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The U.K.’s unprecedented and record-breaking growth in film and high-end TV production is in danger of hitting a wall should the industry not address a looming — and, in large parts, already present — skills shortage.
So warns the British Film Institute, which as part of a new Skills Review looking at scripted productions has urged for major internal investment in training to ensure that an additional 20,770 full-time employees are working in the sector to reach the level of demand expected by 2025.
Total spend on film and high-end TV topped £5.64 billion ($7.67 billion) in 2021, a new record and way ahead of already soaring pre-pandemic production levels. Research published last week by U.K. organization ScreenSkills forecasted that this figure would rise to £7.66 billion ($9.37 billion) by 2025.
This rise is obviously something for the local sector to be extremely proud of, with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Warner Bros and numerous other major studios dedicating billions of spend and helping make the U.K. the largest production territory outside of the U.S. — home to numerous tentpole films (Jurassic World Dominion, The Batman, Barbie) and major series (The Crown, The Lord of the Rings Season 2). But it’s something the BFI says in its Skills Reviews has led to an “increasing — and often critical — crew shortages at all levels, which are beginning to negatively impact the industry and contribute to highly stressed workplaces.” The review also notes crew shortages are “especially threatening the U.K.’s independent film sector, which is struggling to compete for crew as well as putting additional pressure on already very stretched budgets.”
As Neil Peplow, the BFI’s Director of Industry & International Affairs, explains, “shortages are starting to impact the quality of production activity.”
The key solution in addressing the issue and ensuring that an additional 20,770 crew are working by 2025, according to the BFI review, is for £104.4 ($127.6 million) to be invested annually in training to entice people into the industry and build up the workforce across all areas, a figure it equates to approximately 1.4 percent of the projected level of production spending in 2025. And the majority of this investment, it says, needs to come from the industry itself, which has led the BFI to conclude the sector should aim to “invest 1 percent of all production budgets into training.”
This 1 percent figure is solely a recommendation without any consideration — or parameters — for enforcement, but it’s one that Peplow says provides a “quantum to the required resources needed to invest in skills,” effectively an overall target that the industry can aim towards. And it’s one that could include contributions already being made to already existing funds, such as those overseen by ScreenSkills, to the U.K. government’s Apprenticeship Levy or to in-house initiatives. Peplow acknowledges that the industry “hasn’t been sitting on its hands,” pointing to Amazon’s recently announced £10 million ($12.2 million) Prime Video Pathway program with the National Film and TV School and Netflix’s Grow Creative U.K. initiative unveiled in 2021.
Alongside this investment in training, another key concern to emerge from the report are the industry’s retention rates, with a recommendation to establish a “more formalized approach to hiring, workplace management and professional development,” which could help address issues such as long hours, alongside bullying and harassment, and factors that negatively impact diversity.
As the Skills Review acknowledges, the U.K.’s production is “unrecognizable” from five years ago, when the BFI last did such a major deep-dive into the subject with the 2017 Future Film Skills Strategy.
“I could use various clichés — we’re a victim of our own success, being busy is a nice problem to have — which are partially true, but not addressing these issues effectively risks the sector’s continued growth and its significant contribution to the U.K economy,” says Ben Robert, BFI CEO, adding that the latest Review supports the idea for a “workplace reset,” something he claims is long overdue.
“If we can get this right, as well as investing in our crew and capitalizing on the opportunity presented by our industry’s growth, we can accelerate creating a workforce that genuinely reflects our society. As we do that we must also urgently address negative working practices and cultures, including the long hours routinely expected of crew.”
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