This week, Neil Calloway argues that tax, language and excellent locations mean London is currently the best place to make films…
With the release this week of the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that Canary Wharf Underground Station was standing in for the Death Star in some shots. Now, anyone who has ever been stuck on the tube during rush hour can relate to the Underground being an evil engineering project designed to destroy people, but it also reminded the world that London has become probably the top destination for blockbuster film-makers.
Of course, films have always been shot in and around London, but in recent years more and more films have been shot in the capital, including films not set there (which, given that the Death Star is near Yavin and not on the Isle of Dogs, would include Rogue One). The 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables was shot more at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (a short Docklands Light Railway ride away from Canary Wharf) than it was in Paris. Greenwich also appears in Skyfall, Thor 2: The Dark World, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
So, why the sudden appearance of London in films that you wouldn’t expect to be shot there? First, the US box office is becoming less and less critical to a film’s success, so it is less and less important that a film is set there. Film-makers will also talk about how great British technician are, and it’s true that there are several large studio complexes on the outskirts of London where major films can be comfortably accommodated, but most importantly there are also tax breaks that make Britain attractive to Hollywood.
The major reason films are now shot over here are tax breaks; it was Chancellor George Osborne who announced that the new Star Wars films would be shot in Britain, no doubt after offering generous incentives to Disney and Lucasfilm along the way. The upcoming Ryan Reynolds/Kevin Costner film Criminal was originally due to be shot in the US, but tax incentives made them change the location to London. You can be sure London Has Fallen received similar treatment (though much of that was shot in Bulgaria). Idris Elba’s new film, Bastille Day, was largely shot in London, despite being set in France, and Guardians of the Galaxy was shot at Shepperton Studios.
US States have realised there is money to be made from film and TV production, and are similarly offering tax breaks; until recently it was more than likely that your favourite TV show was shot in California, now the chances are it’s shot in Maryland (House of Cards) New Mexico (Breaking Bad) North Carolina (Homeland) and even Northern Ireland (Game of Thrones). London is the same.
Hollywood films shot in Britain not only benefit from tax breaks, but US stars get to speak the same language as the crew; London will always have that advantage over non-English speaking countries. It also offers a wide variety of locations; not many cities can offer settings that stand in for 19th Century France and galaxies far, far away a short distance from each other. The rise and rise of London as a location will continue for some time to come.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.