makes drama with a purpose
Stewart Mackinnon, Co-Creator and Executive Producer of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle has assembled a global network of partners, journalists and storytellers committed to producing world class drama which explores the pressing issues of our times.
The aim is to connect with a global audience who are looking for distinctive drama which touches their lives and reflects their values.
New content platforms have demonstrated what can be achieved with outstanding drama with multiple meanings which reflect the human condition. Our ambition is to build a European company with the same objectives and known for producing work of a similar standing.
We are looking for other co-producers, writers, journalists, storytellers, directors, broadcasters and platforms etc. who are interested in working together with us to achieve these objectives.
Our current slate includes a number of movies and returning drama series which deal with current environmental, social and political concerns which effect us all.
Stewart has a distinguished track record as a drama producer. He was founder of Headline Pictures, a London-based production company that he formed with the late Mark Shivas who was BBC’s Head of Drama where together they created an impressive catalogue of movies and television dramas. He has four decades of experience producing award winning film and television for the global market.
He developed and produced some of the most iconic award-winning drama including his 40 hour long Amazon series Man In The High Castle which has become the cornerstone of the streaming network’s lineup, winner of two Primetime Emmy’s and many other awards, Quartet Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and Golden Globe nominee, The Miners Tapes winner of the Grierson Award, This Little Life BAFTA nominated and winner of the Dennis Potter, BANFF and RTS awards, The Invisible Woman Oscar nominated, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes, Saboteurs the Prix Italia winning series, and the Emmy Award winning Peter and Wendy starring Stanley Tucci and Paloma Faith.
Circle Pictures and our partners have long standing relationships with leading media organisations including BBC Drama, BBC Films, HBO, ITV, ITV Global Entertainment, Fremantle, Channel 4, Film 4, A&E, ZDF, NRK, Sky Atlantic, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony Entertainment, Lionsgate, Red Arrow, E-One, Catalyst, Edelman and Participant Media. They have worked with many of the world’s leading writers, directors and actors including Sir Ronald Harwood, Adrian Hodges, Howard Brenton, Jed Mercurio, Michael Hirst, Frank Spotnitz, Eric Oleson, Eric Overmyer, David Semel, Abi Morgan, Ian Martin, Georgia Pritchett, Sir Ridley Scott, Mike Newell, Dan Percival, Diarmuid Laurence, Sarah Gavron, Adrian Shergold, Dustin Hoffman, Pierce Brosnan, Rupert Sewell, Michael Douglas, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sheridan Smith, Tom Hollander, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and Felicity Jones.
THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
PETER & WENDY
October 11th 2023
Why are we avoiding the 'what if' of nuclear war?
The clear and present danger of nuclear escalation that once lurked over the civilised world’s head has dissipated into the ether, and the nonchalant manner that the world has adopted toward it raises many questions, Stewart Mackinnon writes.
May 25th, 2022
When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
'It all begins with trust and respectful dialogue' . US president Ronald Reagan says goodbye to Mikhail Gorbachev after the 1986 Reykajivk summit
(Photo: Ronald Reagan archives/Public Domain)
By Guillaume Serina and Stewart Mackinnon
At a speech to the American Bar Foundation in 1962, President John Kennedy's secretary of defense Robert McNamara unveiled a term Mutually Assured Destruction to incapacitate the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear attack.
Using a retaliatory strike, it would destroy one-third of the Soviet population and one-half of its industrial complex rendering the superpower powerless. McNamara noted this approach was "the cornerstone of our strategic policy" and "the very essence of the whole deterrence concept."
However, he later recanted noting, "neither the Soviet Union nor the United States can now attack the other, even by complete surprise, without suffering massive damage in retaliation. "It would be virtually impossible."
Years later Ronald Reagan when touring NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and discussing America's nuclear strategy would ask the most basic of questions — "what is Plan B?" to which he was provided the simplest of answers — "there is none."
The conversation set in motion a personal commitment for president Reagan to avoid at all costs nuclear war by ridding the world of long-range missiles.
Ironically, Reagan who wanted to eliminate a war-to-end-all-wars, had famously called the Soviet Union an evil empire, one that would "be left on the ash heap of history." This hardly struck the tone for amicable discussions around non-proliferation.
As a result, the Reagan Administration was met with a combination of fear, distrust and concern by the Soviets making the notion of a 'tour de table' between the two superpowers a near impossibility.
Reagan had adopted a "trust but verify" attitude concerning the Soviets, but the ice began to thaw with the nomination of a relative outsider from Russia to lead the Soviet Union — Mikhail Gorbachev.
