Industry is credited with making second biggest contribution to economic growth
After 30 years in the City, Tony Maude has decided to follow his dreams and go into show business — as a caterer on film and TV shoots. As a bond trader, “it’s very hard to make the sort of money that you used to make”, said Mr Maude, who at 53 is launching the new venture with his wife and son. “We chose this industry because I felt that it was booming.” Against a general background of sluggish growth, where traditionally strong industries such as finance have slowed, the UK film industry is shining. According to the latest official figures, the industry has moved from third to second biggest contributor to growth and last quarter expanded 8.2 per cent, compared with just 0.4 per cent for business services and finance. The weakness of other sectors flatters, but the TV and film industry has nonetheless grown apace for the past three years — “motion picture and publishing activities”, as the Office for National Statistics calls them, have grown 72.4 per cent since 2014, against the EU average of 8.5 per cent. The growth is partly from UK audiences flocking to the cinema. UK and Ireland gross box office takings from January to June were £679m — up 12 per cent on the same period in 2016, according to ComScore, which provides data for the British Film Institute. But it is also because more films and TV productions are being shot in Britain.
Building on the legacy of the Harry Potter franchise, the next Star Wars instalment and Tim Burton’s Dumbo are currently filming in the UK, hot on the heels of Beauty and the Beast and Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting. “I think there is a lack of appreciation of the scale of the industry in this country,” said Alex Hope, managing director of Double Negative, a visual effects studio in London that has worked on films including Wonder Woman and Dunkirk.
Generous tax breaks in place since 2007 have been a big help: producers can claim a cash rebate of up to a quarter of 80 per cent of their UK spending. HM Revenue & Customs says that 2,070 films have made claims since then and it has paid out £2.3bn in credits against £8.9bn of spending.
The weaker pound since the Brexit vote has also boosted investment. Overall spending on film production in the first quarter of 2017 hit a record £652m, according to the British Film Institute. Of that, £620m was inward investment by overseas filmmakers either independently or with UK partners. At the same time, TV production is doing well. In 2013-14, 25 television programmes claimed tax relief, spending £169.5m in the UK. Three years later, this was up to 45 TV productions and spending had nearly trebled to £480m. Netflix’s big budget period drama The Crown was shot across the UK in locations including Ely Cathedral, while Northern Ireland hosted much of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, a throng of British businesses serving film crews has grown in scale and sophistication. Dave Chorley and Mark Bunce originally met in the UK working for a US catering location company on the set of the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. With the UK film industry struggling to support any large films during the 1990s, save Bond, “there was a gap in the market for companies from outside the UK”, said Mr Chorley. “That didn’t last.” When Robin Hood returned to the UK for the 2010 version starring Russell Crowe, Chorley Bunce location catering was ready with 30 staff and six kitchen trucks to feed the more than 1,000 crew — using jet skis to bring meals to actors on boats off the Welsh coast, and sending crates of water up cliffs in helicopters. These services command big fees. According to Jamie Cook, who runs London-based catering company Fayre Do’s, “for a 12-week film the average cost of catering would be about £500,000”.
The film and TV industry have done particularly well for London and south-east England but other parts of the country have benefited too. Yorkshire and Humber, albeit from a modest base, was Britain’s fastest growing region for TV and film production between 2009 and 2015. Ben Hepworth set up Prime Studios in Leeds six years ago. The forthcoming BBC series Girlfriends has just been filmed there. Despite acquiring the adjacent building, Mr Hepworth said he still has to turn down work. A six episode TV drama can take up to 5½ months to film, he said. “God, if I had the space . . . that’s what I’m desperate for,” said Mr Hepworth, who is negotiating with Leeds city council to secure another studio. Former trucker Ian Kitchingman set up his own business serving screen productions with one camera truck in 2010. Now he has 50 specialist vehicles and employs 10 people. “I cover an area from Coventry up to the Lake District across to Newcastle and down Lincolnshire, and the workload at the moment is fantastic.” Mr Kitchingman recently worked for Swallows and Amazons. There are knock-on effects for local tourism, too. News that Dad’s Army was filming in Bridlington brought fans rushing to spot stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bill Nighy. “Hotel bookings went up 70 per cent overnight,” said Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, a development agency that established a content investment fund in 2012 with £15m of EU funding. “We estimate that [the initial £15m] has secured £157m worth of investment for the region.” Since its first investment in drama series Peaky Blinders, Screen Yorkshire has financed about 40 productions in the region and is now directly involved in running Yorkshire’s biggest studio, at a former RAF base near Leeds. Although the EU supplied funding, Ms Joynson said she is not worried about losing support: “Yorkshire’s in a very good place, we’ve been planning for the future.” The fund is now self-sustaining.