Chris O’ Connor, British Consul General based in Los Angeles, on British strength in awards season.
Ever since Londoner Charlie Chaplin won an Oscar at the first Academy Awards in 1929, British film talent has enjoyed great recognition from the Academy. Sometimes waves of UK nominees have even triggered talk of a “British invasion.”
This year we are again riding high as the Academy Awards approach. Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch have both been nominated for lead actor, each playing British scientists in British-made films up for Best Picture. And three of the five leading actress nominees (Rosamund Pike, Felicity Jones and Julianne Moore) are British. [Moore got her British passport several years ago and holds dual citizenship.]
Even this only scrapes the surface. Outstanding British nominees behind the camera are among the world’s top professionals in production design, cinematography, visual effects, make-up… the list goes on. British films and talent have 39 nominations across 19 categories.
There are also ever more wildly successful American films being shot in the UK. Guardians Of The Galaxy, filmed at Shepperton Studios, was the second highest-grossing film last year in the US (and half of its Oscar-nominated visual effects team are also British).
Maleficent, filmed in the UK’s Pinewood Studios and in the forests and meadows of Hertfordshire, was the world’s fourth highest-grossing picture. This year, look out for Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Star Wars Episode VII and more films made in the UK that will take the world’s box offices by storm.
So how did we get here? And what can we learn for promoting our creative industries? I see four lessons:
Firstly, play to your strengths. The creative sector punches above its weight within the UK economy, generating $12m per hour. Talented Brits have long dedicated themselves to producing top quality film and TV (and now increasingly video games). Policy makers came in behind something that was working.
Secondly, make a real commitment. Half measures have little impact. The UK’s support to film-makers through tax reliefs gave a clear signal that we are “open for business” and that we are determined to be globally competitive. We then expanded reliefs to high-end TV, animation and video games. Our approach to all business is to pose as light a tax burden as possible. That is why we have the lowest corporate tax rates in the G7. We took this approach one step further for the creative sector.
Thirdly, tell people what you are doing. The UK launched its innovative “GREAT Britain” campaign to showcase our successes to the world. Prime Minister David Cameron has been directly involved. For the “Film Is GREAT” part of the campaign, native Brits like Eddie Redmayne, Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve McQueen and Dame Helen Mirren, plus American film icons like George Lucas, have joined the charge.
And fourthly, nurture a lasting legacy. Film can be a transient business; here one day and gone tomorrow. So we have encouraged both home-grown companies and inward investors in visual effects, animation and production facilities and created the conditions for them to make long-term investments. Warner Bros opened its massive Leavesden Studios in 2012 after a $250m redevelopment. Pinewood Studios are on an ever-growing trajectory. London’s Soho is abuzz with visual effects companies including Framestore, the recent Oscar winners responsible for Gravity. And world-class skills and facilities for film and TV production are thriving in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So where will we go from here? As we see it, the sky’s the limit. We certainly won’t rest on our laurels. Here in Los Angeles, a cross-government team works daily to bring next-generation film-makers to the UK. A team from the British Film Commission helps Hollywood producers find top-level skills, studios, facilities and locations for live-action and animation in film and TV. And a UK Trade & Investment team supports companies of all shapes and sizes considering setting up UK operations.
Film is big business. Hollywood brought over $1.5bn to our shores last year. So building on our success really matters. And Brits holding Oscars aloft in Hollywood are the most visible reflection of a film industry at the top of its game.