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Credit where credit is due

Why the UK Film Tax Relief is essential for the health of local productions, including big films like Les Misérables.

Les Misérables is an epic, starry film sure to feature prominently in Bafta, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. It’s set in France and based on a French novel (and a French musical adapted for the world stage). But this is a British production through and through.

That was one thing I was keen to speak to Working Title co-founders Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner about in this week’s Les Mis case study. Maybe someone at some point in planning the film thought France would be the best place to shoot, or that building huge sets and shooting might have been cheaper in Eastern Europe than at Pinewood?

But for Working Title, it was an easy decision to shoot “95% of the film in the UK”. (The other 5% was in southern France.) It’s not just about talent and facilities, it’s also about the UK’s Film Tax Relief.

Working Title wouldn’t be able to make films the way it does without the UK tax credit. Bevan says: “On all of these movies, the tax credit is integral to them getting made. Even bigger movies like this the difference between the net budget and the real budget is absolutely the tax credit in the UK… it’s important to remind government of that.”

Fellner adds the tax credit “keeps us making the films in the UK and not going to Eastern Europe”.

‘Tax credit working well’ isn’t the sexiest headline, but it’s worth remembering. The incentive and the stability it provides to both local productions and inward investment projects can’t be taken for granted. I was a reporter for Screen when section 42 and 48 were phased out. That period before the new UK Film Tax Relief was confirmed in 2006 caused near-panic among producers.

The credit was a worry again when Jeremy Hunt shuttered the UK Film Council, but thankfully Ed Vaizey as then-culture minister was quick to assure producers in the UK and abroad that this credit was working well and would be stable (it is now guaranteed through 2015).

This week we got the good news the credits are being extended to high-end TV drama, animation and video games. With the content worlds overlapping more and more, this can only be good for all creative industries in the UK (not to mention good for those companies that want to come and shoot here).

Working Title, meanwhile, has six more films coming to market in 2013, all of which will make use of the UK tax credit: Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, Richard Curtis’ About Time, Dan Mazer’s I Give It A Year, John Crowley’s Closed Circuit, Ron Howard’s Rush and Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces Of January. Who’s to say all of them could have had their finance pieced together without the credit?

The incentive can just as easily help a first-time local producer making a low-budget film. It’s not the only thing that keeps film-making in Britain thriving, but it’s an essential cornerstone. Let’s not forget that when 2015 starts to draw closer.

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