100 years of ‘special relationship’ between UK and Hollywood – The Hollywood Reporter
To mark the Motion Picture Association’s centenary on May 30, Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission and Film London, wrote an exclusive op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter looking back at the unique relationship the UK and Hollywood have had over the past 100 years, including the rise of British talent in the US, such as Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock, the studio’s lasting impact on the UK’s emerging industry, how the foundations were laid for franchises, such as James Bond and Harry Potter, and what the future holds.
There are often references to the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States. For me, the cultural medium that manifests it best is cinema and television. Perhaps the clearest demonstration is the recent and unprecedented explosion of content creation on our shores, fueled by foreign investment partners in American studios and streamers.
Since the dawn of the “dream factory”, before and after the First World War, our production, distribution and exhibition sectors, and talents, have been inextricably linked. Perhaps the world’s first truly global film superstar was Charlie Chaplin, a Briton who cut his teeth in British variety theater but whose filmmaking talent was funded by booming American film companies and their Walloon investors. Street. While British cinema had its own specific development, American films remained hugely popular during the time and sound era, and American distribution companies had large operations in this crucial market early on.
As the Sound Age arrived, changes in UK legislation were made to give more market space to British-made films. This meant that American studios also had to invest in “local” production. And so the oft-derided “Quota Quickie” came about. These were inexpensive “B” feature films financed by American studios that were part of the theaters’ support programs. Nonetheless, they produced some surprisingly good efforts, and a who’s who of great techies and filmmakers (like legendary director Michael Powell) debuted there. Arguably, they provided a unique training ground that became the foundation for the golden age of British cinema that followed.
Also during this period, American film companies invested in British cinema by securing distribution deals outside the UK for domestic producers such as Alexander Korda. They invested in studios, like Denham, where the first European Technicolor film, financed by 20th Century Fox, morning wings was filmed in 1937. MGM even created a British division, making films (including the classic Goodbye Mr. Chips).
During the war, talent became the main currency. From Hitchcock to Olivier, Grant, Flynn and Leigh, many of our greatest directors, writers and performers have graced some of Hollywood’s finest films. And after the war, a magnificent cinema on both sides of the Atlantic emerged. This included the pinnacle of British production by Gainsborough, Ealing and Rank, as well as important, albeit occasional, classic films that represented a true two-way collaboration.
Returning to Korda, the legendary producer gained access to American talent and funding through David O. Selznick for 1949 The third manwith its studio scenes shot in the UK In 1950, Fox financed Jules Dassin’s noir thriller The night and the city through the bomb-damaged streets of London with haunting American star Richard Widmark. The following year, Britain’s Romulus Films co-produced John Huston’s classic The African Queen with studio scenes shot in the UK Meanwhile, David Lean had also begun his succession of international epics, with Bridge over the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia both funded by Columbia. Indeed, in the 1960s, the creative and commercial interests of British cinema and Hollywood aligned. United Artists funded James Bond’s low-budget(!) debut album in Doctor No, establishing one of the longest-running franchises in film history. Every subsequent installment has been produced and at least partially shot here, using a wide range of British talent.
The American film industry clung to the zeitgeist of social change in ’60s’ Britain, funding quintessentially British talent, producers and directors to make definitely British subjects for international audiences. , of Tom Jones in 1962 until The Ipcress folder, Alfie, and many more. Combine that with genius American director Stanley Kubrick’s permanent relocation to Britain to make his Warner Brothers-funded films – from Dr Strangelove from 1961 – only on these shores (creating the production bases that will be used by Harry Potter decades later) and Hollywood England was really on the move. This boom period brought many benefits to British industry, undoubtedly leaving deep roots in talent, skills and infrastructure.
For mainly economic reasons, this ended in the early 1970s and a period of wilderness began. Still, some US-funded feature films were made in British studios at this time, notably George Lucas’ first cycle. star wars films at Elstree, intermittent Kubrick epics (until Eyes wide closed) and projects like Ridley Scott’s classic Extraterrestrial.
This important but inconsistent pattern continued until, following successful industry lobbying, successive UK governments introduced the tax incentive models in the 1990s, which would eventually evolve into a tax credit support structure that has since served as a solid foundation to protect indigenous British cinema. and simultaneously boosted foreign investment in a way not seen since the 1960s.
It was a catalyst to encourage Warner Bros. to found the Harry Potter films here and build their permanent base in Leavesden. It’s seen Disney, Paramount, and Universal (also through its ownership of the brilliant working title) do plenty of large-scale productions here. This has been further spurred by the large-scale rise of high-end television (HETV), driven by infrastructure expansion, talent development and additional tax credit.
Add to this the entry into the streamer market, and production in UK countries and regions has quickly developed an enviable global position. In 2022, despite the pandemic and related obstacles, demand is increasing. As an industry, we continue to rise to the challenges, with more infrastructure – especially studio space – and increased efforts to train people to fill the thousands of additional jobs. Of course, there are ongoing concerns about the current state of independent British cinema, the development of intellectual property, sustainability, diversity and cultural identity.
Yet if you look at the value of the investment (content and bricks and mortar) that our partners bring across the UK through the seven UK production clusters, helping us improve before the phrase is invented, and the very quality of what is made (The abbey in the town center, The crown, fantastic beasts, slow horses, Bridgerton, Ted Lassoto name a few), it’s clear that this aspect of the special relationship is strong, healthy – and still growing.