Leavesden Studios to be redeveloped

Warner Bros. is putting down roots in Blighty.

The major has finally cleared bureaucratic hurdles to close the deal on its purchase of Leavesden Studios, where the “Harry Potter” franchise has lensed for the past 10 years.

WB has not disclosed how much it paid for the lot, which it has been leasing, but it intends to spend £100 million ($161.4 million) revamping and expanding facilities at the studio, which will include a “Harry Potter” exhibition.

Expected to be ready by 2012, Leavesden will give Warner Bros. a permanent production base in the U.K. and is likely to create 300 jobs on top of the 1,500 already employed at the facilities.

The news, to be announced Wednesday by WB chairman-CEO Barry Meyer and prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn, will make Warner Bros. the first Hollywood studio to have a permanent production base in Europe since the Lion set up MGM London Films at Elstree Studios in the early 1940s.

WB outlined its plans at the beginning of the year when it applied to the local government for permission to redevelop Leavesden (Daily Variety, Jan. 27), which is located near Elstree in Hertfordshire, some 20 miles north of London.

Having received all necessary planning approvals over the past year, WB is set to redevelop the 170-acre site. It will refurbish and expand the studio, increasing its ability to provide services such as visual effects, prosthetics, animatronics and film editing, as well as adding to the external filming and production centers.

Two new soundstages will house and display many of the sets, costumes, creatures and props from various WB pics shot in Blighty. Initially, these stages will give the public the opportunity to tour the “Potter” film sets house and view “Potter” memorabilia.

Leavesden, already one of the largest backlots in Europe, reps approximately one-third of the stage space for major film production in the U.K. and will accommodate WB and third-party productions as well as TV and advertising shoots.

Warner lensed “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” there as well as the “Harry Potter” franchise.

The studio has spent an estimated $3.05 billion in film production budgets in Blighty over the past 10 years, repping nearly 40% of the territory’s inward investment in film production over that time, making it the biggest single investor in the local film industry.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” will be released Nov. 19 in the U.S. and U.K.

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