U.K. studios race to add space for Hollywood tentpoles such as 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi,' the upcoming live-action 'Dumbo' and Oscar nominee 'Darkest Hour': "All the studios are full. They're all jam-packed, all the time."
Alongside Hollywood stalwarts Pinewood, Shepperton and now Leavesden, which all have dramatic expansions underway, facilities new and old across the U.K. have been bursting at the seams. In and around London, icons such as Ealing and Elstree have been joined by the likes of 3 Mills (Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs) (6) and the recently resurrected Twickenham (Black Mirror), while plans are afoot for a completely fresh site — Dagenham East (7) — that could accommodate 125,000 square feet of stages.
A few hours’ drive away, high-end British drama has made a home at Bristol’s Bottle Yard (Sherlock), and farther on, a growing hub for TV has formed in south Wales, where numerous facilities have sprung up, including another studio from Pinewood (Journey’s End), plus Bay Studios (Amazon’s The Collection) and the latest addition, Wolf Studios (BBC/New Line’s His Dark Materials). While Scotland has Outlander (based in Wardpark Studios), Northern Ireland’s Titanic Studios has long served as Game of Thrones’ HQ.
Meanwhile, the new $28 million, purpose-built Belfast Harbour Studios has welcomed Syfy’s Superman prequel, Krypton. “All the studios are full,” says one lm exec. “They’re all jam-packed, all the time.”
Arguably the world's most famous facility and already undergoing a $280 million expansion to double its size, Pinewood has been central to much of the U.K.'s recent magnetism for massive Hollywood productions. The studio on the outskirts of West London includes no less than 21 stages, plus one of Europe's largest exterior water tanks and 20 acres of backlots. It can handle two blockbusters at once.
First established on the site of a "secret" Ministry of Defense vehicle development facility and opened as a film studio in 2006, Longcross features five soundstages (the biggest at 42,000 square feet), plus an elegant 19th century manor house. But it's the legacy of its former employer that offers the most impressive stats: 200 acres of backlot, a 0.75-mile off-road course and four high-incline slopes for infinity shots (used for Skyfall).
After Pinewood, Leavesden has become the U.K.'s premier blockbuster-maker, offering 350,000 square feet of soundstages, plus a huge exterior water tank, 100 acres of clear horizon backlot and, following Warner Bros.' purchase, the De Lane Lea audio postproduction facilities in central London. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot will head back there this year for Wonder Woman 2.
The sister site of nearby Pinewood (in 2001, the Pinewood Group bought the studio where The Third Man and 2001: A Space Odyssey were shot), Shepperton boasts 15 stages ranging from 3,000 to 30,000 square feet, five of which include water tanks. There also are more than 10 acres of backlot, plus Littleton House, a stately 17th century home featured in everything from The Omen to Batman Begins.
Dating to 1902, this iconic location is the world's oldest working filmmaking facility. Now in the midst of a major $95 million expansion adding 82,000 square feet of multimedia offices and shared production space alongside its five soundstages (which range from 1,000 to 10,000 square feet), the site also will benefit from a new rail connection bringing central London within 11 minutes of travel and Heathrow just 15 minutes away.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.