Like Reagan, who he diametrically opposed politically and philosophically, (but claimed to enjoy Reagan's westerns) he saw the need to relieve the world of the nuclear sword of Damocles that swayed above its head.
The two men would go on to meet at three summits famously beginning on the frozen outpost of Reykjavik. And while they did not rid the world of nuclear weapons they set in motion an ongoing commitment of future presidents from Bush to Clinton to Obama, to fulfill their dream.
Sadly, the spectre of nuclear annihilation faded in the minds of the 'Average Joe' citizen over time — as Baby Boomers aged and Generation Z focused on the challenges of a newly connected world.
But thousands of missiles remain locked and loaded, making the term megadeath a viable possibility. Surely no sane leader would ever consider pressing the button, right?
Lessons for Ukraine
Fast forward to the current crisis unfolding in Ukraine. What Putin predicted to be a quick victory, has now dragged on for months, with significant losses on both sides.
Sabre-rattling by leaders in Russia and the West continue and all the sudden the dormant possibility of nuclear war has been awoken from its slumber. So, what to do?
We will leave the military and foreign policy experts to propose how to tamp down emotions and put forth a strategy for ending the crisis.
But, as two people that have studied the Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations, we can offer insights into what drove those discussions.
First, the two viewed the issue through both the rational and emotional lens. They remembered and saw the horrific impact of nuclear fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from the accident at Chernobyl. The effects were horrific and neither wanted to see them repeated.
Second, rational thinking had to trump ideology and personal aggrandisement. Mutual Assured Destruction was what the term implied — doomsday — and no issues would be resolved by simply annihilating one another.
Third, they showed that even if leaders dislike one another, as they often do, it is important to follow a framework as was done in Reykjavik.
Prep talks at lower levels, presence of informed and professional teams to iron out details and deals when the leaders are exhausted, and sleeping was critical. All the START negotiations gave the world that sort of template for high-stakes negotiations and that is needed now.
Finally, they shared a willingness to engage and despite their opposing and deeply-held beliefs established a trusted relationship. While both strong-willed and opinionated, they agreed to put their differences aside and focus on the people in their respective nations and beyond as all would be impacted by a nuclear war.
Unfortunately, the negotiations were the beginning of the end politically for Gorbachev, eventually stepping down from his post as president as the Soviet Union began its collapse. Reagan would finish out his term under the cloud of the Iran-Contra scandal and eventually be overcome by the ravages of Alzheimer's.
Neither man achieved their goal.
Despite that fact there are lessons that current leaders — particularly Vladimir Putin — could adopt from these two iconic leaders.
As in the end, it all begins with trust and respectful dialogue. Without this all we can do is wait and watch in trepidation holding our breath that before mutually assured destruction ends all this speculation around nuclear war, that the penny drops, or is it the rouble, and that discretion is seen to be the better part of valour.
Guillaume Serina is author of An Impossible Dream. Reagan, Gorbachev and the World Without the Bomb.
Stewart Mackinnon is CEO of Circle Pictures, creator and executive producer of Man in the High Castle, Amazon’s most watched television series and executive producer of Tear Down This Wall – a drama about the 1986 summit at Reykjavik.
October 28th, 2020
We thought Reagan was the devil – then came Trump. America, we're rooting for you
By Ian Martin
Veep writer Ian Martin once raged against the Gipper. Forty years later, the US is saddled with a human cronut
HEY! How you guys doing? Longtime British Americanophile “reaching out” across the Atlantic. I’m here to heart you, USA. I’m like “hope the hurting stops soon” (strong-arm mid-tone emoji).
I guess you’re all making a list of The Worst Things Trump Did, then checking it twice because really, who’d believe it. And I know he’s primarily your monstrous problem. But even Brits are citizens of what we used to call “the free world”. Your president was once the leader of it. And one of the very worst things Trump’s done is to make Ronald Reagan look like an intellectual giant. Simply by comparison, Trump has humanised Reagan and elevated his memory to sainthood.
I’m currently researching the Gipper for a project and honestly, next to Trump he genuinely seems like … not the good guy, exactly? But definitely presidential. “Let’s make America great again” was Reagan’s slogan, of course. It was about “American values”, making America great in the world again. Trump’s slogan initially stood for rebuilding economic power. Now it’s shorthand for “let’s win the culture war I relentlessly inflame and sure, bring on an actual armed civil war if I lose the election”.
