What do “Barbie”, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning” and “Indiana Jones and the Clock of Destiny” have in common? As well as being the big budget films of the summer, they were filmed in Britain, partly in some of the country’s most renowned studios.
Major Hollywood productions are a vital part of the British film and television industry. For years they brought money, jobs and prestige, and helped make the sector a bright spot in the British economy. But today, this privileged relationship is a source of difficulties.
The actors’ and writers’ strikes in the United States, which have paralyzed much of Hollywood, are also being felt strongly in Britain, where productions such as “Deadpool 3”, “Wicked” and the second part of “Mission: Impossible – Dead “Reckoning” has stopped filming. In late summer, when the industry was busiest to take advantage of the long days, the soundstages at Pinewood, Britain’s largest studio, were almost empty.
Film crews, like camera operators and costume designers, are out of work after productions came to an abrupt halt. Bectu, the UK’s union for behind-the-scenes workers in the creative industries, surveyed almost 4,000 of its film and TV members and 80 per cent said their jobs had been affected, and three quarters of them were Unemployed.
“Whether you think the studios are right or the unions are right, there are people suffering in the UK,” said Marcus Ryder, the new chief executive of the Film and TV charity, which supports workers in financial difficulty. .
In August, the association received more than 320 applications for hardship grants, compared to 37 a year earlier.
Since the first “Star Wars” film was partly filmed at a studio in England in the mid-1970s, British film studios have become a destination of choice for American productions, and that momentum has accelerated over the years. of the last decade thanks to generous tax incentives and filmmakers. ‘ demand for experienced crews. More recently, Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services have cornered studio space so quickly that they sparked a boom in studio construction.
These big-budget productions employ thousands of local workers and inject billions into the economy. Last year, a record 6.3 billion pounds ($7.8 billion) was spent on high-end film and television productions in Britain, according to the British Film Institute. Nearly 90 percent came from American studios or other foreign productions.
The number of films or TV shows delayed in Britain since mid-July, when Hollywood actors joined the writers’ strike, is relatively small, perhaps a dozen, but it is the big productions that require a lot of team and support a visual production ecosystem. effects companies, catering and other services.
Charlotte Sewell, a costume designer living in London, was working on the film “Mission: Impossible” when strikes shut down production. For a few weeks she was able to work one day a week, but now that is over too.
“Now that my one-day week is over, I’m going to try to find something somewhere,” she said. “I don’t know where yet.”
Ms Sewell, who is also chair of the Bectu committee for costume and wardrobe department employees, said she supported the strikes and was confident she would be able to return to “Mission: Impossible” once the conflicts are over.
In the meantime, she’s nervous about her finances, particularly paying her next self-employment tax bill, which is due in January.
“Because I’ve been in the industry for a long time, I guess mentally I’m better equipped to deal with downtime, but not financially,” she said.
She started in the industry in 1992. At the time the film industry was in “dire straits” after a funding crisis, Ms Sewell said, but the last few years have been “incredible”. There has been a notable shift in his work towards major American productions.
“We rely heavily on American studio productions for our work,” she said, because British productions have dried up. “I worked in independent cinema all the time. I haven’t done it in years because it’s just not there.
British workers’ problems have been exacerbated by the slowdown in domestic production, said Bectu director Philippa Childs. The BBC’s viewer funding, via a license fee, has been frozen by the government for two years until April 2024, and other British broadcasters are facing falling advertising revenues, limiting their ability to commission television. new works, especially since production costs are high. . At the same time, cinema workers face budget constraints due to stubbornly high inflation.
Bectu supports SAG-AFTRA, the Hollywood union that represents actors, Ms. Childs said, in part because the issues that prompted the walkout in the United States, such as studios’ use of artificial intelligence, will have “inevitably” a big impact on Britain too.
Most workers in the sector are self-employed, but unions say that does not mean the work is always precarious. After the pandemic lockdowns, demand for workers was high and the industry was rife with stories of people suddenly switching to other productions for better pay.
“We went from feast to famine,” Ms. Childs said.
The ripple effects of strikes are primarily felt on productions whose stars are SAG-AFTRA members – who are typically U.S.-based actors. But the impact is expected to worsen, affecting more workers. Many parts of the British film industry are, however, safe from strikes; domestic productions, with British actors or British union agreements, continued.
This could change. Equity, the British actors’ union, is closely monitoring negotiations in Hollywood ahead of contract renewals in Britain. A request for a 15 percent salary increase has been submitted to the production companies and will be followed by negotiations on working rights and conditions. Equity is running a campaign called “Stop AI Stealing the Show”, arguing that UK law does not protect the rights of performers.
“We’re obviously going to want what the Americans want,” said Paul Fleming, Equity’s general secretary. “We therefore face the prospect of industrial unrest in the middle of next year.”
For the past 13 years, Ian Ogden has worked as a stagehand, a crew member who moves and supports the camera. He was filming Disney’s live-action remake of “Snow White” when strikes disrupted filming in July.
“Since then, the situation has been rather bleak,” he said.
Last month, Mr. Ogden said, he was earning three-quarters of what he needed and was using savings set aside for his two young children to pay for groceries. For weeks, he struggled to find new work because the productions still running tended to be smaller, not requiring as many cameras or grips, he said. Recently he found work in a British television production.
A member of Bectu who also holds a position at a Grips charity, Mr Ogden said: “I support the fight for rights.” But he doesn’t support the strike, he said, because it hurts off-screen workers who don’t get the same kind of financial support as Hollywood actors.
“The people who are affected in this country, we are not millionaires,” he said.