The Real Reason Gravity Was Deemed A “British” Film


Over the weekend I passed by Hollywood blvd and took the photo above after it generated an odd thought:

How is Gravity a British film? The story is about American astronauts. The director is Mexican. The lead actors are American. The film was produced by an American company.

I didn’t think much about it after but after last nights BAFTAs, many British citizens, media, and even filmmakers wondered how and why Gravity  is considered a British film. Well, it turns out the real reason why is because of something I’ve written extensively about on my blog: Subsidies.

It’s the reason other American productions like the Batman films, Fast and Furious 6 (which was also dubbed a culturally Spanish film?!), and even Captain America are absurdly designated British films. If they are designated culturally British films, they have access to subsidies which can cover 20% of their production costs.

The UK is a member of the European Union which has the authority to regulate subsidies in Europe to prevent distortions in trade. For example, when the EU found that US biodiesel subsidies were injuring the industry in Europe, they slapped the product with import duties to negate their effect.

The EU also regulates subsidies in Europe because the US and other countries can slap member countries with those same duties if their subsidies are found to injure industries in other countries. However, the EU carved out special provisions for subsidies for films and television to protect cultural content and prevent domination by the US film industry. Given that British citizens are wondering why US films are being dubbed British, you can marvel at how well that policy is working.

How does one actually determine if a film is culturally British or Spanish or French? The EU requires members to submit each film to a cultural test. The problem is the people who determine whether a film passes a cultural test is determined by the government offering the subsidy, not an independent body or EU. Also, the test is vague and silly in some cases. Take a look at the UK’s cultural test. You’ll quickly notice you get score 25% of the points needed by simply having the film’s dialogue in… wait for it… English! This is why a recent article called the British film tax breaks one of the weirdest in the world. I challenge you to figure out how Gravity could attain the 16 points required in the cultural test.

Simply put US studios are blowing past flimsy cultural tests to gain access to lucrative UK subsidies. However, just like the biodiesel case, the UK film subsidies cause massive injury to industries in other countries without subsidies. For the past three years I’ve written about the injury caused to the VFX industry and have sought to institute the same tariffs the UK has used to level the playing field. You can see our legal teams recommendations here as we organize a demonstration against these subsidy programs.

Soldier On.

63 Responses to The Real Reason Gravity Was Deemed A “British” Film

  1. Stanely Kubrick says:

    OK i just have to say …..I finally saw gravity tonight. What an unbelievable hunk of shit. I made it through half of the film….because it was so unbelievable. Maybe because i was old enough to see a space walk LIVE on TV…..but no one can manuever in space like that. Animation sups please UTUbe a space walk….its not like driving a porche….

    The movie is unbelievable….and the reflections and breath fog in the helmuts are lame. And the fucking earth is soft in all the matte paintings of the earth. And you put the VFX against a great creature show like fucking Smaug!!!!!

    What is so hard about a space station that deserves a golden statue? …..bloated looking space suit digi doubles….? Lighting from one light source…..tell me what is so ground breaking about this movie?

    and your compairing this against the furnace scene with Smaug the dragon…??

    Fuck you gravity…id rather watch 2001 on blue ray….Joe letteri pisses on you…..

    • orsen welles says:

      Seriously….im gonna do a complete orbit in a space suit…and land on a russian space station…..>????

      • oscar says:


        no mind bending water……no fantastical fur…… muscle systems… animation challenging the uncanny valley……no talking digi doubles like Avatar or benjamin buttons…..what is ground breaking about about hard surface modeling and a bunch of space dust……in Gravity? It looked OK…..but nothing any well talented out of the box shop couldn’t acheive…..(not like it was a creature show)

      • Big_R says:

        Looks like a triple post by the same person under different accounts just to try and back up his/her rant.

      • Stanely Kubrick says:

        To big R..

        Did you figure out all by yourself? But seriously….all i saw was some particle work….and some hard surface destruction. The digi double work looked good….but its not like they talked… but who can’t render an all white astronaut suit?

