18. May 2005

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British film-makers were shaken yesterday to discover that negotiations were under way for James Bond to defect to Eastern Europe. Casino Royale, the 21st film about the suave spy, is expected to be made in the Czech Republic. Bond may have withstood Goldfinger and other criminal masterminds, but he is struggling to fight changes in the tax laws, seen by film- makers as going for the jugular of the beleaguered British film industry. The idea of shooting Bond - the quintessential Englishman - overseas would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. Producers prided themselves on keeping him in Britain, even if it meant extra costs. Since 1962, 18 of the Bond films have been made at Pinewood Studios. Bond’s move overseas would be a devastating blow, with the loss of hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds in revenue. The uncertainty over tax breaks and the weak dollar already have caused various big-budget foreign films to be moved abroad. Plans to film The Watchmen, Hollywood’s multimillion-pound adaptation of a comic-book superhero story, at Pinewood have been abandoned. Warner Brothers is reported to be considering moving the fifth Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, to the Czech Barrandov Studios instead of Scotland and Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire. Stephen Woolley, who made The Crying Game and Scandal, said of the latest news: “It’s desperately sad ... It’s a kind of suffocation. This will totally hit the whole foodchain.” He spoke to The Times in Cannes where he is premiering his new film about Brian Jones, the former Rolling Stones guitarist, which was partly filmed at Pinewood. He said that without the big productions, studios would not be able to afford to take a cut in fees for small, independent film-makers. Nor could they provide opportunities for runners and trainees to learn the craft on set. “The downside for us is that we will begin to lose people from the industry,” Woolley said. Painters, decorators and plasterers hired locally and staff at hotels and restaurants will be among those to lose out. Bond’s producer, EON Productions, said that no contracts had been signed with any studio and a spokesman for Pinewood said that he could not comment on individual productions. However, Barrandov Studios confirmed to Screen International yesterday that they were “well along” in talks. The Czech Republic does not have tax incentives, but shooting there can be up to two thirds cheaper. A Czech set-builder receives as much in a week as his British counterpart earns in a day. The Prague studio, which has been described as the Hollywood of the East, offers a highly skilled workforce, expertise and facilities. Beautiful locations - including castles and palaces at reasonable rates - have also made Prague attractive for Hollywood producers. The studio complex is in the city centre, which has period buildings going back to the Middle Ages that can be adapted to Paris, Berlin and other cities. Petr Polednak, of Barrandov, said: “Film-makers appreciate the complexity of our services, which one can find under one roof, from stages, set construction, costumes and props departments to film labs or sound postproduction. It is complemented with highly praised skills of experienced Czech film-makers and personnel.” Although the British film industry is bracing itself for a drop of more than 60 per cent in inward investment this year, there are hopes of reversing the decline. Under new measures announced this week, layers of red tape and health-and-safety obstacles are to be removed in an attempt to revolutionise film-making in London.