The British Film and Television Industries - Communications Committee Contents


APPENDIX 4: COMMITTEE VISIT TO PINEWOOD STUDIOS, 6 MAY 2009


The Committee was received by Ivan Dunleavy, Chief Executive, and Andrew Smith, Group Director Corporate Affairs, Pinewood Shepperton plc, who briefed the members on the work and business model of Pinewood studios. The Committee were then given a tour of the facilities, including film stages and television studios, the underwater stage and the sound studio. The visit finished with lunch, hosted by Mr Dunleavy and attended by a number of producers and commercial directors of companies currently working at Pinewood, at which there was general discussion of issues facing the film and television industries.

Pinewood studios

Pinewood is a full-service studio. It is a "four walls" facility, used by producers bringing their own staff. Pinewood plc is a landlord which provides services to producers.

Pinewood has 50 acres of studios, with a range of film stages, including Europe's largest. It can offer facilities to any type of production, the small budget film (£2m-£10m; one or two weeks of filming) to the major production (over $100m; 6-7 months of filming). It has two television studios, recently refurbished and growing in usage. Pinewood Group has planning permission to double the working space. It is also home to 310 businesses that support the film and television industries. It is a key part of the Pinewood business plan to build up a cluster of creative industries to attract users to the facility. There are no videogames producers at present, but Pinewood is trying to encourage them to come for the synergies and efficiencies.

A key business challenge is to maintain a consistent flow of projects. Firm commitments from film producers tend to come only 3-6 months in advance of shooting. Pinewood therefore needs to maintain contact with producers in the development stage in order to assess likely demands and maintain a flow of smaller projects to plug the gaps between the major projects. Pinewood's target utilisation rate is 75 per cent, but actual rates can vary from 50 per cent to 93 per cent. Pinewood's income is split roughly 50 per cent from film, 30 per cent from television and 20 per cent rents (from other businesses on site).

Mr Dunleavy described film making as a "very financially focused industry". There was strong competition from other studios worldwide as well as non-bespoke facilities. The recession has not had much impact on the film industry so far, except for the greater difficulty of raising finance, especially for smaller producers. In fact, cinema box office receipts tend to be robust in difficult economic times. Technical advances in filmmaking have not reduced the requirements on film studios. Digital technology means that sets need to be bigger and better. The aspirations of filmmakers have grown, leading to greater rather than lesser demand for facilities.

About 70 per cent of the projects filmed at Pinewood are American, with the remainder from the UK (which matches the balance of English language film production worldwide). US producers are attracted to film at Pinewood by the scale of the facilities, the skills of the workforce and the cost-effectiveness of production.

In the view of Pinewood Group, there is currently a shortage of skills required by the film industry. Pinewood is working with a range of organisations to rectify this. As part of Project Pinewood, it proposes to set up a Screen Craft Academy with Skillset and the National Film and Television School. It is also involved in a joint venture with Skillset which will hold courses on site.

Lunch discussion

During a round table discussion over lunch, the following views were expressed:

Contribution of the film industry

The film industry contributes about £4 billion to the UK economy. It is an economic force and a pump primer for the creative industries as a whole. There are 160 craft skills required to make a film.

Government support

The government needs to appreciate the scale of contribution of the industry. It also needs to recognise the risks that filmmakers are required to take and provide a consistent policy framework. The film tax credit system is working well. It gives confidence and benefits the industry. It might be possible to make marginal improvements, but it was essential not to jeopardise the system.

The television industry is in turmoil. This has an effect on the film industry because they have a common skills base. High end television drama, which is under pressure, is similar to filmmaking. There is a case for supporting it with a similar tax credit system.

Competition to UK film studios

The main competition for UK studios comes from Australia, Canada, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Germany. Much depends on the script and the requirements for exterior filming.

In general, the UK studios offer the best set up. Companies can be encouraged to do interiors in the UK even when exteriors have been shot elsewhere. The UK scores highly in post-production. For example, visual effects are better in the UK than in Hollywood. There are six companies providing visual effects, each of which can manage a major film.

The UK can offer the necessary "creative cluster". It has the knowledge, experience and expertise. Studio facilities, visual effects, craft skills and capacity are all available within 20 miles of London. Other locations can appear attractive for cost or other reasons, but cannot provide the infrastructure. Also, while the UK may not always be the cheapest location, it offers certainty and reliability. Producers may be prepared to pay a premium for this.

Television

A number of speakers emphasised the synergies between film and television and the value to the UK of keeping both internationally competitive. It was suggested that it might even be possible to attract filming of television shows for US networks in the UK, if tax breaks were available for television productions.

Piracy

There was agreement that pirating of the digital image was a serious problem that takes investment out of the industry. There was a need to police service providers. Recent technological developments meant that the major studios were losing control of distribution, which opened up opportunities for piracy. Also, viewers were not naturally sympathetic to anti-piracy measures: they expected to see audiovisual product free within a certain period of time.

Skills and training

The smaller size of production companies had reduced the emphasis on skills and training—at a time when technological change meant that new skills were needed. Skillset was the main gateway to improving the situation. Skillset had a scheme whereby trainees spend time with productions, receiving practical experience. The requirement is for practical skills, which are acquired on the job, but this requires continuity of film productions.


 
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