        Gravity is well done…but nothing is ground breaking in that movie.

        Now compare it to Smaug Hobbit 2…..with tons of CG orcs….and creatures like the bear, spiders, and epic smaug the dragon. When the furnaces turn on….in the mines….and all the gold….looked like monumental render……

        Seriously I don’t know what the hype is about gravity…..your flying at 50,000 miles per hour…..and you get 10 feet from that ship…..and your dead. When you look at space walk footage you can see the earth flying by…..i never got that sense of speed. I just thought it was very unbelievable movie…..

        The VFX are good…but I am not in awe of them….

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Without commenting on who has the better VFX, what I’ve generally observed is that the Academy sometimes doesn’t award the “best VFX in a film” but the “best film with VFX in it”.

      • Peter Greenaway says:

        this is not even a great movie, Daniel.
        Might impress with his long shots, but this is something that can be done on computers today.
        Seems like people watching this movie in 3D were more impressed then the others. But this is a 3D conversion, so the credits should go to the company who did it. (I don’t know if this was a native 3D movie.)
        However, what I do not understand is how to compete for the best feature, when there are so many great movies around.

      • Alex says:

        As 99% of the film is CG all of the CG can be re-rendered and thus perfect native stereo is created from this. The only stereo conversion that was completed was on the 2D footage (their faces and Sandra’s body) in which we prepped most of it, which took months….months and months and months. We had a little help from Prime Focus due to work load but that was it. Everything else was kept in house. And this isn’t something that can just be done on computers. You needed an LED light box with a stand in set which everything needed to be tracked, modelled, textured, rigged, animated, lit and composited by people who know what they are doing and a pipeline that works. I agree this film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but believe me when i say their wasn’t a better contender to win Best VFX.

      • Andreas Jablonka says:

        Alex: you gotta admit this post is silly. EVERY vfx movie needs things model and rigged and animated and rendered. its nothing special.
        gravity was successful as you did not think it was CG. thats more praise than you can say about enders game, john carter etc.
        but your statement is absurd. sorry mate

      • tazzman says:

        Alex, are you from Framestore?

    • Alex says:

      …………………..Aren’t you dead?

    • jonavark says:

      Believability was out the window the moment I saw Bullock pulling out a PC Board with Clooney goofing around in the background with a jet pack. The rest of the movie was pure fantasy.

    • A says:

      Sad if that’s the case!

    • minoton says:

      I don’t know if ‘Geavity’ was unbelievable or not, but Smaug looked absolutely nothing like a real dragon! Absolutely unbelievable. ;). But the work in both of these MOVIES was absolutely outstanding!

  2. America has sacrificed greatly to have more conventional weapons and more nuclear weapons than any country on earth. If our culture is for sale to any other country that wants to subsidize and control our arts and humanities and our jobs are for sale globally why have so many bombs? We had to lift our debt ceiling just to avoid a fiscal catastrophe. There’s no ‘gravity’ in our lost liberties to own our own culture and intellectual properties. And to keep the industries we pioneered.

    • NS says:

      How on earth did it qualify as a British film? Reading the cultural test I have no idea how it scored 16 points. I will never buy into arguments about how directors need to be in the same facility as VFX are etc. but concrete things like this are something that everyone has to agree on. It is just stupid that this film was ever considered “British” and it demonstrates without debate some of the stupidity in this industry.

    • jonavark says:

      Every other industry we’ve ‘pioneered’ has moved out of the US. We don’t actually make shit here anymore. Movies, VFX.. no different.

      The significance of whether this is a ‘British’ film or not? Completely and totally irrelevant.

      • Most movies and major shows are still made in the US. The US may have lost that claim on VFX, but not all of it. And certainly not for the physical production. Let’s not declare this patient dead quite yet.

    • boombangsplat says:

      You do know who created Hollywood right?

      “ Hollywood was created by Jewish immigrants from Central Europe.”

      • Mel Brooks says:

        Yeah, Jewish immigrants from Central Europe who emigrated to America to become Americans and build themselves a better life.