Of course, Trump’s humanity is at such undetectable levels he makes literally anyone else look like St Francis of Assisi. Infuriatingly, even deadweight predecessors like the Bush dynasty look competent. But Reagan? Along with millions of others in the 1980s, I was there at marches and demonstrations, noisily railing against hated neoliberal Raygun, his nuclear missiles, his utterly insane space force. Oh how we disdained him, this doddery warmonger, this huckleberry clown of a politician. It never occurred to us that 40 years on we’d be contemplating someone so much more clueless, so very much stupider, than Reagan.
None of my business, dear Americans, I know. You’re absolutely right. It’s not my country, it’s yours. You’re the ones pledging allegiance from sea to shining sea. I should butt out. And yet. All this used to be my business, back in the day when Potus was de facto leader of “the west” and led the forces of laissez-faire capitalism against the Evil Empire of Communism. “Ideology”, we used to call it. Man, we thought Reagan was the devil incarnate 40 years ago. Now the news is basically “Self-Satirising Human Cronut Yesterday On Twitter Said …”
As I write this letter of solidarity, I’m watching the televised presidential debate for election 1980, 40 years ago. Jimmy Carter the bruised defender, looking for a second term. Reagan the interloper, the disrupter, landing blow after blow on Carter – the failing economy, the Tehran hostages, the correct pronunciation of “nuclear”. Reagan was the older man but he sounded younger. What is frankly astonishing is the dignity of the debate itself. Here were political enemies – diametrically opposed on every issue - politely disagreeing, listening, yielding when time ran out. Basic human respect. And you stop and think - how is this normal, being nostalgic for normality itself?
Trump often invokes Ronald Reagan as an inspiration, and you can see how the analogy crosses his mind, like tumbleweed. Reagan too arrived at the White House from the world of entertainment. But Reagan had been governor of California for two terms. And president of a powerful union, the Screen Actors Guild. And served in the military. Reagan’s primary domestic objective of “getting government off the backs of the people” undoubtedly helped Trump the young shark-eyed entrepreneur - greedy to build, greedy for profit, greedy for tax credits.
Reagan consistently said that a free press was a prerequisite for a free country, and that it should hold presidents to account. Imagine that: a president inviting scrutiny. Trump dismisses any story he doesn’t like as “fake news” and deals only with Fox – his Pravda, his Tass. Unlike Trump, Reagan was self-aware enough to know his limitations. He surrounded himself with smart counsel and experts. Trump lives in a bubble of sycophancy.
Some of the stuff Trump’s pulling isn’t new, it’s just louder. You couldn’t imagine any of the other presidents not wanting America First. And like Trump, Reagan was an authoritarian who sent armed police in to break up civil protest. Reagan was indifferent to Aids; Trump is indifferent to Covid-19. More than 89,000 people died of Aids over seven years under Reagan administrations. Covid deaths in the US over seven months under Trump are 225,000 and rising …
In his foreign policy dealings, Reagan believed in statecraft, that ancient art of diplomacy now apparently lost in the murk of history. He saw his primary task as leading the world to peace and was prepared to sit down with cold war adversaries to thrash out a disarmament program. Does Trump even have a foreign policy, besides “screw you”? A resurrected Reagan would be aghast at Trump meeting Commie-In-Chief Kim Jong-un three times to discuss nuclear weapons with no tangible results.
Reagan’s statecraft did not hinge on whether the particular head of state “liked him”. Reagan’s preoccupation wasn’t self-aggrandisement. He sought world peace, and found gratification in good deeds. When his mind had gone, his memories lost, all knowledge of being President entirely faded, he remembered this: he had saved 77 people from drowning as a young lifeguard. That, in his shattered mind, was his legacy. In Trump’s bizarro world, drowners are losers.
Anyway, I’ll sign off. You have important stuff to do, like choosing a president. I wish you good luck; we’re all aware Kamala Harris is a result and a heartbeat from becoming America’s first female Potus. Things could be worse, no doubt. But they could also be better. The best to you and yours, my brothers and sisters.
I remain your most ardent admirer,
A Brit, Esq
Ian Martin is a comedy writer. His credits include Veep, The Death of Stalin, Avenue 5, The Thick of it and more
October 8th, 2020
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Reagan, Gorbachev Cold War Satire in Works from Emmy-Winning 'Veep' Writer
By Alex Ritman
Ian Martin will write the screenplay for 'Tear Down This Wall,' based on the famed 1990 Reykjavik summit between the two leaders.
