Pinewood Studios is today confirming its ambitious offshore strategy with the official launch of Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios. Already open for a handful of months, the studio is currently hosting The Weinstein Co. and Netflix series Marco Polo. Pinewood CEO Ivan Dunleavy tells me, “You have a UK studio in Malaysia with Weinstein the production company and Netflix the distribution platform – I think that says it all about the new world.”
Along with Malaysia, the Pinewood family now includes the flagship South Buckinghamshire location, nearby Shepperton Studios, and outlets in the Dominican Republic, Toronto, Berlin and Atlanta — where Marvel’s Ant Man is colonizing. The group is also advising Wanda Dalian on a new film and TV studio complex, Qingdao Oriental Movie Metropolis, which is expected to open in 2016.
In Malaysia, I’m told that Iskandar is handily booking shows and already considering expanding. Dunleavy says the studio is exemplary of the growth in the Asia Pacific region. Malaysia is very close to Singapore – just 10 minutes across the Straits – and “has all the advantages of the connections to Singapore, its technology and the lower cost labor force in Malaysia.” Not only is the labor less expensive than elsewhere with skilled English-speaking crews, there are tax incentives in place that make the country attractive. “Over the long term, we’re expecting this will become a destination for the region,” says Dunleavy. “In a three or four hour flight, you have 1/3 of the world’s populations.”
One of Iskandar’s backers is the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia and its major focus is to attract productions from around the world. With the growing need for TV stages, Iskandar has smartly built two high-end TV studios into the facility. Set on 50 acres, the integrated studio currently offers 100,000 square feet of film stages, 24,000 square feet of television studios, post production facilities and complete support services, including production office space, dressing/make-up rooms, workshops and backlots.
There is still the ever present space crunch in the UK where studios are full to bursting – Pinewood is currently hosting the daddy of all upcoming productions, Star Wars Episode VII, and is awaiting Bond 24 – but the offshore outlets are not seen as substitutes. Still, if the Malaysian incentive is “more meaningful” for producers, it is an option. There’s also the knowledge that they’ll have the back office and technological backbone of Pinewood and the quality that we’re renowned for,” says Dunleavy.
At the home studio, Pinewood is awaiting an answer on its appeal for planning permission to expand. That’s expected by July 14. Where else they might expand overseas is a matter to study, but Dunleavy says “Incentives are very important and a key part of the competitive equation. But this is a capital intensive business and you’ve got to think about the long term… Permanency of incentives would be key for us.” Wherever they go next, Dunleavy believes, “Pinewood’s name above the door guarantees you’re going to get this done.”