In June 2009, Pinewood Studios Group signed a five-year deal to handle management, sales and marketing for recently opened Filmport Studios in Toronto, which then became known as Pinewood Toronto Studios.
The arrangement not only reversed the fortunes of the struggling Canuck facility, which has gone on to host a slew of major features, including the upcoming “Pacific Rim”; it also opened up a major new business for Pinewood.
The company, which owns and operates the U.K.’s two oldest, largest and most prestigious studio complexes, Pinewood and Shepperton, had watched on the sidelines in the 2000s as vendors and clients dispersed around the globe, chasing the latest production incentives.
“We realized we had a brand that filmmakers took great comfort in,” says Nick Smith, Pinewood’s commercial director, who oversees the international studios. “It soon became obvious through our research that if you took that brand and put it on a set of boxes (i.e., soundstages) somewhere else in the world, you’d gain great traction.”
In the intervening four years, Pinewood has applied the model to another pre-existing studio — in Berlin — as well as to new facilities in Malaysia, the Dominican Republic and Atlanta.
Compared to Pinewood, EUE/Screen Gems is a small, family-owned operation, with just three studios: New York; Wilmington, N.C.; and Atlanta. That’s key to how it markets its brand.
“What sets us apart is we’re private,” says chief operating officer and co-owner Chris Cooney. “We’re able to make a decision to invest in enhancements for the clients quickly,” as it did when the company installed a custom IT infrastructure for Iron Man 3, which shot for a year at the North Carolina studio.
Raleigh Studios, Hollywood’s oldest independent studio facility, has also set up franchises in multiple locales — Playa Vista, Calif.; Baton Rouge, La.; Atlanta; Budapest; and Wuxi, China — but management says the potential for further expansion is very limited.
Raleigh Enterprises prexy Mark Rosenthal brings that point home, saying that business is hard to predict, “particularly if it’s based upon potentially transitory demand generators, i.e., government production incentives.”
That lesson was underlined by Raleigh’s experience with Raleigh Michigan Studios. When the state’s incentives were rolled back in 2011, business dropped off dramatically, leading investors to default on the loan and Raleigh to prematurely end its deal with the studio.
Raleigh owns its Hollywood facility and is a minority investor in its Budapest studio, but with its other locations it merely provides its name and management and marketing expertise in exchange for a piece of the profits.
But regardless of the size of the actual cash outlay, the investment is big.
“We have a vested interest in making sure that the brand reputation stays intact,” Pinewood’s Smith says.