Hello, and welcome to International Insider, Jake Kanter here. In the week that Jeff Bezos announced that he is stepping down as the CEO of Amazon, scroll on for the biggest headlines from global film and TV. Want to get in touch? I’m on [email protected], or my DMs are open on Twitter. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.
The Big Bounceback
Putting a price on the pandemic: £774 million ($1 billion). That’s how much less was spent on UK film and TV production last year compared with 2019, per the BFI. For a booming industry, that might seem like a gut punch, but zoom out, and it’s an utterly remarkable show of resilience. Remember, filming was basically shut down for around four months last year (there were zero high-end TV shoots in Q3). Running with this maths, spending should theoretically have fallen by a third or more. Instead, it was down by just a fifth to £2.8B.
What happened? Well, the industry rallied in spectacular fashion. During a filming hiatus, industry leaders joined forces to put in place world-leading coronavirus safety protocols and, crucially, a £500M insurance solution. Spending was backloaded dramatically in 2020, with £1.2B being dropped on productions in the fourth quarter — up 71% on the average Q4 spend in the three years prior to 2020. Q3 shoots including Jurassic World: Dominion and War Of The Worlds paved the way for the resurgence.
Talking of insurance, here’s another number for you: 20,000. That’s how many jobs the UK government said this week have been protected by the country’s Film and TV Production Restart Scheme. That’s thousands of out-of-work freelancers getting back to what they do best on 160 shoots that took advantage of the insurance stop-gap. Aml Ameen’s debut feature Boxing Day and Sky/FX series Breeders (pictured above) were among the productions that successfully applied for cover.
Bouncebackability: BFI CEO Ben Roberts said the findings are “a good news story,” while culture secretary Oliver Dowden hailed the screen sector’s “extraordinary bounceback.”
What now? Maintaining momentum in the face of new waves of Covid-19. The number of film and TV shoots was down 44% to 231 last year. Reverse this dip and spending will surely rise once again. Industry insiders tell us that extending the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme for a third time will be critical to capturing a big swell in summer shoots. The fact that the government is touting its success suggests ministers could be persuaded.
Need to read: Before the 93 submissions for the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category gets scythed down to 15 next week, my colleague Nancy Tartaglione has an excellent, two-part walkthrough of some of the frontrunners. Here’s part one, and part two.
Interviews galore: She’s spoken to around 20 filmmakers for the piece, which sheds light on contenders including The Man Standing Next (pictured), the Korean film about the assassination of Park Chung-hee that is looking to follow the soaraway success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. Not that director Woo Min-ho is overwhelmed in any way: “It feels like we’re going through regional qualification in the World Cup, and it would be very delightful if we make it further,” he told Nancy.
Norwegian goods: Another gem comes from Maria Sodahl, who helmed Norwegian entry Hope, which stars Chernobyl’s Stellan Skarsgard. Sodahl turned her run-in with brain cancer into a story about a family coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis. Sodahl said she had to drag the story out of herself — and just as well she did, given Hope has been optioned for a series by Amazon, with Nicole Kidman attached to star.
For more foreign film coverage, do check out our new regular International Critics Line feature. Reviewer Anna Smith recently cast her eye over Tamil-language hit Master, which stars Vijay as a beloved professor, who is a little too fond of the bottle. Smith’s verdict: “Master may deliver its lessons with a heavy hand, but it’s got the charisma to see you through.” Here’s the full review.
A regal showing: If you needed a reason as to why there is such a race to invest in UK content, it came on Wednesday, when Brits put in a blistering performance in the Golden Globe nominations. We worked out that British-produced projects and stars accounted for more than a quarter of all 125 noms. Netflix’s The Crown secured more nominations than any other TV series, while first timers included Promising Young Woman director Emerald Fennell and John Boyega for his performance in the BBC/Amazon anthology drama Small Axe.
A notable absentee: There was one surprise snub, however, and that was for the BBC/HBO’s brilliant sexual assault survivor series I May Destroy You. It failed to figure in a single category, prompting an incredulous response from many. “I suppose now we may just never know whether I May Destroy You was better than Emily in Paris,” joked The Batman showrunner Joe Barton, referencing Emily In Paris’ surprise inclusion. The gag was not lost on Emily In Paris writer Deborah Copaken, who said that her own nom had been blemished by I May Destroy You’s omission.
I may award you: In better news for Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You’s creator, director, and star picked up a SAG Award nom in the Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series category. The timing was sweet too, coming just 24 hours after her Globes snub.
BAFTA in on the act: It wasn’t just the Yanks pulling the curtain back on awards frontrunners this week. BAFTA published the longlists for its 2021 Film Awards, which members will now whittle down to the final nominations. Tom Grater picked out a few takeaways, including the fact that Tenet missed both Best Film and British Film but Christopher Nolan did make the Director category. Go deeper.
