Rapid-build studios help meet unprecedented production demand in the UK

With film and TV studios at capacity, UK firms are delivering flexible, temporary studios to meet demand.

There’s a production boom in the UK film and television industry, fuelled by the rise of streaming and the constant demand for new content. Established players and newbies, including Netflix, Disney, Amazon and Sky are turning to the UK to create new content.

As well as creating a production hub at Shepperton Studios, Netflix has moved production of its series The Witcher from Budapest to Arborfield Studios in Wokingham, where it’s built an entire town. Disney has signed to take over Pinewood for a decade and Elstree Studios is building two new sound stages. A stone’s throw away, the £190m Sky Studios Elstree is in development and next door to Sky, plans are afoot for Hertswood Studios, expected to include 21 stages across 90 acres. New spaces are being identified across the UK, including Dagenham East in London, Reading and there are proposals for Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.

The British Film Commission (BFC), the UK agency responsible for attracting and supporting major international film and TV productions, reported a £2.34bn International film and high-end television (HETV) production spend in the UK in 2020, despite the initial impact of COVID-19. This follows the highest spend ever on film and HETV production in the UK in 2019. In their 2018 report, real estate firm Lambert Smith Hampton reported a need for 1.9 million square feet of studio space in the UK.

It’s not just the space needed for the studios, but the time it takes to build them that could hinder production. UK companies are finding innovative ways to meet the demand, building new studios in a few weeks, using materials and designs that can be assembled rapidly, but also deconstructed and moved to new sites.

Acorn Structures
Acorn Structures has a long history of building event structures. Their first step into the film industry was in 2011 when they extended the green screen in the 007 Stage at Pinewood. More recently, they’ve built new studios and worked with ITV and AMC to convert existing structures. Two of their most recent projects are ITV Studios Bovingdon and Troubadour Meridian Water Studios.

Toby Shann at Acorn told us: “People want to get onboard and online fast. What used to take a year, now takes weeks and our buildings can be de-rigged as fast as they arrive. They offer flexible design, creating different shapes, all based around the same standardised beam, delivering capacity and strength. The modular design means that we can keep extending, offering large open spaces, which can support 100 tons of rigging or production load.”

Serious Stages
Serious Stages was established 35 years ago in Somerset, to build stages for the Glastonbury festival. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen them move into film studio construction in a serious (forgive the pun) way.

Their two demountable studios at Longcross enabled Mission Impossible to move from Leavesden and complete principal photography. Serious now have 13 temporary stages at Longcross.
Debbie Priestnall, Commercial Director at Serious Stages told us: “Production capacity in the UK was full. There was so much product needing to be filmed, people with space were coming to us for help. Our stages can be erected on any sort of ground.” All of their stages are manufactured at their base in Somerset and are now shipped internationally. Their modular design means that they come in multiple sizes and can all be reused. One of their stages at Pinewood has just been demounted and is on its way to another location.

Serious Stages include Lucasfilm, Disney, Marvel, Netflix and Warner Bros among their clients.

Stage Fifty
Stage Fifty specialises in production-ready sounds stages that can be ready in as little as four months. Their aluminium structure is 100% recyclable and offers the durability of a permanent stage, with the flexibility of a movable structure. They can be built anywhere, moved and used again and again.
Stage Fifty are named after their ambition to open 50 studios globally over the next three years. This month they took a huge step in that direction, with the opening of Farnborough Film Studios comprising two 22,000 square foot sound stages. Stage Fifty are taking things a step further by operating the studios themselves.
Acclaimed independent TV production company Hartswood Films, are the first to use the new facility and are now in production on two new dramas, The Devil’s Hour for Amazon Studios and Inside Man for BBC and Netflix.

Rubb UK
In the 1970s, Rubb UK was asked by the British military to create hanger systems that could be transported in 20ft shipping containers. These structures were so successful that there are now tens of thousands of them being used by militaries internationally. They have been adapted to serve as training grounds for football clubs, warehouses and now film studios. They are both cheaper and quicker to build than traditional studios. Ryan Clarke, Sales Executive at Rubb UK said: “Traditionally it can take 2 years to build a film stage, ours is 18 – 20 weeks from placing your order, to design, manufacture, ship and install it.”
With these companies all jostling to deliver their new studios in record time, as well as the continued popularity of traditional builds and converting existing structures, the UK film industry could soon have the production space it needs to meet demand.

Article: Richard Osborne

Contact details for the companies featured:
Acorn Structures
www.acorn-events.com  •  info@acorn-events.com
Rubb UK
www.rubbuk.com  •  info@rubb.co.uk
Serious Stages
www.stages.co.uk  •  info@stages.co.uk
Stage Fifty
www.stagefifty.com  •  info@stagefifty.com


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Serious Stages Ltd.

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Martin Kempton
3 years ago

Great to see so many companies providing these much-needed facilities. It is essential that the UK keeps up with the demand for good quality sound stages or production companies will be driven to make their features and TV dramas elsewhere. Of course, it is just as important to train the new crews that will be needed to work on all these productions.

S Wilson
S Wilson
2 years ago

None of these are Sound Stages in the true sense of the word and can’t compare with proper Sound Stages at Pinewood, Leavesden, Shepperton etc. You can’t erect a temporary structure in a few weeks and call it a Sound Stage, it’s not honest.

Stage Fifty
2 years ago
Reply to  tonyfranks

Stage Fifty’s sound stages are unique in that they are tested and approved by film industry professionals. We design and engineer them to the highest specification, and the modular aluminium and steel structure means they are incredibly robust. We can build stages up to 32,000 sq mt with a floor to grid height of 15m. The stages are demountable and movable, which is more sustainable, but there is nothing temporary about them, and the quality of space we create for filmmakers is second to none. Our stages are fully sound treated and reduce external noise by 50-70dB, while Class-A sound absorption lining eliminates sound reflections and exceeds film industry sound treatment standards. They also include an ATMOS ventilation system, full power distribution, and rigging loads of 500kg per grid. 

Martin Kempton
2 years ago
Reply to  S Wilson

There do seem to be a number of companies offering these stages and all seem to claim that they are treated for sound. I imagine some are better than others but one assumes that they must be superior to an old warehouse unit, which is where a lot of films and TV are being shot. Just another thought – a lot of high-end TV and feature films rely on ADR for dialogue so maybe picking up live sound is not quite the issue it was a few years ago anyway.

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