SOHO SHOPS WORK MAGIC FROM PIX BOOST
Copyright 2002 www.variety.com

[ October 28th 2002 ]

California may continue to be the epicenter for the feature f/x biz, but British facilities are beginning to carve out some considerable turf. London-based f/x houses the Mill, Cinesite Europe, the Moving Picture Co., Framestore CFC, Freeze Frame and Double Negative, among others, have been on a roll the past two years. They've managed to lure some of Hollywood's pricier pics, including $100 million studio franchises such as Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter" and Paramount's "Tomb Raider," as well as ongoing work on MGM's stalwart James Bond series, with "Die Another Day" the latest installment.

Meanwhile, f/x shots for Fox's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," Disney/Spyglass' "Shanghai Knights" and Intermedia's "Mindhunters" have been awarded to Soho shops. That follows a busy 2001, when U.K. facilities had several big projects in town including "Cats & Dogs," "Black Hawk Down," "Hannibal," "K-19: The Widowmaker" and HBO's miniseries "Band of Brothers." "Without a doubt, the (British f/x) industry is going through another year of scaling up in size," says Robin Shenfield, CEO of the Mill. "Last year was a busy year for all of us. This year is turning out to be a similarly busy year."

What's helped are British tax incentives that call for productions to spend 70% of their budgets in the U.K. But it's also a double-edged sword, given London's facilities are having a hard time landing films whose characters or locations don't feature an English accent.

At the same time, most studio projects that do flow into Soho are being divided up among the shops. Given the size of some of the projects like "Potter" and Bond, facilities could be awarded shots that amount to $5 million to $7 million in revenue. While U.S. powerhouse Industrial Light & Magic is the lead f/x house on "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," several shots were farmed out to Cinesite, the Mill, Framestore CFC and MPC. "It's a good thing," says Cinesite CEO Colin Brown. "I'd like to have every movie that comes into town, but these are big enough projects for all of us to work on. We've had bits of 'Harry Potter' to do that makes us ecstatic and still allows us to show off our digital character capabilities."

Being limited to bidding on European-bound productions isn't a bad thing either -- as long as the projects keep on coming. Roughly 18 films will hit the U.K.'s shores in the next year. Film producers are already chatting up megabudget pics that have been given the greenlight, including Warners' "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," and the sword-and-sandals epics "Troy," "Alexander the Great" and "Hannibal." Working Title/Universal's "Thunderbirds," Par's "Around the World in 80 Days," HBO's "Arthur" and Morgan Creek's prequel to "The Exorcist" also are heading for Europe.

"Things look good through 2005," Brown says. "Everybody who's interested in doing something in Europe is coming through this town and they have a fairly open mind about placing their projects here.

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