U.K. film production falls dramatically

Slow start to 2009 down to timing, tax breaks

LONDON -- It's quiet out there, too damn quiet as this year's first quarter for film production collapsed in on itself here, according to statistics from the U.K. Film Council.

Figures from the government-backed organization make for uncomfortable reading for indie producers with just 19 pictures with budgets over £500,000 ($800,000) going into production in the first three months of 2009, compared to 31 in the same period last year.

The collapse in movies being made comes -- according to the Council and indie observers alike -- on the back of a continuing fall in co-productions here and a slump in movies backed overseas coming to the U.K. to shoot.

The research shows that only two co-productions mounted shoots in the first quarter, compared to seven in 2008.

But the factoids from inward investment projects -- those titles which include pictures backed by the U.S. studios -- will provide a fillip for those producers working with Hollywood.

While half the number of projects landed here in Q1 this year -- just four compared to eight during 2008's first quarter -- the combined U.K. spend of £185.7 million ($300 million) this year outshone January to March's tally in 2008 of £142.6 million.

The uptick in spend is down to big budget spends from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" and Ridley Scott's Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett starrer "Robin Hood."

U.K. Film Council CEO John Woodward says the slow start to 2009 is all about "timing and tax breaks," claiming that the stutter in U.S.-backed production is as a result of "last year's perfect storm when pictures weren't being greenlit because of U.S. strike action and there were two dollars to the pound."

For independent producers the future battle is all about the U.K. tax credits taking hold and co-productions being properly mounted.

Independent producer Richard Holmes, whose credits include "Eden Lake," "Waking Ned" and "Love Story," says any script or idea now has to come with what he calls a "natural cornerstone partner."

Holmes told THR: "That could be a regional fund with a reason to fund the picture or a subject matter that has an inbuilt sizeable audience that you know is going to be interested in going. That's aside from the permanent consideration of good quality writing."

"The film industry here is going to look very bleak in the coming months," said one indie producer.

Holmes has attracted backing from Germany and Wales for his big-screen adaptation of Owen Sheers' World War II novel "Resistance."

Holmes is taking up arms with Al Munteanu's Square One in Germany and Film Agency Wales to develop the adaptation from writer-director Amit Gupta, who also will direct. Sheers is collaborating on the screenplay.

Other films bolstering Q1 2009 included U.K. local productions "Centurion," "The Great Ghost Rescue," "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" and "Nowhere Boy" and the co-productions "Mr Nice" (U.K./Spain) and "Outcast" (U.K./Ireland).

Said Woodward: "What I'm much more concerned about right now is the drop in U.K. independent production starts -- by which I mean co-productions. And this is largely a function of the one flaw in the otherwise excellent film tax credit which dis-incentivizes co-productions by focusing tax relief only on production spend made on the ground in the U.K."