This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
It would be going far too far to declare ‘a period of civil war’ but the story-so-far openings of the Star Wars saga have certainly taken on an extra sheen of relevance in the last few days. And that was before the football.
“Turmoil has engulfed the United Kingdom. The future of its relationship to the other countries of Europe is in dispute.” “There is unrest in Great Britain. Several million voters have declared their intentions to leave the EU.”
Here at Den of Geek, our professional interests in the affairs of this so-called Brexit (eugh – that’s the first time I’ve even typed that word, and I think it’s going to be the last) lie with the potential impact it will have upon film and television. This is not an article about politics, or designed to get a Remain vs Leave argument happening again. It’s as cold a look at the impact of the vote that took place in the UK on the film industry here.
Obviously, there’s going to be some creative influence as storytellers look for ways to share their reflections on this epochal turn of events – I’ve already spent some time today dreaming about what Paddington 2 might have to say about all of this. More relevant to this particular discussion, however, are the financial and practical changes that either will or might potentially be coming our way.
We should note that a very real change has already happened, with a sharp deprecation in the value of the pound. Sterling has taken some damage, though its worth is fluctuating, and will continue to fluctuate, so it’s hard for me to be incredibly precise about the extent of these dents in a piece like this, written in a morning but online for many years.
Nonetheless, as things stand at the time of writing, the pound is worth considerably less than last Wednesday, and most financial commentators appear to be forecasting further negativity ahead. The plunge might be curbed, it’s believed, by politicians giving the market some confidence, or by shrewd judgement on the part of our banks. We’ll just have to wait and see about that.
As a result of the pound’s becoming very cheap, we can expect to see big US productions, like Marvel movies, Star Wars, or Disney’s live-action fairy tales, to keep using British studios and our local crews. We will almost certainly continue to get big investment from these behemoths, who would benefit from what amounts to a price cut in resources and labour. The same will go for the rest of the UK-based film service industry, including FX houses like Framestore and Cinesite and the many editing and sound-mixing studios we have. These guys are suddenly even more competitive than they were last week.
Contrarily, the pound coins that the UK piles up from these investments will now go a lot less far. If the price tags at Shepperton Studios don’t explode upwards, the actual value of those £s in the global economy will be somewhat diminished.
What’s more, many productions may be dissuaded from filming in the UK once it no longer offers access to EU-specific funds and rebates. There has been much discussion over the weekend of how Game Of Thrones benefited from the European Regional Development Fund – though it has since been clarified that, for more recent seasons at least, the show’s producers were not tapping into that fund at all. But new shows that might have drawn on the EURDF won’t even have the option if they’re looking to film on UK soil once the EU divorce comes into effect.
All manner of smaller productions are likely to get key revenue streams restricted by the UK’s departure from the European Union. This was laid out for us last week, ahead of the referendum, in a joint statement by many prominent filmmakers. Matthew Vaughn and Aardman Animations were among the more Den of Geek-friendly folk who put their name to this plea, saying:
“The UK is part of the EU’s MEDIA/Creative Europe Programme which provides significant funding to our film, television and games industries each year. Between 2007 and 2015 our industry benefited from almost €130 million provided by this programme.”
And what will happen when this initiative no longer injects funds into the UK’s creative industries?
Most likely of all, we’ll simply see fewer smaller-scale films and original TV shows made here, especially those that are our own productions. As a result, our filmmaking talent will have fewer jobs to compete for and so it’s reasonable to assume that this could see pay rates suffer – the more people you have fighting to sit in one seat, the less attractive you will have to make that seat in order to get it filled.
The Creative Europe Programme also helped in the distribution and exhibition of ‘less commercial’ fare, meaning that more non-UK films were screened in our cinemas and on our TV. Without this help, our cinematic diet is likely to be a lot less varied – and arguably, the less varied a diet, the less healthy it is. I’ll certainly agree that a less varied diet is a less appetising one.
And don’t forget that this door has been swinging both ways for decades, with UK productions travelling into Europe easily, and with some success. UK-made films will now find it harder to get distribution in the EU, cutting them off from a potentially huge paying audience base. When a UK movie or TV show is no longer counted as a EU production, those countries looking to meet quotas of EU content will be inclined to pay a lot less, if anything at all, in order to screen these productions.
Several US studios and production companies have historically invested in films that have a largely-British target audience. With the weaker pound, potential return on these investments will now look a lot more slim so, while Universal might have seen fit to back Shaun Of The Dead in the early 2000s, they’d find it a lot less attractive post-EU.
It’s not hard to picture an entire class of film being hit hard by a dive in the global value of UK cinema tickets, so the more expensive British genre film – Edgar Wright’s work really is the best example of the kind of thing I mean – is likely to undergo some strict belt-tightening.
Moving across borders
There will be many months, even years, of negotiations ahead of us before we know how freely UK citizens will be able to move across Europe in the years to come, and what options these citizens will have for work, but whatever rulebook does get written now, it will be more restrictive than the current one. That’s the nature of leaving a union; a club must reserve its privileges for its members.
Today, a talented Mancunian animator will be able to chunnel themselves over to Illumination in Paris and get right down to it with a screen full of Minions, or a red-hot VFX artist from Basingstoke could get on a plane and shoot over to Madrid’s Wework. Once the UK is no longer part of the EU, taking on jobs like this will require a lot of bureaucracy and expense, and the perceived employability of UK talent will no doubt see some shrinkage. Moving to work in a European country for an outsider from Britain or Northern Ireland will undoubtedly become more difficult and riskier at a personal level, with residence dependent on employment status.
Also subject to limiting travel restrictions will be the very equipment needed to make films. Consider Rian Johnson’s upcoming Star Wars movie, which has hopped in and out of the UK as suited its creative construction. This could well have been nixed in light of the greater expense and slower, more restrictive process for moving costumes, props, and equipment between EU and non-EU states.
And then there are DVDs, Blu-rays and downloads. There’s a Digital Single Market strategy in the works, with plans to limit region-coding and geo-blocking, but a post-EU UK will no longer be protected by these incoming laws.
The single market has helped distributors spread print runs, too. Studiocanal, for example, have been able to issue smaller or riskier films on DVD in the UK by adding production numbers onto the French release and including multi-lingual options on every disc. Outside of the EU this too may end. Again, many attractive dietary options will be crossed off the menu.
It is important to note that the UK will no longer be sending a much-argued about sum of money to the EU once we formally leave the Union. The government of the day may well choose to reinvest some of that saving into film production. We wait and see if that turns out to be the case.
The British film industry
Still, the UK has had only a very small film industry for decades, with many arguing that, really, we only had a film service industry, selling space and skills to outside producers for, ultimately, their net gain. A post-EU future seems certain to further amplify this situation.
Actual British films – i.e. not James Bond or Harry Potter movies which are, in truth, no more British than Tim Burton’s Batman or Guardians Of The Galaxy – won’t see any benefits, even while overseas companies will continue to keep our exceptional crews and resource-rich studios busy.
Sadly, it looks today as if that level of business will need to grow significantly if the pay, once it has been converted into sterling, is to do as the same for the UK economy as it did pre-referendum.