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Sets and the city

London's best-known studios have a full slate

LONDON — It has been an interesting year for London’s best-known studios, two-studio complex Pinewood Shepperton and Ealing Studios, with hastily withdrawn tax shelters hastily and a stock listing.

In May, Pinewood Shepperton, best known as the home of the James Bond franchise, raised £46.2 million ($82.9 million) with an initial public offering and last month it made its first report to shareholders.

The group justified the investor clamor for its shares, reporting a record half-yearly profit of $12.03 million, a rise of 15.8% on the same period last year. The rise is on the back of recent large-scale productions “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is occupying a majority of the studio’s space until the end of the year.

“It’s business as usual as far as I’m concerned,” says Nick Smith, group sales and marketing director for Pinewood Studios when asked about the flotation. He confesses that the stringent financial reporting may make more work for the group’s accountants, but the studios themselves have seen little impact outside of a positive awareness of the need for expansion.

“As a plc you have to have a growth strategy so yes we are looking at expansion possibilities both abroad and in the U.K.,” Smith says.

The group recently registered interest in the Toronto Economic Development Corp.’s proposal to build a $73 million studio complex in central Toronto, but the tender was eventually won by Toronto Film Studios.

The past year has been a busy one for the studios with “Charlie” and “Harry” preceded at Pinewood by tuner “Phantom of the Opera,” Oliver Stone’s “Alexander,” Bobby Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea” and “Alfie” while Shepperton has played host to the final “Star Wars” pic, “Sahara” and Christopher Nolan’s take on the “Batman” franchise.

Meanwhile at London’s other iconic studio, Ealing is about to let its newest creation take flight. “Valiant” is the story of a plucky carrier pigeon and it is the studio’s first animated co-production with Vanguard Animation. Pic will be distribbed by Disney.

Vanguard’s tenancy was a key part of Ealing’s $89.7 million redevelopment last year taking over 10,000 square feet of space at Ealing and the studio hopes that when it is over there will be other projects to keep the animators busy.

“‘Valiant’ has been an adventure,” says head of Ealing Barnaby Thompson. “We have 160 animators from 15 countries so something on this scale is always full of surprises.”

One surprise earlier in the year was the U.K. government’s outlawing of the country’s biggest tax equity funds on Feb. 10, subsequently dubbed “Black Tuesday.”

“We had a lean period because we had the whole studio booked for ‘Tulip Fever’ (which subsequently did not shoot there). But things have picked up and we have just had

Jeremy Bolt’s ‘The Dark’ wrap which was replaced by ‘Half Light.’”

Also coming up for Ealing is “Click” a romantic comedy to come out under the famous Ealing brand, which will be a co-production between Thompson’s Fragile Pictures and Lynda La Plante and Sophie Balhetchet’s Cougar Films.

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