The historic 1990 meeting between U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, seen as the catalyst for bringing the Cold War to a close, is being given a dark, satirical feature-length twist thanks to Emmy-winning Veep writer Ian Martin
Also known for his award-winning writing alongside Armando Iannucci on The Thick of It (for which he was originally hired as "swearing consultant"), In The Loop, The Death of Stalin and Avenue 5, Martin has been tapped by Circle Pictures (The Man in the High Castle) to write the screenplay for Tear Down This Wall.
Inspired by An Impossible Dream: Reagan, Gorbachev, and a World Without the Bomb by author Guillaume Serina and developed by Circle Pictures president Stewart Mackinnon, the comedy drama will track the historic events before and after the now famous Summit at Reykjavik, which many historians view as the seminal moment that jump-started the end of the Cold War.
Even more importantly, it will provide an in-depth look at the bond that was created between two men diametrically opposed politically, but with a common goal to rid the world of nuclear threat.
"This story will follow a long history of political satire by telling the story of two men driven by clever women, pretending to be in control as the world around them cracked and crumbled," said Martin. "It will reveal the absurdity of high-level diplomacy, showing real people stripped to their emotional, ridiculous human core as they maneuver behind the scenes, each side desperate to seem morally superior to the other. It will humanize 'Gorby and Ronnie,' brought together by fate, unable ever to be friends but understanding one another completely."
Joining the project as executive producer will be Jere Sullivan, a senior public relations advisor for communications giant Edelman. He will serve as communications and political advisor on the project.
July 27, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
Time for a New Renaissance
By Nancy Soderberg & Stewart Mackinnon
In “Traveling the Equator,” which chronicled his steamship voyage around the world, Mark Twain noted, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Arguably, we have never lived in stranger times and it is stunning to see how many accept pure fiction as fact. In this difficult, dangerous, and disorienting era, we must think creatively about the possibilities for change – and have the courage to implement them.
We have done so before. European civilization produced the extraordinary Renaissance following the Black Plague that wiped out a third of the European continent, killing some 25 million people during the Dark Ages. Like today, instability was fueled by what currently is called “fake news” and Europe’s rebirth was triggered by a resurgent focus on classical learning, art, and science. It produced the invention of paper, printing, the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, the discovery of new continents, the growth of commerce and some of the most breathtaking art ever created. In the last century, the tragedies of World War II sparked the building of today’s international system and delivered to America its “Greatest Generation” that contributed to one of the most productive periods of creativity and prosperity in the country’s history.
More recently in the United States, art enticed people to evaluate their society and implement dramatic, systemic change. For instance, during the Vietnam War and the societal conflict of the 1960s, we saw some of the most meaningful films of all time emerge — from “The Deer Hunter” to “Easy Rider” to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” They grabbed our attention and fueled our emotions and got us to look in the mirror.
Today, our international system is failing. Inequality is growing, with the world’s eight richest men owning more wealth than the bottom 4 billion people. According to Freedom House, 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom, with fewer democracies today than a quarter century ago. Across the globe, populist leaders seek elimination of checks and balances through attacks on the judiciary and the media and the demonization of perceived foes, usually minorities. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spike, having already infected more than 15 million people and killed over half a million. We are now seeing communities from Spain to Australia resume lockdowns as we brace for continuing surges and a possible more deadly second wave of the virus, while America looks on.
On top of the pandemic, we have seen racism once again rear its ugly head stoked by the senseless killing of George Floyd in plain sight, captured on video and streamed across social media around the world. Like the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, who triggered the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire in frustration over economic and racial inequality, the brutal death of an unarmed black man has set off global protests around the failure to provide equal rights and dignity to minorities. It has served as a rallying cry for all regardless of their nationality, age gender or race — to protest, discuss and hopefully spark society’s rebalance.
While many of the great works produced in the 1960s were panned by some as the voice of the counterculture, in fact, they were reflective of the conscience of the masses. It was the arts that aligned with our purpose and spawned change. It can again. The studios and streaming networks should see this as an opportunity to produce drama that has something meaningful to say.
But where are the films and television dramas that reflect these issues, our anger and frustration? We’ve never had more content to watch and so much time to view it — but few of the stories reflect society’s current concerns and define these troubled times. They need to spark a clarion for change.
It is time for another renaissance which can help rebuild our global institutions to address these challenges and coalesce around a common good. And while film and the arts alone will not solve our current woes, they undoubtedly have an important part to play.
We are calling on the industry to produce drama that entertains but also has a purpose. It is also our hope that others from the political and arts communities will also recognize the opportunity and take up the challenge.
