TALENT: British actress Cynthia Erivo could become the youngest performer to join the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) Club following her nomination for Harriet.
‘The future requires a creative industry that is adaptable, nimble and innovative’
This time last year, THE UK film industry was on tenterhooks. The Favourite was the talk of the industry with 10 American Academy nominations, an extraordinary achievement for a British independent 18th Century black comedy about an obscure monarch. It was an incredible cast led by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, alongside legendary costume designer Sandy Powell and director Yorgos Lanthimos, who studied film in Athens but settled in the UK. On the night, Olivia Colman moved from being a treasured actress loved in the UK to an international star. This year, all eyes are on the World War I epic 1917, directed and produced by Sam Mendes for Amblin and Dreamworks with the UK’s Neal Street Productions, also with 10 nominations. Co-written by Mendes with Krysty Wilson-Cairns from Glasgow, it features rising star George MacKay from The Boys Are Back and Captain Fantastic, Dean-Charles Chapman from Game of Thrones with Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays and Mark Strong. The Directors Guild has already given their top prize for Sam Mendes, on the heels of the Producers Guild of America and the Golden Globes. What is it in the British water that drives this success? Ben Roberts, CEO of the British Film Institute explains: “The story in the UK around talent and production is multifaceted. We have an amazing inward investment story, a global production story across film and high-end TV which is not a new story because the US studios in particular have been making films in the UK for decades. “But it is a story of growth and this year will be a banner year. That is due to a combination of tax incentives being incredibly attractive, a skills base that is the best in the world and world-class studio services. That global success story is underpinned by a very vibrant television sector. There is a lot of creative R&D talent test-bedding and we mustn’t let one story overshadow the other. I don’t think one could really exist without the other.” The Favourite was very clearly an independent film produced by Ireland’s Element Films with Film4 and funded through a nine-year development by the BFI production team with Fox Searchlight on board. The BFI and partners had previously backed the filmmaker with The Lobster, nominated for an Oscar two years before. While 1917 carries the hallmarks of Amblin and Dreamworks, it is also a very personal story. It looks like being a meteoric rise for young actor George MacKay but he is a talent spotted by independent film-makers early on and backed by the BFI in films such as For Those In Peril, Sunshine On Leith and Pride. Roberts says there are many opportunities to form incredible partnerships with the studios which feed back into the skills development in the UK. “We are seeing that clearly – whether it’s through the BFI Film Academy programme we run with Lucasfilm which brings high numbers of young people into their first production roles or it’s the ATA, the apprentice training agency that was launched recently with Netflix and Warner Bros developing an apprenticeship model for young people to work in film. “The BFI is the centre of the film community in the UK but there are partners who are really well connected, and we are well supported by government. We have strong relationships with government departments from the Treasury to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Trade and more. It is just a really co-ordinated story. “That is a conversation we can continue to bridge with our inward investment partners in the cultural sectors so we are, as they say, sticks in a bundle that are unbreakable. “We work well together strategically. Partner that with the strength of cultural diversity and creativity and it is compelling.” The breadth of work coming from the UK engenders a sense of real pride for Roberts. “I have this privilege at the BFI where I get to see young people working on a major studio production such as Star Wars. I get to see the incredibly creative and sometimes challenging or unusual independent work being produced that feels harmonious in terms of just working in an industry that is really rich in its cultural and creative adversity,” he says. “So I love that about what we put out there. We have people who can just turn their hands creatively to the challenges and opportunities presented in the UK.” And new British films are being snapped up. Irish drama Herself, directed by Mamma Mia’s Phyllida Lloyd, backed by the BFI and BBC Films, has been acquired by Amazon Studios. Meanwhile, NEON has taken US and Canada rights for Francis Lee’s Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. Francis Lee came into the international limelight with his first feature which scooped up awards, backed by the BFI. Other UK films and film-makers making waves internationally include psychological horror Saint Maud and director Rose Glass, one of the most talked about films which premiered at Toronto, acquired by A24 for the US. Chasing Chaplin and directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney is another. Coming-of-age drama Rocks was directed by Sarah Gavron who worked for two years with largely non-actors to portray a group of multicultural teenagers at a fictional girls’ school in London. Backers include BFI, Film4, Head Gear, Metrol Technology and Kreo Films. “This is the story of an ecosystem. What our job is, in terms of future landscapes post-Brexit, is ensuring continued growth,” says Roberts. “We’ve been working very closely with the government since the referendum result to broker the conversation between industry, the cultural sector and government about what the critical needs of the sector are, making sure that during negotiations it is understood what the priorities of the sector are. That has been a very healthy two-way conversation. “We are a major global film centre and my view is Brexit is not going to fundamentally challenge that.” “We can’t overestimate how omnipresent UK culture through film and TV is to the rest of the world. The volume of film and television being produced and the amount of quality film and television and talent being made in the UK is exceptional. We see that played out year on year through awards seasons, box office and through television ratings. “There is a reason studios and streaming services are making heavy investments. The UK is a key market. “We are not stuck in one lane and as film, television and other screenbased art forms such as games continue to evolve and adapt and turn into new things, we need to have a creative industry that is adaptable and nimble and innovative. We are all of these things.” Adrian Wootton OBE, Chief Executive of the British Film Commission and Film London agrees: “We are the fastest-growing sector in the economy, and our record-breaking figures show the UK continuing to meet growing demand. “It’s vital we continue to nurture and champion the exceptional talent across our screen industries; the BFC working together with our public and private partners across the UK to seize the growth opportunities for nations and regions, putting inclusivity and sustainability at the heart of everything we do