THE BLOG
10/30/2014 01:43 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

How British Talent Became Hollywood Royalty

Did you know that Gravity was filmed in the UK, and that Brits were responsible for its stunning visual effects? That Twelve Years A Slave was directed by and starred Brits? Or that all of the Star Wars movies were filmed at British studios -- including the forthcoming Episode VII? If you answered "no" to any or all of the above, don't worry. It just goes to show how natural and essential a part of the American movie-going experience British talent has become.

I'm spending some time in LA this week, seeing for myself how closely Brits and Americans work together on all that makes Hollywood so special. Tonight I will have the pleasure of attending BAFTA Los Angeles' Britannia Awards ceremony. The Britannias will honor six of the brightest stars in the celluloid firmament: three Brits (Mike Leigh, Emma Watson and Judi Dench) and three Americans (Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Britain's film-making strength comes above all from its wealth of talent. BAFTA LA's British honorees show the depth and diversity of that talent across disciplines and generations. Even the Americans have had their brushes with British entertainment prowess: Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars in a hit US show, Veep, created by a Brit, Armando Iannucci, while Robert Downey Jr has played both Charlie Chaplin and Sherlock Holmes!

Mike Leigh will receive the John Schlesinger Award for Excellence in Directing, presented by the UK's GREAT campaign. Leigh is a perfect example of a British director with unique gifts. He tends not to work from a script written in advance; instead, he coaxes improvised performances out of his actors by working with them to build up their characters layer by layer. Leigh's latest movie, the hotly anticipated Mr. Turner, is a biopic about the English artist JMW Turner.

At the other end of the scale in terms of sheer spectacle are the Star Wars films. Like its predecessors, the latest instalment is being filmed in the UK, at Pinewood studios in Buckinghamshire. Some familiar-looking space ships have already landed at another filming location, a former Royal Air Force base in Berkshire. George Lucas, the godfather of the franchise, has just opened in the UK a 200-person branch of his special effects company Industrial Light and Magic. The office will work not only on Star Wars but also on other prestige projects like the Marvel Comics films. No surprise, when you consider that Brits have won the Oscar for visual effects in four of the last six years.

These days, British talent, locations and facilities are in greater demand than ever before. On an average day, the streets of London will see some 50 separate film crews. In 2013, Hollywood spent well over $1 billion on productions shooting in the UK, which ranged from the Muppets to Maleficent. This year is well on track to be even bigger. New and forthcoming films shot in the UK run the gamut from the blockbuster Mission: Impossible 5 to The Imitation Game, which stars last year's GREAT campaign Britannia honouree Benedict Cumberbatch as the (British!) founder of modern computing, Alan Turing.

Nearly two-thirds of the 200 highest-grossing films of the past 12 years have involved UK talent in leading roles. That really does make me proud to be British in Hollywood this week!

The Britannia Awards will be broadcast on BBC America on November 2 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.


With thousands of iconic locations and world-class talent both on and off screen, it is no surprise Hollywood spent over $1 billion on productions shooting in the UK last year.