Warner Bros. U.K. President Touts Fully-Booked London Studio

Josh Berger also discusses the financial problems of U.K. DVD retailers and the outlook for continued international growth for studios.

LONDON -- Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, the production site just outside London that the Time Warner studio opened last summer, is currently fully booked amid continuing high interest in shoots in Britain, its boss said Wednesday.

Speaking at the PEVE Entertainment Conference 2013, Josh Berger, U.K. president and managing director, U.K., Ireland and Spain for Warner Bros., said Tom Cruise's All You Need Is Kill, directed by Doug Liman, has wrapped its shoot at Leavesden and is now in post-production. It was the studio's first project.

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Now, the Wachowskis' sci-fi epic Jupiter Ascending with Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis is shooting there, he said. With "a bunch of other pictures" also set up there, "It's full, which is good," he said.

Asked if a recently introduced tax credit for high-end TV productions would benefit Leavesden by bringing in TV shoots, Berger, who is American, said: "I think that we will see that. But we are not going to locate a U.S. series here just for a tax credit."

Highlighting that Leavesden has housed the Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes franchises, among others, Berger also touted the importance of Britain as a production center for Warner Bros.

Calling it "the center of our most successful outpost next to Hollywood," he said: "Our batting average here was even higher ...This is a great country to make movies in and television for that matter and computer games ...We believe in the creative auspices of Britain."

After a $155 million revamp, the nine-stage Leavesden complex, which also includes a Potter tour, opened last year. The company said it was the first studio facility of its kind to be built in the U.K. in 70 years. Berger on Wednesday quipped that Warner bought Leavesden, where the studio made all its Potter films, right after finishing the series.

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Asked about new Warner Bros. boss Kevin Tsujihara and whether his background in home entertainment and digital distribution reflected the fact that digital usage and new distribution platforms provide new challenges and opportunities, Berger said that his appointment "certainly points to the situation in Hollywood today."

Questioned about the international growth outlook for Hollywood studios, Berger on Wednesday said that "international will keep growing faster than domestic." He pointed to China where companies are still building multiplexes and adding screens and other fast-growing film markets, as well as a globalized TV market.

Discussing the financial challenges of entertainment retailers like HMV and Blockbuster U.K., which have both recently faced bankruptcy, Berger said the shutdown of stores will decrease the opportunity for consumers to make impulse purchases, which are key in home entertainment.

"Losing that physical presence is a huge problem," he said. "It's an important revenue source. You will get it back less through online players."

He said that Warner would like to see retailers to stay in business to serve consumers' appetite for DVDs. "We've given them enough incentive on terms," he argued. "We've been very good partners."

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai