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Hollywood losing out to blockbuster Britain

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Britain is on course to become bigger than Hollywood as developers rush to build film studios and capitalise on companies such as Amazon placing big bets on UK production.

Analysis by The Times showed that within two years there will be more studio facilities and square footage of studio space in the UK than the whole of Los Angeles, should developments open their doors as planned.

At least 20 new studios are in various stages of planning and construction, which would mean there is a minimum of 56 sites where blockbuster film and television shoots can take place. This would be two more than the 54 certified production facilities in Hollywood, according to a report last year by FilmLA, the Los Angeles filming permit office.

Research carried out last year by Lambert Smith Hampton, a property consultancy, found that the UK’s studio space could rise to 6.8 million sq ft if new sites and expansion plans are completed. Los Angeles has 5.3 million sq ft of studio space.

An estimated £1 billion is being poured into the studio gold rush, according to the British Film Institute, as Hollywood players come to the UK to take advantage of tax breaks and the skilled workforce.

Last week Amazon spent millions of pounds buying up exclusive filming space at Shepperton Studios. The US technology and entertainment company has taken a lease on expanded facilities at the complex in Surrey which is operated by Pinewood Group and was used to make the film 1917 and Downton Abbey.

Netflix and Disney have made similar moves to acquire UK filming space, as developments shoot up across the country. Studios are being built or expanded in places such as Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds and Liverpool.

One of the biggest new facilities planning to open its doors in the next few months is Sky Studios Elstree, a 27.5-acre site in Hertfordshire. The studio will be the base for Sky original shows, which have recently included A Discovery of Witches and Chernobyl.

It will also house blockbuster films made by NBC Universal, the American entertainment company behind the Jurassic World franchise. Jurassic World Dominion, the latest instalment in the dinosaur series, was the first big Hollywood movie to be produced in the UK following the industry’s Covid-19 filming hiatus.

Caroline Cooper, chief operating officer of Sky Studios, said: “Hollywood has obviously got a great heritage but a lot of people recognise just what an attractive place the UK is to make content. There is a growing appetite for European content more generally, so it’s no surprise the UK has become the hub.”

Sky Studios will open in phases this year, with some sound stages — the cavernous internal spaces used to make films — already taking bookings for spring shoot dates. Cooper declined to say what production would be the first to be shot at the studio.

Not all have welcomed Netflix, Amazon and Disney swooping to secure exclusive access to studio space. The invasion of the US giants has had an impact on some local productions, including Call The Midwife, which faced disruption when Netflix took a lease on Longcross Studios in Surrey.

There is also huge demand for film crew, which has pushed up the cost of making content by as much as 20 per cent, according to some estimates.

Cooper said: “We have never not been able to make something [because of the competition for talent], but as production increases, the industry will need to lean into training and development.”


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