This morning’s Oscar coverage will perhaps inevitably be dominated by how “our” team got on at the climax to what’s been an impressive awards season.
The economic performance of the UK industry is, however, the real star.
For the second time in three weeks I’m indebted to the Centre for Economics & Business’s (CEBR’s) Forecasting Eye, which has adroitly put out some numbers that demonstrate this.
Of the 10 highest grossing films worldwide in 2019, three were computer animated but of the seven that weren’t, five were at least partly filmed on this shores, including the all conquering Avengers: Endgame, which has now supplanted Avatar to become the biggest movie of all time. Per the latest available data, the think tank estimates that the UK film industry added £6bn to the economy in 2018 and it’s a fair bet that 2019 will top that.
What’s really impressive about that 2018 number is that it is more than three times the corresponding one for 2012.
The industry accounted for 0.4 per cent of the dominant services sector in that year. In 2018 that had grown to 0.8 per cent.
The Eye makes the point that this performance was turned in despite scant movement in the UK’s cinema going habits. Figures from the British Film Institute put the number of visits at just 2.7 per person in 2018, which about where it was a decade ago.As someone who in that year went to maybe 15 times that number of theatrical screenings, the number is sad but not surprising.
A visit to a modern multiplex isn’t always a terribly edifying experience. The phrase “rip off” is perhaps best way to describe the price of the food and drink on offer. If you’re lucky there might be a few pictures of famous films on the wall of your chosen venue but the atmosphere is often otherwise non existent. What’s more, despite their boasting a plethora of screens, multiplexes frequently fail to offer the choice that they could.
Last year, for example, I highlighted the case of Mark Jenkin’s home-produced Bait in an opinion column. It managed sell outs in the limited number of cinemas on which it was shown but failed to move the needle with the big chains’ buyers, perhaps because of Jenkin’s consciously archaic approach to filmmaking. And there are plenty more stories like that. Sure, multiplex chains are in the business of making money, but how many screens does a blockbuster really need three or four weeks in? I had the pleasure of a cinema to myself for a couple of last year’s big releases, which is nice because no irritating mobile phone conversations when Captain America is doing his thing, but still.
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for theatres’ gripes about Netflix, and its refusal to offer them their cherished 90 day window of exclusivity for releases like The Irishman, given the way they carry on. How many of them would have screened, say, The Two Popes if they’d been offered it by the streaming giant?
Some films struggle to connect, it’s true, but a little more variety and a little more risk-taking might just tempt a few more people to pay £5 for a tub of popcorn.
It is streaming where interesting indie films increasingly have to go to breathe, and it is streaming that is fuelling the growth identified by the CEBR.
Netflix is justifiably facing criticism for its tax affairs, but its contribution to the economic renaissance of UK film is considerable: some £400m in 2019.
The CEBR finishes its missive with an arch point that I’d heartily endorse. It notes that from 2014-18 data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK film industry’s total exports were worth nearly £10bn. It might surprise you to learn that 40 per cent of them were to the EU.
“Any newly forged trading arrangements should seek to continue to allow the industry to flourish,” it says.
Quite. Unfortunately Boris Johnson’s government’s marries extreme stupidity with extremism and is currently trying to pass a de facto no-deal Brexit off as an “Austrlian-style arrangement” which the Australians don’t think is suitable for them (they’re pursuing their own deal with the EU).
When it comes time to produce a picture based on his tenure it’ll probably be classed as a tragicomedy, or maybe just an out and out tragedy.