Production Glut Keeps U.K. Soundstages Packed

Be careful what you wish for: Filming incentives in the U.K. have been so successful, they’ve caused a severe shortage of studio space.

In the past two years, not only has the country enhanced its 25% film tax credit, it’s also extended it to include high-end television shows. The result: production space is at a premium. “The U.K. is experiencing some of the highest levels of production in over a decade,” says John McVay, chief executive of U.K. producers’ org Pact.

Pinewood, base camp for “Star Wars: Episode VII”; Shepperton, home to “Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass”; and Leavesden, which has hosted “Tarzan” and “Pan” are all booked solid.

“If a producer comes and says, ‘I’ve got a film as big as ‘Mission: Impossible 5,’ we’re going to struggle to accommodate it in the next few months,” says Adrian Wootton, chief exec of the British Film Commission and Film London.

Andrew Smith of Pinewood Group says there’s also increased demand for workshop space on big-budget films as production values rise. The ratio of workshop to stage space used to be 1:3 for these pics; it’s now 1:1.

In response, the studios are expanding. Pinewood will add five soundstages in 2016, and is opening a studio in Wales next year. Leavesden is adding three stages, and Titanic Studios in Northern Ireland, home to “Game of Thrones,” will add two.

Meanwhile, the BFC has been looking for alternative spaces, such as disused manufacturing and warehouse sites. For example, Universal Pictures’ “Dracula Untold” constructed sets in a former bottling plant near Belfast.

And in an instance of the incentive’s potential for counterproductivity, the producers of television drama series “Fortitude” were almost forced to move the entire production to central Europe. “We were just about four days away from committing to Hungary,” says executive producer Patrick Spence which, he adds, would have been detrimental to the production. “If we weren’t shooting in London, we would have lost some of the key members of our cast,” he notes.

With BFC assistance, the producers found a former carpet warehouse in West London, and converted it to suit their needs. It cost less than hiring studio space at Pinewood, Spence says, and if the series is re-commissioned, the sets will be there waiting.

Producer Tracey Seaward, who is in production on “Genius,” starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, adds a note of caution regarding such conversions. “Stages are expensive for a reason,” she says. “They provide you with the perfect controlled working environment, which sometimes those alternative spaces are not able to deliver fully.”

McVay acknowledges the challenges, but remains upbeat. “It is a nice problem to have in one sense,” he says. “It means you have more work, and that means more employment.”

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