'Britain isin a golden era right now, particularly with directors,' says David Livingstone, worldwide president of marketing and distribution at UK powerhouse Working Title.

Will and actors' strike benefit UK talent'

At that company alone, there are new projects in the works from Edgar Wright, Joe Wright, Kevin Macdonald and Paul Greengrass. Those are not just four of the hottest British directors around, they are four of the world's hottest directors.

Livingstone says: 'To find world-class talent is a really rare thing and Britain seems to be in a great situation right now.'

Working Title is not alone in boosting British talent, with most of the Hollywood studios actively working with UK actors and directors.

'We're totally Anglophiles right now,' confesses Adam Goodman, head of production at DreamWorks.

The studio has Joe Wright directing The Soloist, Sam Mendes just finished on Revolutionary Road, Thomas and Charlie Guard in post with their debut horror film The Uninvited (working title), Ricky Gervais in his first lead role in Ghost Town, Alice Eve starring in She's Out Of My League and David Walliams and Matt Lucas of Little Britain fame developing a script.

Goodman says DreamWorks film boss Stacey Snider is the company's biggest champion of UK talent. 'She's always made a real effort to monitor what's going on in the UK and she's a great vessel for bringing over new talent.'

Donna Langley, president of production for Universal Pictures, says the UK is a gold mine for both 'names' and up-and-comers.

'There certainly seems to be a certain brand of honest, bracing talent coming from the UK,' she says.

'Actors like James McAvoy and Keira Knightley are world-class talents whose abilities deserve to be seen by audiences everywhere. And we're excited to help a personality like Russell Brand, who's so well-known in Britain, get the chance he deserves to entertain a new audience in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.'

Next, Brand appears with Adam Sandler in Disney's Bedtime Stories.

Support starts at home

Of course, untested talent is rarely launched on the world stage. One could argue the growth of Working Title itself - along with companies such as Fox-backed DNA Films or Walt Disney partner Harbour Pictures - is one reason UK directors are launched internationally.

Would Edgar Wright's Shaun Of The Dead or Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice have had such a strong international profile without the support of Universal-backed Working Title, or would Greengrass' United 93 have even been made'

'There's naturally a European skew to what we do,' says Livingstone. 'We come at things from an unusual perspective that maybe US film-makers wouldn't try. Something like Nanny McPhee, for instance, has a very old-fashioned storytelling quality. I'm not sure a typical studio would have championed that.'

BBC Films and Film4 have also championed UK directors and actors from early stages in their careers.

Recent examples from Film4 include Roger Michell's Venus, Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane and Macdonald's The Last King Of Scotland; BBC Films' output includes Justin Chadwick's The Other Boleyn Girl and Stephen Frears' Mrs Henderson Presents.

'We have an extraordinary depth of talent here,' says London-based producer Paul Webster of Kudos Film, who worked with Knightley, McAvoy and director Joe Wright on the Oscar-nominated Atonement, which has grossed $126m worldwide.

'We're in an incredibly strong position. We've got the old school like Stephen Frears, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh still at the top of their game, and then you've got new people like Joe Wright, Edgar Wright, Neil Marshall and Garth Jennings coming through, along with women like Andrea Arnold and Sarah Gavron.'

The tax credit changes and strong pound that have caused the recent downturn in the UK production sector are not affecting talent in the same way.

'The weak dollar doesn't affect casting usually,' notes Tim Gale, films organiser at UK actors' union Equity. 'If you really want to use Ewan McGregor, you'll pay what he asks, in the same way you don't negotiate with George Clooney.'

US veteran Mark Gill, who has $200m for his new production outfit The Film Department, agrees the UK is worth mining.

'There are a tremendous number of good film-makers and good writers (in the UK) who aren't working at full capacity,' he told London's Production Finance Market in October 2007. 'In the US, it's beastly hard to find a good script, and the material is remarkably better here - it's two to three times as easy to find good material.'

Staying flexible

UK companies supporting UK talent is nothing new, and neither are Brits working in Hollywood. What is different today is the sheer number of A-list actors and marquee directors making a splash internationally. It goes much further than Helen Mirren winning an Oscar for The Queen.

Universal's Langley notes: 'Great films, interesting film-makers and compelling actors come from every corner of the globe and we would only short-change ourselves by searching only as far as our own backyard (in the US).

'Paul Greengrass' personal stamp on the (second and third) Bourne films help make them work all over the world, and his nationality didn't make him any less qualified to honestly and responsibly address the events of 9/11 in United 93.'

Indeed UK talents are lauded for their flexibility - both in front of and behind the camera. See, for example, Tilda Swinton as an American lawyer in Michael Clayton, Emily Blunt as a Texan girl in Charlie Wilson's War and Jim Sturgess as a US student in recent box-office hit 21. Audiences might not even know they are British.

