The crashing dollar and the end of various forms of tax financing worth up to 50% of budgets have left the U.K. with just two reasons why any producer would come to shoot there: talent and material.
Fortunately, Britain is blessed with an abundance of both.
Phillip Noyce’s Mary, Queen of Scots is a good example of the sort of indie project it still makes sense to film in the British Isles. Although producers Alexandra Milchan and Melanie Johansson are American, the script was originally developed by BBC Films with local writer Jimmy McGovern.
The historical subject matter argues strongly for production to take place somewhere closely approximating the authentic locations of the story.
Even with Scarlett Johansson committed to play Scotland’s doomed 16th-century monarch, it’s still remarkably hard to make the sums add up.
The project has been on and off for years. Even now, the mooted July shooting date is hanging in the balance as the pic’s principal financier, U.K.-based sales company Capitol Films, juggles the budget, with one eye on the potential disruption of a threatened SAG strike. The recent WGA work stoppage already set the project back by delaying crucial rewrites.
Capitol is leaving no stone unturned in tapping subsidies to mitigate the cost. Like Braveheart before it, this iconic tale of Scottish history looks set to be shot largely in Ireland, where the incentives are greater. Of the $51.2 million budget, $22 million will be spent on a six-week shoot in Ireland in return for a $1.5 million investment from the Irish Film Board and $4.4 million from the Section 481 tax rebate.
Section 481 is payable on day one of principal photography — a cash-flow advantage over the U.K.’s tax credit, which can only be claimed after production is complete. Section 481 applies not just to Irish spend but also to the salaries paid to any EU citizen during the Irish leg — including British crews and Johansson, who holds a Danish passport.
Historical veracity demands that some scenes be shot in Scotland. Scottish Screen is investing $1 million in the film to secure three weeks of filming. Post-production will take place in London.
After deducting financing costs, the U.K. tax credit will be worth 16% of the $19.5 million qualifying British expenditure, or roughly $3.1 million — assuming the pic passes the cultural test. Even with an Australian director and an American star, that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, given the British script, crew and subject matter.
In total, therefore, the project should be able to tap approximately $10 million in soft money, or a fifth of its budget, to offset the cost of shooting in pounds (the U.K.) and euros (Ireland).