Warner Bros. U.K. Boss Talks VFX, Production Boom

Warner Bros. President Josh Berger P

Josh Berger

Warner Bros. Entertainment U.K., Ireland and Spain president Josh Berger discusses the importance of tax incentives, how the "Harry Potter" franchise boosted the VFX business and the planned "Fantastic Beasts."

LONDON – Britain continues to attract many film productions and do particularly well in the virtual effects space, Warner Bros. Entertainment U.K., Ireland and Spain president Josh Berger said here Wednesday.

Making a keynote appearance at the Media Summit, organized by MBI, he spoke about how Warner's Harry Potter franchise contributed to the special effects boom in Britain and how government tax incentives continue to bring film and TV productions to the country. 

‎The Warner Bros. U.K. boss said that the Potter series was "very important" for the growth of the VFX industry here as it helped strengthen the local infrastructure. "All of a sudden, heavy effects movies were looking to come to Britain," Berger said. “There was an expansion of the skill base, the assets, the sheer numbers of people working in the industry.” Added the executive: "Gravity in a way is a crowning achievement.‎"

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With U.K. studio facilities busy to crowded with productions, Berger said "right now, it's going very, very well" for the British industry, with Warner's studio in Leavesden, just outside of London, also staying busy. "It's busy. It's crowded there."

But without tax incentives, "it would be a very, very different story" for the U.K., Berger warned. Production levels in Britain could drop by more than 50 percent without them, some estimate, he said.

Concluded Berger: "The tax credit system is very important. It really runs across the parties," having broad political support as its economic and jobs benefits are clear to most people.

Berger on Wednesday also touted the planned Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on the J.K. Rowling book of the same name. The film is set to be released in Nov. 2016 and is expected to be followed by further movies. Fantastic Beasts is set in 1920s New York and features U.S. and British wizards, he told his audience, but didn't discuss the status of the script.

Asked why Warner bought the Leavesden studio where the Potter franchise was shot after the series came to an end, Berger said: "We would have saved quite a lot of money" if the studio was bought earlier, but the move was a big signal in the U.K. "We really decided to plant our flag."

Asked about Warner Bros.' acquisitions of TV production firms, such as Shed Media a few years ago and Eyeworks recently, the executive said: "It's part of our strategy...we are incredibly committed to growing our television production capability in many markets. And clearly other players are doing the same."

He cited Netflix's news that it was making original royals series The Crown in the U.K. as the latest sign of a trend that markets outside the U.S. increasingly see big-budget shows like in the U.S. 

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai