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British Film Commission

Programming Profile

BFC plays the UK advantage


The British Film Commission’s executive VP of US production Kattie Kotok discusses what the UK can offer US producers, as part of C21’s Content LA On Demand digital event.


If you’re a US producer looking for a good shooting location, with great access, transport and a wide variety of visual options, your first thought probably isn’t Northern Ireland. But Kattie Kotok, executive VP of US production at the British Film Commission (BFC), argues otherwise.


“Andrew Reid, who is the head of production at Northern Ireland Screen, says that Northern Ireland is a similar size to Greater Los Angeles and that in 45 minutes you can travel from the city centre to the coast. LA-based executives always find that impressive,” she says.


And it’s not just Northern Ireland that has similar qualities; many other UK locations can double for cities and states across the US, according to Kotok. “The UK has doubled for so many different things from a US perspective,” she explains. “Lots of people look to the north of England, such as parts of Manchester, to double up as period New York and Brooklyn. Glasgow is also a great double for American cities because it has a grid system.”


Kattie Kotok, executive VP of US
production at the
British Film Commission (BFC)

Location scouting is only part of the BFC’s work, with the industry body’s overall aim to support and maximise international feature film and high-end television production in the UK across a range of disciplines and genres. “We provide bespoke guidance to each client on how they can produce in the UK,” Kotok says. “That can include anything from shooting to post-production to visual effects to facilities to talent. We work with any project in film and television, from feature films to indie film and television pilots to television series.”


Navigating financial incentives, such as how to quality for the 25% tax relief on spend in the UK for both high-end television and feature films, is among the BFC’s areas of expertise. “Often, US and international producers aren’t familiar with the cultural test,” says Kotok. “In order to get tax relief, a project must pass the cultural test, which is a points-based system, and be certified as British. We can assist producers with going through the test, and we can also read scripts and give notes on what would help the project pass the test.”


It’s difficult to identify areas where the BFC doesn’t provide assistance to US and international producers. “We work with the Production Guild of Great Britain [a membership organisation for those working in production] to assess line producer availabilities for international productions, particularly if they’re looking for someone to do a UK budget. We can also advise on rules around child labour in the UK for productions with children from other countries acting in them,” Kotok adds.


As for successful US productions that have taken place in the UK with the help of the BFC, Kotok gives fantasy-adventure series Outlander as an example. From Sony Pictures Television for US cablenet Starz, the series follows a married nurse from 1945 who is swept back in time to 1743 and thrown into an unknown world where her life is threatened. Filmed on location in Scotland, its 16-episode first season averaged five million multiplatform viewers per episode, according to the Lionsgate-owned US network, with a sixth season currently in the works.


“Outlander is really impressive as it comes from US producers, and they set up shop in Scotland and have been able to build and grow their production over the years. The series has now become a calling card for Scotland and has shone a light on some of the amazing locations and vistas that hadn’t been seen on the small screen before. It’s gratifying to see it commissioned for a sixth season,” Kotok says.


Comedy Ted Lasso, from global streamer Apple TV+, is another example Kotok cites as a successful US production shot in the UK. Starring Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses), the series follows a small-time college football coach from Kansas who is hired to coach a professional soccer team in England despite having no experience in the sport. A third season has already been confirmed by the US tech giant, after season one landed on the platform in August.


“Ted Lasso is a fun series about a fish out of water, but with a sweet tone to it. It’s a true US and UK production, in that we supported some of the executives during the initial stages of setting up production and starting production. They all had a positive experience, and now the show is winning awards,” Kotok explains. Among the awards Ted Lasso has won is the Critics’ Choice Television awards for Best Comedy Series and the Golden Globe for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy for Sudeikis, both in 2021.


Naturally, the BFC also played a part in Netflix megahit period drama Bridgerton, the first fruit of the global streamer’s reported US$150m deal with Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes’ prodco Shondaland. Inspired by Julia Quinn’s novel series of the same name, the show follows the courtship fortunes of eight siblings, focusing on Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor). Filming locations across the UK include Ranger’s House in London, Wilton House in Salisbury, Badminton House in Gloucestershire and Castle Howard in Yorkshire.


Kotok says: “We were involved in Bridgerton at its very early stages. We were working with an executive, before she even began working with Shonda Rhimes on the series, about filming it in the UK. Then when she began working with Shonda, the idea of bringing the production to the UK was already very clear.”


Kotok is keen to underline, though, that the UK has more to offer than quaint locations suitable for period dramas. “The UK is obviously known for castles, manor houses and period projects. But gritty, urban, contemporary shows can be done just as effectively in the UK. Clients are often surprised by the diversity of the UK,” she says. For example, London’s Bishopgate and Shoreditch stood in for European cities including Berlin in Tom Cruise-starring action spy film Mission: Impossible – Fallout.


The UK is also more than London, Kotok stresses. “There are even additional financial incentives for productions that are shot in the UK’s nations and regions,” she says. “Lots of people only think of London and assume they need to be in and around the capital to get what they need, but that may not be the case. We open producers’ eyes to other possibilities, whether it’s Northern Ireland, Wales or Liverpool.”


For example, superhero series Krypton, which is produced by Phantom 4 Films in association with Warner Horizon Scripted Television for US cablenet Syfy, was based in Northern Ireland. “The series was more stage-based, so there was a lot of construction. But it meant the producers had also created a team of experienced crew members, who were then available and eager to work on other projects,” Kotok says.


While it’s clear the UK has many benefits, US and international producers with fledgling projects may be concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its production industry. According to Kotok, however, there is little to worry about. “Production has rebounded. In fact, it started to really ramp up back in the summer and then went full steam ahead. The demand for content is just so high that the number of productions continues to grow, which is encouraging,” she says.


This is reflected in data gathered by the British Film Institute, which revealed £1.19bn (US$1.66bn) was spent on film and high-end television in the UK in the final quarter of 2020 – the second highest three-month spend on record.


To quash any lingering concern, the BFC also provides comprehensive guidance around coronavirus regulations in the UK. “The BFC was one of the key organisations involved in devising production guidance in light of Covid. We have created a document outlining safety protocols which is available on our website and is updated when general restrictions or travel rules change. It really is a useful resource for anyone who wants to bring a project to the UK,” Kotok says.


In many ways, Kotok argues that there has never been a better time to consider production services in the UK. This is due to the proliferation of streaming platforms, she says, as well as the continuing growth of global players such as Netflix and Disney+, the latter having topped 100 million subscribers just 16 months after its launch.


“Most streamers and studios want original content, as that is what draws subscribers to their platform. It doesn’t matter what the content is either; it can be anything from a half-hour comedy to an hour-long returning series,” Kotok says.


“But streamers have realised the value of having a global audience and to secure that they need to be telling global stories and working with global talent. The UK is a really great jumping off point, especially to access Europe, and to appeal to lots of other countries across the world, because it is an English-speaking territory. Overall, the UK provides a lot of opportunity.”