A lot of UK directors cut their teeth on period dramas for film or TV, but that does not mean it is where they stay. DreamWorks' Goodman says UK directors, especially, can bring a 'set of fresh eyes' to a non-UK film.

'With Joe Wright directing The Soloist, it's a movie about two characters and also it's very much about downtown Los Angeles - an area that's not seen on screen that much. A US director may have preconceived notions, but Joe has a very honest and truthful look at the city. He's discovered downtown's inner beauty - it's right in our own backyard for people who live in Los Angeles, but we don't see it the same way.'

Deborah Schindler, who is in charge of Sony's International Motion Picture Division, has a mandate to look across the world to identify talents and make films for distribution in the local territory.

She calls the UK 'a very vibrant territory'. Sony's local production partner in England is Matthew Vaughn's Marv Films, which will bring projects into Sony either by Vaughn or other directors identified locally by Vaughn and producing partner Kris Thykier.

'There's a huge talent pool in the UK, both established talents and a lot of new, up and coming people,' Schindler notes. 'Matthew is a unique and wonderful film-maker. Our deal with Marv is to also generate all sorts of material.'

What's in a name'

Of course, few cinema-goers in Japan or Germany are overheard saying, 'Hey, let's go see that new film with a British actress in it,' and no studio will greenlight a project just because they want to have any old British director attached. It's all about specific people and their unique talents.

For example, Pegg's English accent does not make him a rising star, his comic timing and on-screen charisma do. Working Title's Livingstone says of Pegg: 'I think his international success will move in line with his rising profile in the US. He's already a big star in the UK, but he's taking off more in the US and will do more with Star Trek.' Pegg plays Scotty in JJ Abrams' new version of the franchise.

Gary Smith of Intandem Films, which helped finance, produce and sell the upcoming Pegg project, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, notes: 'In the UK, Simon is untouchable. He's done three films that are relatively modest and they've taken an average of $30m box office. (How To Lose Friends) could be the one that breaks him out.'

Sienna Miller has been well reviewed in smaller films such as Interview, and has a sky-high media profile, but has yet to prove she can open a film internationally (Stardust did well, but she was part of an ensemble cast). Miller next appears in John Maybury's The Edge Of Love, which is opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, and Beeban Kidron's Hippie Hippie Shake as well as in Paramount's GI Joe.

'She's a great actress but she's not a driving force in movies yet,' Livingstone points out. 'She's got great potential, but you couldn't narrow it down yet, to say, for instance, 'She works well in Latin America.''

Gemma Arterton, a star of UK favourite St Trinian's, will likewise hit the international stage in Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla and the next Bond film Quantum Of Solace.

Rupert Fowler, at London-based Public Eye, has handled personal publicity for McAvoy and Blunt. He suggests part of their appeal to both casting directors and international magazine and newspaper editors is their down-to-earth attitudes.

'It's the everyman quality, and it's not about being perfect looking. There's also that sense of humour and self-deprecation,' Fowler says. 'I think we're moving away from that stereotypical LA look.'

As a publicist pitching profiles of his clients, Fowler notes: 'Sometimes not being over- exposed can help sell a story; it could be a reaction to the age of celebrity. Both James and Emily have lives outside the industry.'

Home and away

UK stars with hit US TV shows, such as Hugh Laurie (House), Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck), Parminder Nagra (ER), Dominic West and Idris Elba (The Wire), Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies), Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl), Ashley Jensen (Ugly Betty) and Lena Headey (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), spend the bulk of their time in Los Angeles, but for film actors and directors, keeping their home in the UK and working frequently in Hollywood or Europe is not an issue.

And it probably keeps them from developing a generic Los Angeles mindset. 'The Alan Parker-Adrian Lyne generation decamped to America, but people don't have to do that anymore,' Paul Webster notes. 'Plus with people like Tim Burton, Gwyneth Paltrow and even Madonna settling in Britain, there is cross-fertilisation.'

That flexibility means an actress such as Knightley can do both Hollywood and British films. She has worked on the Pirates Of The Caribbean blockbusters but also devotes time to UK productions such as The Edge Of Love and Saul Dibb's The Duchess.

Tom Hooper, a British TV veteran who was hand-plucked by HBO and Tom Hanks' Playtone to direct their $100m John Adams mini-series, is back in the UK planning a May shoot for a very British film, the story of football manager Brian Clough in The Damned United.

Hooper says he enjoys working relationships on both sides of the Atlantic, but plans to keep his home in London. 'I enjoy the fact (London) doesn't feel like a one-industry town. Even though there are other industries in LA, it can sometimes feel like it's just the film business. In London, I have friends who do all kinds of jobs so I get all kinds of stimulus.'

Hooper sees all the Brits working in Hollywood as continuing a pattern that extends back to the days of Hitchcock and beyond. 'There's a great tradition of outsiders coming to America, reframing American stories in interesting ways. Sometimes being an outsider helps.'