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 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 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 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.
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:
www.acorn-events.com • email@example.com
www.rubbuk.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
www.stages.co.uk • email@example.com
www.stagefifty.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Serious Stages Ltd.