The UK’s film and TV industries are undergoing an unprecedented boom. Last year, production spend on these shores exceeded $4.7bn (£3.6bn), a 16% increase on the previous highest on record, according to statistics published by the British Film Institute (BFI) today.
However, while inward investment skyrocketed last year, UK domestic production decreased across the board.
The surge in high-end TV led the boom, accounting for $2.16bn (£1.66bn) in spend. That’s up a whopping 29% on 2018 and a record total. Shows including The Crown, His Dark Materials, Killing Eve, Avenue 5, and The North Water at least part-filmed in the UK last year. There were 123 productions in total.
Overall film production remained ahead of TV, clocking $2.56bn (£1.97bn), a 7% increase on 2018 and the second-highest year on record. Features such as 1917, James Bond pic No Time To Die, and Venom 2 all contributed. There were 188 feature films shot in the UK in 2019.
Inward investment, buoyed by the UK tax credit, remains the key. In 2019, inward investment and co-production reached $4bn (£3.075bn). Of that number, $2.27bn (£1.747bn) was on features, while $1.68bn (£1.294bn) was spent on TV, the latter a huge 51% increase on the previous year.
The upward trend of U.S. companies including studios and streamers flocking to UK shores to shoot big-budget productions shows no sign of abating. Last year, Netflix signed a long-term deal to make Shepperton Studios its de facto UK production hub, while Disney entered a similar deal at Pinewood. It’s a comfortable prediction to suggest most of these numbers will be topped again in 2020.
And it’s not just U.S. majors setting up shop. Last year saw a notable influx of 29 Indian productions being made in the UK, with a collective spend of $146m (£112m), for example.
Alongside the tax credit, the quality of UK crews and the recent weakness of the Pound are also significant factors in attracting production. The UK’s impending exit of the European Union, which begins in earnest tomorrow (January 31), is likely to see the currency value fluctuate further.
Concerns remain over the impact that Brexit will have on freedom of movement, with many highly-skilled crews in fields such as VFX coming to work in the UK from EU member states. Yesterday, the government was urged to consider dropping its salary threshold for workers looking to come to Britain with a job offer to $33,000 (£25,600), down from its current level of $39,000 (£30,000), once the country completes the post-Brexit transition period.
The picture for UK domestic production is less rosy. The film production total for 2019 was $228m (£175m), down 45% on 2018, while TV was also down 14%, decreasing to $483.58m (£371.7m). Those figures don’t include UK productions that are financed abroad, such as Sam Mendes’ 1917.
“It’s great to see some of our greatest home-grown talent making big international pictures such as 1917. It also underlines the importance of ensuring that the independent sector, the lifeblood for this growing success, is properly supported,” said outgoing BFI CEO Amanda Nevill on today’s numbers.
Conversely, it was a good year for UK indie movies at the country’s box office. UK productions, lead by pics such as Downton Abbey, The Favourite, Yesterday, Stan & Ollie and Mary Queen Of Scots, collectively grossed $205.97m (£158.3m), 13% more than the year before and the highest mark for five years. Whether that trend will be hampered going forward by the lack of UK indie production happening here will only become clear in the coming years.
UK-made, studio-backed films such as Avengers: Endgame and The Lion King, accounted for 46% of total UK box office last year, the highest figure since records began. In total, the UK recorded 176 million cinema admissions, down slightly on the year previous, and tickets grossed $1.63bn (£1.254bn), also down slightly.
Spend on co-productions made with the UK, while still minimal in the overall picture, increased 37% this year, rising to $44m (£34m).
The BFI notes that these figures are all interim and will be consolidated later this year as final reporting is concluded.