Hollywood strike brings chill to Britain’s film industry

Hollywood strike brings chill to Britain's film industry

What do “Barbie,” “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” have in common? In addition to being big-budget films of the summer, they were made in Britain and filmed, to some extent, in some of the country’s most prestigious studios.

Major Hollywood productions form an important part of the UK film and television industry. Over the years, they have brought money, jobs and prestige and helped make the region a bright spot in the UK economy. But now that special relationship has come with difficulties.

The actors’ and screenwriters’ strike in the United States, which has brought much of Hollywood to a halt, is also being felt strongly in Britain, where “Deadpool 3,” “Wicked” and “Mission: Impossible – Dead” Several presentations are being made, including Part 2. The filming of ‘The Reckoning’ was stopped. Throughout the summer months, when the industry was at its busiest to take advantage of the longer days, the soundstages at Pinewood, Britain’s largest studio, were almost empty.

After the sudden halt of production, film crew like camera workers and costume designers are out of work. Bectu, the British union for workers who play behind-the-scenes roles in the creative industries, surveyed almost 4,000 of its film and TV members and 80 per cent said their jobs had been affected, with three-quarters not working.

“Regardless of whether you think the studios are right or the unions are right, there are people in the UK who are suffering,” said Marcus Ryder, incoming chief executive of the Film and TV Charity, which supports workers who are financially struggling. .

In August, the charity received more than 320 applications for hardship grants, compared to 37 a year earlier.

Since the first “Star Wars” movie was partly filmed in a studio in England in the mid-1970s, British film studios have been a top destination for American productions, and thanks to generous tax incentives and filmmakers have grown over the past decade. This pace has increased. ‘Demand for an experienced team. More recently, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services have taken up studio space so rapidly that they have accelerated studio construction.

These big-budget productions employ thousands of local workers, and inject billions of dollars into the economy. A record 6.3 billion pounds ($7.8 billion) was spent on film and high-end TV productions in Britain last year, according to the British Film Institute. About 90 percent came from American studios or other foreign productions.

Since mid-July, when Hollywood actors joined the writers’ strike, the number of delayed films or television shows in Britain has been relatively low, maybe about a dozen, But those are big productions that require lots of staff and an ecosystem of visual effects companies, catering and other services to support.

Charlotte Sewell, a London-based assistant costume designer, was working on the film “Mission: Impossible” when a strike halted production. For a few weeks she was able to work one day a week, but now that has also ended.

“Now that my one-day week is gone, I will try to find something somewhere,” she said. “I’m not sure where yet.”

Ms. Sewell, who is also chair of the Bectu committee for costume and wardrobe department employees, said she supports the strike, and is confident she will be able to return to “Mission: Impossible” once the dispute ends. .

In the meantime, she’s nervous about her finances, especially paying her next self-employment tax bill, which is due in January.

“Because I’ve been in the industry longer, I think I’m more equipped to deal with downtime mentally, but not financially,” he said.

He started the business in 1992. At the time, the film industry was in “serious trouble” after a decline in funding, Ms Sewell said, but recent years had been “wonderful”. There has been a notable shift in his work toward larger American productions.

“We rely heavily on American studio-based productions for our work, because British productions have taken over,” he said. “I was always working in independent film. “I haven’t done it in years because it just isn’t there.”

Philippa Childs, head of Bectu, said the problems for British workers have been exacerbated by the slowdown in domestic production. The BBC’s funding from viewers through license fees was frozen by the government for two years until April 2024, and other British broadcasters are struggling with falling advertising revenues, limiting their ability to commission new work. Especially due to high production costs. At the same time, film crews are facing pressure on their own budgets due to hyperinflation.

Bectu supports SAG-AFTRA, the Hollywood union that represents actors, because the issues that have sparked the U.S. walkouts, such as studios’ use of artificial intelligence, will “inevitably” have a major impact, Ms. Childs said. . Britain too.

Most workers in the industry are freelancers, but unions say that doesn’t mean the work is always precarious. Following the pandemic-induced lockdown, demand for workers was high, and the industry was full of stories of people suddenly switching to other productions for better pay.

“We have gone from feast to famine,” Ms. Childs said.

The strikes mostly affect the performances of stars who are members of SAG-AFTRA – who are usually US-based actors. But its impact is likely to increase, due to which more employees will be affected. However, many parts of the British film industry remain untouched by the strikes; Domestic production continues with British actors or British union agreements.

That may change. The British actors’ union, Equity, is keeping a close eye on Hollywood talks ahead of contract renewals in Britain. A request for a 15 percent wage increase has been submitted to production companies and the rights and conditions of work will then be negotiated. Equity has launched a campaign called “Stop AI Stealing the Show”, arguing that British law is failing to protect the rights of performers.

“We clearly want what Americans want,” said Paul Fleming, Equality’s general secretary. “So we are facing the possibility of industrial unrest in the middle of next year.”

For the past 13 years, Ian Ogden has worked as a grip, a crew member who moves and supports the camera. He was on reshoots of Disney’s live-action remake of “Snow White” when the film was shut down due to a strike in July.

“It’s been pretty frustrating since then,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Ogden said, he earned three-quarters of what he needed, and was using savings set aside for his two young children to pay for groceries. For weeks, he said, he struggled to find new work because the productions still running tended to be small and did not require as many cameras or grips. Recently he got a job in a British television production.

“I support the fight for rights,” said Mr Ogden, a member of Bectu who also holds a position in a charitable organization for grips. But he doesn’t support the strike, he said, because it is hurting offscreen workers who don’t have the same financial support as Hollywood actors.

“The people in this country who have been affected by this – we’re not millionaires,” he said.

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