The two of us come at this with a common view even though we hail from markedly different walks of life. One of us spent her entire career as a national security advisor in U.S. politics, where the facts were the most valuable asset. The other worked for four decades creating film and television drama — often based on fiction — but always with purpose at its core. That is what has drawn us together – an alignment around truth and principles and an objective to bring it to the big, and small, screen.
While we may represent the real — and the not-so-real — worlds, we believe that the two are interconnected. History has repeatedly proven that point.
We need to embrace a bit more of Mr. Twain’s definition of fiction and “stick to possibilities” and not be subjected to truth which sadly today has been hijacked for the self-aggrandizement of the privileged few.
Nancy Soderberg served as a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and as Deputy National Security Advisor to President Clinton. Stewart Mackinnon is president of Circle Pictures and developer of Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle.” Both are part of the Portent Project, a ‘what if’ drama series where a fictional president initiates a war in order to secure a second term.
MC is a global data intelligence company delivering insights and custom market research on what people think in real time. It was named one of the fastest growing technology companies in North America by Deloitte in both 2018 and 2019.
November 13, 2019 4:17PM PT
‘The Man in the High Castle’
Producer Stewart Mackinnon
Launches Circle Pictures (EXCLUSIVE)
By Stewart Clarke
CREDIT: Courtesy of Amazon Studios
As Amazon prepares to launch the fourth and final season of “The Man in the High Castle” on Friday, the show’s exec producer, Stewart Mackinnon, has gone out of the gate with Circle Pictures. The newly minted production outfit will, Mackinnon told Variety, work across TV and film, and will major on drama projects with a purpose.
Mackinnon was co-founder and CEO of Headline Pictures until earlier this year, one of the production companies making Philip K. Dick adaptation “The Man in the High Castle,” and behind shows including ITV’s “Peter & Wendy,” starring Stanley Tucci and which won an International Emmy.
He has also produced films including Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut “Quartet” under the Headline banner, having co-founded the company with the late Mark Shivas, a former BBC head of drama.
“Whether it’s for a broadcaster or one of the new platforms, my interest is always in telling stories that have strong underlying themes,” Mackinnon said. “They may be fun, they may be serious, but they also need to carry something else as well.”
Amazon took “The Man in the High Castle” around the world as one of its first originals and the advent of global platforms mean a guaranteed audience for the type of content in which Circle will specialize, said its founder.
“If you aggregate [viewers] around the world, what’s interesting is you can do things that are profound, that might not be mass-market, but will appeal to a distinct group,” Mackinnon said. “Viewers nowadays are aggregating their drama much like they do their news and we are going to meet their demands by delivering content that has something meaningful to say.”
The new London-based banner is privately backed and, without an industry backer, a true indie. The word the seasoned producer keeps returning to in conversation is “purpose,” and Circle’s output will tackle environmental, social and political concerns accordingly. There is a development slate that spans international series, period drama, a trio of movie projects, and family-skewed animation. The first projects are funded and set to be unveiled soon.
Britain’s film renaissance: made in UK, owned in USA?
The mood inside London’s Roundhouse was exultant last month when the UK government announced its new £150m Creative Industries “deal”. Ministers enthused about the strength of a sector that employs more than 2m people and that is growing at “twice the speed of the economy as a whole”. Film was at the heart of the discussion. By 2025, some were predicting, revenues from film inward investment to the UK “could nearly double to approximately £4bn a year”.
To those who had witnessed the travails of the British film industry over the past 30 years, the irony was obvious. Where once politicians had either ignored the country’s filmmakers altogether or chided them for their wastrel ways, now they were proselytising on their behalf.
Back in the mid-1980s, no one in government wanted to go near the British film industry. Cinema admissions dropped to an all-time low of 54m in 1984. Production rates plummeted. An occasional Bond movie or big Hollywood movie such as Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 may still have been shot at Pinewood Studios but the industry was on life support. Frantic lobbying from Richard Attenborough and David Puttnam helped keep it alive but few would argue that British cinema was thriving in this period.
Since then, a remarkable transformation has taken place (as chronicled in my new book Stairways to Heaven: Rebuilding the British Film Industry, published by I.B. Tauris). Britain has had the video boom, The Crying Game, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter, tax breaks, National Lottery investment, a huge upsurge in British-based visual effects and post-production houses, and more and better Bond movies. Stars Wars and Disney appear to have taken up near-permanent residence at Pinewood. The cinemas themselves, with their luxury seating, “dynamic pricing” and digital projection facilities, are very different from the smoke-filled flea pits of the 1970s and early 1980s.
