Cannes: Euro Studios Look to Benefit From Busy London Soundstages


Footage of a Chinese character dying, and references to prostitution and torture were edited out of the Chinese release of the 2012 James Bond film. One scene completely cut included a hitman (Ola Rapace) killing a Chinese security guard. In another, Bond (Daniel Craig) questions a woman (Berenice Marlohe) about her tattoo, which indicates she had been forced into prostitution as a child. The audio was kept in, but the subtitles instead read she was being extorted by the mob. When Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva tells Bond about being captured in Hong Kong and then tortured, the subtitles did not tell the whole tale.

Studio facilities in the British capital are busy, with such high-profile international productions as "Star Wars" set to shoot there.

European film studio facility operators in such places as Germany and Eastern Europe feel positioned to take advantage of a shortage of free studio space in London and attract big Hollywood productions in the second half of the year and beyond.

With the new Star Wars movie and the Avengers sequel set to shoot in the U.K., among many others, even British producers pulling together financing for budgets and announcing summer start dates face a battle to secure space at the big facilities. Germany's Studio Babelsberg, Hungary's Korda Studios and others are seen as sites that could bring in big international productions.

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"Already when we were in LA last summer talking about new projects, the studios were all telling us: London's full,” said Christoph Fisser, co-head of Germany's Studio Babelsberg, who is in Cannes like other studio facilities executives looking to attract new productions. “If the big projects can't go to England, that could benefit us and other big European soundstages like those in Hungary.”

With that backdrop, entrepreneurs said Monday that they hope to put Romanian capital Bucharest on the map as a production hub in Eastern Europe. Bobby Paunescu and Jared Underwood’s Solar Entertainment Group has struck a partnership with real estate entrepreneur Dragos Savulescu to form Solar Studios, which will combine a film facility formerly known as Kentauros Studios and Mandragora Studios, the partners said in Cannes.

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“Solar Studios will take advantage of the highly skilled Romanian crews, locations, labor and impressive set constructions at a fraction of a typical North American budget,” said Viorel Sergovici, a veteran cinematographer and producer who will run the stage operator.

British industry folks in Cannes and beyond acknowledge that they may be a victim of their own success, but point out that many facilities have been expanding and that Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, where the Wachowskis are currently filming sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending with Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, also opened last year.

"The U.K. is home to a range of state of the art studios, plus a variety of alternative construction space, which is already being utilized," said Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission (BFC) and Film London. "It is fantastic that huge films are choosing the U.K., and the BFC is working with the industry to ensure we can facilitate all the productions."

"The combination of the U.K.'s fiscal incentives, the infrastructure and the skill does make the U.K. the destination of choice for many productions, particularly large productions," said Pinewood Shepperton director of strategy and communications Andrew Smith in Cannes. The company, known as the home of the James Bond franchise, is expected to host Star Wars and is also providing space for Disney's Cinderella and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

" There are issues around skills and capacity that the U.K. is addressing," he said. "That is one of the primary reasons for us to want to increase our capacity" via an expansion that was last week blocked by a local council.

If studio space does indeed prove too tight in the U.K., upcoming shoots could look to the model of George Clooney's new WWII drama The Monuments Men. Currently shooting at Babelsberg, the production, which stars Clooney alongside Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett, is the first to combine both German and U.K. tax subsidies, allowing the film to shoot in both locations.

That has been seen as difficult given different incentives, but the production may serve as a trailblazer. “We could see this a lot more in the future,” said Fisser. “So if London soundstages are full, a film could do its studio work in Babelsberg and then shoot locations in England - or vice versa.