Spotlight on Studio Space
New Studio Space
“Speak to Samantha,” is the advice for international filmmakers looking to come to the UK. Samantha Perahia, head of production UK at the British Film Commission, knows exactly what’s available and where. And, with a second office in Los Angeles, the BFC provides a 24-hour service to international clients. The challenge for the UK is to ensure it has the capacity to meet new levels of demand, and studios are ramping up. Pinewood has almost doubled in size while Warner Bros Studios Leavesden (WBSL) has also expanded. There are also many new traditional studios opening up in places from Belfast to Liverpool, as well as plenty of alternative spaces. And a feasibility study is being undertaken to explore the possibility of a new 17-acre studio site in Barking and Dagenham, east London.
WBSL has just launched a new 70,000 sq ft workshop and construction is also underway on a 35,000 sq ft soundstage and 50,000 sq ft workshop that will open in the first quarter of 2018.
“We have a masterplan in place to meet the demand for space, which will ensure we can offer productions the choice and flexibility they require,” says Dan Dark, SVP and managing director, WBSL. “It’s vital we remain agile in order to maintain the UK’s position in this global market.” His remarks are echoed by studio executives across the country.
Elstree Studios’ plans are already in place to build a 21,000 sq ft stage, with 26,000 sq ft of ancillary facilities, at the back of the studios’ site. Elstree is also exploring the potential for developing further stages and facilities within the existing 16-acre site. Roger Morris, managing director of Elstree Studios, says: “The industry needs more production space. Elstree Studios has re-established itself as one of the top UK studios, attracting work from across the film and television industry including many major Hollywood productions. This new development at our site will allow the studios to take advantage of an expanding market.”
Around the country
While big-budget features have traditionally needed the space offered by the big studios in the south east of England, regional facilities are becoming increasingly ambitious in what they offer.
In Northern Ireland, Belfast Harbour Studios is now open, with the site’s first clients soon to be announced. This $25m (£20m) facility offers around 124,000 sq ft of studio space, workshops and offices. This space is in addition to the nearby Titanic Studios, home to eight seasons of HBO’s Game Of Thrones.
In Liverpool, work is well underway on converting the former headquarters of mail order and sports gambling firm Littlewoods into a new studio space, which is already being dubbed ‘the Pinewood of the north’.
“There are two huge Art Deco buildings, 720 ft in length, that have an unbelievable history,” says John Moffat from developer Capital & Centric (C&C), who is overseeing the project. Two new soundstages, each 20,000 sq ft in size, will be built on land in front of these buildings, and there will also be space for offices and workshops. “The idea is to create a world-class cluster of film, TV and media companies,” Moffat adds. C&C, which is working in partnership with Liverpool City Council, is in talks with an experienced studio operator that will take over the running of the facility, and expects to have the site open, and production underway, by the first quarter of 2018.
In Manchester, the Space Project is being given a $17.3m (£14m) expansion. This will add to the five existing stages and will make the site, in the words of Adrian Bleasdale, CEO of operating company Manchester Creative Digital Assets, “the biggest purpose-built complex outside London and the south east”. Alongside the new studio space will be offices and business units. “On site, we have already lined up a number of national and international providers to the film and television industry,” says Bleasdale. The Space Project has focused on the high-end TV drama and commercial market but, as the site expands, the aim is to open up to film.
Bristol’s Bottle Yard Studios is also refining and adapting its offer. In autumn 2016, the studios, which are based on the site of a former wine production plant, received $833,000 (£672,000) in public funding to enhance its infrastructure. The aim now is to use one of the old bottling halls for filmmaking.
“It’s about 30,000 sq ft, and we are just making it into a useful, practical space,” says site manager Fiona Francombe of the improvements, which will enable productions to use the space for filming, storage, construction or whatever else they might need. “The whole idea is that we are as flexible as possible,” says Francombe. “We don’t dictate how productions use the space. If it’s available and it’s of use to them, they can use it however they want.”
In Scotland, Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld has been granted full planning permission for significant expansion and the preparatory construction work is underway. “All the finances have been agreed with our enterprise partners and the Scottish government for financial support,” explains Brodie Pringle, head of screen commission at Creative Scotland.
Once completed, Wardpark, already home to Sony Television/Starz’s Outlander, will offer six soundstages — two of which are 50 ft high — over 78,000 sq ft, production offices, ancillary spaces and a backlot. Film and TV producers spent a record $65.3m (£52.7m) shooting in Scotland in 2015.
At the time of writing, the Scottish government had just greenlit the development of Pentland Studios, near Edinburgh. This new facility will offer up to six purpose-built stages, varying in size between 15,000 sq ft and 30,000 sq ft.
Meanwhile, improvements continue to be made at the Pelamis building in Leith. This huge premises, former home to Pelamis Wave Power, offers 160,000 sq ft of space and in parts is 100 ft high. “This isn’t your average warehouse. Much of the infrastructure needed by the film and television industry is already there,” says Pringle. “It has accessible steel gantries [and] the roof is load-bearing to the weight of 20 tons, so if you wanted to hang a helicopter there, you could. It has an extraordinary level of power and it’s in its own independent secure site.”