  3. NS says:

    How on earth did it qualify as a British film? Reading the cultural test I have no idea how it scored 16 points. I will never buy into arguments about how directors need to be in the same facility as VFX are etc. but concrete things like this are something that everyone has to agree on. It is just stupid that this film was ever considered “British” and it demonstrates without debate some of the stupidity in this industry.

  4. LDNvfx says:

    There seems to be confusion here: BAFTA has nothing whatsoever to do with handing out British film incentives. Gravity being “British” for the specific Best British Film award has no bearing on a film passing the government’s cultural test for tax purposes; BAFTA is a private organisation, entirely separate from the DCMS and HM Treasury.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Perhaps but even under those circumstances, many in the UK were wondering how Gravity was able to be deemed a culturally british film by BFI.

      • LDNvfx says:

        There are plenty of people asking if Gravity should have been allowed to shut out a film like The Selfish Giant in the Best British Film category, but there’s next to no one over here complaining about it passing the cultural test for tax purposes. Incidentally, 12 Years A Slave did not pass the UK cultural test as the producers never applied for it – it’s subsidised existence is down to Louisiana and New York State.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I was incorrect about 12 years a slave. Ill correct the post.

      • Seven Psychopaths, 127 Hours, Inception and Dark Knight Rises also passed the cultural test. How???? I can sorta get Gravity to 16 points. But not those. Not even close.

  5. Andreas Jablonka says:

    the only british part of it is the vfx done in london 🙂

  6. Alex says:

    I dunno, maybe because it was produced by David Heyman and his British production company Heyday Films. It was also shot almost exclusively at Shepperton Studios using an entire crew of British artists and technicians, and its visual effects overseen by British company Framestore.

    I know it has a Mexican director and 2 American actors in it. But a vast majority of the film was worked on and completed here in Britain by British crew which includes people from other countries who are legally allowed to work here too. Unfortunately if it was subsidised in another country that would have meant nearly all of the work on the film wouldn’t have been done here. If subsidies didn’t exist and the same work had been carried out by the same people I believe it would have still been nominated for Best British Film. I think there’s enough British in it to be nominated in that category whether or not it fits the cultural guidelines above.

  7. PolarisSoup says:

    As has been pointed out the VFX was done in London (using international talent), the Director Alfonso Cuaron is classed as British as he has been resident in the UK for over a decade. Don’t forget the cultural test does site “significant British creative involvement” which together with the VFX and the stage work at Shepperton Studios is more than true. The test is also a bit wishy-washy, with points for things like “dialogue in english”. It would be interesting to see where the 16 points came from, although as with tax-breaks we know how easy it is to twist reality into making your film look worth of any consideration.

  8. Peter Greenaway says:

    What I don’t understand is how come, in a subsidized location like Montreal, money are not enough for daycares( today at CBC were saying it will be more cuts into daycares subsidies) and there are plenty to subsidies for foreign vfx.
    Here is an article from last year:

  9. A. D. says:

    People saying Gravity shouldnt have won Best VFX clearly dont know what they are talking about.

    Go back to school and learn what the terms “innovative” and “groundbreaking” mean.

    Astonishing work by the BRITISH VFX company Framestore.

    Congratulations to all who worked on it!

    • Peter Greenaway says:

      …and may the subsidies last forever!

    • obles says:

      What innovation? The physical rigs stuff worked but it wasn’t technically outstanding. Jump over to youtube and look at the moon landings or astronaught jumbo zero-gravity training. There is a very different movement and resistence to the body that Gravity does not capture at all, either in animation or studio stunts. I really can’t see it much superior to say 2001 46 years ago or something like star trek first contact about 18 years ago.

      They don’t innovate and develop any heavy software stuff themselves like weta, sony, scanline, they are very much an out-of-the-box pipeline with a few add ons. And what is that commerical pipe? Mostly canadian/US developed software with a bit of spanish thrown in. Liked the lighting? Arnold. A sony developed project used to surpass in-house another US based renderer, pixar renderman. Spanish company solid angle helped develop Arnold alonside sony software engineers many, many years before it was bought off the shelf there.

