London-Far from being wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s film and television industry is enjoying a blockbuster run thanks in large part to a surge in online streaming. Attracting global production teams to spectacular landscapes, gothic castles and state-of-the-art studios in the UK, the nation’s film industry has enjoyed big growth in recent years -- also thanks to tax breaks.  

From blockbuster movie franchises “James Bond” and “Star Wars” to hit US series “Games of Thrones”, Britain has a long history of filming international hits despite enduring some lean times. “The UK screen industries are a huge success story and a big contributor to the cultural economy of Europe,” said Gary Davey, chief executive of Sky Studios.

“We have a wealth of talent right across the UK, both on-screen and off-screen. I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Davey told AFP.

US-owned broadcasting group Sky is meanwhile pressing ahead with new multi-billion-dollar facilities in Hertfordshire, north of London -- already home to long-standing Elstree studios, or “Britain’s Hollywood”. 

Even if the real Hollywood continues to dominate, the British film sector is by no means a small player, employing about 140,000 people and generating billions of pounds to the economy annually. Bollywood is also a big fan. “The UK is historically a preferred shooting location for a lot of Indian films,” said Vikram Malhotra, CEO of Abundantia Entertainment. “The UK is a very shooting-friendly location. Not only is there support and facilitation available for production but also you get support in key areas like trained crew, equipment, actors and post-production.”

Malhotra meanwhile praised the UK’s response amid the pandemic.

“The UK government and its departments have moved quickly and supported us, especially where production is concerned, which has made the UK relatively even more attractive now,” he told AFP. Tuning in to the sector’s importance, the government authorised at the start of July -- as the UK was exiting its first lockdown -- the resumption of filming “Mission Impossible 7”, while allowing crews quarantining exemption. Culture minister Oliver Dowden, whose parliamentary constituency Hertsmere is home to Elstree studios, even contacted “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise to reassure him.

In general, the UK film industry got back to work quickly after the end of the first lockdown, while it has been allowed to keep the cameras rolling during the ongoing second enforcement endured by much of the country.

“The vast majority of our shows both in the UK and internationally are now back up and running,” said David McGraynor, chief operating officer at ITV Studios. Davey said that since resumption, Sky has split production into various close-contact groups.

“The very few cases of Covid we have seen on set have all been contained very quickly proving that this method of pooling teams together is working. “Productions can take a little longer, but it’s actually the pre-production work and planning that now takes up more time,” he noted.