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Pinewood Plots Major Shepperton Studios Expansion With 100-Acre Real-Estate Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

Pinewood Pictures shuttered as focus shifts to studios business

The Pinewood Group has bought a large chunk of land next to Shepperton Studios with a view to expanding the iconic complex as demand for stages and workshops in the U.K. continues to increase. The next phase of expanding the company’s cornerstone Pinewood Studios is also under way, with potentially a third phase of development to come. And to focus on growing its studio spaces, the group has gotten out of the film finance and production business, shuttering its Pinewood Pictures unit.

Pinewood Studios, where the James Bond films were shot, is set for a $276 million doubling in size. Shepperton Studios in west London, the arch-rival it bought out in 2001, was the British filming home for such movies as “Dr. Strangelove,” “Alien” and the just-wrapped “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” It occupies 600,000 square feet over 25 acres, and Pinewood has now acquired an adjacent lot four times that size.

“What we have been doing over the last 18 months is investing into land. We have bought 100 acres adjacent to the studio. We don’t have planning but will start that process in the next couple of months,” Pinewood chairman and interim CEO Paul Golding told Variety.

Golding is a partner at private equity firm Aermont, which bought the Pinewood Group for $446 million in 2016. Aermont specializes in real estate, and a bond issue it completed at the end of 2017 raised about $345 million, some of which will be used to cover the Pinewood Studios expansion. The Shepperton development will require additional finance.

“We want to be able to put additional supply into our hopper,” Golding said in his first major interview since Aermont bought Pinewood. “When we execute will be determined by planning consent and by demand, and if demand is there we will meet it through increased supply. We want to put together a [collection] of sites to meet that.”

Last year saw film and high-end TV production spending in the U.K. top $4 billion for the first time — a domestic record. “Demand for our skills is incredibly high, and while studio space has increased dramatically thanks to new sites like Church Fenton and Belfast Harbour Studios coming online, as well as significant expansions at Pinewood and Leavesden, space remains at a premium,” said Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission. “We believe it’s almost a ‘Field of Dreams’ situation when it comes to new studio space: If we build it, productions will come.”

“We want to be able to put additional supply into our hopper….If demand is there, we will meet it through increased supply”

To concentrate on its studios, Pinewood is getting out of the business of financing and producing its own content. Pinewood TV, which co-produced Benedict Cumberbatch’s “The Child in Time,” has already been spun off and rebranded as Twelve Town. Pinewood Pictures, which administered Isle of Man and Wales film funds worth $76 million and helped finance period dramas “Their Finest” and “Belle,” has been shuttered, with the loss of a number of jobs.

“We felt that providing infrastructure to customers we have been serving for a very long time was really what the business of Pinewood was,” Golding said. “We had a good team at Pinewood Pictures, but it was a relatively small part of the business, and it took up a significant amount of senior management time. It was precipitated by the Isle of Man fund coming to an end last October anyway so it felt like we were becoming less relevant in terms of scale.”

In 2016, five new soundstages opened at Pinewood Studios as part of the first phase of its expansion; the first movie to use them was James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” The new space has now been leased to a U.S. studio, but details are under wraps.

Phase two is about to get under way and will result in an additional six stages that will be ready by spring 2019 and allow Pinewood to house four blockbuster movies at a time. Yet a third wave of development is being plotted because Pinewood’s planning permit allows for 850,000 square feet of expansion in all; the first two phases cover 540,000 square feet.

“Our intention to develop that over the coming years. Over the course of our ownership we will deliver a million square feet,” Golding said. “We have outline planning consent. We are comfortable that there is demand there already, and if it continues in the manner we are seeing we will start the next phase of development, so really it is a tap we can turn on to meet demand.”

Since 2010, almost a third of all movies with budgets of more than $100 million have filmed at Pinewood Group’s studios around the world. Outside London, it has production facilities in Atlanta, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Toronto and Wales, and it’s looking into possibilities in Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York. “We are also keeping a close eye on India and China,” Golding said. “They are not necessarily countries where our existing customers want to go but are both very big markets.”

When previous CEO Ivan Dunleavy left Pinewood in April, he sought and was given a promise that Aermont would leave Pinewood in a better place than where its new owner found it, Golding said. The U.K. studio expansions are aimed at strengthening the Pinewood brand and identity as a premier production services provider; there are no plans to use the added space for non-film and TV purposes.

“That won’t happen on our watch,” Golding vowed. “Pinewood and Shepperton are icons of the British film industry, and we must preserve that.”

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