Are the biggest US films and shows really American?
Big-budget studio films may be financed by American media giants but the nature of globalised filmmaking means they are hugely dependent on international talent. So which country can claim authorship?
Generous filming incentives available in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, London and Belfast are a major reason behind this. However, the presence of skilled local crew is also a major Hollywood appeal and these individuals inevitably have a huge artistic impact on the finished product.
While the money may be largely American, it’s limiting to think of the finances as being the defining mark of authorship on a film or TV series shot outside the US. Three Star Wars films have been based in the UK in the last couple of years using British studio facilities and crew, while Rogue One (pictured above) was directed by UK filmmaker Gareth Edwards. Lucasfilm now has a facility in London, further growing the international artistic influence on the franchise.
Game of Thrones is funded by US cable channel HBO and has American creatives as showrunners, but the show is based in Northern Ireland and has also employed the talents of local crew to film extensively in countries like Croatia, Iceland and Spain.
The series has a multi-national team of directors, while key visual effects sequences for recent battle scenes were completed by Iloura in Australia. In terms of the finances, Game of Thrones (pictured below) is technically a US production, but geographically and artistically the show has a distinctly international pedigree.
Testament to the globalised nature of the modern production industry, the US studios travel to film in the countries where they can get the most for their money as well as have access to skilled locals – utilising regional talent.
The same is true of visual effects, with post-production houses now under pressure to locate themselves in parts of the world that offer the best tax breaks.
In fact, visual effects industry bosses now advise that to forge a successful career in visual effects you need a valid passport and a willingness to relocate, potentially every few years.
It’s not just big-budget shoots. Independent films frequently build their budgets through a patchwork of co-production agreements, involving companies and talent around the world. Often the aim is to showcase a specific national culture by way of a local story, but the modern reality is that these projects would often go un-seen by a wide audience were it not for a lot of international collaboration.
Filming incentives in many parts of the world are officially designated to support ‘local’ shoots as part of the justification for offering public money in the first place. So-called 'cultural tests' are a common way to gauge this and are part of the eligibility process in places like the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Croatia and Hungary.
But usually this ‘test’ is pretty broad. In Europe it generally encompasses reflecting European cultural influences, alongside awarding producers for filming locally and completing visual effects work in the same place.
A central test will be how China reacts. Countries around the world are eyeing China’s huge market but the country itself is deeply wary of foreign practices while simultaneously taking inspiration from the US blockbuster template and striving to expand its own soft power.
Film has the power to influence cultural beliefs and understandings, and Chinese lawmakers are wary of its potential impact on their citizens. Globalised production is likely the way of the future but its impact on local cultures will remain a justifiable concern.
Nonetheless, international co-operation is likely to become more commonplace. The 2013 space-set survival drama Gravity (above) was financed by a US studio and starred American actors but had a Mexican director and a British crew for its London shoot.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) focussed on the UK elements of the shoot and so the film won Best British Film in 2014. Some industry commentators criticised the decision, but then to describe the film as wholly American on an artistic level seems equally cynical.
Rogue One image: Lucasfilm. Game of Thrones image: HBO. Gravity image: Warner. Bros Pictures