      Compositing? Nuke is developed in the UK but was an inhouse DD project back then and was headed up by US engineers when it was first purchased over to the UK. And the foundry have done excellent work since, but it is not developed by FS. Would the industry standard nuke exist without DD providing it as a commercial product to the likes of FS? Would MPC get much FX work without German scanline software, training and support?

      We need to separate the inovation quote out. FS does not innovate or is a particularly young company. So the press release stuff is just utter, utter, marketing bunkum. There are some very innovative phsyical FX stages in the UK, and some top notch commercial software companies like foundry, NaturalMotion, Imagineer, Mark Roberts, but not of these projects would survive dev and innovation cycles, inhouse, with the costs cutting, subsidy model of somewhere like there.

      • A. D. says:

        I was referring to the innovation of the pre-light blocking process which was then used to generate accurate on-set lighting.

        As a lighter, this whole process was what really impressed me about the film. The techniques used really did produce some stunningly accurate lighting visuals.

      • obles says:

        Pre-light blocking is very standard. I remember seeing it with vray and nuke onset on several DD productions 10+ years ago.
        See, it is all very vague. Is there a technology patent registered online for this?

      • Stanely Kubrick says:

        To AD…

        One light ..its called the sun….whats so impressive about that…

      • VFX Soldier says:

        This discussion is hilarious.

        Sent from my iPhone


      • A. D. says:

        I have to agree, its fun arguing with bedroom trolls and reading their silly retorts 🙂

      • kyoseki says:

        It’s also worth noting that the light box relighting setup was developed at the University of Southern California under Paul Debevec.

  10. myComment says:

    I am also surprised at this suggestion and I’m English but at the same time, why are you Americans so patriotic about these things and always wanting to claim ownership if something does well? You can’t call this an American film either you know.

    Why British? These are my thoughts.. A lot of it was also shot in the uk at Pinewood and David Heyman the producer is English, but you seem to have left these facts off. So doesn’t that sum up to more than any one other country?

    Do you Americans think Avatar is therefore an American film dispite the fact the director is Canadain?

    Finally, I was actually happy to see 12 years a slave win best picture because it is a superior film in every which way over tripe like Gravity which is lets face it pretty to look at but with very little substance to go with it.

    • Disgruntled says:

      People aren’t questioning its “British-ness” because they want to claim it as American. They’re doing it to point out the absurdity of the British subsidy points system under which it got Government money.

    • Disgruntled is right. No, we don’t claim it as American. On its face, to the average person, I think most would say a movie about American astronauts in the American space program starring two US citizens would seem like an “American” movie. But reasonable minds might differ.

      I don’t care what Avatar is. Cameron does reside mainly in the US now…and I suspect he is now a citizen. The idea and approval to make it, I assume, happened in the US. But it was filmed mainly in NZ, so they probably have the most claim to it. The content of the movie would suggest it’s actually a “Pandoran” movie, so let’s be careful not to offend the Na’vi.

  11. fernoonoo says:

    So to summarise, the director is a British resident, it was produced by a British company, it was shot in Britain and the VFX were done in Britain. Why the fuss? Surely we should be just celebrating the high standard of the VFX work?

  12. contessa12 says:

    This was a seriously flawed movie with the special effects being good but not outstanding! The story was sooooo lame, Hollywood should be ashamed!
    We finally gave away another industry! Now Hollywood works for the Brits! I’d say yes, it’s a British film… Filmed there? Post production? Subsidized by the Brits? Yes, it passes the duck test.

    • Peter Greenaway says:

      But Framestore is in Montreal now. See, that’s the beauty of subsidies locations. You pass all the duck test all around the world .
      A british movie? No problem,since the brits worked on it.
      A Canadian movie, no worries, since Canadians worked on it.
      See what I mean?

