British actors and crew, and throwing in some English dialogue.  These factors aren't showing the true culture that can be found in true British films.

National British films tend to have really great stories but lack in the technology used to bring the story to life due to little to no funding.  A lot of these films also never reach the big screen and end up going straight to DVD or VoD release, meaning they don't reach very big audiences like they would if they were in Hollywood.  Hollywood also has much better marketing and promotion for their films than national British films receive.  The American films are plastered all over mass media gaining huge attention months before the premiere.

An exception to low-budget British films normally not turning a profit is Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  A few of the more comedic parts of this film weren't originally intended to be in the film.  Holy Grail only had a budget of about $400,000.  With this low of a budget it became obvious to them that they couldn't get horses for the film.  That's when they came up with the idea of having the characters just pretend to ride horses and click coconuts together to make it sound like a horse.  These fake horses are one of the funniest parts of the film, in my opinion.  I think this film, being a comedy, benefitted from having a lower budget, making them come up with round about ways to make things cheaper but still fit the film.  

The acting in this film is superb, even with the fact that multiple characters were played by the same actor due to having such a low budget.  It was done so well that sometimes actors would play multiple characters in the same scene and it didn't ruin the visual or story.  I think this worked because of how satirical the film is.  For example, John Cleese played a taunting French soldier and also Sir Lancelot when they encounter the first French-occupied castle.  This film made $5 million in the box office, a great amount for how low the budget was.

Early British films owe their respect to television.  A lot received small amounts of funding from T.V. companies such as Channel Four and London Weekend Television to name a few.  Directors Hugh Hudson and Charles Sturridge who worked on Chariots of Fire and A Handful of Dust, came from the T.V. industry.  “All of the films arguably owe as much to the tradition of the BBC classic serial and the quality literary adaptation on television as they do to the filmed costume drama or to art house cinema” (Higson 605).

Even in America, some studios rule and use smaller “studios” primarily for their services and rent out their lots.  Fox, Universal, Paramount, Sony, Disney, Warner, and MGM are known as the famous “Seven” studios located in Hollywood.  For example, a smaller Hollywood studio, Raleigh, rents out and leases their studio to the bigger names for bigger productions.  The seven studios stretch across the country and to other countries leasing out smaller studio spaces in order to shoot in certain locations.

In conclusion, I would have to agree with Matthew Vaughn's statement that the UK film industry would be nonexistent without the presence of Hollywood.  He also states that if other countries such as France or Italy had better tax incentives for films, Hollywood would move on and the British film industry would disappear in the blink of an eye.  From what the couple directors spoke to us about in class, they all have added to the point that funding is very difficult in the UK.  Hollywood gave a lot of cast and crew members the chance to get experience on bigger blockbuster films.  If Hollywood were to move on to a different country not much would be left of the already small film industry in the UK.

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