‘Devotion’ Deep Dive
A patchwork of finance: In a sign of how disparate and diverse the funding can be on sizeable U.S movies today, we broke news in our deep dive on big-budget war pic Devotion that the film pre-sold to Netflix and Amazon in multiple international markets in addition to its more ‘traditional’ financing. There’s a breathless list of backers that includes Sony for domestic; STX for the UK and STX’s output partners such as Sun, Vertical, and Top Films; a chunk from Black Label; tax credits; Eros in India; and a handful of indie buyers including Eagle Pictures in Italy and Eagle Films in the Middle East.
What are they buying? The film itself is a sweeping epic about Navy pilots – including pioneering African American aviator Jesse Brown – who risked their lives during the Korean War and became some of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen. Da 5 Bloods actor Jonathan Majors stars alongside Top Gun: Maverick actor Glen Powell, while Joe Jonas is also on board.
The ultimate script consultant: For director J.D. Dillard, Devotion has very personal resonance after his father was an African American naval aviator. Dad came in handy during development. “I have a lifetime of my dad elbowing me in the ribs while we’re watching aviation movies and telling me, ‘That’s not what it looks like, that’s not what they say, that’s not what they do.’ I’ve never had a consultant I could so easily call in the middle of reading the script and ask, ‘By the way, can you give me more background on this detail or that.’” Check out our profile.
India’s Cinema Recovery
Bucking the trend: The vaccination program has lifted spirits around the world, but few countries are feeling as optimistic right now as India, which has gone from having the worst global Covid situation to one of the lowest infection rates per head. As cases drop below 10,000 per day (in a country of 1.3 billion people), the government is opening up the economy, including the cinema industry.
Cinema set to bounce back: An announcement this week that cinemas would be allowed to return to 100% capacity was greeted with wide cheer in the biz. The mood was already good after Tamil action thriller Master grossed a healthy $26M, with venues at 50% capacity, and this week’s news has sparked a flurry of activity, with companies rushing to line up their buzzy titles, many of which were held over from last year’s slate. We spoke to several of the country’s biggest producers about their plans, and got the latest on a host of big-ticket titles.
The insider view: “The government has done a tremendous job controlling the Covid cases in India. Particularly with the kind of population we have, it’s remarkable,” says Devang Sampat, CEO at exhibitor Cinepolis. “Now is a good time to go back to normal.” Read Tom’s full feature.
🌶️ Hot one of the week: Fresh off her Golden Globe and SAG nominations for The Crown, we revealed that Gillian Anderson will next star in Lionsgate and director Marc Forster’s White Bird: A Wonder Story, which will begin production in the Czech Republic later this month. Andreas Wiseman had the scoop.
🍿 International box office: Soul led the charge with $9.3M in 13 markets amid scant drops in both Russia and Korea. This brings the Pixar film’s offshore total to $85.2M. Nancy has the details.
📈 Going up: It’s A Sin has become Channel 4’s most-binged new series ever after racking up 6.5M views on streamer All 4. It also helped All 4 to historic high streaming in January. The show debuts on HBO Max on February 18.
🏆 Awards news: Siân Heder’s Coda (pictured), which we first told you was swooped up by Apple for $25M, won big at the Sundance Film Festival awards. It scooped the U.S. Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, and a Special Jury Ensemble Cast. Anthony D’Alessandro has the full winners.
🚚 On the move: Channel 4 documentaries commissioner Fozia Khan has joined Amazon Prime Video unscripted team in the UK. She will report to head of unscripted Dan Grabiner. More here.
🎦 Trailer dash: Here’s the first clip of Sundance Film Festival drama Luzzu, the first Maltese feature to compete in a major international festival. It is produced by acclaimed filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (The White Tiger). Watch here.
📺 One to watch: News of The World drops on Netflix next Wednesday, February 10. The film reunites Captain Phillips duo Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks for a post-Civil War story. Our chief film critic Pete Hammond calls it a “towering piece of moviemaking.” Watch his review here.
Unexpected news: We loved Emily In Paris writer Deborah Copaken’s truly pandemic-era description of being told that her show had been nominated for a Golden Globe. Totally unaware that the Globes were unveiling noms on Wednesday, Copaken was busy spooning down whipped cream while simultaneously shirking a YouTube yoga workout, when the phone rang. It was her mother with the news that Emily In Paris had been nominated for “best whatever.” Writing in The Guardian, Copaken said she had to Google the news twice to check that her Mom’s Covid-19 vaccine hadn’t “messed with her head.” Congrats to Copaken and the Emily In Paris team.
Andreas Wiseman and Tom Grater contributed to International Insider.
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