A survey of UK motion picture production by government region

Since 2000, policy makers have sought to boost the global competitiveness of the film industry in the United Kingdom and to enhance its capacity for endogenous development through the territorialisation of filmmaking as an economic and cultural activity at the regional level. National bodies, such as the UK Film Council, sell the UK as a ‘film hub’ to the global film industry, while responsibility for implementation of film policy has been devolved to the regional screen agencies (Redfern 2007). This post looks at the regional geography of motion picture production in the UK between 2003 and 2007, using information drawn from official and unofficial databases.

Data

Data was taken from the UK Film Council’s list of British films produced from 2003 to 2007 with budgets in excess of £500,000 [1]. The UK Film Council places British films in one of four categories: co-productions involving the UK as a production partner (COP); domestic features made by a UK production company (DOM); inward co-productions originating outside the UK (ICP); and inward feature films substantially originating outside the UK (INW). A limitation of the data is that it only covers productions with a budget greater than or equal to £500,000, and this excludes a significant part of UK film production. Small- and micro-budget productions are not included, and so the data presented here will actually underestimate the level of film production in the UK’s regions.

The UK Film Council does not provide data on the geography of production in the UK, and in order to determine the locations used for filming, the locations search feature on http://www.imdb.com’s advanced search was utilised. When present this data is typically accurate for contemporary films, but it is difficult to assess how much data is missing. Unfortunately there is no other source that provides a similarly broad range of geographical data, as data on where film production takes in the UK is typically not collected by the regional screen agencies (although Northern Ireland Screen added a production guide to its annual reports in 2007 which does contain a list of locations for each film to shoot in the province). This data can be cross checked against other databases, press releases, and websites, but should generally be used as an estimate of the geography of film production. Given a large enough dataset it is possible to be reasonably confident that the major geographical trends can be correctly identified – beyond this and the data may prove to be unreliable.

A further issue is that this data does not reflect the level of filmmaking activity in a particular place – it does not specify if a location was used for several weeks or for a single day. Nor is it possible to estimate the level of production spend in a region.

The presentation of the data is based on the following assumptions

  • Where a film is produced in more than one region, then this counts as one connection to each region. As a film may be produced in more than one region, the total number of connections exceeds the total number of films.
  • A film has a single connection to region only, even if numerous locations within that region were used.
  • Production at a studio is classed as production activity in a region (e.g., production at Shepperton takes place in Surrey and so is classed as South East England).

The UK Film Council includes documentaries in its database, but these have been excluded here.

Results

The UK Film Council lists 713 British films of which 462 were at least partially shot in the UK. Location data was unable for 104 of these films, leaving 358 films on which the analysis is based. Table 1 presents a breakdown of the number of UK productions to shoot in the UK by year and production category. Nearly half of the films covered here are domestic productions, with the remained mostly comprised of inward features and co-productions involving a UK production company as a significant producing partner. Incoming co-productions do not form a significant part of feature film production in the UK.

Table 1 UK feature films with budgets of £500,000 or greater to shoot in the UK from 2003 to 2007

Geog1

The regional distribution of UK feature films produced in the UK from 2003 to 2007 is presented in Tables 2 and 3. The dominance of London, the South East, and East of England is immediately apparent, and these three regions account for 68.69 per cent of the total connections in the UK. From Table 2 it is evident that inward productions and co-productions to the UK are restricted to the south eastern England, although over half the films produced in Scotland were from these categories. Only two incoming co-productions were involved shoots outside south eastern England. There is very little production activity in the North East of England, with four films in five years accounting for less than 1 per cent of the total. Looking at the change in the overall level of production from year to year (Table 3) in each region, the geographical distribution of feature film production is stable and shows very little variation over the period covered here. There is production in every region in every year except for the West Midlands in 2003 and the North East in 2004 and 2007.

