UK production spend hits record high in 2021, with indie film spend up 39%

126 independent domestic UK features contributed £221m to the total film spend of £1.55bn.

By Tim Dams 4 Feb 2022

UK production spend hits record high in 2021, with indie film spend up 39%
The Batman Credit: Warner Bros. Ent

The post-lockdown boom in UK film and high-end TV (HETV) production was confirmed today by official BFI statistics showing that total spend reached £5.64bn in 2021, a new record.

The combined production spend by film and HETV during 2021 is £1.27bn higher than for the pre-pandemic year 2019, according to figures from the BFI’s Research and Statistics Unit.

HETV was largely responsible for driving overall production levels to the new record, topping £4.09bn, nearly double pre-pandemic 2019 levels. This figure includes £737m from an increased number of single long-form ‘film’ productions made for streaming platforms which qualify for HETV tax relief such as Pinocchio and Matilda: The Musical.

By comparison, film production spend reached £1.55bn, a 13% increase on 2020’s reported £1.36bn spend. 

Inward investment and co-production films and HETV shows delivered £4.77bn, or 84% of the production spend underlining how the UK has become a global hub for content creation. HETV shows accounted for the lion’s share of inward investment production, £3.44bn, or 72% of the combined total spend; feature films contributed £1.33bn, or 28% of the spend.

April to June was the business part of the production year with £2.29bn of film and high-end television production spend, the highest three-month period for film and HETV spend on record.

Indie film boost

The number of films going into production in the UK in 2021 was 209 films, which is 75 more than reported for 2020, a year which was significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

Of the 209 films starting production, the majority (126) were classified by the BFI as independent domestic UK features and they contributed £221m to the total spend, a 39% increase on the £158.2m spend in 2020.

UK films which went into production included Richard Eyre’s Allelujah!, Roger Michel’s Elizabeth, Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourment and Hettie Macdonald’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

A further 28 co-production features generated a UK spend of £58 million, representing a 60% uplift from a £29 million spend generated by 18 co-productions in 2020. As a result, 2021’s co-production spend is now the highest since 2013. Co-productions included Kim Burdon’s The Canterville Ghost, Sharon Maymon’s My Happy Ending, Florian Zeller’s The Son and Pablo Larrain’s Spencer.

55 inward investment films contributed £1.28 billion, or 82% of the total spend in 2021. Nine US studio-backed feature films including The Batman, Aquaman 2, The Marvels and Mission: Impossible 7 accounted for £992 million of the inward investment total in 2021. Non-US studio inward investment films generated a spend of £283.7 million.

Inward investment films which started production include Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Cinderella, Dungeons & Dragons, The Marvels, Poor Things, and Wonka.

High-end television boom

HETV production in the UK has boomed since the introduction of the UK’s HETV tax relief in 2013 delivering a new record spend of £4.09 billion in 2021 from 211 productions.

This is 155% higher than 2020 and 85% higher than the pre-pandemic record of £2.21 billion generated in 2019.

Inward investment and co-production – 55% of all HETV shows – are driving this growth, accounting for £3.44 billion or for 84% of the total spend.

Inward investment HETV productions made last year include Bridgerton series 2, Call My Agent!, The Crown series 5, The Essex Serpent, The Rig, A Very British Scandal and The Witcher: Blood Origin.

Domestic HETV productions – 45% of all HETV shows – also generated a record spend with £648 million across 94 shows, representing 16% of the total spend and a 32% increase on the £491 million spend in 2019.

Domestic HETV productions made in 2021 included The Amazing Mr Blunden, The Bay, The Ipcress File, Shetland and Without Sin.

Animation spend declines

The spend on animation television programmes made in the UK in 2021 was £73 million across 30 productions. This represents a 19% drop on the spend on animation programmes in 2020. The BFI said that as further data becomes available it may increase.

Domestic animation programmes generated £49.1 million across 21 productions, representing 67% of total spend. Inward investment and co-production animation programmes generated £23.8 million across nine productions, 25% of the total animation spend. In contrast, 66% of the spend in 2019 was generated by inward investment and co-production and 31% by domestic animation programmes.

Ben Roberts, BFI chief executive said: “The record-breaking level of film and TV production in the UK revealed today is good news for our industry and the UK economy and demonstrates the speed of the sector’s recovery. The groundwork for further growth is underway with expansion of studio spaces and production hot spots across our nations and regions, and working with industry to build up the skilled workforce that we need to meet demand and stay on top of our game.”

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