Q&A: Pinewood Shepperton's Ivan Dunleavy


Pinewood Shepperton CEO Ivan Dunleavy is awaiting a decision on planning permission which, if greenlit, would lead to the most ambitious expansion at the studio facilities operator since it opened 75 years ago. Named Project Pinewood, the British expansion plans would see the home of the world famous 007 soundstage on the outskirts of London almost double in size on an adjacent greenbelt site. The plan includes a residential development and zones that will re-create familiar locations including a Venetian canal, a Tudor village and street scenes from San Francisco, Paris and Prague.

The Hollywood Reporter: The much-vaunted Project Pinewood plans took a hit when the local area council turned down planning permission last fall. What's the status now?

Ivan Dunleavy: We have continued to work away at the project over the last five or six months following the local decision to reject permission. That decision was expected. When we started this, our arguments were pretty clear about supporting the creative industries and create infrastructure they could use. All those arguments are stronger today in the U.K. social and political environment than they were two years ago when we started this.

THR: You recently added operations in Germany, Malaysia and Canada to your roster. Why?

Dunleavy: It has always been part of our strategy to think about how we can use the Pinewood Shepperton expertise and the high expectations of operating skills it comes with. Talking about it in an international context is just good business sense. After all, it has only taken a very short period of time to do it. 75 years (laughs) to get to it, just a blink of an eye.

THR: Why Canada, Toronto?

Dunleavy: Toronto makes sense because it is a place aimed at attracting the North American market and has a good reputation in its own right as a destination for media providers. It was already a very valuable destination for people making episodic television. That kind of reputation and renown goes back several years to shows like "The X Files." The city of Toronto is a big stakeholder in it.

THR: Malaysia?

Dunleavy: We did a deal with the Malaysian Sovereign Wealth Fund for a joint studio venture there. It's on an island right next door to Singapore Island and Malaysia is right at the heart of Asia. We're talking about a region where there are potentially six billion cinemagoers within a six hour flight radius. We plan to open in 2013 and this gives us a presence in the Asian market.

THR: Germany?

Dunleavy: Since the year-end, we've established a straightforward joint venture with German state broadcaster [Studio Hamburg] in Berlin. That clearly gives us an operation in mainland Europe. It helps us attract business from Germany, France and Italy, from producers we might not normally be able to entice across the English Channel.

THR: Do the Hollywood studios need more persuasion than ever to come and shoot here?

Dunleavy: Hollywood executives in charge of making big production decisions have a lot of options these days. As we all know, there are a lot of incentives around the world available. But we at Pinewood have core strengths in the U.K. that we must and do protect.

THR: Such as?

Dunleavy: We have world-renowned levels of skill in front and behind the camera, and exceptional craft and technical skills here on offer. We also have the benefit of the English language and London and the South East is an attractive part of the world to come and work in and around. The fiscal incentive tax credit system is an important one that is up and running and people now understand it and can use it. For our U.S. customers, the exchange rate is back in the range it has traditionally occupied - between say $1.50 to the £1 -- which makes it easier to take the decision to come here. While I am not claiming I can predict the value of sterling, it does look stable at the moment.

THR: Any regrets over taking the group public following the management buy-in in 2000?

Dunleavy: We approached the public market because it brings us opportunities we simply couldn't access as a private company. Access to capital being one of the biggest one. We invest a lot of capital in assets that are long term and we need to be able to raise capital for that. The company is constantly changing and growing which is what most people want to be involved in.

THR: Is the impact of digital obvious?

Dunleavy: People are developing computer games for example and they want to see a film standard image on a big screen with top quality sound. We have all the technicians and creatives housed at Pinewood to be able to do that sort of level of work. We call it the Pinewood cluster and some of the biggest names in the industry are part of it.

THR: How do you marry the high-risk reputation that film production has in the investment community with reporting to City of London investment analysts looking at your PLC?

Dunleavy: For everybody that works at Pinewood, the variety and change is interesting and exciting. Pinewood as a PLC benefits from the reputation of the name. If we're a link between the City analysts and the film industry looking for backers then that is for everyone's good. It is true that film in the City carries a slight reputation as being volatile but the fact we're out there meeting investors and financiers as a service provider helps educate. The more educated investors are the better for film enterprise.