Table 2 Regional distribution of UK feature film production by production category, 2003 to 2007

Geog2

Table 3 Year on year change in the regional distribution of feature film production in the UK, 2003 to 2007

Geog3

The regional distribution of feature film production maps almost exactly onto the regional distribution of VAT-registered businesses engaged in motion picture activities (production, distribution, exhibition) (see Table 4). London, the South East, and the East accounted for 75.82 per cent of production companies in 2007 with to 67.69 per cent of UK productions shooting in these regions in that year. The Spearman rank order coefficient for the regional distribution of production and production companies in 2007 is 0.8882. London’s status a ‘global city-region’ (Sassen 2001; Scott et al. 2001) is also relevant in accounting for its ability to attract productions in a global film market. These three regions are also dominant in distribution and exhibition. Consequently, they will exert considerable influence over production in other regions as production centres at the local and/or regional level are dependent upon external financial and creative decisions that are beyond their control (Robins and Cornford 1994, Coe and Johns 2004). As Robins and Cornford (1994: 235) have noted:

The forces shaping the industry remain beyond the control and influence of local actors. The agenda is shaped by the activities of large media companies, and local or regional production industries can only struggle to adapt to the adverse conditions of this environment.

This places regional producers in a difficult position: the selling of the UK’s regions is dependent on establishing their uniqueness in a competitive market place and requires flexibility in policy formation but the UK film industry is controlled from London and its surrounding regions. The decentralising impulse of New Labour’s regional film policies must be balanced against the concentration of filmmaking activities in one part of the country that enables the UK to be globally competitive.

Table 4 VAT-based enterprises (SIC 2003) in the UK motion picture industry, 2007

Geog4

The level of a region’s autonomy was determined by identifying those productions which were based in a single UK region only, and the results are presented in Table 5. An ‘autonomous production’ is defined as a film which was produced in a single UK region only, irrespective of any production activity that may have taken place outside the UK (e.g. in the home country of a co-production partner). The autonomy of a region can be used as an index of its interconnectedness with the rest of the UK film industry.

Table 5 Regional autonomy of UK motion picture production

Geog5

From Table 5 it can be seen that London has a much higher proportion of autonomous productions that other southern regions, and this is to be expected: as the centre of the UK film industry London has the greatest number of productions and dominates the surrounding regions. The East and South East have more productions than the other regions but fewer of these are autonomous, and this may be accounted fro the presence of the major British studios (Shepperton, Pinewood, Leavesden) in these regions and their proximity to London. Films produced in the UK (and especially incoming films to the UK) appear to use these studio faculties and shoot on location in London. In general, the number of autonomous productions increases with distance from London. Northern Ireland stands out as being distinct from the rest of the United Kingdom, with nearly three-quarters of films to shoot in the region being autonomous.  As 11 of the 15 films to be produced in Northern Ireland were either co-productions or inward features (see Table 2) this suggests that the regions connections beyond the UK (and most obviously to the Republic of Ireland) are of more significance than its connections to the rest of the British film industry. However, as can be seen from Table 4, there were no distribution companies in Northern Ireland in 2007 and only a small proportion of the national total outside south eastern England. Regional autonomy of production should not be taken to imply separateness from the UK film industry, when in fact there is a high level of dependency in other sectors of the film industry.

Notes

  1. http://www.ukfilmcouncil.org.uk/ukfilms, accessed 4 June 2009.

References

Coe, N.M., and Johns, J. (2004) Beyond production clusters: towards a critical political economy of networks in the film and television industries, in Power, D. and Scott, A.J. (eds) The Cultural Industries and the Production of Culture. London: Routledge: 188-204.

Redfern, N. (2007) Defining British cinema: transnational and territorial film policy in the United Kingdom, Journal of British Cinema and Television 4 (1): 150-164.

Robbins, K. and Cornford, J.  (1994) Local and regional broadcasting in the new media order, in Amin, A. and Thrift, N. (eds.) Globalisation, Institutions, and Regional Development in Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 217-238.

Sassen, S. (2001) The Global City: New York, London, and Tokyo, second edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Scott, A.J., Agnew, J., Soja, E., and Storper, M. (2001) Global city-regions, in Scott, A.J. (ed.) Global City-Regions: Trends, Theory, Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 11-30.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on June 4, 2009, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Policy, Film Studies, Regionalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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