The U.K. is a pricey place to film

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LONDON -- Last year's industry fears that tax changes would beat producers into submission and the U.K. film movers and shakers would fall on hard times were not fully realized, although the sector was hit hard in key areas. True, the tax environment became more complicated, and the British government tightened the screws on tax avoidance, but U.K. production levels remained reasonably healthy.

One bright spot in the production figures was the levels of stand-alone U.K. productions. U.K. Film Council figures, which only take into account movies made with budgets of 500,000 pounds (nearly $1 million) or more, recorded a rise in the number of solely British productions. Such productions hit 58 in total, up from the previous year's tally of 54, with titles including Beeban Kidron's "Hippie Hippie Shake," Julian Jarrold's "Brideshead Revisited," Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" and Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson's "St. Trinian's."

U.K. Film Council CEO John Woodward declared 2007 to be "a strong year for film production in the U.K. and infinitely better than everyone was predicting this time last year." Woodward says there was "clear evidence" in the stats to suggest that "yet again, the U.K. has shown its strength by making the bigger-budget commercial films alongside smaller, equally powerful films. Inevitably, we have been affected by the weak dollar against stronger international currencies and the bedding down of the structure of the new tax credit for the different types of film being produced in the U.K."

But the worst-hit sector was inward investment. Cash spends from international filmmakers, such as the major Hollywood studios locating productions in the U.K., fell 13.9% from 590 million pounds in 2006 to 508 million pounds in 2007, according to the Council figures.

"It was a tricky year last year because of the weak dollar and instability in the U.S. economy," says one analyst. "It meant the U.K. was an expensive place to come and make a film."

The official figures indicate the U.K. was involved in 28 co-productions, with a total British spend of 73.8 million pounds during 2007, down one-third from 2006's figure of 112 million pounds across 53 films. Woodward says some of the downturn "was expected given that the tax break is geared toward encouraging only shooting and postproduction in the U.K." However, concerned about the falling levels of co-productions with the U.K., Woodward and his company have pledged to take a good hard look at how the credit system is affecting co-productions. The industry is awaiting the findings, but not with bated breath. "Now we've got the system -- we just have to get on and make some films," says one producer.

Those traveling to the Croisette this year with sales and financing ambitions can expect healthy competition for buyers looking for British product. Veteran sales executive Samantha Horley, who recently launched the Salt Co. from a repositioning of Lumina Films, says buyers and financiers should be more realistic about budgets. "Because DVD and TV sales are harder to come by, people have to be more focused," Horley says. Intandem Films CEO Gary Smith adds: "Presales can be done and are being done, but only if you have a quality script and top-flight talent attached in front and behind the lens."

The boxoffice in 2007 certainly maintained buoyancy. U.K. and Ireland boxoffice takings in 2007 rang up 904.9 million pounds at the tills, up from the previous year's tally of 840 million pounds, according the Film Distributors' Assn. yearbook. FDA CEO Mark Batey says 2008 is likely to be even better, with no British team participating in the Euro 2008 soccer finals. And big boxoffice takings are expected from a slew of titles that include the upcoming Indiana Jones, James Bond and Harry Potter installments. Batey points to the big summer 2008 releases as "being more spread out," which will mean more room for each on the screens.     
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