Acute skills shortage threatens UK film studio production boom | Television industry

JBritain’s £6billion film and TV production boom is in danger of being derailed as an acute skills shortage – from set designers and special effects experts to accountants – is causing delays in filming schedules and driving up the cost productions for the big and small screen.

The streaming wars have fueled an unprecedented boom in demand for content in the battle to attract new subscribers and viewers, with a record £5.6bn spent making blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible 7, big budget dramas, including Bridgerton and reality TV shows such as Chef in the UK last year.

The huge increase in spending – double the pandemic-hit 2020 figure and £1.3bn more than in 2019 – has put pressure on deep-pocketed Hollywood studios and streaming giants to ‘they’re fighting for studio space to ensure the production pipeline continues to flow freely.

Last week, Amazon’s Prime Video struck a record deal to lease space at Shepperton Studios, which is home to productions ranging from Extraterrestrial for Mary Poppinsas part of the company’s first long-term commitment to making television programs and films in the UK.

The streaming giant joins Disney and Netflix, who have already struck deals with Pinewood, home of James Bond and star wars franchises and Shepperton as the space race continues.

However, behind the scenes of Britain’s production boom, a crisis is looming: sources suggest a shortage of 40,000 workers will have arisen by 2025 – with filming times already affected.

“We’re absolutely back and flying,” said Paul Golding, managing director of Pinewood Studios, which also owns Shepperton Studios. “I haven’t seen in my time the studios being used as intensely as they are now. However, the biggest challenge facing the industry is the crew. Building infrastructure, studios – it can be done fairly quickly when needed. But crewing is much, much more difficult. We’ve been talking about it for a long time.”

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series has moved production from New Zealand to the UK. Photo: Amazon Studios/PA

The British Film Institute (BFI) is assessing the extent of the skills shortage, at the request of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and sources say its report will detail an industry faced a crisis when it was released in April.

The skills shortage isn’t just creating delays in some filming schedules, it’s also fueling wage inflation as productions battle to secure an in-demand crew.

ScreenSkills, the body that represents workers in Britain’s film and TV industry, says there is a particular shortage in the ‘tight world’ of experienced crews.

“The really pressing issues are at the experienced intermediate level, and that is our main focus for the year ahead, as shortages there affect production schedules, cause delays and create wage inflation,” Seetha said. Kumar, Managing Director of ScreenSkills.

“All the research we do and the regular industry input that sits on our skills councils and working groups, [tells] skills gaps and shortages at all levels – from production coordinators and managers to editors, script supervisors and accountants.

There are growing concerns that the skills shortage is having an impact on the quality of UK productions. ScreenSkills’ research found that the crew are promoted to meet demand before they’re ready to take on a higher role.

There’s also the growing practice of so-called “jumping,” where particularly stretched crews leave a production before it’s finished due to the offer of better-paying work.

So far, the growing skills shortage hasn’t caused the UK to lose out to other countries as a place to create Hollywood blockbusters and crown jewel content for the streaming giants. Amazon set to start filming the second series of its over $1 billion small-screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien The Lord of the Rings in the UK in the coming months. Amazon made the surprise decision to move filming from New Zealand, the home of all previous the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit productions, in the UK last August.

“It’s great that the UK continues to be seen as a great place to make film and TV and that there has been such growth, not just in production spending, but also in magnitude and ambition of what is being achieved,” Kumar said. “But skills shortages are the biggest risk to continued growth and we believe there is an urgent need to inject funds. There is no quick fix for this.

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