Next year, Bond 24 and Star Wars: Episode VII will be shooting Walther PPKs and brandishing light sabers at Pinewood Studios outside London. That’s a lovely image for fans, and Pinewood bean-counters. But with Hollywood increasingly queueing up to shoot in Britain, and Pinewood’s application for expansion having been thwarted twice in the past year, a capacity crunch is coming to the UK at light speed — and some potential big-ticket tenants already have been turned away.
Among the films currently shooting at Pinewood are frequent client Disney’s Cinderella, QED and Sony’s Fury, and Fox’s Exodus. The new Star Wars installment is settling into its offices on the lot ahead of shooting in early 2014. Over at nearby Shepperton, Marvel currently has Guardians Of The Galaxy, with The Avengers 2 gearing up. Also there is Disney’s Into The Woods. Leavesden, the Warner Bros facility the studio acquired in 2010 and in which it invested £100M after shooting all eight Harry Potter movies there, is hosting Ron Howard’s Heart Of The Sea and Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The J.K. Rowling-penned Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is expected to shoot there when it goes.
The crunch is a “good problem to have,” one facilities exec says, but “we can’t be complacent.” I’m told that at least three significant movie and TV productions have been turned away from the UK recently because they couldn’t get the necessary stages. John Logan’s Showtime/Sky Atlantic series Penny Dreadful was eyeing the new UK tax credit for high-end TV productions that offers a 25% rebate, but I’m told that when no stage space of a sufficient caliber was available, the production opted for Dublin’s Ardmore Studios. Starz series Outlander, meanwhile, is shooting for 38 weeks near Glasgow — from a converted warehouse space. There are no high-end facilities in the country but a feasibility study is underway about building some.
The U.S. studios and the UK facilities have an interest in keeping things rolling along smoothly in Britain. The UK has traditionally been an attractive place to shoot, but has gotten even sexier in the recent past. The crew infrastructure that is a legacy of the Harry Potter films is considered top-notch, the pound has dropped against the dollar and tax incentives make it even more competitive with its Continental neighbors. “There are first-class facilities, it’s easy to get filmmakers to go there and the government is supportive of the industry,” a U.S. studio exec says.
Local government has been less supportive, however — at least when it comes to Pinewood. The studio has made two bids to expand in the past two years which have each been rejected by the local Council, in part because the expansion is eyeing protected land. Ahead of the Council’s most recent rejection last May, Hollywood studios including Disney, Fox and Universal wrote to decision-makers in support of the project. A public inquiry starts November 19th on Pinewood’s appeal. At a general assembly today, Pinewood Shepperton chairman Michael Grade reiterated, “We need to increase capacity at Pinewood Studios.”
In the meantime, Pinewood added the Richard Attenborough stage last year — largely to deal with the extra influx caused by the new TV tax break, but wisely built to accommodate both film and TV. Les Misérables used it, then it got a light entertainment TV series, followed by Paramount’s Jack Ryan and the BBC’s The Voice UK. Pinewood just put a further TV stage into use on Sunday. Warner’s Leavesden currently does not have dedicated TV space, but the expectation is that it will be added over time.
An answer on the Pinewood appeal is due in the beginning of next year. In the meantime, insiders maintain that Hollywood is unlikely to lose its appetite for the UK studios, but it could create a waiting list as moving pieces fall into place. “There is no debate about demand,” an exec insists. But “when you’re making a $250M film, you want high-end facilities.”