      • A says:

        The problem with that is that it isn’t Brits in Britain or Canadians in Canada, it’s artists globally having to chase work from country to country to keep themselves employed. I’ve just decided to sod it and work in commercials instead. That’s what I did! You get treated and paid better as well as overtime. It’s a shame as the work isn’t as interesting but my overall work place happiness is generally very positive. 🙂

      • Big_R says:

        Yes Framestore is in Montreal, there are also offices in New York and L.A. However, Gravity was not worked on in any of those offices

      • kyoseki says:

        No small part of the Gravity FX team relocated to the Montreal office though. Same guys doing the same job for the same company, but now they’re subsidized to the tune of 44% instead of 25%

        So much for subsidies letting talent work in their home country, but at least they’re getting paid overtime now.

  13. Joe U says:

    Governments aren’t in the business of handing out free money with no strings. WB isn’t exploiting the British taxpayer, because it’s employing many hundreds of them who are paying taxes on that income and generating more revenue than is being written off. They’re also training an entire generation of crew who will work on any number of other British productions in their careers.

    At worst, the only issue with intl productions favouring the incredible talent pool we have in Britain because of films like these is with capacity: they can’t build facilities fast enough to house demand and, regretfully, this does have a knock on effect on what you might deem more reasonably British films. But when I look at the lists of British films released in the last few years, I see more positives from the studio migration than I do negatives. 20 years ago we’d make a handful of films a year. Now we make hundreds.

    • Disgruntled says:

      Sure they are. The amount of money paid to movie studios like WB doesn’t make it back to the taxpayer. Look at all the studies Soldier and Scott Squires have pointed to that show the subsidies don’t pay for themselves.

      And if you honestly think that if the subsidies end jobs wont flee London then you’re crazy. Time after time studios and VFX houses (and some of their owners) have stated the work is there because of the subsidies.

      Some would stay of course, but vast amounts of it would flee.

      • Joe U says:

        Where did I suggest the absence of tax incentives wouldn’t discourage foreign production? I travel to film sets all over the world, and the places I return to most often, like Quebec and Louisiana, are attractive to productions because of their favourable incentives. I’m not at all naive about that. I also don’t happen to think it’s a bad thing.

  14. deanareeno says:

    From Deadline:

    “There’s been some consternation this week over its inclusion in the latter category with folks wondering how a U.S. studio-backed movie made the cut. Answer: It was produced by Britain’s David Heyman, shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios with a crew of local technicians, visual effects were handled by the UK’s Framestore and director Alfonso Cuaron is a British resident. That was enough for it to pass the requirement for significant British creative involvement qualifying it as British under guidelines set out by the BFI and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.”

    My count:

    Section A
    A4: 4 pts.

    Section B
    4 pts.

    Section C
    C1: 2 pts.
    C2: 1 pt.

    Section D
    D1: 1 pt.*
    D2: 1 pt.*
    D3: 1 pt.
    D4: 1 pt.
    D7: 1 pt.
    D8: 1 pt.

    17 pts. (minimum 16 pts. to qualify)

    *the two categories that Cuaron, as a British resident according to the above article, represents.

    You can say “I don’t like the qualifiers” (e.g. English language), and I might agree with you, but you can’t say “under their own rules it doesn’t qualify”. Clearly, it does.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      You’re missing the point:

      It’s not about creating a cultural product: it’s about bypassing flimsy eu subsidy rules to gain access to a 20% subsidy.

      Sent from my iPhone


      • deanareeno says:

        Not missing the point at all, merely responding to your comment: “I challenge you to figure out how Gravity could attain the 16 points required in the cultural test.” — a challenge easily overcome.

        To mention that it doesn’t qualify is a distracting sideshow to your central argument.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Actually my point about the cultural test was to point out how flimsy and vague it was.

        Sent from my iPhone


  15. recovering vfx td says:

    Why not correct your last article to show how Tim Webber was misquoted rather then bash Gravity again?

  16. BuxFizz says:

    I cant wait for it to win the Oscar

  17. Lost in space says:

    Apollo 13 all the way!!

  18. […] films that pass an EU mandated cultural test, productions can take advantage of a government subsidy that pays 25% on the first £20M and  20% […]

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