SPACE TO CREATE
Despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic a number of new UK studio locations have been announced recently. We round-up some of the latest developments and the role they will play in filmmaking’s future.
The shockwaves of 2020 are still being felt throughout the film industry, even though a number of productions are beginning to restart. Studios have certainly felt the loss in revenue, alongside many in the events trade. This is why on 11th August and 6th July over 3,500 venues displayed solidarity by bathing the outer walls of their buildings in red light. The Light It In Red campaign seeks to highlight the difficulties faced by an industry that relies on large groups of people in an enclosed space. Without significant financial investment, many locations face hardship or even closure, meaning campaigns such as Light It In Red provide an eye-catching method of bringing focus.
Despite these testing times, a number of new studio locations have been announced. Ashford International Studios is much more than a filming location, as the Grade II listed locomotive sheds will also be converted into a media village. This combined 190,000 sq ft plot is a development of Victorian-era railway works, thanks to a £250 million investment from Quinn Estates. This new addition will triple the available studio space available in the local area and will open in 2022.
The Tank Factory in West London was originally built during World War II but has now been converted into a modern filming location with up-to-date facilities. Housing four studios, all with CYC areas, The Tank Factory offers drive-in access in Studio One, hair and makeup rooms, production offices and private bathrooms. Further to this ProlinkTV is available with multicam, a full range of communication options and Dolby 5.1 audio features. Pixipixel also has a lighting store on site for any last-minute requirements. The Tank Factory is open now, and available for bookings.
Making the short hop over to Berkshire, Shinfield Studios is a brand-new venture, coming from a partnership between the University of Reading and LA-based film studio investor Commonwealth Real Estate LP. Subject to planning permission, this new location on the University’s Thames Valley Science Park Campus will create 3,000 new jobs and cost over £200 million. As with Ashford, Shinfield Studios should be open next year.
Heading north of the Thames and back into London, Troubadour Meridian Water Studios will sit on a 155,073 sq ft plot in Enfield and offer six sound stages alongside workshops, offices, and dressing rooms. The whole construction should be open in 2023 but the first phase, which includes three of the six studios, is projected to be finished and available for bookings this year.
Dagenham will be home to the new Eastbrook studios on a 22-acre former factory site (lead image). US backers Hackman Capital Partners, who own multiple studios in LA and New York, will invest £300m in the next three years. This will create up to 1,200 jobs to service the 12 sound stages and a backlot. The first productions are already booked in for 2022.
The growing confidence in a return to a more predictable production schedule is clear, as the next few years will promise to be massively important to both the film and TV industry. Commercials and pop videos, for example, have been continuing with aplomb, as is evident by East London Studios’ partnership with Warner Brothers Music.
Over the past year East London Studios provided a bio secure environment for artists and crews to use, with onsite tech supplied by Cinehouse, catering and VIP facilities. This has also led to performances being recorded by Royal Blood for James Cordens’ The Late Late Show, and KSI and Anne Marie for The One Show. East London Studios are now available for bookings in 2021.
Pinewood Studios has been making headlines – the expansion of Shepperton Studios will increase the capacity for film and high-end television production in the UK, and it is expected the project will result in a £300 million annual boost to the UK economy, 1,500 construction jobs and a further 3,000 jobs at the studios.
The Bottleyard Studios in Bristol has taken a similar tact, building on the success of 2020 to propel the studio confidently into 2021. Thanks to an £11.73 million investment, 82,000 sq ft of floor space will be built on in the nearby Hawkfield Business Park. Measuring 20,000 sq ft, 15,000 sq ft and 6,800 sq ft, the three new sound stages will also offer production offices, prop storage and makeup areas. Taking the studio count at Bottleyard from eight up to 11, this will also provide up to 1,000 additional jobs in the local area. This follows on from a fantastic year of production for Bristol, which included the filming of Doctor Who, His Dark Materials and the second series of The War of the Worlds.
Pinewood Studios has been making headlines for two reasons: the expansion of Shepperton Studios and a significant development for Pinewood in Buckinghamshire. In 2019, Pinewood Group was granted permission for the improvement and expansion of the Shepperton Studios site in Surrey. This will increase the capacity for film and high-end television production in the UK and it is expected the project will result in a £300 million annual boost to the UK economy, 1,500 construction jobs and a further 3,000 jobs at the studios upon its completion. The plans will see the development of new studio space including sound stages, offices, workshops, backlots, car parking and additional infrastructure.
The original Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire is also looking to expand further, integrating an international visitor experience called the Pinewood Studio Experience, and a multi-function learning and training hub, called Centre Stage. The proposal for development, dubbed Screen Hub UK, was submitted in September last year and will provide an increase in studio space of up to 350,000 sq ft, which will also create a projected 3,500 jobs. The new site will be located on 77 acres of land to the south of the existing space, and hopefully attract both professional talent and tourists alike.
Elsewhere, late last year media investment business announced it would take over Seren Stiwdios just outside Cardiff. This includes an agreement to manage the site until 2030. Plans to develop the current site include the development of a further 105,000 sq ft of stage space, with six industry standard soundstages, an additional 55,000 sq ft of offices, workshop accommodation and a 120,000 sq ft backlot along with parking.
It’s been a challenging but rewarding year. We’ve established a COVID safe way of working and have been busier than ever, with the months ahead looking extremely strong. It’s great to see the industry thriving despite the difficult environment.Emily Stillman, SVP, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden
OMA Studios in North London offer four stages at a combined 139,000 sq ft as well as workshops, stores, and office space. Based in Enfield, just off the M25, OMA is managed by the London Collective, who also recently announced the addition of the Grade 1 listed 55 Broadway to their portfolio. This stunning 14-storey building was originally constructed in the late 1920s, and still displays many hallmarks of that period both internally and externally.
From one newly acquired filming location from the 1920s to another from the same period. With a bit more of an industry legacy, Elstree Studios has been in high demand, as a portion of The Crown season four took residence. From the corridors of power in Downing Street to the Queen’s own bedroom, the interior sets were an important part of the period-faithful representations of the 1980s. This, alongside the newspaper offices and the interior of the Royal Yacht Britannia, required up to 300 background artists to maintain the illusion. With the incredible success of seasons one to four, it comes as no surprise season five is on the way.
Speaking of studios with a legacy, Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden is built on a production base from World War Two and has been home to some of the biggest productions in the last six months. The Batman, Wonder Woman 1984, Fantastic Beasts 3, Mission Impossible 7 and Tom and Jerry. In fact, Warner Brothers Studios is expanding further, opening new three sound stages between 24,000 and 35,000 sq ft and childcare facilities specifically for the film industry, called The WonderWorks. Emily Stillman, SVP, Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, reflected on a difficult year for the whole film industry: “It’s been a challenging but rewarding year. We’ve established a COVID safe way of working and have been busier than ever, with the months ahead looking extremely strong. It’s great to see the industry thriving despite the difficult environment and we are continually re-investing in WBSL to meet the demand for production space.”
From one of British filmmaking’s most venerated studios to the very cutting edge, Vero in Bristol offers virtual production and opened last year. Instead of using green screen, Vero creates live backgrounds with an LED wall and live camera tracking, making it possible for talent to react live to a controllable backdrop. As seen with the similar process used in The Mandalorian, the possibilities of this technology are virtually endless, and give the traditional studio even more potential.