Entertainment & Arts

Is big-budget television threatening cinema?

Claire Foy and Matt Smith on the set of The Crown. Image copyright Alex Bailey/Netflix

Sitting in a trailer on the set, the producer of Netflix's The Crown declines to tell me how much it all costs. But a member of the crew later chortles that they "spent £750,000 yesterday".

It looks like a film, costs as much as a film and, according to executive producer Andy Harries, is "filling a big gap in the market".

But one of the leading film producers in the UK, whose work includes Bridget Jones and Love Actually, says super-TV has made his job more difficult.

Andy Harries says he is creating a "viewing experience that is somewhere beyond top-end television and much nearer to big-budget feature films".

Image caption The set of The Crown at Elstree Studios in north London

It is filling a gap in the market, he says, created by "traditional Hollywood's" focus on the teenage market.

"The kind of dramas we make for Netflix and for Amazon are filling a big gap in the market; people who used to go to the cinema but don't much nowadays."

'All the money goes on screen'

"Cinema watching in the traditional way is definitely in decline. Television is growing partly because of the physical quality of televisions these days. Plus the combination of programmes made with proper production values so you can have a proper experience at home."

At Elstree studios, where the series is being filmed, the backlot is littered with slices of Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. The Oscar-nominated director of the series, Stephen Daldry, says it is "bigger than a film set".

"All the money goes on the screen."

But in a rare display of thrift, I watch Ghana Airways steps being spun around to show American Airlines branding on the other side.

Is this a threat to cinema? Is the talent rushing to work for the small screen instead?

Tim Bevan, co-founder of Working Title, the UK's largest film production company, says his job has been made more difficult.

He says Netflix and Amazon have arrived in the marketplace "aggressively". They are commissioning dramas "that actors, directors and writers are finding very attractive", he says.

His films have been "squeezed by the availability of acting talent" because of these series.

"The area of film business that Working Title works in, which is the quality medium budget movie, has certainly been impacted by this. Because they're telling similar stories but also it's become competitive", Bevan says.

He also notes that almost every critically acclaimed screenwriter has a television series in the works.

'Scale doesn't matter'

But for Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip in The Crown, it's not about size.

"The scale of it doesn't matter. It's always about the quality of the writing."

These programmes are "attracting a better quality of people than before because of the time and the format that you can tell a story in television. It is enticing for people who are auteurs," Smith says.

"If you could make Doctor Who for £10m an episode or £20m or £50m will it make it any better? For me it's not any different."

You can hear more on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House Sunday morning at 09:00 GMT.

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