Oscar-winning producer says fear is behind neglect of British film-making talent
Jeremy Thomas, Oscar-winning producer of 'The Last Emperor', says successive governments' policies force UK film-makers abroad while US projects use top British studios
VANESSA THORPE – THE OBSERVER – 21st November 2010
One of Britain's leading film producers has lashed out at successive governments for neglecting homegrown talent while encouraging American film-makers to dominate the country's state-of-the-art Pinewood production studios.
"These places are full up with films from the United States," said Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning, London-based producer of The Last Emperor, Crash and Sexy Beast.
"Films made with American studio finance are given a 20% tax break," said Thomas. "But if a British film has to go into partnership with, say, a French company, in order to get made, it immediately becomes ineligible for any tax breaks here. So you have to go abroad."
The industry veteran recently produced the David Cronenberg film A Dangerous Method, starring Keira Knightley as a disturbed patient treated by psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Thomas said he had himself suffered under the current rules. "Everything that I need is here in England, but I had to go and make it overseas," he said.
Pinewood Studios is currently making the action sequel X-Men: First Class. Big-budget, American-backed films such as the James Bond franchise and both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were also made there.
A Dangerous Method, which also stars Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung, is a Canadian/German co-production and had to be filmed in German studios. "We filmed nothing here and all the post-production has had to be done in Canada. So there is no work for technical people here as a result," said Thomas.
The new film is typical of Thomas's unconventional projects, but it looks set to become a controversial release next year. It features scenes of sado-masochistic sex between Knightley and Fassbender and has a screenplay based on Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure. It reveals that Jung was drawn into a protracted affair with Knightley's character, Sabina Spielrein, in a breach of the relationship between an analyst and his patient. It was a lapse that is often held responsible for the breakdown of the friendship between Jung and Freud.
"There is a gap there in the market for my kind of film," said Thomas, 61, who will be honoured next week by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "I have never made a sequel or a prequel, or a remake, or a Superman film, or an X-man, or a Y-Man, or a Bond-man film. I am happy with my niche," said Thomas, who has worked with maverick directors such as Nicolas Roeg and Bernardo Bertolucci.
He says successive governments have failed to create an atmosphere in which the homegrown film business can flourish, even though Britain is now home to many ground-breaking cinematic technicians and skilled craftsmen.
"You have to admire anyone who makes films in this country," he said. "You have to do it with very low overheads, like the directors Michael Winterbottom and Andrea Arnold do. But we could make big British films here too. Pinewood, with all its workshops, is the best studio on the planet, but we can't get in there."
While the film version of The Woman in Black has just been made at Pinewood, with a British screenwriter and British stars, including Daniel Radcliffe, it also had joint American and Canadian finance behind it. Thomas was chairman of the British Film Institute in the 1990s and dealt directly with New Labour culture secretaries and film ministers. "The essential qualification for the job was not to like film," he said. "It is like being driven by a bus driver who has never been inside a bus. And then, as soon as a minister understood the film business, they were moved on, because they 'went native'. Governments seem frightened of the film business, perhaps because it is about ideas. Film is very powerful, so they are fearful."