APPENDIX 5: COMMITTEE VISIT TO LEAVESDEN
STUDIOS, 16 JULY 2009|
The Committee was received by Roy Button, Managing
Director, Warner Bros, and Colin Brown, British Film Commissioner,
who briefed them on the work and business model of Leavesden Studios.
The Committee were then given a tour of the facilities, including
the Harry Potter sets. The visit finished with lunch, hosted by
Mr Button, at which the British Film Commissioner (BFC) provided
more information about his role, and the key drivers behind inward
investment in the UK film industry.
Leavesden Film Studios, located in west Hertfordshire
is a film and media complex situated on the site of the former
Rolls-Royce factory at Leavesden Aerodrome, which was an important
centre of aircraft production during World War II. Leavesden Studios
is one of only a few places in the UK where large scale productions
can be made. The studios contain approximately 500,000 sq ft (50,000
m2) of flexible space which includes stage space, production office
space and support buildings, along with an extensive 80 acre backlot
which offers a 180 degree uninterrupted horizon which can be used
for exterior sets. At any one time, 700-800 people could be working
at the site, but this very much varies with the films under production.
Warner Bros. UK has had a permanent base at the studios
since the first Harry Potter film was made here in 2000. They
have so far made six Harry Potter films, box office receipts for
which already exceed the 22 Bond films. Warner Bros. are embarked
on a 254 day schedule to film the seventh and eighth Harry Potter
films, which will be released in November 2009 and July 2010.
Numerous commercials and music videos, and other feature films
have been made at the studios. The films include Bond films, Star
Wars and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. There are currently five
films shooting at Leavesden.
Warner Bros. have been active in the UK, initially
as a distributor, since 1923. They started production in 1972.
Since 1992, they have produced about 40 films in the UK at a cost
of about US Dollars 11 billion. Warner Bros. UK's current lease
expires in 2010. After that, Warner Bros. have plans to renovate
and develop the studios further, but these plans are yet to be
finalised and approved. The development would require planning
permission from two local authorities, Watford and Three Rivers.
Mr Button said that they were receiving good cooperation
from both. This expansion would increase UK studio facilities
by one third. The studios would operate commercially, for other
companies to hire, and would become a competitor to Pinewood.
As part of their development plans, Warner Bros. propose to create
a Harry Potter museum as a tourist attraction, which they expect
to lead to 2-300 permanent jobs on site.
Views on skills and training
Mr Button said that the UK had a very good skills
base. He added that it was a good base for production of a film
because it was easy to move equipment etc in and out of the UK
and because UK film crews are internationally mobile. He thought
that the UK film academies were providing a good grounding in
skills, though it was essential to bring students into the studios
on work placements. However, he considered that the universities
were not offering the necessary grounding in digital skills, compared
with France and Germany; hence the CGI sector had to bring in
foreign trained students.
This view was supported by the Mr Brown, who
said that the UK visual effects specialist companies (which are
all based in Soho), work extremely well together and produce very
high quality output. But the UK was not training enough visual
effects artistsmany more people with mathematics and computer
science skills need to be trained, but there are gaps in the provision
of training for these skills. Mr Brown raised the funding
rules under which Skillset operated, and questioned whether the
UK Film Council's training money, channelled through Skillset,
reached the right targets. He thought that the UK was still "unjoined-up"
Views on UK tax credit scheme
Mr Button strongly supported the current tax
credit scheme. He noted that it was available for above the line
costs (salaries of actors, director, etc) as well as below the
line costs. He said that the UK Film Council was very helpful
in operating the scheme. The documentation was straightforward
and the turnaround time was good. Also, the fact that the rebate
was government guaranteed gave film producers and financiers "comfort
and confidence". In this context, he added that he did not
expect any change in the scheme in the event of a change of government.
The one area in which he would welcome change would
be the "use and consume" provisions. This led to a loss
in the continuity of crew. UK studios' concerns about allowing
shooting abroad to qualify could be met by putting a cap on qualifying
shooting in foreign studios.
Finally, Mr Button stressed the importance of
a attractive tax break scheme, given that so many countries and
US states are competing for film business. He said that his board
would consider it "fiscally irresponsible" to make a
film in a country/state without a tax break.
The British Film Commissioner
The main role of the British Film Commissioner is
to persuade American producers to make films in the UK. This includes
major Hollywood producers as well as independent film companies.
The Office of the British Film Commissioner consists of the Commissioner
himself, plus four staff in the London office, and one member
of staff based in Los Angeles. Mr Brown said he would find
it very helpful to have one extra member of staff based in LA
to help get more inward investment. Mr Brown noted, by way
of example, that the Australian Film Commission, invested more
money than the UK in events to try to stimulate US inward investment.
The figures for inward investment in 2009 are encouraging.
In July 2009, the UK Film Council published the UK film production
statistics for the first half of 2009. The numbers first half
year (H1) production in the UK are the best since 2004. The total
UK spend value in H1 2009 was £535.1m, compared with £363
million in H1 2008. Of the £535.1m total, £436.2m was
accounted for by inward investment films such as Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Clash of the Titans and Gulliver's
Travels. Mr Brown said that the low figure for 2008 was a
blip, caused by the writers' strike and actors' renegotiation
in Hollywoodleading to uncertainty over production plansand
the high £/$ exchange rate. He expected 2010 to be even better
According to the Mr Brown, the key drivers for
success in inward investment are: the exchange rate; and the tax
relief system for UK films. His Office had commissioned research
which compared costs of making films in ten countries, and the
UK came out second cheapest. Hungary was the cheapest. The two
areas which drove up costs in the UK were construction costs and