Filming in the U.K.? Forget London: Everyone Is Shooting in the South of Wales

Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films and BBC Wales for BBC One and MASTERPIECE
'Sherlock' shoots in Pinewood’s studio space in Cardiff.

'Doctor Who,' 'Sherlock' and 'The Huntsman: Winter's War' are taking advantage of the stunning landscape, skilled labor and yes, tax breaks of the hottest filming location just two hours outside of London.

Doctor Who's home planet of Gallifrey may long since have been destroyed, but were the Time Lord looking for a new place to settle down, the south coast of Wales in the U.K. would gladly welcome him. It was here where BBC execs Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner chose to set up production of the rebooted cult show in 2005 after 16 years in the galactic wilderness, sparking a dramatic surge in high-end TV productions that has helped put the region on the map and boosted employment in the creative industries across the whole of Wales by more than 50 percent. Spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures soon followed, while the likes of Sherlock, Da Vinci's Demons and Kurt Sutter's The Bastard Executioner also descended on the growing hub. Now Tranter and Gardner's new Bad Wolf banner is bringing the BBC's adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy novels trilogy His Dark Materials to the area. But it's not just TV, with The Huntsman: Winter's War and Kevin Costner's Criminal taking advantage of the lush green valleys and other stunning outdoor locations. Why has this former industrial heartland become a growing go-to destination for TV and film? Here are four reasons:

It's Not London …

The British capital might be the first consideration when thinking about the U.K., but it can be notoriously expensive. "[South Wales] is about 30 percent less than shooting in London," says Courtney Conte, the L.A.-based COO of BBC Worldwide Productions. Conte was the co-exec producer of Starz's Da Vinci's Demons, which filmed for three seasons in Swansea's Bay Studios, a Ford auto factory "gentrified" into a 265,000-square-foot studio space for the show. "If you're filming in London, they just want to know how much you're paying them," adds producer Andrew Riach, whose Elijah Wood-starring Dylan Thomas biopic Set Fire to the Stars shot in Swansea, which stood in for New York City.

… But It's Not Too Far Away

Cardiff — home to the BBC's new Roath Lock studios where Doctor Who now shoots — is just a two-hour drive or train ride from London. "Sometimes it's actually easier to get people from America here than it is from London," says Ed Thomas, the production manager who has worked on Doctor Who, Sherlock and Da Vinci's Demons and is credited with being at the root of much of the region's success. "They arrive in Heathrow airport and can either turn right or turn left. We try to get them to turn left." Thomas helped transform Bay Studios, which is now housing production of Amazon's first original drama, The Collection, about a postwar-era Parisian fashion house.

An Impressive Pool of Talent

Thanks to a strong history of manufacturing and initiatives like the Adjacent Educational Project — set up by Thomas and aimed at teaming with schools and colleges, arranging work experience and placements — there's a growing creative pool in the region. "There's an incredible source of talent when it comes to the crafts department," says Conte. When Thomas started working on Doctor Who, he said he couldn't get a prop made and had to "go to London to get a Sonic Screwdriver." But now everything is made there. "We made the armor, the swords, the Medici coinage for the ban … there's an excellent quality of manpower," he says.

Help From the Local Government

Alongside the U.K. tax incentive, which can reach up to 25 percent of expenditure, qualifying films can also apply for a separate Welsh subsidy and top it off with use of Pinewood and the Welsh government's Media Investment Budget. "It's a very attractive offer when you combine that with the capability in the region," says Mark Hackett, the U.K. sales director of the Pinewood Studios Group, which established a base near Cardiff two years ago, incorporating two 20,000-square-foot stages and a 37,000-square-foot covered shooting area. Current projects include Sherlock and Doctor Who spinoff Class. The next step, says Bad Wolf COO Miles Ketley, is to build "further space capable of housing 21st century pro­ductions." The company's Dark Materials adaptation will need some 120,000 square feet. Says Ketley, "It'll all be in Wales."

This story first appeared in the May 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.