A film crew shoots 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' in Gloucester Cathedral
Every region in Britain is currently hosting big film or TV shoots and reporting an upturn in business. Since its pilot in 2009, HBO’s Game of Thrones has been based in Belfast, which is now also host to big new superhero series Krypton; Scotland has Amazon’s Outlander filming in Cumbernauld; Wales has its new Wolf Studios in Cardiff. Work is being done everywhere from converted bottle yards in Bristol to former RAF sites in Yorkshire and car factories in Swansea. Even Essex is getting in on the act. Dagenham looks set to have its own film studios in time for the opening of the Crossrail train line over the next two years.
Nonetheless, some industry insiders urge a note of caution about the nature of the film business that Britain has engineered for itself. The emphasis, they suggest, has been far more on the “industry” part of the equation than on the “creative”.
“The correct thing is to say we’ve become a film-making nation as opposed to a film-creating nation. You could argue that we’re so busy making that we have no time for creating,” Puttnam suggests, adding that the UK has become “a successful film-making factory, very successful, probably more successful than any of us would have imagined 20 or 30 years ago”.
This is a point echoed by fellow producer and industry stalwart Iain Smith, who chairs the British Film Commission. “The truth is that what we do is . . . export. Even though we call it inward investment, what we are actually doing is exporting goods and services,” he says. “There is a serious money stream coming in, letting British crews and facilities work on content that they would never be able to do within the British context . . . we’ve benefited to the tune of billions.”
Even in the dog days of the 1980s, British auteurs such as Derek Jarman, Terence Davies, Sally Potter, Bill Douglas and Peter Greenaway were carving out international reputations. Today, we still have Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, as well as such distinctive voices as Andrea Arnold, Steve McQueen and Lynne Ramsay, but it would be very hard to argue that this is a golden age of British filmmaking. Nor has Britain seen the emergence of any new production companies to match Working Title, the Universal-backed but proudly British outfit behind Four Weddings, Bridget Jones, Darkest Hour et al, or independent distribution outfits that compare with the Green brothers’ Entertainment Film Distributors.
In 2016, Working Title became the first British company to pass the $1bn milestone at the UK box office, but there is little chance of that feat being emulated by anyone else in the near future.
Some argue that Britain’s public film policy has been as much to the benefit of Hollywood as of the domestic industry. “Everyone talks about the ownership of intellectual property, but I can tell you that the only people that are acquiring IP are American-owned companies,” says Stewart Mackinnon, producer of Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet and of the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle.
A troupe of White Walkers cross Oxford Street in London to publicise 'Game of Thrones'
Top British talent is currently working on US studio-financed, Netflix- or Amazon-backed projects. Without the creativity of those individuals, many of the most memorable films and TV dramas would never have been made — but the underlying rights inevitably belong to the big US conglomerates.
“The voice of the producer, the distinctive British values — and I am not waving a little Union Jack, I am just saying the way we think about the world, our human values — that is our unique selling point,” Mackinnon says. He suggests that this distinctively British flavour is in danger of becoming lost. The goal of creating sustainable British independent film companies remains as far away as ever.
Independent British producers are in an invidious position. If they make films with budgets of £3m or £4m that don’t have big-name stars attached, they will not recover their money. However, if they do manage to cast big-name stars, the budgets are likely to be far higher and they will almost certainly lose control of the projects (and of the IP).
“There is no business at all in independent film, full stop,” declares Mackinnon. That is a gloomy thought worth bearing in mind when we hear the boosterish rhetoric about the hundreds of millions of pounds in inward investment and the thousands of jobs that the UK film industry is generating.
It would be perverse, though, to see things in too negative a light. Thirty years ago, that industry was in the doldrums. No one then could have imagined that levels of activity would have risen to their present heights. In the past, the British film business was a closed shop. It was very hard to break into at any level, especially in production. Now, thanks to initiatives such as the new London Screen Academy being set up by Working Title and the British Film Institute’s Future Film Skills action plan, opportunities are opening up for diverse, young talent that simply weren’t there before. “The skills base, the expertise in Britain is just dazzling,” Mackinnon acknowledges.
Many of the biggest-grossing films in recent years, whether Stars Wars instalments and Marvel superhero movies or Disney spin-offs such as Beauty and the Beast, were made in Britain. As for Oscar-winners, there has been no shortage of those either. All that is lacking is ownership of the rights behind these movies.
Phone 0044 (0) 7808 719887