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British hit in film-making, miss in going

Jan. 12: Britain cemented its status as the world’s most important film centre outside Hollywood when it was announced yesterday that 2003 was a record-breaking year for film production in the country.

Spending on filmmaking here more than doubled on 2002, jumping from £550 million to £1.17 billion.

Conversely, Britain couldn’t buck the worldwide slump in film-going last year. For the first time in more than a decade cinema attendances fell in 2003.

Figures to be released shortly are expected to show that ticket sales fell 10 million to 166 million in 2003, with a small drop also in the record £812 million earned at the box office in 2002.

The dramatic rise in production is largely down to overseas investment, particularly through co-productions.

Huge blockbusters, notably Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is rumoured to have cost up to £143 million, Helen of Troy starring Brad Pitt, Oliver Stone’s Alexander (with Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy) and Thunderbirds saw the 50-odd stages at Britain’s studios Shepperton, Pinewood, Elstree and Leesden working at capacity in 2003.

Foreign investment jumped from £265 million to £729 million but UK films rose too. The number of British films shot here jumped from 37 to 45, with spending up from £156 million to £277 million.

“I feel really proud of Britain,” Steve Norris, the British film commissioner at the UK Film Council, said yesterday. “We are second only to Hollywood.”

He said Britain not only boasted directors, writers and stars of international standing but it excelled in technical skills such as special effects, post-production, sound and music. Around 50,000 jobs were created by the UK film industry.

Norris added: “Obviously it’s cheaper still to shoot in the Czech Republic but that may not be the issue. Britain scores because of factors like efficiency, value for money and quality.”

Colin Vaines, the head of European production at Miramax, one of America’s biggest film companies, said: “There is a lot of confidence in Britain and with technicians and crews who are among the best in the world it is a great place to make a film.”

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