Hollywood Strikes Send a Chill Through Britain’s Sinema Industry

What do “Barbie,” “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” have in common? Besides being the summer’s big-budget movies, they were made in Britain, filmed in part at some of the country’s most esteemed studios.

Big Hollywood productions are a critical part of Britain’s film and television industry. For years, they have brought in money, jobs and prestige, and helped make the sector a bright spot in Britain’s economy. But now, that special relationship has brought difficulty.

The strikes by actors and screenwriters in the United States, which have ground much of Hollywood to a standstill, are also being strongly felt in Britain, where productions including “Deadpool 3,” “Wicked” and Part 2 of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning” stopped filming. Throughout the late summer months, when the industry would be at its busiest to take advantage of the long days, soundstages at Pinewood, Britain’s largest studios, were instead nearly empty.

Film crews, like camera workers and costume designers, are out of work after productions abruptly stopped. Bectu, the British union for workers in behind-the-scenes roles in creative industries, surveyed nearly 4,000 of its film and TV members and 80 percent said their jobs had been affected, with three-quarters not working.

The British impact from the Hollywood strikes is mostly on productions using members of SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, which was picketing Universal Studios in August.Credit…Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

“Irrespective of whether you think the studios are right or whether the unions are right, there are people who are suffering in the U.K.,” said Marcus Ryder, the incoming chief executive of the Film and TV Charity, which supports workers who are struggling financially.

In August, the charity received more than 320 applications for hardship grants, compared with 37 a year earlier.

Since the first “Star Wars” movie was filmed partly in a studio in England in the mid-1970s, British film studios have been a top destination for American productions, and that impetus gathered pace in the past decade thanks to generous tax incentives and moviemakers’ demand for experienced crews. More recently, Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services have snapped up studio space so quickly they set off a boom in studio building.

These big-budget productions employ thousands of local workers, and pour billions into the economy. Last year, a record 6.3 billion pounds ($7.8 billion) was spent on film and high-end TV productions in Britain, according to the British Film Institute. Nearly 90 percent came from American studios or other foreign productions.

The number of films or television shows delayed in Britain since mid-July, when Hollywood actors joined the writers’ strike, is relatively small, maybe about a dozen, but they are the big productions that require lots of crew and support an ecosystem of visual effects companies, catering and other services.

Charlotte Sewell, an assistant costume designer living in London, was working on the “Mission: Impossible” movie when the strikes stopped production. For a few weeks, she was able to work one day a week, but now that has ended, too.

“Now my one-day week has gone, I’ll be trying to find some something somewhere,” she said. “I’m not sure where yet.”

Ms. Sewell, who is also the chair of the Bectu committee for costume and wardrobe department workers, said she supported the strikes, and she was confident she would be able to return to “Mission: Impossible” when the disputes ended.

In the meantime, she’s nervous about her finances, especially paying her next self-employment tax bill, which is due in January.

“Because I’ve been in the industry a long time, I suppose, mentally, I’m more equipped to deal with the downtime, but financially not,” she said.

She started in the business in 1992. Back then, the film industry was in “dire straits” after a funding slump, Ms. Sewell said, but recent years have been “amazing.” There has been a noticeable shift in her work toward big American productions.

“We depend so much on U.S. studio-based productions for our work,” she said, because British productions have died down. “I used to work in independent film all the time. I haven’t done it for years because it just isn’t there.”

The problems for British workers has been exacerbated by a slowdown in domestic production, said Philippa Childs, the head of Bectu. The BBC’s funding from viewers, through a license fee, was frozen by the government for two years until April 2024, and other British broadcasters are struggling with a drop in advertising revenue, restricting their ability to commission new work, especially as production costs are high. At the same time, film workers have been facing a squeeze on their own budgets from stubbornly high inflation.

Bectu is supportive of SAG-AFTRA, the Hollywood union that represents actors, Ms. Childs said, in part because the issues that have provoked the U.S. walkout, like the use of artificial intelligence by studios, will “inevitably” have a big impact in Britain, too.

Most workers in the industry are freelancers, but unions say that does not mean the work is always precarious. After the pandemic lockdowns, demand for workers was high, and the industry was full of stories of people suddenly moving to other productions for better pay.

“We’ve gone from feast to famine,” Ms. Childs said.

The ripple effects from the strikes are mostly on productions with stars who are SAG-AFTRA members — who tend to be U.S.-based actors. But the impact is expected to grow, affecting more workers. Many parts of the British film industry are insulated from the strikes, however; domestic productions, with British actors or British union agreements, have gone on.

That could change. Equity, the British actors union, is closely watching the Hollywood negotiations ahead of contract renewals in Britain. A request for a 15 percent pay increase has been submitted to the production companies and will be followed by negotiations on working rights and conditions. Equity has a campaign called “Stop AI Stealing the Show,” arguing that British law is failing to protect the rights of performers.

“We’re obviously going to want what the Americans want,” said Paul Fleming, the general secretary of Equity. “So we are facing the prospect of industrial unrest in the middle of next year.”

For the past 13 years, Ian Ogden has worked as a grip, a crew member who moves and supports the camera. He was on reshoots for Disney’s live-action remake of “Snow White” when strikes shut down filming in July.

“It’s been pretty bleak ever since,” he said.

Last month, Mr. Ogden said, he earned three-quarters of what he needed, and was using savings set aside for his two young children to pay for groceries. For weeks, he struggled to find new work as the productions still running tended to be smaller, not requiring as many cameras or grips, he said. Recently, he has found work on a British television production.

A member of Bectu who also holds a position in a charitable organization for grips, Mr. Ogden said, “I support the fight for rights.” But he does not support the strike, he said, because it is hurting the offscreen workers who don’t have the kind of financial support that Hollywood actors do.

“The people that it’s affected in this country — we’re not millionaires,” he said.

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