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By Policy@Manchester

Mission: Possible? Protecting the film industry in the wake of the pandemic

Tom Cruise successfully led a campaign worldwide to ask other countries to follow the UK’s lead in enabling the global movie industry to restart with clear COVID safety guidelines in place. Credit: Alamy

4 min read

Almost like a scene from a movie, I was sat in my Parliamentary office last year when I got a message from a producer of the Mission Impossible movies: ‘We have a problem – can you help?’.

Underlying the message was a concern that new COVID restrictions would make it impossible for big tentpole movies to be made due to the need to cover many different global territories.

Despite the many COVID packages put in place to support people, including creative freelancers, the impact on delaying filming could mean lost job opportunities. An international film franchise being delayed could have caused costs to rocket into the millions, and for other films in the same position, the wider UK film industry could be at risk.

The irony was not lost on me that I was caught in what seemed like my own mission impossible.

Within days I found myself working with the producers of the film who helped organise a letter from Tom Cruise outlining the key issues. Following incredible support from Government departments, I finally found myself asking a question I never suspected I would utter to a Secretary of State - “Would you do a zoom with Tom Cruise?”. 

In the subsequent days following the virtual meeting with the Secretary of State for DCMS, the Government announced new specific film industry rules enabling the UK film industry to safely and securely open up. The ramifications were huge for the industry because the decision meant that Tom Cruise successfully led a campaign worldwide to ask other countries to follow the UK’s lead in enabling the global movie industry to restart with clear COVID safety guidelines in place.

I have to admit; the experience made me realise just how important the UK is to the film industry and how many films are made here that are watched worldwide. It is often the Hollywood sign that flashes in our minds when thinking about blockbuster movies, but the reality is that many of the biggest movies ever made were filmed in the UK.

For movies filmed in my constituency alone, there are titles from the world’s biggest franchises: from James Bond (Goldeneye) to Star Wars (Phantom Menace), Harry Potter to the latest Wonder Woman movie. A steady stream of ‘Hollywood’ stars regularly film on our shores. We must continue to remain competitive and appealing to the industry as other countries begin to compete for the industry's target locations.  

Yet, there are not just economic motivations at play. I have been involved at arms-length in the entertainment industry for many years, but this experience made me look deeper at the role of film in our community. The thought that movies might not be produced because of the impact of COVID brought home the role cinema has in our own lives and has been an integral part of our community for decades.

When the credits roll, it is a reminder of just how many people are involved in making a film. The production of every movie, big or small, is underpinned by a massive community of set designers to stylists, stage builders to special effects designers. The film ecosystem is extensive and highlights how the film industry itself is a community like no others. Every new movie brings investment and people together to create experiences that could remain with us forever.

Like others, I enjoy watching a film at home, but there is still something about the experience of cinema that is so much more than switching on the TV at home. Invariably a visit to the cinema has a significant impact on the local hospitality economy, with many visiting a local restaurant or pub after leaving the theatre. This all affects the enjoyment of the movie but also local business.

The film industry isn’t just about entertainment. In many ways, the UK film industry defines what global Britain is about. We export moments that stick with people forever around the world, we have the immense talent that work behind the scenes but also work in tandem with specialists around the world. Our beautiful landscapes act as backdrops to iconic scenes seen by millions, and the decisions we make here can inspire countries around the world to follow suit.

So next time you are deciding ‘what shall I do today?’, make sure you include a trip to your local cinema - it truly is connecting you to an entire world of entertainment.

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